A meet-cute on the Annapurna trail might sound like the premise for a romcom, but, at 19, I was thin-skinned, surly and hadn’t developed the knack of talking to girls my age. Besides, I wasn’t there for a holiday romance; I was in Nepal with my best friend, Sam, and his mother, in whose home I was living at the time.
It says a lot about my state of mind back then that I deemed a bumper quiz book essential for a walking holiday in Nepal. After two solid performances, my Cambridge college was through to the quarter-finals of University Challenge, and bringing the book was a sign that I was finally taking it seriously.
The trek began with a briefing at the rooftop bar of our hotel in Kathmandu. As I half-listened to our guide explain that the four-day trek would be “harder than you might think”, I surveyed the eclectic group with whom I’d be sharing the journey. To my relief, among the ripped octogenarians and sunburnt Australians was an English girl my age.
“Great. There will be someone else to talk to when Sam and I need a break from each other,” I thought.
We set off the next day and the girl and I soon found ourselves alone together on the roadside. First impressions were good: she was in the same year as me at university (we even had a couple of mutual friends) and I took the opportunity to impress her with news of my upcoming University Challenge appearance.
The more time I spent with her, the more I was surprised by how well we got on. She was shy but insightful, and happy to tease Sam and me about our relentless politics chat.
We barely got a moment alone, though, until the final night of the trek. We were the last two awake after the rest of the party had drunkenly stumbled back to their huts. Over the course of the evening, a romance blossomed between us as we shared our fears and anxieties, and discussed what we hoped the future would hold after university. Would it be possible to find jobs that were fulfilling and wouldn’t require us to compromise on our beliefs once we graduated? And did “succeeding” in the UK inevitably mean moving to London?
Afterwards, I berated myself for letting the obvious chemistry pass without comment. It wasn’t just that I feared rejection – the trip was ending, we lived in different cities and there was no prospect that our bond would survive back in “the real world”. Even so, I wished I’d said something. And so, in time-honoured tradition, I decided to make my move on the coach trip back to Kathmandu.
By then, the mutual attraction was obvious and the eight-hour journey provided plenty of time for us to snuggle up on the back seats – a fairly bold display of affection, given her mum was sitting just seven rows ahead.
Arriving back at the hotel, sweaty and exhausted, we only had time to exchange numbers before a cab whisked her away to her separate accommodation. As her car pulled up, there was an unbearable silence; I didn’t want to say goodbye but knew this was the moment.
In the end, I blurted out: “I can get you and your mum tickets to the next round of University Challenge, if you like?”
The line earned me only an awkward peck, but at least we had a first date in the diary.
My team went on to lose both our quarter-final matches, but she was there in the audience for both. We became a couple and even went on our own travel adventures, Interrailing around Europe – only this time I left my bumper quiz book at home.