Everest Base Camp Trek – Days 4 & 5

Day 4 – Surprises

On day four I woke up to two surprises.  The first was the disappearance of my voice.  My throat had taken a turn for the worse during the night and although I didn’t immediately notice any other symptoms I could hardly talk above a whisper.  It was an unpleasant surprise for me, but perhaps a bit of a relief to the rest of my group. The second surprise, and by far the more pleasant of the two, was that it had snowed during the night, lending the already majestic landscape an otherworldly quality that one would expect to find in a Christmas movie.  Unfortunately while a beautiful setting for photos, this winter wonderland also made a perfect setting for some very active repertory bacteria and another day of panting cold air was not what the doctor ordered.

Clouds did nothing to diminish the spectacular scenery.

Even so another day of panting was on the schedule.  Truth be told, I remember this day less than any other day of the trek, both my head and the mountains being mostly cloudy. What I do remember was another day of seemingly endless mountain paths winding up and down, up and down.  I also remember coming to the realization that something was wrong with me.  Although I normally walk slow enough to cause sidewalk traffic jams, I maintain a decent pace when saddled with a pack and forced to walk uphill.  This means that while I’m often the last one to the bar, I tend to be among the first to enjoy the view from the top of a hill. Not today, I was tired before I even started and had trouble keeping pace with even the slowest members of the group.  I knew it was a bad sign.

I never know how to include Yaks in my stories, but they were everywhere on the trek. Turns out they make good cheese too…

When we finally stumbled into Tengboche, our destination for the day, I was only vaguely aware of my surroundings and my appetite was gone.  What was even worse though, was that I was cold.  This might seem natural enough since what we gained in elevation we lost in temperature, but for me feeling cold is rare experience.  Not gifted with any of the normal athletic talents of other children: coordination, speed or endurance, God thought it fit to enhance my meager physical gifts by making me resistant to cold.  Even in snow and ice I normally stay warm in a light sleeping bag, not so when sick.  That night I couldn’t have stayed warm by hugging a woodstove.

The night didn’t go any smoother.  Despite my nearly complete exhaustion I woke up periodically alternating between feeling like I was in a sauna and feeling like I was inside a freezer, which was pretty close to the truth.  Twelve hours of broken sleep later found me significantly worse off than I had been before and I started the day by coughing up some parts that looked important.  Like a fool I kept it to myself and simply sucked down a few ibuprofen. I hoped that if I pretended I wasn’t sick I wouldn’t be. It didn’t work.

Day 5 – High and Low

When sick my creativity also goes downhill, so I’m reduced to taking pictures of cute baby animals…

Day five proved to be even more difficult than day four, even though the walking was easier.  The snow which had painted such a pretty picture the day before had melted and the landscape underneath was revealed to be harsh and barren.  The mountains still made a magnificent backdrop, but we had risen above the altitude most living things could handle and only rocks and crows seemed to thrive where we were.  Even our own group seemed to wither in the higher elevation. The group split in half as the more ambitious members wanted to attempt one of the high mountain passes, leaving only three of us on the simpler direct route.  Simpler it may have been, but I was shattered when I arrived in Pheriche late in the day.  All indications were for another night of misery.

Fortunately things started to look up when we managed to find the nicest lodge in town.  It would hardly qualify as luxurious in most of the world’s tourist destinations, having no heated bedrooms, no free showers and only one functioning toilet, but the guest house’s common room was heated from early in the day and had a stereo with music that sounded like pure luxury to us.  The price was also reasonable at just over a dollar a night.  The real turn for the better, however, was neither this small financial triumph nor the stereo, but rather the discovery of another trekker who was on his way down and suffering from a bad case of altitude sickness.  A Canadian living in Mexico, this trekker had known of his own susceptibility to altitude sickness and rather than being deterred by it, had hoped to outpace it by making a mad dash to the top.  The result was a success, sort of.  He had made it to Everest Base Camp and the famous Kala Pathtar view point, but as expected contracted altitude sickness around the time of his arrival.  At that point it was a race against his sickness down the mountain.  Failure would mean an emergency evacuation by helicopter and success a somewhat more dignified self-powered descent.

Our luxury lounge. So warm you barely need a coat.

When I met him he seemed to have fought his sickness to something like a draw.  He had been unable to keep food down for two days and was feebly weak, but he wasn’t getting worse and finally managed to triumph over a bowl of tomato soup that evening.  As for me, my luck in meeting this intrepid traveler was twofold.  First, his own suffering was so immense that it made mine seem insignificant by comparison.  The second and only slightly less selfish reason I was in luck had to do with a bag full of medicine that he didn’t need.  In it was some spare antibiotics and although I was hesitant to take them at first, coughing up a bit more lung soon persuaded me.

It wasn’t a moment too soon.  Even with the medication I spent another night wrestling with fever.  Normally a sounds sleeper I was reduced to short periods of mediocre sleep and woke up gasping for breath in the thin air.  At one point I had to venture out of the relative warmth of my sleeping bag.  I noticed my water bottle had frozen and dangerous thoughts like “this sucks” began to creep into my head.  That was even before I made it to the bathroom to find the only working toilet had frozen.  This whole Everest business was turning into a challenge.

Read about days 6 & 7!

Categories: An Out of The Way Place, Journeys, Nepal, Photography | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

Everest Base Camp Trek – Prelude and Day One


The hot water for the shower is never really hot.  It’s rather tepid normally and the occasional moments it nearly reaches hot are easily outnumbered by the long stretches of cold.  The electricity is shut off for long stretches each day, part of a load sharing program that rotates outages throughout the city in order to make up for the low water levels that have left a citywide shortage of hydroelectric power. The sheets on my bed look as though they’ll never be truly clean again and my laundry – out for its first much needed wash in weeks – is a day late in coming back, leaving me with only the clothes on my back.  This is life in Kathmandu, at least if you have the uncommon luck to be a relatively wealthy tourist.  Yet despite this list of semi-serious shortcomings, if I learned anything on my trip to Everest base camp it was to appreciate the comforts I normally take for granted.  I truly feel as if I’m indulging in the greatest of luxury: the room is warm, the food is varied and I’m clean.

No room for big jets up here.

Mt. Everest has held a great appeal to me for as long as I can remember.  I don’t know Continue reading

Categories: General, Journeys, Nepal, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Why I Travel (Part 1)

I love traveling.  I’m sure that comes as a surprise to absolutely no one and I’m sure a good deal of you feel the same way.  Still, it’s far from a universal sentiment.  There are plenty of individuals out there who don’t share a passion for travel and I’m guessing at least a few of my readers fall into that category as well.

Now to us travel enthusiasts, that’s just plain old bizarre, right up there with not liking chocolate. I mean, how could you not love to travel right?  Well strangely enough if you’ve ever tried to explain why you love to travel to someone who doesn’t, it’s surprisingly difficult to put your passion into words.  In fact, on the surface home seems to have all the obvious advantages.  Home is comfortable and safe.  You have your possessions there.  Your friends are close and you may even be lucky enough to live someplace beautiful.  What’s more, in the modern world you can travel by watching a show on television or simply reading a book, no need to spend bags of money or get violated going through airport security.

So why the love of travel then?  I’ve spent a good deal of time recently contemplating this question.  I’ve come up with a list of reasons, only one of which I’d like to address today.  The reason is this: traveling gives me the best opportunity to collect experiences and these experiences make me happier.  Sounds simple enough, but allow me to clarify anyway.

The most obvious experiences traveling affords are the beautiful sites, from mountains to cathedrals.  There’s a reason Michelangelo painted ceilings and not postcards, seeing a photo of the Sistine Chapel can never adequately represent the experience of standing it. Also, the endless variation of foods, peoples, places and activities you’ll find traveling can’t be matched even in a city as big as New York.  I don’t count only pleasurable experiences among those that have brought me happiness either.  Changing a flat tire by the side of a highway and sleeping on a park bench aren’t things I’d jump at the chance to do again, but both of them have made me richer and happier.

It seems strange that bad experience can make you happier, but I’ve felt this way for a long time. Amazingly enough, the nerds over at Cornell University were kind enough to confirm my instinct using science.  A recent study (you can read an article about it by clicking here) shows that while material possessions do not add to one’s feeling of happiness, collecting new experiences does, even bad ones. I guess Wiley Coyote owes Road Runner a Christmas card after all.

He'll look back on this with a smile.

I don’t want to be a complete hypocrite. I have a Sex in the City worthy three closet collection of clothes to testify to my weakness for material possessions.  Still, if I compare the clothes to the memories I’ve collected traveling; it’s not a close call as to which one adds more to my life.

Tightrope walking in Glasgow... just one of many random, awesome experiences.

Categories: Journeys, Travel, Words | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

The Butterfly Effect

It’s hard to believe that it was just over a week ago that I showed up for my Ironman with no place to stay, no wet suit, no experience and almost no money.   Save some slight soreness in my Achilles tendons and the remnants of my bike accident, there seems to be little physical evidence that the Ironman ever took place. Even the memory of it seems faint.  Still, I remember very vividly the Friday before the race.  After I’d stuffed my face at the Spaghetti dinner, it should have been time for bed.  Unfortunately, my only shelter for that rainy and windy night was my tent (actually the tent wasn’t mine …. I really should never use the word “mine”). So instead of heading to bed like a reasonable competitor, I headed off to the bar.

I chose the 3 Mariners, a bar that, in truth, I had never given a penny to, but that had already given me food, drink, internet and a place to keep my bike.  It was karaoke night and two singers dominated the stage.  One was an elderly man missing most of his teeth and wearing thick glasses that made his eyes too large for his head.  He was like a Simpson’s character come to life and enthusiastically provided one of the most entertaining karaoke performances I’d ever seen.  The other singer was the type that makes no one else want to sing: beautiful and with and excess of musical talent.  As it turned out she was part of a group that made up most of the audience, an extended family that was celebrating an upcoming marriage.

As few of the other 1,300 competitors in town thought drinking before one of the world’s most challenging races was a good idea, I had little competition for the attention of local people interested in the crazy athletes who had invaded their small town.  I soon found myself enjoying talking to the aunt of the talented Karaoke singer and it wasn’t long after that the matter of my accommodations came up.

“A tent?” I’d heard shock in people’s voices so often by this point that it seemed normal.

“It’s not bad.  I’m used to worse actually.”

“Yeah, but you have an Ironman on Sunday.  You have to sleep well,” she argued.

“Well, I have rather limited options at this point, but really, it won’t be a problem.”

She would have none of it, and neither would the rest of her family.  Soon, three sisters were engaged in a debate as to who would have the dubious honor of being my host for the weekend.  The sister that won turned out to be the mother of the singer and happened to live right in town.  In the end, it was better than perfect.  Not only did I have a great place to sleep, I was fed, babied and fussed over.  It was like I had been adopted.  The result was a well-rested, well-fed and very happy me that still only just barely finished the race.

This past week, I’ve received an amazing amount of support and positive feedback. More importantly, I’ve received numerous messages from people who said I had inspired them to try and finish their own race, but it wasn’t only me.  I did a little math and if I had been even .8% slower on my bike I wouldn’t have finished.  Meaning that if I hadn’t been fed so well or slept so well, anything really, I wouldn’t have finished.  If that one wonderful family hadn’t helped a complete stranger, I wouldn’t have finished.  There’s no need to stop there either.  I didn’t realize at the time, but when I got back to New York I didn’t even have enough money for subway fare.  .8% and 0$, it doesn’t get much clearer. If any of the countless people who gave me their time, money or encouragement hadn’t been there, it would have been game over.

They say that stepping on a butterfly in New York and change the weather in Hong Kong just days later.  Be that as it may, we rarely have the opportunity to trace the impact of our actions beyond a day or two.  The slim margin by which I succeeded in my race gives us a rare opportunity to see just how big a difference our actions can make.  I’m sure finishing an Ironman will continue to change my life and hopefully the experience will continue to inspire others as well.  Even so, thank you all again for the amazing support you have given me.  Small or large, your actions have changed the world.

Wales, the beautfy of nature was matched by the beauty of its people.

Categories: Ironman, Journeys, Words | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dangers of Flying

Airports are a dangerous place. I don’t mean that you’re likely to get assaulted in one (although the security screenings come awfully close and have some really bad potential).  I mean that for an extreme-budget travelers like me, the pressure to spend budget breaking money reaches diamond making levels. Stress and boredom have an unmatched

The most obvious pressure comes from the food services.  I don’t know if there’s a demonic pact between the airlines and restaurants, but the fact that low cost airlines don’t serve meals causes me some serious issues.  I can handle a short flight within Europe, but an 18 hour transatlantic Odyssey pushes me to the edge of cannibalism. Today for instance, driven to desperation, I found myself eating at McDonalds.  Not only does that make me a bad person, but the food only fills you up for a couple hours so I’m already starving again.

Food isn’t the only money sucker at the airport either.  There are the piles of overpriced shops.  Maybe they don’t tempt some people, but for me spending hours waiting for a transfer surround by flashy shops is like ex-alcoholic hanging out at a bar during happy hour.  I’ve tried to change, but there’s a part of me that will always love shopping.  I know it’s a base, materialistic desire and that I don’t need the stuff, but when I’m in the store I don’t care.  I want to buy things.  I want new clothes. I want gifts for my friends.  I want crazy little shot glasses with pictures of Big Ben.

Today I managed distract myself by getting an in-store makeover.  My transfer was in Iceland, which is known for its spas, so I tried samples of all the fancy facial lotions and even some hair gel.  I wonder if the anti-aging serum I put on will really make me look younger.  In any case, I’m sure I looked insane, but one of the advantages of being an ex-lawyer is I still have some decent clothes so the sales people smile at me because they think I might actually buy something.  Uh oh, here comes the duty free lady on the plane.  Is there no end to these trials?!

Not surprisingly I forgot to take pictures of my less than inspiring day... This one is stolen from the internet.

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