Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It’s not so much altitude sickness as a breathless I-haven’t-been-able-to-feel-my-face-for-so-long-that-I’m-unsure-if-I-still-have-one delirium.

“I said, “Let there be light,” and so there was. And I said, “Let there be earth,” and so it is under your feet. And I said, “Let glorious mountains rise from the Earth’s crust,” and so here they are before you. You’re welcome.”

-My short speech to recent Finnish and Hollander acquaintances upon reaching the day’s destination, we were surrounded by Himalayan peaks. The sarcasm/humor was lost in translation or delivery, silence and askance looks pervaded. They avoided me the rest of the day. Perhaps it was due to my ‘mountain musk’ acquired after a week without bathing. Either way, their loss (I said to myself while crying in the comfort of my sleeping bag).

It’s not so much altitude sickness as a breathless I-haven’t-been-able-to-feel-my-face-for-so-long-that-I’m-unsure-if-I-still-have-one delirium. 

Sorry Mom. You still can’t collect on that travel life insurance policy. Of course, the policy doesn’t cover mountaineering accidents which, undoubtedly, the company would try group Himalaya hiking into and you’d end up settling out of court for a mere $35,000 instead of the $100,000 owed to spare an eighteen month legal battle—an emotional black hole—and such a sum is hardly worth a son. Even the unkempt derelict one of the three who’s current life motto is ‘Why shower, shave, or tweeze my nostril hair when the grime and defiant follicles will be back tomorrow anyway?’

I spent the last 25 days walking. A lot. Up or down, never straight. In tennis shoes that had been super-glued back together twice before beginning and three times during. With a backpack that’s zippers have given way to a tape-and-shoelace system to tighten and close. Filled with second-hand cold weather gear picked up in Nepal using the stratagem: ‘The more filth and tears the better the buyer’s bargaining position.’ About ten days in, at 17,800 feet, my pack was empty. I was wearing its contents. The sleeping bag was used as a scarf.*

I wish I could say the view was amazing, that the mountains mesmerized, that I played witness to angels dancing atop some of the world’s tallest peaks. All I saw was white. Clouds and snow, but for a sign telling me I reached my target I could have been anywhere—a white-walled room of an asylum or in a flurry of copy paper after an accident at Office Depot. Until then the scenery was incredible, afterwards the same. Nepal’s natural diversity is stunning; days were spent in lush valleys, rain forests, cloud forests, pine forests, barren high-altitude terrain, and even (very) high desert.

Ten days later, twenty days in, the clouds parted. I was surrounded by peaks, some elevated above sea-level by over 26,000 feet. A 360 degree panorama of jagged white pinnacles—who knew snow could be so violent? With the sun’s rise the mountains glow, grow gilded. It’s the moment the cacophony of the universe harmonizes in my chest cavity.

I would have kept walking but after 200-plus miles I ran out of trail. If I make it back before Christmas new shoes are first on the wish list.

Keep drifting.

*This is backpacker bragging, the I-roughed-it-more-than-thou boast, something I have no tolerance for receiving but am always eager to dispense. That’s me, always giving, a Saint Nicholas of the modern age.

A few days were spent hiking with other travelers, I prefer the company of the locals--they make me laugh more.

It took 25 days but I finally deduced why my feet were so cold.

My yak stare down; one glance and the 700-pound beasts parted to allow me passage.

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