28 Takeaways from 28 days in Nepal
A few months ago I sold my previous business. And I haven’t started my next one yet. You know what that means? FREEEEEDOMMMMMM (screamed in your best Mel Gibson voice)!
Recognizing that my current level of freedom is something that I might not have forever I decided to take some time to get away from everything (yes, even my wife) before diving back in with 100% commitment.
I asked some people for ideas for a cool 10-day solo getaway. Then a friend introduced me to a new friend who introduced me to Nepal. Just like that my 10-day journey ballooned into a minimum of 20 days. But why rush, right? It’s a hell of a flight to get over there, so I figured I’d take my time and do it right.
Because my goal was to get away from it all and reset I did not blog or even journal while there. I just took everything in. Unfortunately that means I can’t write a full recap because I’m already hazy on some of the details. But that’s okay. It was worth it.
I didn’t take many photos, but I’ve included some of the ones I did take (that have nothing to do with the corresponding takeaways). All were taken with an iPhone 6s and none have filters.
Okay, now on to the takeaways...
1: I really like being outside of my comfort zone.
People keep asking me what my favorite part of the trip was. My favorite individual moment was getting to the top of Kongma La and turning around to see the beautiful half-frozen lake in the foreground with endless mountains in the background. But my favorite part as a whole was being outside of my comfort zone. And being inside my comfort zone so much in daily life, I realized, is why I feel the need to constantly challenge myself and be weird. Comfort makes me uncomfortable.
So, how can I get outside my comfort zone more often back in Boulder? I have some ideas. That’s for a different post, though.
2: I like dancing. And attention.
After a few weeks of hiking we finally made it back to Kathmandu. "We" being Savan the Kenyan, Max the Russian American, Lucas the Swede, and myself. All of us came by ourselves and didn’t have guides (people to babysit you) or porters (people to carry your stuff). We met along the way and hiked the last week or so together.
Alcohol isn’t realistic on the trail. But in Kathmandu? Party on. We all drank way too much and then ended up going to a club at 12:30am. And we danced our asses off.
Lucas and I are both tall VERY WHITE blonde dudes. AKA the exact opposite of what Nepali people look like. We stood out. Everybody wanted to dance with us. And by everybody, I mean every guy. Men in Nepal dance clubs are either very gay or very friendly. We never figured out which, but we both loved it.
I loved it so much that I went to a different club the next night. By myself. And this time I was the only white dude in the whole place. I was annihilating the dance floor (I wish I had a video). You know how you act in front of a mirror? That was me. I was the star of a show that nobody would ever watch again, and I was soaking it all in.
Last night’s attention was tame in comparison. People bought me drinks, food, and hookah. One married dude came up to me and asked if his wife could please dance with me. He loved America and wanted his wife to get a chance to dance with an American once in her life. It was simultaneously the strangest and sweetest request I’ve ever heard.
3: I like almost everybody once I get to know them.
I believe that we all intuitively know this, but when we go out into that scary world we treat everyone with such hesitation.
I met a lot of people and ended up liking all of them, even the ones that kind of rubbed me the wrong way at first. Of course this is a biased sampling. Trump supporters, for example, don’t go hiking in Nepal. But still, it’s something I’m happy to reflect back on.
There were some people I was drawn to immediately. But more often than that there were people that my brain concocted a reason not to like. He talks too much. She’s a know-it-all. He’s not even carrying his own bags. Why isn’t she trying the authentic Nepali food?
There’s surely some psychological explanation for why that’s my immediate reaction to new people, but I don’t know what it is. What I do know, though, is that I ended up liking all of those people once I got to know more about them.
4: Thank you to whoever decided that the whole world should speak English.
At times I felt guilty for how easy traveling was for me. I could just walk up to anyone, speak my native language, and expect them to understand me. And they did! Freaking crazy.
On a similar note, I’m the first to laugh at people who say that America is the greatest country in the world. That’s stupid. But... everyone from every country quoted prices in USD, listened to music from American artists, talked about American movies, etc. It’s a pretty damn influential country.
5: But whoever invented the Imperial System is an asshole.
"About 4 miles. Oh wait, I mean... maybe like 6k or so? Or 6.5k? Eh, I don’t really know." That’s how I sounded anytime someone asked me how much further we had. Eventually I just changed maps.me to metric to avoid being out of the loop and having to translate everything.
When two people on the trail spoke different languages they’d both be cool about it and work hard to make sure the other person understood. But that didn’t apply to the Imperial System. People had such a disdain for it that they didn’t even try. I can’t blame them. My words cannot describe how dumb it is.
6: "OMG that’s so sad" is a conceited thing to say about someone’s situation.
It was not uncommon to see a touristy tourist (as opposed to cool tourists like me, of course) look upon a local and talk about how sad it was that the person had old shoes, or didn’t have the latest iPhone, or carried things up and down a mountain for a living.
I got (perhaps overly) pissed whenever this happened.
Why is that so sad? I’d much rather have that life than the typical western life of sitting down for 40 hours per week at work and then sitting down for another 40 hours per week for leisure, constantly distracting myself from a life I hate by eating more or drinking more or browsing Facebook.
Not to vilify the occasional indulgence, or the occasional relaxation, but I find it to disgusting to imply that a life of extreme comfort and safety is the only kind of good life.
Wow, that got ranty.
7: I didn’t miss the internet. At all.
On the flight home I made a list of the things I did and did not miss (you can make quite the long list on a 38-hour journey). My most missed "items" were Sarah, fat, and drinkable water. My "didn’t miss even a little" list included internet, alcohol (which surprised me).
How little did I miss the internet (and the internet world in general)? I got home from my trip on Dec 21. We left on Dec 24 to go back east for Christmas. I didn’t open my computer once in that timeframe, and didn’t bring it with me back east (I ALWAYS bring it). I left for Nepal on Nov 23 and didn’t open my computer again until Jan 3. And, if anybody reading this wants to fund my laziness, I’d be happy to close it again.
8: The convenience of drinkable tap water is underrated.
After Sarah picked me up from the Denver airport and brought me home the first thing I did was pour myself a glass of water. And then I just drank it. I didn't apply any chlorine tablets. I didn't use a water filter. It was heavenly.
I knew I was going to have to filter every sip of water for the whole month, but I underestimated just how inconvenient that would be. And keeping my filter from freezing (which apparently ruins it) was even more inconvenient. There were multiple mornings where I woke up to a frozen water bottle, but on those nights I slept with my filter so all was okay.
Fun fact: the water in Kathmandu is so bad that you can’t even brush your teeth with it.
9: Our bodies acclimatize remarkably well to all sorts of things.
When I think of acclimatizing I think of altitude, especially when going to 5,600 meters (if I haven’t converted you away from the imperial system already, that’s 18,300 feet or so). But our bodies acclimatize to all sorts of things.
In Colorado I eat a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet. In Nepal I had no choice but to eat a low-fat, low-protein, high-carb diet. And my body adapted just fine. Much better than I anticipated.
I’m always the coldest person in the room, the first to put on a sweatshirt. In Nepal it was freezing 24/7, with no heating and terrible insulation, and I was fine after the first week.
10: I struggle to remove myself from the moment long enough to record it.
This isn’t a complaint. It’s certainly better than the opposite.
Anytime I experience something that blows me away my instinct is to stare at it and absorb it. Just smile and take it all in. I don’t even think about taking out my camera until I see other people fumble for theirs'. Because of this I missed a lot of cool pictures that I could have taken. But how often would I have really looked at those pictures, anyway?
11: The fact that I blog is obnoxious (to me).
On a few occasions I witnessed some of my fellow trekkers blogging. For some reason I found it obnoxious. Then I quickly realized that I was projecting.
The fact that I think my life is important enough to blog about ... I find that obnoxious. I don’t love it. Yet I’m going to keep going for a while. "Just show up" is becoming a pretty important phrase to me, and I want to see what happens if I continue to just show up.
12: Being on a forced budget is quite the experience.
My online research suggested that I bring about $1,200 USD to have a comfortable but not luxurious trip. I planned on bringing $2,000 to be safe and to make sure I never thought twice about buying tea or dessert.
Unfortunately I’m an idiot. And I’m a last minute packer and preparer. Bad combination.
IMO the day of the flight seems like a valid time to get money. But my flight was on Thanksgiving day, not the biggest banking day. So I was limited to the ATM. My ATM card has a $500 limit, so that’s all I could get.
I attempted to get more in JFK airport on my layover, but the machine didn’t work. I found out later that my bank declined that transaction and I could have gotten money if I called to clear that up, but the machine didn’t give me an error message useful enough to figure that out.
Then I attempted to get more money in Kathmandu, but it turns out that Nepal has never heard of Discover. So... not good for me.
My flight to the mountains was on Monday at 9:20am. I spent ALL of Sunday trying to figure out a way to get money. Stressed out of my mind, I finally thought of the solution at 10pm on Sunday. I’d send myself a Western Union. My first attempt was declined for possible fraudulent activity. But I was desperate, so I tried again (the exact same thing) and for whatever reason it went through the second time.
All of the WU locations were closed, so the next morning I had to decide between catching my flight but not being able to eat, or being able to eat but missing my flight. I was indecisive. I woke up at 5:45am and walked around Thamel (district of Kathmandu) for 90 minutes trying to find an open WU location. Their website said lots of places opened at 6am, but the place’s "CLOSED" signs begged to differ.
At 7:15am I got a cab to the airport. And then realized that when a white dude says "airport" to a cab driver he takes you to the international airport. So I had to find my way to the domestic terminal, which luckily was only 10 minutes away.
Then I found out that the TSA doesn’t exist in Nepal. You can show up at 9:50 for a 10:00 flight. Which was perfect because my fight had been delayed to 10:00. Booyah! Best delay ever.
I took a cab back to Thamel, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I found a place that was willing to fulfill my WU. I got back to the airport at 9:48am and was in full sprint mode. My flight had been further delayed.
Most stressful morning ever.
After all that... I was still on a tight budget. I had only done my WU for $300 because I was worried about not being able to get larger amounts fulfilled.
I counted my money every day, and budgeted ahead. I had to be the "no thanks I’m not thirsty" guy when everyone else was getting tea. I ate tons and tons of Dal Bhat because it was the most cost effective meal. I even snuck past a police checkpoint (don’t tell on me) to avoid paying $20.
It sucked in the moment, but I appreciate having been through that. It’s crazy how far a dollar can be stretched when you really try, and it makes me think a little more about the $7 Coconut Matchas that I get in Boulder.
13: Apparently I love shopping.
When I got back to Kathmandu I finally had a working debit card. Well, actually I had my bank mail a pin to my apartment in Boulder so I could use my credit card at the ATM. When it finally arrived Sarah WhatsApped me said pin.
I had 2+ days in Kathmandu before heading home. Flush with cash I decided to buy presents for Sarah and three of my other friends. I was shocked at how much fun I had. I would not have described myself as someone who likes shopping, but I guess I was wrong.
All of the items were cool, pretty hippie, and things that I think my friends might genuinely like.
That’s my problem with shopping in general, I think. It’s an obligatory thing that I do to avoid feeling like a bad person, but I know I’m getting people things just for the sake of getting them. Not because the people will actually like the gifts. But these were different. I got these because I wanted to, not because I had to.
14: Instant coffee is disgusting, but that’s okay because Masala Tea is #yum.
I’m a coffee guy. You know those annoying guys that only use organic fair-trade beans and refuse to brew them with anything more convenient than an AeroPress. That’s me.
The word "coffee" doesn’t mean in Nepal what it means here. It means "gross instant powder nonsense." If you want actual coffee you have to order "fresh coffee," but that’s a hard find once you get into the mountains.
The fake coffee was a blessing in disguise because it forced me into trying some various teas that I might not have otherwise tried. My favorite was the tea the locals drank, Masala Tea. It’s black tea brewed with a blend of spices, made with either milk or water (both are delicious). I brought some home with me. It was one of Sarah’s gifts, but she’ll never know if I sneak a little here and there (unless she still reads this blog).
15: Tourists will never get the real experience.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Kathmandu after my first two days there. Eventually I learned how to deal with this and I ended up loving Kathmandu, but for the first two days I felt like I was doing nothing but being constantly harassed my pushy salesman. I was sick of it.
When I got to the mountains I started to tell a fellow tourist about how I didn’t really like Kathmandu, but then I caught myself. It was only because of my skin color that I didn’t like it. If I was a local, or could somehow make myself look like a local, I think I’d love it.
I did end up loving it anyway, though. No skin-color-change needed.
16: I could live happily with almost nothing.
2 pair underwear. 2 pair socks. 1 t-shirt. 1 pair pants. 1 pair shoes. 1 jacket. Etc.
That was plenty. I had the lightest pack of anybody I ran into, and not once did I wish I had anything more.
Back home I’d need to add my laptop and... that’s it, really. Maybe find some place to store my skis and my bike if I could, but that’s not a necessity. I’m confident that I could do #vanlife extremely well.
17: I’m doing everything right.
Yesterday during yoga my teacher paused to explain a pose to us in more detail. She asked if anyone had any questions. We all did, probably, but only one of the students was brave enough to admit it. The brave student asked about some specific things and said she wasn’t sure if she was doing it right. My teacher, before providing feedback, started with "you’re always doing it right."
That yoga class didn’t happen in Nepal, but that exact same realization did. In some ways I’m getting way too woo woo hippie. But whatever.
I might not be pursuing the perfect business idea or being the best husband. But in the broad sense, everything I’m doing is just as right as anything else I could be doing. Or maybe even more right.
18: Being a vegetarian isn’t that bad.
I went meat-free for 20 days and I didn’t die. It’s illegal to kill meat in the high mountain region, so all meat sold there has been carried up on someone’s back for 2-8 days, depending on how high you are. So... yeah, eating meat isn’t recommended.
That said, I ate meat at every chance when I got back home.
19: Proper clothing works wonders.
Shocking realization: warm clothes are warm. This was not previously obvious to me.
There are so many nights where I go out for a drink in Boulder and am shivering the whole time because 45° is sweatshirt weather in my brain, so of course I’d wear a sweatshirt.
Nepal was life-changing. I realized that I could use my senses instead of my iPhone to decide how cold it felt, and dress accordingly.
20: Having a cold, bloody nose, vomiting, and diarrhea all at the same time is... not as bad as it sounds.
Wanna throw up? Everybody’s doing it!
Everybody I talked to got sick at some point. I was lucky that mine was only for one night. My buddy Savan was sick for 5 days, and Maggie, a young Australian woman I was trekking with for a while, threw up every day for a whole week.
So, having that perspective, my sickness didn’t bother me so much. I tucked myself into bed at 5pm and slept it off, getting up every 30-40 minutes to go have epic diarrhea in the bathroom, which I’m soooo thankful wasn’t in use anytime I needed it (1 bathroom for 14 people).
21: Why is someone else carrying your bag?
In Namche Bazaar I met the coolest Australian couple. She was 58 and he was 59. They didn’t have guides and they were carrying their own bags. It was so badass.
Unfortunately it was by far more common to see people with guides and porters than without. Guides are people who prevent you from falling into crevasses (your basic map can take care of the navigation part just fine) and speak at least a little bit of English. Porters are people who carry your bag for you, and generally don’t speak English.
All of the people that I became friendly with were carrying their own bags.
Seeing healthy, strong 27-year-old men carrying nothing was a great exercise for me. Each of the many times I saw this I started to tell myself a story about why it made sense for this person to have an empty back. It was helpful because, again, my first reaction is to be like "what the f*** you lazy f***" but I know that I’d (probably) get along with that person if we had coffee together so it was therapeutic to run through all of the perfectly valid reasons for not carrying your own gear.
22: Perspective is a funny thing.
Spend enough time in the cold and it doesn’t seem so cold anymore. Spend enough time in Kathmandu (super dense population) and Boulder seems empty. Breath enough air in Kathmandu and the air in NYC seems delicious. Hike enough in the Himalayas and the Rockies seem tiny.
I think one of the reasons turning your world upside down is so cool is because it helps you see your previous world (that you'll eventually return to) through a totally different lens.
23: It will be over soon. So soon.
The hike. The trip. The pain. The panting. The pleasure. The views. Life.
All of it will be over in the relative blink of an eye. Some people in my life don’t understand some of the choices I make. Well, this is why I make those choices. Whether I die 70 seconds from now or 70 years from now... that’s basically the same length of time in the scheme of things. I want to enjoy things while I’m here, and I’m okay enduring a little more pain and taking a little more risk to make sure that that happens.
24: Creativity loves space.
I had zero thoughts of business during this trip. Yet, on the last week, without trying, I came up with a business idea that I believe is what I’m "destined" (in quotes because I don’t believe in that crap) to do. Of course I’ve gotten overly excited about business ideas before, so I’m not jumping out of my skin over here, but we’ll see what happens.
My point isn’t the idea itself. It’s more that I’d actively been trying to come up with the perfect idea for 5+ months back in Colorado, and when I stopped trying is when I came up with an idea (not a perfect one) better than all of those.
It was like a month-long meditation session. It was so hard to breathe at times that I was literally forced to focus on my breath (if left to its own devices an unacclimated body will not breathe enough). And the rest of the time I was focused on my step. As during any meditation session, sometimes the mind wanders. And it was in this occasional unintentional wandering that I uncovered some things, both professionally and personally.
25: Compared to adventurous people I’m not very adventurous.
Before leaving I got told how crazy (usually a compliment, but not always) and adventurous and courageous I was. Yet, once I got to Nepal I realized how lame I was in comparison. The majority of the people I hung out with (other solo adventurers that didn’t hire guides or porters) were doing additional traveling on the front-end and/or back-end of this trip. Many, many people were doing 6+ months of traveling. A few were doing 15+ months.
On the way up Kongma La, the first (and hardest according to the locals) of the three high passes, I tagged along with 26yo Polish Derek, 20yo American Audrey, and a Sherpa guide that Audrey had hired. It took every ounce of energy and willpower for me and the very strong Polish dude to keep up.
I learned later that Audrey was traveling for 15 months, and she had spent the previous 63 days at over 4,000 meters. That made me feel a bit better about getting my ass kicked, and was also my first "holy crap, you are so much cooler than me" moment.
26: The Himalayas are steep.
Duh, right? But seriously. There were times where 800m of hiking, which would take me less than 3 minutes to run even in my current very-out-of-running-shape condition, took us 90 minutes or more. Straight. Up.
I can’t begin to imagine climbing one of the 8,000 meter peaks without oxygen. Obviously those people acclimatize first whereas I didn’t, but still. Trying to breathe while hiking at 5,000 meters was plenty enough for me. Not easy.
27: Flexible plans are the best kind of plans.
My plan was to start in Jiri, then hike the EBC trail the whole way to base camp, and then come back and fly out of Lukla.
I deviated from that plan at almost every possible opportunity. I started from Phaplu, hiked the opposite direction, deviated from the main EBC trail every chance I got, and ended up doing three different passes that I wasn’t planning on doing.
Why all of the change? My original plan was the safest possible one. Everything seemed like a monstrous adventure while sitting in front of my computer in Colorado. But once I got to Nepal, and got on the trail, I realized that it wasn’t so scary in person. So I kept challenging myself with harder and more remote routes. Some of those routes are considered unsafe to do alone, so when I found others on the trail who were planning on doing them I adjusted my plans so I could tag along.
28: Lightweight is the right weight.
In life, perhaps, as well as on the mountains, the person with the minimum viable amount of gear has a big advantage.
To a large extent that can mean spending extra money. Lightweight sleeping bags and jackets are much more expensive than their heavier counterparts.
But it also means making smart choices and ignoring FOMO. Cameras (plus lenses and spare batteries) and computers are heavy. Most people could replace both with a phone, which they’re bringing anyway. A second pair of shoes is unnecessary, as is a coffee machine. It’s admittedly tough to cut any single item when it only weighs 0.2kg, but all of those unnecessary items add up when combined.
When in doubt, don’t bring it. That’s my philosophy, but I also have a wife that looks after my underprepared ass, so that’s kind of cheating.
I’m supposed to be done now, but I have more takeaways. Okay, consider my arm sufficiently twisted. Here are 28 more...
29: The $ goes a long way.
On the first night of my trek, in Junbesi, three Sherpa women spent over an hour making my dinner. It cost $3. I was blown away. That was probably my single biggest WHOAH moment of the trip. $3.
I was sitting by the fire in the kitchen as they prepared the food, so I saw every single thing they did. It’s not like they went away with my order and came back an hour later. No, I saw them every second, and they were working on my dinner every second. I’m still a little shocked when I look back upon it.
That was the best meal I had all trip, and the best I’ve had in a long long time. The taste was great, but everything was amplified by the experience.
My room that night was $2, and I also bought a glass of tea for $0.40.
30: Nickeling and diming is annoying.
As nice as it is to pay $2 for a room, note that everything beyond the bed and the toilet is an upsell. $4 to take a shower (never paid for), $3 for WiFi (paid for once), $2 to charge your battery for an hour (never paid for), etc. Western hotels are like all-inclusive resorts in comparison.
Canadian Mike and I both decided to get luxury hotels when we arrived back in Kathmandu. $30 USD per night, but that price included all of the items mentioned above. And it had a half-working AC unit! And a TV (which I sadly did watch one afternoon, but I feel like I earned it)! Annnnnnd... a free breakfast!!!!
The breakfast people eventually cut me off, but I can hardly blame them. I can’t begin to describe to you how hungry I was when I got back to Kathmandu, and I was costing them a fortune.
31: I’m pretty sure that my fear of heights is tamable.
The more I think about a fear of heights the more I think it’s like a fear of driving a car.
At any moment in a car if I make a single wrong move I’m dead. But I’m confident as hell behind the wheel, and I’m 0% scared of driving. That said, I treat driving with the utmost respect, am more focused behind the wheel AT ALL TIMES then anyone else I’ve ever seen, and actively take measures to avoid being caught up in someone else’s mistake.
The dangerous drivers I know are the petrified ones who are constantly hesitating and second-guessing themselves. And the reckless drivers who don’t realize just how dangerous driving can be. Confident yet calculated drivers are the safe ones.
I believe the same is true of walking on a narrow ledge, for example. Hesitate and you’ll undermine your body’s natural reactions, and you’ll take the route farthest from the drop-off even if that’s not the safest route. Be reckless and you won’t properly assess any dangers. Somewhere in the middle is the ideal.
So how does that mean that a fear of heights is tamable? Because confidence is a learned skill (for most people). By the end of my trip I was confidently walking on the river side of ledges because the mountain side was full of loose scree and was actually more dangerous.
32: But... still be careful when walking on a narrow ledge covered in ice.
Savan and I were on our way up to Renjo La when we had to cross over a short icy patch on a narrow ledge with a steep dropoff. Savan slipped on the ice, fell, and ended up with his legs dangling off the ledge. He managed to pull himself back up, but wow. That was by far the scariest thing that happened.
33: Removing almost everything from my life made it easy to identify the most important parts of my life.
Missed a lot: Sarah, fat, protein, drinkable water, friends, Colorado.
Missed a little: Coffee, centralized heat, skiing.
Missed not at all: Internet, computer, work, email lists.
Now I’m coming back into the world of Internet, computer, work, and email lists. But I’m coming back with a different perspective.
34: There are some things I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of.
The day before flying home Lucas and I went to a Hindu temple where we watched several cremations. The body is laid out publicly, and pictures are allowed, but I just couldn’t bring myself to photograph that.
It’s something that I’m glad I saw, but it was the hardest part of my trip.
I also didn’t take any photographs with people’s faces in them (other than the people I knew). Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, right? I’d be insulted if someone took my picture without asking. I missed some cool pictures this way, including having 0 pictures from Kathmandu, but I’m okay with that.
35: I’m gross.
I showered once per week despite hiking 7 hours a day. I only brought two pair of underwear and one t-shirt. I only did laundry (kind of) once. But all of that is par for the course.
The grossest thing I did? One night I was so cold and so tired that I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed and walk outside to the bathroom. So I peed in my water bottle. Then I washed it out the next morning and continued using it as my water bottle. Oh well.
36: I wish the west would adopt squat toilets.
Everything flows so much more smoothly.
Of course I’d like to keep western plumbing and our general acceptance of toilet paper, but the toilet itself? I prefer Nepali toilets. Except for when people pee on it and then that pee freezes and then you have to try hard not to slip whilst pooping.
37: Donkeys fart so much.
The good thing, though - and I’m being serious - is that humans needn’t have any reservations about farting when around donkeys. Other humans will always assume it was the donkeys. Ha! Scapedonkeys.
They also pee and poop a lot. So much that you can’t picture it until you can literally picture it.
Hmm. It hasn’t rained in at least two weeks. Yet this trail, which isn’t close to any water sources, is super muddy. Why is... ohhhhh. Gross.
38: Falling generally doesn’t hurt.
Every time I go skiing I’m usually a bit hesitant until my first fall (which I sometimes have to sort of fake). Then I have the "whoah, that wasn’t so bad" realization, and am much more aggressive thereafter.
The same held true over there. You might not normally think of hiking (aka walking) as a fall risk, but when you combine the crazy terrain with the tired legs and the 10kg (22lbs) pack, falling happens. And, as long as it’s not on the side of a cliff, it’s all good.
39: Running shoes are better than boots. Except for when they’re not.
I got lectured a lot about how my Merrell "barefoot" running shoes were insufficient. Surely my feet would freeze and I would twist both of my ankles on every step.
If you’re used to big clunkers maybe it’s not the best time to experiment with minimal footwear. But I’ve been wearing either minimal shoes or no shoes for the past five years, and my Merrell choice was perfect. Zero twisted ankles. Zero snow in shoes (because we didn’t encounter any snow).
If if snowed I would have been at a disadvantage. But it wasn’t supposed to. And it didn’t.
40: There are so many stars.
Because it was freaking cold out I only saw them in all of their glory once, but damn. The sky was bright the night I saw it. The clear skies and the utter lack of ambient lighting surely helped. I didn‘t have my phone with me, but stars don’t photograph well anyway.
41: Life is more peaceful without mirrors.
When’s the last time you went two weeks without looking in a mirror? I did, by accident. I kinda just forgot that they existed. And then when we finally stayed at a fancy place that did have a mirror... WHOAH you look terrible, bro. I was a mess. Awful facial hair, day-old sunscreen that I didn’t fully rub in, matted hair, and more.
But... I didn’t care about how ugly I looked. I wasn’t self-conscious about it.
Back in the western world my appearance affects my interactions. I don’t talk to people with the same confidence when I have an acne breakout or a sunburn or I gained a little weight.
But in Nepal (and it probably helped that I’ll never see these people again), I was simultaneously my ugliest and most confident self.
42: Hiking alone is rewarding and only mildly scary.
Most people who trek in the Everest region fly into Lukla, hike north, then turn around and fly back out of Lukla.
I flew into Phaplu, a town southwest of Lukla, and instead of going straight up I started by going even further west. Then I took some trails that you have to squint to see.
For those first 3-4 days I was the only trekker. I was treated differently on those days than I was when I got onto the main trail. When people said "Namaste" to me they had a genuine bow and a genuine smile deep in their eyes. They were happy - and maybe surprised - to see me, and they welcomed me with open arms.
I highly recommend starting in either Phaplu or Salleri if you do this hike. It’s such a different cultural experience from the tourist-filled trails higher up.
That said, there’s something weird about knowing that if you fall and hit your head you might not be found for a few days. Especially when you go exactly the opposite direction of where you told your wife you were going.
43: Trekking poles break when you overextend them.
I went back and forth on whether or not to use trekking poles. I decided to go for it because of my concern over muscle loss. I wanted to keep my upper body involved as much as possible. I’d still lose muscle, for sure, but maybe I’d lose less that way.
There was a mark on my trekking poles that said "Stop Here". Unfortunately I didn’t see that mark until after I snapped both of my poles on the third day of the trip. I had never used trekking poles before. Whoops.
44: Things in America cost too much.
Those trekking poles I broke? I paid $67 in the states for them. I bought some more in Namche Bazaar for $10 and, after following the instructions, had no problems.
No doubt my second pair was of lesser quality, but certainly you should be able to buy low-quality things in America for cheaper.
Actually, I take that back. You probably can. I just don’t go to the right stores.
45: Colorado is beautiful.
Before leaving I was worried that Colorado would seem less stunning when I returned. That it just wouldn’t hold up. This fear originated within, and then was echoed by multiple people before I left.
Wrong. Colorado is every bit as stunning as Nepal. Very different, but just as magical.
46: I’m proud of myself.
Meditating with monks is the only hope I had that went unfulfilled. I did everything else, and then more. I continually changed my plans to do harder and more desolate routes. I hiked over all three high passes even though I wasn’t planning on doing any. I ignored my fear of heights several times (though never to an extreme degree - this, including the three passes is a totally friendly trek to do even if you are afraid of heights).
47: I should have brought more trail mix.
I brought 1.5kg (3.3lbs) of trail mix with me. It was all gone by the third day, and then I was forever hungry after that. I lost over 4kg (8.8lbs) on the trek even though I was actively trying to prevent myself from losing weight.
Canadian Mike, who I met in the Lukla Airport on the way back to Kathmandu, had an entire kilo of trailmix that he didn’t want. He gave it to me for free (You know how Canadians are). I was done hiking but it was still delicious.
48: I learned how to sleep on airplanes.
On each of my three flights home (Nepal -> Qatar -> Los Angeles -> Denver) I had a fever. Having a fever during the first hour of a 38 hour journey is a scary proposition, so I somehow used calm breathing and reaffirming words to fall asleep on the plane. I knew I really badly needed to sleep and was proud of myself for getting it done.
I never used to be able to sleep on airplanes. Now I can. Yay!
49: Flying wasn’t as bad as I expected.
I know I just said I had three fevers on three flights. Even still, flying was nowhere nearly as bad as I expected. Including layovers and delays I flew for a total of 80 hours. And it was fine. Even though I dread the 4 hour flight from Philadelphia to Denver.
Mindsets are a funny thing. And it helped that Qatar Airways carries movies that real humans want to watch.
50: WWE is really dumb.
Middle-aged Nepali men think that fake wrestling (yeah, the kind that your friends liked when you were in grade school) is the grandest thing. I had one argue with me that it was in fact real.
There were only three lodges that had TVs, and all three were tuned to this nonsense.
At our lodge in Phaplu the owner offered us the remote. "No, no, no" we said, trying to be polite tourists. Then he flicked on WWE (or whatever it’s called now). Ugh. He offered us the remote again an hour later and we both jumped at the chance.
51: 1st world or 3rd world, it’s funny how similar we all are.
Same mannerisms, same insecurities, same desire for distraction. The amount of Nepali people sitting in front of a TV while scrolling through Facebook on their phones was shocking to me. They’re just like us.
52: I should go buy a used car.
I got pretty good at haggling. Or, more accurately, I got comfortable with the idea of haggling.
Nepalis haggle differently from Americans; there’s no hostility. Person A names a price, then Person B names a price, then that’s repeated until the people finally agree or finally disagree. But, no matter the outcome (with a few exceptions), both parties are smiling the whole time.
I’ve always hated the prospect of buying anything that can be negotiated. Cars, bikes, guitars (houses are a bit different because it’s not face to face). But I have no problem with it now. I better go buy a bunch of stuff before this magic fades away!
53: I want to impress the right people. Mainly myself.
Does anybody truly not care what other people think? I doubt it. And I don’t even think that’s a healthy goal. Rather I think we should strive to only care what certain people think.
I use this little test instead of a WWJD sort of test. When in doubt... what would the people closest to me think about this decision?
I ended up not hiking to Everest Base Camp. I got maybe 4km or so away from it, but never went. I did Kala Pathar that day instead. Everybody who had already been to EBC said it wasn’t worth it and that’s there’s no reason to go (it’s deserted at this time of year, and you can’t even see Everest from camp), while everyone who was gung-ho on doing it was just after the bragging rights.
Doing something just to be able to brag about it sounds exactly like something I would do, but it’s not who I want to be. So I decided to skip it. Partly out of time restrictions, but mostly out of principle.
54: Some things just aren’t worth it.
On the third morning of my trek I woke up at 5:15am with Julien, a German guy I had met the night before. We decided to ascend Pikey Peak together, and he was dead set on getting there for sunrise.
Headlamps on, we headed out. When the sun started showing itself we were still about 30 minutes from the top. But that’s okay, the view was still amazing.
But that top never came. Not for me anyway. The trail just stopped and the only way to get up the last 100m was to hike up a frozen creek/waterfall. Uhm, no thanks. Not on day 3, and certainly not when my itinerary (I hadn’t been able to tell Sarah that I was changing my plans) said I was never planning on coming anywhere close to here. And not when I’d be doing other peaks that were more than 1,000m higher than this peak.
So I turned around. It turned out to be the only part of my trip that I bailed on.
55: I don’t have massive takeaways that will blow people away.
Maybe it’s just my own paranoia, but in conversation it seems like people expect me to deliver them a life-changing anecdote in 15 words or less. Sorry. No can do. The trip was certainly life-changing, but not like that.
56: I would do it again tomorrow.
Did I get it out of my system? Nope. I’d happily go again tomorrow (ideally somewhere different - I’m thinking New Zealand). But this time I would bring Sarah with me.
And that was my trip.