Ready for some exercise? Close your eyes. Picture yourself walking up a stair climber set on the highest possible resistance and incline. Sucks, right? Now strap a 15 lb weight to your body. You didn’t know how good you had it a second ago. Now there’s someone throwing marbles at your feet as you climb. If you’re about to die, hold on for one more second, because I need you to put a bag over your head.
If you start to feel hungry, don’t worry, you have a few Slim Jims and Cliff Bars to share with seven of your bestest friends. You’ll go through your water bottles quicker than expected. If you are really thirsty and the next village isn’t for several miles, fear not. Because you followed Paul H. Anderson’s Guide to Packing you have plenty of water-purifying tablets. All you have to do is find a nearby stream, fill up your water bottles and put a little dissolvable tablet into each one. Downside: you have to wait an hour for each tablet to work its supposed magic. If you are too delirious to keep track of an hour’s time, I think it’s still okay. Heck, they just became molecules like five minutes ago. The way I look at it, you are much too high of an elevation for your H2O to have been messed with yet. Besides, you’ve been taking your anti-malaria pills, haven’t you?
And just when you think this can’t get any more unbearable, you remember that you are 11,000 feet above sea level. At that altitude, watching TV and eating chips is a workout. Now before you start crying amid this imaginary experience, open your eyes. If the unthinkable hadn’t happened to us, this blog would have ended right here. That’s what it was like for a bunch of athletically average white people to hike in the Himalayas. But that would have been too easy…
My family is pretty athletic. Considering my Dad was in the marching band and my mom was cut from cheerleading in high school, they did really well in their adult lives (**Reader’s Note: Mom would like to add that while she was one of only two girls at tryouts that could tumble, but her conduct prevented her from making the team, as detailed by the teacher that wrote the recommendation she needed in order tryout). My mom coached Morgan in cheerleading and my dad coached Tim in baseball, making them poster children for parents living vicariously through their children who had much better luck with sports. But still, my mom has run three marathons and my dad has run 1 and ⅗ marathons. (Where can you compete in ⅗ of a marathon, you ask? Well, my mom got really sick running her first marathon in Dublin. My dad was there just to watch with their group of friends, but when my mom was all ready to drop out after just 9 miles, my dad took their friend Sheila’s gym shoes and ran 16 miles of the Dublin Marathon in blue jeans and a polo shirt and women’s shoes.)
In fact, we had a total of eight marathons in our group of seven, which is a pretty good ratio considering Kevin and Tim haven’t run one, and have to be bribed to run our annual Long Grove Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. (**Disclaimer: Kevin will get mad if I do not mention that we was the overall winner of the 2008 Long Grove Turkey Trot 5k. He has a wooden medal with a turkey on it to prove it.)
As we were trekking, we periodically saw signs warning us of the dangers of altitude. “WARNING: ALTITUDE KILLS.” Each would then list various symptoms of altitude sickness, which include dizziness, feelings of drunkenness, severe headache, vomiting and loss of appetite. If you feel this way, the sign bluntly instructs you to “DESCEND! DESCEND! DESCEND!”
The sign seemed pretty adamant, and I considered telling Ramesh we should listen to it and turn around, because the group (Ramesh aside) collectively felt all of those things. But initially, we weren’t doing too badly. It was a nice day, not too hot not too cold, and the scenes were incredible. While making their routine climbs to Lukla, the Sherpa people used to sing traditional songs en route, but now they just listen to Nepali folk music on their iPods. Ramesh played a well-known one and translated the lyrics for us:
My heart is fluttering like silk in the wind
I cannot decide whether to fly or sit on the hill top
To the dog it’s puppy, puppy, to the cat it’s meow meow
Our love is waiting at the crossroads
This song was about hearts fluttering and love waiting, and meanwhile the only song I had been singing was Holiday Inn by Pitbull, a song instructing you to forget about your boyfriend and meet Mr. Bull in the hotel room. Here is a snippet:
Bring your girls, just whatever the night
Your man just left, I’m the plumber tonight
I’ll check yo pipes, oh, you the healthy type
Well, here goes some egg whites
Gross. I don’t even know what his metaphors mean, but just, ugh, gross. If I didn’t feel like a complete scumbag yet, I did now. I am a terrible person. Luckily Ramesh came to the rescue with a very random assortment of English songs on his phone. But you can only sing Buffalo Soldier and the Venga Boys’ BOOM BOOM (I Want You in My Room) for so long, so we then began coming up with our own playlists that were a little more, how do I say, wholesome?
We started trying to sing songs that mention mountains, which are more common than I initially thought. We opened with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and then we segued into Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Even Miley Cyrus made the cut with “It’s the Climb.”
When we ran out of mountain songs we went through a stretch of singing Beatles and Elton John. We then jumped a few decades and somehow started singing La Roux’s “Bulletproof”, which prompted Tim to reveal that this is his favorite current Top 40 song, which is saying a lot for someone who has his own rock band and doesn’t like mainstream music. You think you know your family as well as you ever could, but then we learned random things like that as we went along. Other things revealed: Deirdre didn’t know I had several sessions with a motivational hypnotist in high school. I’ve been on crack ever since…
Other times there were periods of exhaustion where no one spoke to one another and we just walked in a single file line spread out over 200 feet. This was an unexpected difficulty of the already-taxing hike—running out of things to talk about, as being a blab is part of my DNA. I am not easily shut up, but Everest was doing it like a pro.
But I was not easily defeated. When I ran out of things to talk about, I would default to my childish question to Ramesh:
“So, umm how much longer we lookin’ until we get there, Ramesh?” I’d ask in a fake-upbeat tone.
“Hmm,” he looked off into the distance as if he could see our ending spot, “It’s best not to say.”
“Still?” He kept giving me the same answer.
After about the 3rd time I asked this, Deirdre told me to stop. “Amanda, you’re not making anything better when you ask,” she said.
She had been so tolerable of my family this entire trip, but I think I was really pushing the envelope. Oh yeah, and then we saw this guy:
5 foot 2, 102 lbs max, walking with a refrigerator on his back. If that doesn’t make you feel weak I don’t know what does. But we managed to press on. When there wasn’t a log to cross a stream, we walked through them. We crossed suspension bridges thousands of feet above the ground. We’d climb up and then walk a bit down, up and down, up and down. Then we’d climb up some enormous boulders for what seemed like eternity. Every step was a punishment, and with each one, I felt further and further from our destination. And even when we were going down it was tough, because every step we took was a choice. Should I step on the bigger rock that’s further away or should I just take shorter steps on the shaky small rocks? I was making 50 life-or-death decisions a minute. My neck actually started hurting from looking down the whole time.
Then I heard a scream from behind me, and then someone yelled “You guys, STOP!”