Before you freak out and question the existence of God, or how anyone with half a conscious could do this, I’ll tell you that we didn’t feel great about our decision. I worried that we’d get back down from the mountains to Kathmandu only for a doctor to tell us that we waited too long and that my mom’s leg had to be amputated. Or worse, that she’d get a blood clot and die right there in the tea house before we got back. I definitely didn’t want that to happen. It’d be way harder to carry a corpse down a mountain, and we could barely handle our eight pound backpacks.
The young Nepali woman running the tea house seemed nice, although she didn’t speak a word of English. She had two cute kids around four and six years old who watched us with curiosity from behind the safety their mother’s traditional long skirt. Some cats came inside to see what all the fuss was about, deemed us pretty boring and left shortly after. The cats we encountered were domestic when they choose to be. They could enter any house as if it were their own, sleep a bit, bother people and then leave as they pleased. Ramesh explained to us that the woman’s husband who was out working for the day spoke a little English and would be back later should my mom need anything. Ramesh and the woman exchanged cell phone numbers (YES! cell phones work in the Himalayas better than they do in parts of Connecticut) with the casualness of “text me later if anything comes up tonight!” There wasn’t much else to discuss, aside from “we’ll see you tomorrow!”
We each said goodbye to my chair-bound mom, lining up to crouch down and hug her one by one. I remember being surprised that my Dad even kissed my mom goodbye, he was still all riled up and pissed off. Tim gave his usual half-hug, a one-armed effort that breaks away before even getting a chance to squeeze the other person. Kevin made a significant effort to appear his usual warm and upbeat self, Morgan was still crying, and as I approached my mom, I rolled my eyes, hugged her and mumbled into her ear, “This is so f-ing typical.”
“What else is new,” she muttered back with a smile. At least she was smiling.
Deirdre hung back during our weird family exchange before giving my mom her own proper hug. Glancing back and forth between my mom’s ankle the size of a softball with a pathetic wet ripped up undershirt wrapped around it and Deirdre’s sad face, I couldn’t decide who was worse off. At least my mom was temporarily getting out of this trip from hell. Deidre had 5 hours of climbing and 4 more days of Andersons ahead of her. On top of it all, she was paying a couple hundred dollars a day to be miserable. My mom may have lost her mobility, but Deirdre was losing more time and money than anyone else. The rest of us were freeloading.
“Bye Mrs. Anderson,” Deidre said in a sweet, somber voice.
“Take care of these wackjobs, Dee.”
“I’ll try,” she said, trying to smile. Deirdre was probably worried that she was actually going to have take care of at least one of us along the way. Either that or prevent one of us from pushing one another off a cliff.
We left Mom with a pen, a notebook, a bottle of aspirin and Kevin’s paperback copy of, “Into Thin Air,” and that was that.
It pleased Kevin very much to be able to lend my mom his book. A few days before we left for the trip, Kevin realized he didn’t have any plane reading, so he went on Amazon and rush ordered “Into Thin Air”, which tells the tale of one of the most ill-fated Everest climbs in history. A few nights before the trip, Kevin found my dad up at 2 a.m. one night, sitting in his home office, reading it.
“Dad, I’m bringing it with, you don’t have to stay up all night reading.”
My dad marked his page before glancing up from the book, looking at Kevin as if he had suggested packing a gorilla in his suitcase. “Well, it’s a great book, so far anyway, but I don’t know if I’d waste valuable packing space on it. That’s why I am trying to read it all tonight!” he said very matter-of-factly.
Kevin sighed. “Whatever, Dad. Well, even if you finish it, I’m still going to bring it. After all, I did buy it for me to read. I’m sure I can cut back somewhere else to make room,” he said as he headed up to bed.
Kevin’s book proved to be a double offense because not only did he bring it along on our trip, but it was one of the select items he chose to pack in his backpack as we ascended the Himalayas to Namche Bazaar. Books were not on the Paul Anderson Approved Trekking Packing List. Because my dad chided him for wasting packing space on a book, Kevin made sure to point out how clutch it was in our moment of crisis. What else was my mom going to do, in her lonely, enfeebled state for a day and a half in a tiny cabin?
“Good thing I brought that book along!” He said in earshot of my father. My dad didn’t respond, so I gave Kevin a congratulatory head nod from across the room. Kevin:1 Dad: 0. Actually it was more like Kevin: 1 Dad: -20. Everyone was still pretty ticked off at him and my sister for throwing fits that would have made a toddler proud.
The nice Nepali woman brought Mom some tea as she sat with her leg elevated on a chair by the window. She waved goodbye to her from the window, probably thinking “SUCKERS!” and we began our trek. Ramesh led the way, if only for a little.
Dear readers, if you have been reading this from the start and at any point have thought to yourself, wow, that really must have sucked, stop. Up until this point, nothing we endured was nearly as unbearable as the next five hours. I remember thinking what I would give be sweating my butt off in the dirty streets of Delhi with diarrhea dripping down my legs.
Due to our unplanned two hour side trip with my mom, Ramesh was keeping us at a pretty steady pace so that we wouldn’t run out of daylight. I don’t want to say quick, because, after all, we were walking, but putting one foot in front of another hadn’t been this hard since I was seven months old. The rocks kept getting bigger, and our pace, slower. Our group was increasingly spread out. No one spoke much.
But the trek still allowed for surprises along the way. We encountered lots of animals: herds of goats, cows, wild ponies, oxen, roosters, cats, and more dogs. We continued to take pictures. My dad had his beloved Nikon 3000, a traveler’s medal of sorts which he proudly wears around his neck as long as he is set foot in another country.
Paul loves his fancy schmancy camera so much that one time he was so scared that someone was going to run away with it that he refused to ask anyone to take a family photo of the six of us in front of a waterfall. Instead, he took pictures of us four kids, marked where we were standing, and instructed us to take a picture of him and my mom in a the exact spot they would stand if they were in the picture with the four of us. “I’ll just photoshop them together!” he said confidently. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.
Kevin took my mom’s camera along and was sure to capture as many floral images as he could, because that was what my mom would do if she were there. Luckily Tim has his own camera:
Surprisingly, Tim came in handy in more ways than one. I say surprisingly because while he is easily the most athletically gifted and most creative-minded of the family, but he doesn’t always put his talents to much use. He takes a lot of crap and gets a bad rep from Kevin, Morgan and me, but most of it is warranted. He hates practicing, studying, and struggling, and he doesn’t see the point in doing something he doesn’t enjoy. He refused to do a family 5k we ran until I signed him up anyway and dragged his butt into the car. Upon playing a pickup game of soccer, Tim asked, “Guys, can we slow down the pace a bit?” He is a champion of slackers in a sense that he succeeds more than most with about a 20% effort.
With that, believe it or not, Tim, the archetypical youngest-child slacker, led the way the rest of the journey. I asked him about this later, and he said bluntly, “Well, no one else was so I figured I’d just keep going,” downplaying any heroic label he could tell I was trying to place on him.
There was less and less flat terrain and more rocks on a steep incline. Our quads were constantly working at that threshold lactic-acid buildup, where you can barely do one more rep, only instead of having one more rep, we had ten thousand to go. I told Tim that this was harder than running two marathons back to back.
“Okay, Amanda, let’s not get carried away here.” he said.
“I’m serious, Tim.” If you can do this, a marathon would be a cakewalk.
I dropped the subject, but several minutes later, Tim asked, “So which one should I do?”
“One what?” I said, completely forgetting our conversation.
“Marathon,” he said, “you said I could do one.”
“Oh right,” I said. “Well I don’t know, it’s always nice to do one in a cool big city with lots of people and things to look at–that’s why I did Chicago and Paris.”
“Well what other ones are good?”
“Actually,” I said, “Deirdre and I watched the Marine Corps Marathon last year, and it goes all through DC and the monuments. It’s a pretty neat course and–”
“And it’d be patriotic in support of the troops, right?”
“We’ll yeah, totally. Lots of military guys run in it and they actually compete to see who can finish in the fastest time–Army, Navy, Marines, you get the idea.”
“Siiickk,” Tim said. “I’ll do that one,” he said.
And there you have it, Everest changing mentalities one slacker at a time. Not trying to go all Eat Pray Love on you, but just saying it was more than just the altitude that had us thinking crazy thoughts. Ramesh told me that if I was into marathons, there was a Everest Marathon every November. Just when you thought it was impossible to concoct a more miserable experience on that very path we were walking on, you find out that people sign up to run, I repeat, run, double the distance we were covering that day.
“A good amount of foreigners do it, but the Sherpa people win every year. If you come back, I’ll run it with you!” Ramesh said enthusiastically.
“Well Ramesh, that is quite the offer, if I live to finish this trek, I will certainly keep that in mind. Thanks.”
Deirdre and I trailed Tim around every upward twist and turn through the mountains. Every time he turned a corner, he’d act surprised that more boulder-stairs lie ahead. I watched Tim let out a huge exhale. “My goodness!” he exclaimed, pausing to look at what I assumed were more inclined rocks before disappearing around the bend. If we climbed any higher I was sure we’d reach the gates of heaven.
But this was Hell. Ramesh stayed back with Morgan and my dad, who were climbing at a pace that would make my grandma resemble a Kenyan. I looked behind me to see Ramesh and Kevin with backpacks over their chests in addition to the ones on their backs. Further behind them were a bare-backed Paul and Morgan. Things were looking bleak. My dad was the only one who had even remotely “trained” for this trek, and here he was looking small, weak and defeated. He had aged 20 years in an hour. Here was the one person whose every fiber of body still wanted be on this mountain, and even that wasn’t enough to press on and carry his own backpack.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, it started to rain, completing the trifecta of ultimate misery: being cold, hungry, and now, wet. It was getting dark out, too. We stopped under a canopy of trees to help eachother don our rain gear–ponchos, hats, and waterproof backpack covers. We paused and caught our breaths sitting on some rocks for a few minutes. Ramesh stayed standing like a mother duck looking down on his pathetic struggling ducklings.
“Ok, ready to go?” he said. And with that, Ramesh, turned and reclaimed his spot at the front of the pack.