After being home for a few weeks and getting a bit of adulting done, I headed out to Olympia, WA to visit my EBC bestie, Jo. We didn’t have much planned, besides going on a road trip down the coast into California for a week or so. We were just gonna wing it and have fun!
I was so stoked to be back in this area that I had been in love with for so long. My first visit out to the PNW was around 2005. I can’t believe I hadn’t considered it as a place to move to! It was now on the radar and over the next month, I realized it was the right fit. After going back and forth from Michigan to Olympia for a few months, I am officially official in Washington as of today!!! A few epic road trips happened in between, so stay tuned for those photos!
This was the biggest, scariest, craziest thing I have ever done. It was also the most amazing and most inspiring adventure I have ever been on. Traveling around the world to places I had only dreamed of going and doing it alone seemed like an impossibility a year ago. It’s now almost 7 months since the end of my tour and I still can’t believe I did it. Planned in about 3 weeks, I’m surprised I didn’t run into more problems. Part of that was luck, but I’m also big on planning and researching, so preparation vs. just winging it helped.
I finished my tour in Denver, CO. After a long flight from Auckland to San Francisco, and then to Denver, I was beat. I didn’t get much sleep and was a zombie on the hunt for coffee when I collected my bags.
I was only there for a few days, looking at apartments, and hanging out with my friend, Chris, from my Everest Base Camp trek. He took me out to get coffee and look at places, which was soooooo nice of him. I wasn’t really feeling Denver and instead of going apartment hunting again, we went for a hike! We did the Royal Arch Trail at Chautauqua Park. It felt great to get back on the trail and sweat again! We followed that up with a delicious lunch and beer!
After spending a few days in Denver, I was undecided on whether I wanted to make the move there or not. It wasn’t feeling right. I went back to Grand Rapids, MI to figure things out, ending my tour of the globe. It felt very strange to be back home without a home. I have wonderful friends that were willing to put up with me, thank goodness! I was only home for a few weeks before leaving for a long weekend to spend in Canada with my friends Dean and Kelly from the Everest Base Camp trek. It was so wonderful to spend more time with them and meet their amazing kiddos and dog! We went hiking and enjoyed the Awesomeness that is Collingwood! Dean and Kelly raised a lot of money for the building of a school in Bigu Village (in Nepal) with a presentation they gave on our trek to EBC. It’s part of an initiative that Anywhere has started called Elevate. They do great work and invest in the communities that they work in. Kelly and Dean’s efforts helped raise enough funds to finish the library portion of the project. If you’re interested in helping out, follow this link here. Team Canada made sure I had a truly authentic visit with them, so they made sure I had poutine and a beaver tail before I left! I had so much fun with them and hated to leave, but my next adventure was less than two weeks away and I had some things to take care of before leaving, so I had to get home.
Although my trip has ended, the traveling and adventure continued! This year has gone down as the best in my life! I have met so many different kinds of people, from all corners of the earth, all kinds of backgrounds and I realized how much we all have in common. Flying as much as I have this year, I observed that we all experience the screaming kid on the plane, or those who are incapable of following directions. Some of us are nervous fliers and need a bit of booze to get through. There are those that are sticklers for rules and some that bend and sway to make others happy. These are our experiences no matter who we are or where we come from. We all know these people or have been seated beside them, or maybe we are these people. I’m not trying to say the places in the world aren’t vastly different, they are, but I’m saying the similarities are there, too. The thread of commonality that runs from person to person is there. From culture to culture. From family to family. We aren’t so different that we can’t find a way to love each other, respect each other, and accept each other for our similarities AND our differences. It is possible to come together with a group of strangers and love them by the end of two weeks. I’ve experienced that a few times this year. I know how lucky I am to have had those experiences. Traveling has taught me a lot about the world. It has made it feel smaller and bigger simultaneously. It has also taught me a lot about myself. I have grown into a stronger and more confident woman. I’ve learned that travel and experiencing new places and people are crucial to me being a happy person. I have to make time for the things that I love because a life without those moments of pure bliss is a life unfulfilled. My cup is very full. It runneth over.
This happened during my “Travel Day From Hell.” This image made all of the stress and white-knuckle driving worth it.
P.S. This is not the end! I will continue writing about my experiences as long as I have something to say about it and photos to share! Thanks for following along, I love knowing that I’m not just writing this for myself, even if it is just one or two others 🙂
I know I haven’t said much about my adventures as a storm chaser, but I went on three great tours last year, which led me to taking the plunge and going international with my travels. I met a lot of wonderful, down-to-earth, kind, and big-hearted people on my chases with Silver Lining Tours, one of which was my friend Chris. Chris is a Kiwi, meaning he hails from New Zealand. He and his Dad have been going on storm chase tours for years. They are loads of fun, and can easily make me laugh!
As I was making all my travel arrangements, I reached out to Chris to see if he had any recommendations while I was in NZ. He went above and beyond of what anyone would have after only knowing me for a very short time, and we messaged and had a few phone calls to figure out my flight, things that I should see, etc. He even offered himself up as my tour guide as long as he could work remotely and invited me to stay in his family’s home. I was so overwhelmed with the generosity and gladly accepted knowing I could have a more authentic experience while there.
My flight from Brisbane was only a few hours and I didn’t have any sort of hassle when it came to my passport. My cell phone’s wi-fi didn’t work again, and I could only connect via Chris’s hotspot or home internet. Chris picked me up from the airport and then drove me around Auckland to give me the basic rundown. We stopped for a bite to eat, washed everything down with a beer, and continued through the rainstorms that kept popping up, some of which produced some good pea sized hail for NZ. We arrived to Chris’s family home on a beautiful piece of land just outside Auckland. I had a wonderful spot in their guest house that had a beautiful view of the land they raise cattle on. I could have stared at the rolling green hills and dramatic skies for days. That night they took me out to dinner where I got to meet more of the family! They were all lovely, warm, and welcoming people. I felt really, really lucky that my path crossed with Chris and his family!
The next day, we loaded up Chris’s truck with essential snacks and beverages (beer, pineapple lumps, hokey pokey, etc.) and made our way to Matamata to visit Middle Earth, but not before stopping to have a meat pie! It was a delicious pastry with a flavorful meat filling that was very messy (flaky pastry), but very good. After arriving to Middle Earth, we boarded the bus that took us to the starting point of our walking tour. Our guide shared stories from the sets of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The Alexander family sheep farm was stunningly beautiful and seeing it in person was a very special experience, one I never imagined having when I first saw any of the films. My favorite part was being able to stop at the Green Dragon Inn to have a nice, cold beer (of course this was my favorite-I hail from “Beer City USA”)! I decided to try the English Ale, one of three options that are only available there. It was pretty good and was the best way to end a very cool tour.
We then visited Huka falls, New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. It is a super powerful waterfall with a beautiful ice blue hue. The volume of water going through this narrow section of the Waikato River has an amazing thunderous sound. It was a very zen moment for me just focussing on the water rushing by.
I was hoping weather would cooperate and I’d be able to do a hike in Tongariro National Park, but had to settle for having a nice view of the park from Lake Taupo, more beer than I could drink, good company, and yummy food!
The next day was jammed packed! We started out at the Wai-O-tapu Geothermal area, one of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions.
Then we went to Rotorua a.k.a. RotoVegas where we rode the gondola to the top of the complex and I then reluctantly tried the luge. The idea was a bit terrifying (an image of me going too fast, losing control, and tumbling over the hill or into something played over and over in my head). I ended up having a lot of fun, but rain rained on our parade and they closed it down.
While making our way back to Auckland, Chris thought to stop in Tauranga so I could do a hike up Mt. Maunganui, an extinct 761 ft volcanic cone. I chose one of the more challenging routes and managed to get up and down in under 90 minutes.
The next morning Chris dropped me off to do a section of the Hillary Trail called the Goldie Bush Walkway. It was about 10k with gorgeous scenery and for the most part it was right along the coast. I was a happy girl with most of the trail to myself except for one woman and her dog. It was my first solo hike and I enjoyed every moment!
The end of the trail led me to the Gannet Colony and Muriwai Beach. I am kind of photographically obsessed with birds, so I spent a good amount of time capturing photos during my hike and at the end. Sorry there are so many of them!
We had been talking about going fishing all week and I was so hoping to get out on the water! Be careful what you wish for. The weather was good enough to go out, but for someone with limited experience out on rough seas, the “small” 3-5 feet waves were a bit much. I held it together for as long as I could, but my tummy eventually told me to get to land before I lost my breakfast over the side of the boat. We managed to catch some big, beautiful fish before heading back in and I even got to reel one in! It was an exciting outing, but I was so glad to reach land without puking!
That night was celebrated with fireworks, lots of laughter, and smoked fish. I even ate a fish eye for my amazing New Zealand family and they all got a kick out of it! I have to say, it wasn’t that bad. I had a wonderful week with them all and was overwhelmed by their warmth and generosity. It was the absolute best way to end the international part of my world tour and I can’t wait to get back there for a much longer visit!
I had this whirlwind romance with Nepal, and I was very sad to leave my trekking family. Part of me thought I should just end my travels there because it couldn’t get any better than what I just experienced. Nothing could top Nepal.
I was right. NOTHING could top that experience, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy my time in Australia, right? Things started out a bit bumpy. Remember when I lost my passport in Poland? Well, since I had to apply for a visa before visiting Australia, that meant that I needed to do it again since my passport number had changed on my emergency passport that I got in Poland. That aspect never occurred to me until I was trying to check-in to my flight leaving Kathmandu and I was being denied my boarding pass. In my head I was freaking out. To the outside world I was keeping my cool, but also being firm about needing help applying for my new Australian visa because I was unable to access the airport’s free wi-fi. It’s a simple online process and you typically get a response within 10 minutes, so I wasn’t too worried except for the fact that my flight was only a few hours away and I still had a couple of security checkpoints to go through that can sometimes take a bit of time. Everything worked out, I took a photo of my new visa information (just in case), and got through security with about 10 minutes to spare before they started getting folks ready for boarding.
My flight arrived to Singapore, where things weren’t exactly clear to me on where to go to catch the skytrain to the terminal I needed…it could have been that I was just tired and it was late. I walked very briskly to my gate which was a long ways away. Again, this could be attributed to my sleepiness. I made it just in time, being one of the last to board the plane. I got stopped and had to explain my passport situation a few times before being allowed to board, which became part of my normal travel experience the rest of the way. I thought I might have the row to myself, but at the last minute a man made his way back to me and said, “I bet you thought you had the row to yourself, huh? Sorry to tell you that my seat is next to you.” I did think that, but he was really nice. We ended up talking for a bit and he gave me some recommendations on things to see while in Australia.
It was a long flight, I was exhausted, and unfortunately I didn’t get much sleep on the plane. I arrived to the Brisbane Airport to once again be detained because of my passport and visa situation. Once I got pass that, I arrived to the luggage area only to find that it was missing!!! I am one of those people who wears multiple layers and some of the heavier and/or bulkier apparel when I fly to free up space and weight in my luggage. I was in jeans, wool socks, hiking boots, a t-shirt, and a hoodie in fairly warm weather. I spent the next hour waiting in line to report my missing bag and receive a small bag of complimentary essentials such as toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, a nail file, a plain white t-shirt, laundry detergent, soap, and $150 Australian. Once again, my internet didn’t work, so I had no way to tell my friend, Justin, what was going on or what was taking me so long. He was waiting outside and after I told him my story, he just laughed. I could do nothing else but laugh as well.
Justin and I met 5 months earlier when I went storm chasing with the company he guides for. He’s a load of fun, doesn’t mind indulging people when they want him to be super Australian, and is extremely kind. I was so grateful he was willing to pick me up and hang out with me for the day! We decided to spend our time at the Australia Zoo…you know, Steve Irwin’s Zoo!! I got to feed kangaroos, pet a Koala’s butt, and see all the things that can kill you in Australia! I used to be obsessed with the Crocodile Hunter so it was really amazing to be in the place where they filmed parts of the show. I also love animals and the way things are set up allows for a lot of interaction between you and the animals.
Sorry for the lame zoo phone photos…sometimes I just want to have an experience without a big bulky camera.
Justin dropped me off at my AirBnb, which was a really nice apartment near downtown Brisbane. I received a call that my luggage was located and they’d be delivering it to me, so I was very happy and decided not to make a stop to purchase anything while Justin and I were driving back from the zoo. That was a mistake. My bags did not arrive until two days later. I had to wear the same clothing, in warm weather for 3 days straight. I didn’t really do anything my first few days because of that and the fact that I had a hard time finding an available rental car that was automatic that also had GPS.
My luggage was finally delivered and the next morning I was on a flight north going to Long Island. I was staying at this amazing resort, in my own private cabana looking over the water that was surrounded by tropical plants and wildlife. It was paradise, literally. Because this resort was self-catering (you brought your food to cook and prepare in a shared outdoor kitchen), I had my items picked and shipped to the island via a company that works specifically with the Palm Bay Resort. There was more than enough food for me using the 1 day plan for the three days I was there. Although much more expensive than I was used to spending for accommodations, this was well worth it. It was such a unique experience and there were lots of great things to keep me busy. If you go to this resort on this island, be aware that transportation to and from can range from around $100-600 (depends on if the one operator fills all passenger spots). I was unaware of this when I booked the hotel, and was pretty upset when I figured it all out. Fortunately, the resort worked with me and the boat operator had other passengers. Shortly after arriving, I went for a short hike to the other end of the island, swatted at the flies as I made my way to the beach, photographed what interested me, enjoyed being by myself, enjoyed the silence…the view…the dream that turned out to be reality. I never thought of myself as brave, strong, or inspiring and yet, that’s what people keep calling me. It still makes me uncomfortable, but I’m warming up to the idea that I am these things in a way. I dared to do all of this on my own, go outside of my comfort zone, and go with the flow. I’ve learned that life is much more satisfying when you challenge who you are and when you embrace growth and change. It can be uncomfortable, but the end result has always been worth it.
Anyway, I enjoyed a sandwich for dinner and gave Vegemite a try. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great. I think in small portions and with other things, it’s tolerable. On it’s own on a cracker or bread, it’s not something I’d like to do again. I turned on some music, enjoyed my insanely expensive cheap beer, and then drifted off to sleep. The waves crashed onto the beach, the palms swayed in the wind, and the stars were plentiful. I did wake a few times to the murderous screams of one type of bird, but I can’t recall what it was named. A bit unsettling, but I’m glad the resort warned me about it, otherwise I would have been a bit freaked out.
The next morning, I had an early boat ride taking me to the mainland to catch a plane out to the Great Barrier Reef for a snorkel and then a swim at Whitehaven Beach. I was beyond stoked for this as I have been wanting to see this since I was a kid!
We loaded our small group of 6, including the pilot, into a small plane (the smallest I’ve ever been in). No one wanted to sit up front with the pilot so I happily jumped at the chance! I had an amazing view and I shot a ton of video…sorry if it’s excessive, I was just so excited!! I’ve never seen a blue like this…flying over the reef was such a treat, and I highly recommend it over taking a boat out. I was happy to pay for that experience (it was a hefty price, but totally worth it) especially since I don’t know how much longer people will be able to enjoy it. I loved my alone time swimming with the fishies. Definitely my favorite place in Australia.
So, I’m more of a photo person, if you can’t tell, but I need to make use of my GoPro!
After a swim we flew to Whitehaven Beach, had a bit of lunch and some champagne, and enjoyed the bath water that was the ocean. It was such a perfect day, one that I wish I could repeat over and over.
I flew back to Brisbane the next day, found a car rental that had an automatic and a GPS, and drove out to Mt. Tambourine. I spent the afternoon admiring the lush mountain and countryside, the views, and the dying storm system in the distance.
I had big plans for the next day! I decided to go sky diving! I never really had any desire to do this, but I was feeling daring and dangerous, lol. I got a taxi to downtown Brisbane very early, and waited for my ride. A huge bus pulled up and a bunch of us got on. We then proceeded to make four or five stops to pick up even more people. All in all, it took about 5 hours to get to Byron Bay. Not my idea of how I wanted to spend my last day in Australia, but the view of the water and the beach from 14,000 ft. sounded like it would be worth it. We arrived to the location with people falling out of the sky! They were coming in at such a high speed, and yet their landings looked incredibly smooth. As we all lined up with our paperwork I noticed the trees swaying in the wind. An employee then came out to say that jumps were delayed for now due to high winds. They’d wait an hour or two to see if they’d have to cancel the day. I was super disappointed. We waited and waited, but things didn’t get better. The day got cancelled. I had no choice but to go with the bus of people into town and grab lunch and admire the view. I say this in all seriousness, I wasn’t happy that I wasn’t able to choose what I was doing on my last day…it didn’t help that one of the skydiving employees had major attitude with me when I was just asking questions. Anyway, I eventually got back to Brisbane and had to return my rental car. That was it. I didn’t utilize my time while in Australia. You live and you learn. I definitely want to go back now that I have a much better idea of what I want to do and see. Next time, I want to be outdoors way more and give the wildlife a better chance at killing me, lol!
So, I was feeling a bit off on this day, with waves of nausea and feeling okay washing over me. We were on our way to the village of Kunde today and I wasn’t the only one having a bit of trouble. Dean was at the beginning stages of feeling awful for a while, so he and Nara made their way to the hotel.
The rest of us went on an acclimatizing hike to allow our bodies to ease into thinner air and create more red blood cells that would oxygenate our blood making it possible to trek and just ‘be’ in the beautiful and mountainous setting. That hike took us to the famed Hillary Ridge (13,450 ft.). The clouds had started to move in pretty early on and by the time we were nearing the top, we had been swallowed up whole. We managed to escape with a few glimpses of the scenery we had left below, but for the most part we became part of the clouds. We took our packs off and trekked the rest of the way to the peak (13, 779 ft.). Things felt better as I got further into the day and I remember feeling good about the trek until we had to go up to get to our hotel.
I was excited to be staying at the famous Hotel Everest View. This hotel is one of the highest hotels in the world at 13,000 ft. The views from the rooms are amazing, but are even better when standing on the rooftop as the sun comes up behind Everest. Birds chirping, while everything else is quiet…and I was there. Doing what I love to do. Taking photos. Taking everything in. Our stay was a wonderful thing with the most inspiring hot shower I have ever had (I even got to blow dry my hair!!!), fantastic food, what seemed like endless pasta and sauce (inside joke), yoga with a view to die for, and a breakfast with the best omelette I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, it required more up, and I felt physically and mentally depleted. It was one of those saying-expletives-under-your-breath kind of moments. Everything seemed to melt away once we arrived though.
The next day was taking us past insane views of Ama Dablam (the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen), and bringing us to Tengboche Monastery. I was feeling back to myself for the beginning part of the trek. We all took a break, partook in some hot lemon tea, some Kind bars, gummies, raisins, and cashews. I was ready to go and set out in the first group because I knew I was slower and this part of the trek was all up and pretty steep. I wasn’t even 15 minutes into it when I felt a rumble. Warning: this following story of tummy troubles is mild and funny, but if you don’t enjoy that sort of thing, you maybe should rethink about reading my blog or at least skip the next paragraph.
So, this happens to everyone at some point, whether you’re trekking in thin air or not. It’s a natural thing and something I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about or laugh about. Anywho, my tummy subtly let me know something was happening. I stopped in my tracks and debated in my head, very quickly, if it was worth mentioning. And then my tummy let me know what I had to do. It was not a hint. It was not subtle. I yelled to Karl to tell him I was not feeling well, and he asked, “Top half or bottom half?” I replied with, “Bottom half.” He told me to run back down to where we had our break, let Nara know (he was still there and he could bring me back up), and use the facility there. I started out walking at a very brisk pace, and then I started to run. I envisioned the scene from Bridesmaids, and really didn’t want that to be me. I found Nara, and quickly explained my situation, and ran to the bathroom. It was a little hut, made from corrugated sheet metal and some other colorful material. THANK THE LORD it was vacant. I opened the door, and did my thing just in time. All of a sudden the horse that was standing just outside, let out a very agitated and loud ‘neigh!” It then moved around and the little bathroom started to shake! I was terrified that the walls were going to tumble to the ground as I was bare-assed and sitting on the toilet. Had this happened, everyone from the restaurant would have been able to see my bits and pieces! It didn’t. They didn’t. I was so relieved in multiple senses of the word, lol. That was my only incident on the trip. I felt much better after that, made my way back up with Nara, and even managed to catch up with the rest of the group which is amazing because this portion of the trek is “a bitch” (pardon my french).
YOU CAN START READING AGAIN IF YOU ARE AVOIDING THE LAST SECTION.
We made it to the monastery, just in time for the Buddhist ceremony, and as we got packed like sardines in there, I freaked out and decided to leave. If I had any further tummy troubles, I didn’t want to have to disrupt the ceremony and wade through all the people to get out and possibly not make it in time, wink! So we left before it was too late, enjoyed some tea, and watched Karl, Joe, and Kristen have a cake taste testing with five different types of cake available from the Tengboche Cafe. It’s amazing they have that available so high up! Baking is extremely difficult at altitude, so they had much respect from me! Following all of that, we headed down a bit to our lodge in Debuche, which was only about 20 minutes away. It was also the last place with electricity, private bathrooms, and showers. At this point it was starting to get pretty cold and a shower was very shocking to my system, but I did it and as quickly as possible. I charged everything I could hoping it would last for the remainder of the trek.
The next day was one of my favorites as we got to go to Jangbu’s village and have lunch in his home that was prepared by his mom. Jangbu had left the day before to retrieve his family’s Yaks to bring to Debuche so we could load our bags onto them. A few of us, myself included, got the opportunity to load the Yaks up. I watched a few people do it first and learned a few things to make it a bit easier. I was a natural! Got the bag tied to the Yak in no time, with the help of Jangbu and his Dad. I think I may have another calling in life! I’m pretty good at making the guttural noise to keep them in line, too. Just sayin’. They were easily the most beautiful yaks I had ever seen and Jangbu takes much pride in them. We also met Lama Geshe, had items blessed, and received a blessing cord from him. He gave us wonderful advice on life: be good to others, respect others, and get rid of the bad. Although we didn’t get a translation of everything that was being said at times, I always understood. I think we all did. The experience moved myself and others to tears. In the moment, I felt very connected to my parents and got the sense that they would be proud of me for taking on the challenges and adventures that I had. It was a good feeling and I gained a little more closure that day.
Lunch was beyond wonderful and unending! As soon as we finished the potato pancakes, fries, boiled veggies, pickled veggies, or Dal Bhat, our plate or was replenished with more and it was impossible to clear a plate. Karl and Nara eventually convinced Jangbu’s mom to stop filling our plates up just in time. I thought my stomach was going to burst! We had some homemade milk tea and rice beer with our meal which I really enjoyed, giving both an enthusiastic thumbs up. To burn all the calories we just stuffed ourselves with, we turned some music on and had a dance party! It was a fantastic afternoon! The smile on Jangbu’s mom’s face was amazing. It was an honor to be invited into their home and have lunch. We took a few group photos and as I was saying goodbye to Jangbu’s mom, I gestured to my tummy and then grinned as wide as possible. She just laughed and hugged me, giving me a memory I will never forget! A very special and unique experience that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t with Anywhere+.
The next day was a big day as far as elevation gain goes, around 4,000 ft. There were a lot of high clouds suggesting that it wasn’t going to clear up, so instead of trekking up the Chokkung Ri Ridge we decided to do the peak right next to us. Chokkung Ri has amazing views of the Khumbu Valley, Makalu, and Lhotse, but since it would be covered in cloud, there was no point to go all that way when we could gain about the same amount of elevation where we were already, but I was feeling really good. I felt strong and Chokkung Ri was still on the table, but we had to leave immediately since it was around 9 hours roundtrip. I agonized over it for as long as I could and decided I wanted to try. Jangbu, Karl, and I got our packs together and headed out.
Jangbu and I left first, Karl would catch up. So, Jangbu is like the wind. He’s insanely fast, and I think he just forgets that the people he guides are, well, not. I tried to keep up with him, breathing so hard, my face had to be sooooo beet red. I was sweating profusely. Thank GOD Karl showed up when he did. As he walked up to us I was in the middle of asking Jangbu if this was going to be our pace for the rest of the hike…I wasn’t going to make it if it was. Karl started laughing, as he heard my question, and said, “No, but we do have to keep a faster pace than normal to make it there and back in time” We continued to talk about it and I got nervous about being able to do it at the pace we needed and making it back in the time we had. Karl had confidence in me, but he also worried I’d waste myself getting there and be unable to make it the next day to EBC. We decided to head back to meet up with the rest of our group and finish the day out with them. We traversed across a section that Karl had never done, and he named it the Marcella Herington Traverse. During this portion we reached an elevation of 15,200 ft. and it was the highest I had ever been, leaving behind my summit of Mt. Elbert at 14,442 ft (from Colorado in 2009). It was not an easy route, my ankles were really feeling the angle at which we were trekking at, and I felt like the day had got the best of me. I felt defeated and like I wasted Karl and Jangbu’s time.
We managed to catch the rest our group and I continued to go up until I reached 16,000 ft. My achilles were on fire so I took a rest, fueled up, and decided to head back down to the lodge. This day brought about all of my insecurities. I worried I wasn’t going to make it to EBC. I hate failure. I hate not finishing what I start. The negativity crashed over me like a wave and for a while I felt like I was drowning. I pulled away for the afternoon and did some journaling which seemed to help me address my feelings of failure and help me see how silly I was being. The only thing that could stop me from finishing the trek was myself. There will always be those moments of self-doubt, pity, and negativity, but I’ve learned to see past them and pull myself out of the doom and gloom. The challenges, the suffering, the uncomfortable circumstances that come with hiking/trekking have taught me many valuable life strategies. I’ve grown as a human being.
Our next day was initially a bit tough and we were on our way to Lobuche (16, 070 ft.). I hate starting out with a steep incline, but I eventually found my breathing and my pace. Much of our group was suffering from tummy troubles and I’m sure this day was fairly miserable for them, but they all got through it like champs! We evevntually made it to the Sherpa Memorial, a place that pays respect to all the climbers and high altitude workers who have lost their lives on Everest. It was very sobering to be there, to see all the memorials of people with first and last names, dates of birth and death, photos, loving words left by loved ones that will forever adorn these final resting places, and the many prayer flags flying in the wind…I definitely had somber moments as we walked among the memorials thinking about these people who lost their lives in such an extraordinary and beautiful place. How could anything bad happen here? I can’t share much more than that because the rest isn’t mine to share. All I can say is that when it’s my time to go, I hope I have as beautiful of a spot for my final resting place.
To lighten things up a bit, we took some group photos, sat and enjoyed the magnificent view, and Yoga Joe “flew” a few people.
We arrived to our lodge in Lobuche (16,070 ft.) after an hour and had a short break with some tea (of course) and lunch. Karl, Josh, Kristen, and I then went on a short 30 minute walk. The clouds had rolled in and visibility was poor. We hiked up a hill and over to a large “boulder” we climbed up on top of for photos and silliness, which continued as we sang Destiny’s Child “Independent Women” on the way back.
Video and commentary courtesy of Karl Nesseler
We made an early exit the next day to climb to the top of a ridge where Yoga Joe flew some more of us, myself included. I was a bit scared at first, but then reverted back to my gymnastic days and it ended up being a lot of fun. We arrived to our lodge in Gorak Shep (16,940 ft.) and not long after, we headed up the “hill” to Kala Pattar where we were hoping to catch the orange glow of the setting sun on Everest. The weather had different plans, as clouds started to roll in. We got some peeks at the peaks, but missed having a clear and vibrant orange Everest. It was super cold after sitting there for a bit, so another impromptu dance party happened as we all took “shots” of our energy goo. We danced our way down and all met up in a group hug while “Come and Get Your Love” was playing. That was one of my favorite memories of the trip…all of us together with our headlamps dancing in the dusk of the day.
People had not been feeling good, some suffering more than others. My roomie Jo had a hard night ahead of her, and I was worried for a while. I didn’t sleep very soundly, maybe got 2 hours, so between wanting to be available to her if she needed me and hearing a possible avalanche that night, the sleep was very minimal and I was a sleepy, sleepy lady . Fortunately, Jo was feeling a bit better the next day. We were supposed to be on our way by 7:30 am, but because people were still recovering from illness, we pushed it back an hour. I woke with a gnarly headache and some nausea, but I attribute it to a sleepless night mostly. I tried to eat as much as possible, but the food wasn’t tasting good to me. I had to bargain with Karl to exchange bites of toast for Ibuprofen. We then left for our last day of trekking. It was very bittersweet as I was ready for a break, but the idea that our group would never be together in this place, in this way again was really sad because I had grown to love these folks very much. Only they can understand what the trip was like and what it meant.
It was only a few hours to reach Everest Base Camp, but a lot of us were feeling miserable so a fairly easy day was difficult. I could have kicked myself for not eating more. There were a lot of sections where we were stepping on boulders and balance was needed more than ever. It required more energy than I felt I had at times. I tried not to focus on the negativity and instead take in the surroundings.
It was a perfectly clear, sunny day. I was this tiny ant of a person amongst the landscape of rock, shifting, moving, and towering over me. How I even deserved to be in this awe-inspiring place, with people who accepted me, welcomed me without hesitation, I can’t figure out. I found a new love and passion for being outdoors, for testing myself, for pushing myself. I am forever changed and I finally feel like I am taking advantage of being alive. If I died tomorrow, I would be proud of what I have done. I would have no reason to come back and haunt anyone or anything. No unfinished business for me, for the most part, lol. Once we reached EBC, we took photos and hugged. I started to cry because I didn’t know I’d be able to do this. I started to cry because I didn’t want it to end. I started to cry because I didn’t want to leave this place or these people. As I was editing this, I realized I just glazed right over arriving to EBC. It not that I’m not excited to talk about it, but “Trekking to EBC” became much more than just doing that. The entire experience was important, not just the destination. Arriving to EBC was actually a very tiny part of everything that this adventure was composed of. Anyone with moderate fitness can do this, it’s not easy, but it is very do-able.
We had a nice break on the glacier, with snacks and water. A few of us wandered with Karl down the glacier as he talked about what it’s like when summit season is in full swing versus now. As we were walking over sections, you’d sometimes hear the ice crack, or rocks slide an tumble underneath you. It was definitely disconcerting, but the joy in my heart overruled any bad feelings.
We started making our way back and noticed a line of trekkers backing up in a region that you don’t want to be caught in. Perched on the hillside are ginormous boulders the size of small houses that could tumble down at any moment. Some of these people even stopped on purpose to take photos. Once the line of people had moved on, Karl ran ahead to make sure that the next round of people coming from the other direction stopped and waited for our group to pass so to avoid another back up of people. He spaced us out so that if anything did tumble down, “we won’t all die.” I was first to go and a bit nervous. It was uphill and I went as fast as my little legs would allow. I reached the top sweaty and panting for air. Once everyone made it, the real sick ones got horses to take them the rest of the way. It was very entertaining to watch.
Once we got back to the lodge, a few people decided to give Kala Pattar another chance. I wanted to go so badly, but instead listened to my body and rested. It was clear and the mountains did glow as the setting sun hit them. We had a beautiful view from where we were. My day ended on some very sweet notes with the sweetest of people.
The next day we started our trek back to Lukla….(record scratch)…just kidding! We were getting back to Lukla in style via helicopter rides! It was my first time and it was super cool! We waited for three or four hours for them to arrive at the helicopter landing up a steep hill. No one wanted to venture back down after making the “hike” up, lol. We were all spent. The helicopters finally arrived after having to wait for better weather conditions and small group by small group we were flown all the way back to Lukla in about 20 minutes. How about that.
Baby’s first avalanche, lol.
We had free time in Lukla, dinner, beer and then we all went to bed. We were all too tired to really celebrate. We also had an early morning as we caught the first flight out of Lukla to Kathmandu. Jo and I wised up and slept in our clothes we were wearing for the day to avoid the shock of getting out of bed and putting on cold clothing. Worked like a charm. Breakfast was had and then we navigated through the chaos and kookiness that is the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. I wasn’t as nervous to fly back, but we did have to get the place off of the ground in 1,500 ft. Karl offered me a “last bite” of a Snickers and I of course took it just in case we did die. At least I’d go out with a mouthful of chocolate! We had another beautiful flight with an interesting landing (a bit of swerving/zig zagging). The next day and a half was spent getting clothes washed, packing, shopping, and spending non-trekking time with each other.
My heart was breaking as our departures got closer. I could have ended my travel right then and there because nothing was going to top this. I almost did, but I knew I needed to finish what I started. I think about Nepal every single day. I miss the craziness, the quiet, the peacefulness I felt there, the warmth, the simplicity, the beauty…I hope to get back there by 2019, and maybe spend a few months doing something worthwhile there, something that can benefit others. I would also love to see the school in Bigu, that fundraising is underway for, rebuilt. This trip made the world bigger and smaller at the same time. Going to all of these places is not impossible. We all have commonalities, even with a language barrier, that we can seek and find in one another. A smile and some laughter can communicate wonderful things, a willingness to understand each other and to learn something new. I am so grateful for this trek and what it brought to my life. I am still in contact with everyone from the trek and have met up with everyone at least once, except for Yoga Joe…it’ll happen at some point though, I’m sure 🙂 So go out and experience the world, maybe even do it alone!! You will come away with some of the most important epiphanies of your life and you will have no regrets with spending the money on making amazing lifelong memories!
Our group had to be up and ready to go by 5 am. so that we could get to the airport and secure the first flight out of Kathmandu (4,593 ft.) heading to Lukla (9,380 ft.). We had some hiccups with the hotel that morning: our wake up call only came a few minutes before we had to be down to the lobby. Thank goodness we were already up. I was unable to sleep well because I was so excited to start the trek. It was like Christmas morning. I wanted to unwrap the presents!! The other issue for the morning was that the man supposed to be helping us get the luggage down from our rooms and into storage or onto the bus just disappeared, so we all pitched in to get it done as quickly as possible. We were running behind schedule and we had received a call that the plane was ready to go. No one wanted to loose the first flight out! We got the bus loaded, made sure everyone was accounted for, and made our way to the airport. I had been anxiously awaiting this flight for months after a friend told me about the Tenzing–Hillary Airport. Branded “THE Most Dangerous Airport In World”, I had some apprehension, understandably. First off, the airport sits in the valley with mountains on all sides. Weather conditions can change very quickly and you can hit some pretty turbulent air during the flight. Weather is best in the morning and conditions gradually decrease over the remainder of the day (that’s why we wanted the first flight out). Second, once a pilot starts their approach, there is no turning back. There’s no alternative route if you miss the approach due to terrain. Third, the runway is about 65 feet across and only 1,500 ft. long (a typical runway is 6,500 ft.) If you come in short you can crash into the steep slopes leading to the valley below (around a 2,000 ft. drop) and if you overshoot it, you crash into the rock wall at the end of the runway. There is also the optical illusion that the uphill runway creates that can play with the pilot’s perception of how close the plane is to the ground. So, with all of these factors, and I’m sure there are more that I’m unaware of, I was pretty freaked out. I asked our guide straight up how safe it actually is since he has been multiple times. He said in relation to the commercial world of flying it is more dangerous than those flights, but in all actuality, when you factor in how skilled these pilots have to be and how much training they go through, he would rate this flight a 9.5 out of 10 in safety. Pilots are only allowed to fly in and out of the Tenzing–Hillary Airport if they have the training. End of story. That definitely eased my mind, but I was still nervous.
We arrived to the airport, grabbing our bags very quickly and putting everything in a pile to be checked in and trying very hard not to mix our bags with other groups things. The chaos and urgency in which people were doing things was palpable. My exhaustion, the excitement, and the hurried pace in which we were trying to get things done created a blurred memory, almost an out of body experience, where I was watching what was happening from a higher vantage point…does that make sense?? That also happens to me when I am super tired and drink a lot of coffee…it makes me a wee bit loopy. Anywho, we then went through “security” (it wasn’t thorough) and hopped on the shuttle bus that would take us to the plane. It was a insanely beautiful morning with lots of sun and clear skies, the clearest Karl had ever seen it. Wooohooo! I was feeling even better about the flight!
We loaded ourselves onto this teeny, tiny, little plane which seated about 16 people, if I’m remembering correctly. The flight attendant came down the isle handing out a piece of candy and cotton (the cotton was to put in our ears to drown out the loud engines). She went and sat back down in the back of the plane, and her job was done! We were all buckled and ready to go. Our plane took off into the clear skies and it was smooth sailing from there. The views were insane with the sun, the deep shadows in the valleys, the low level clouds rolling over the hillsides below. And then there were the mountains. The Himalayas. The place of the Gods. And then…EVEREST. Our first glimpse, and man did it make a great first impression!
The flight is pretty short and we began to make our descent. Mountains were all around, and still, no bumps. NOT ONE. No surprise air pockets. I couldn’t believe it. I could see Lukla, then the airport, and then the runway…getting bigger and bigger in the cockpit window. In the video I took, I can hear myself say, “Ohhhhh…” in a worried tone and then Yoga Joe chimed in with, “That is short!” referring to the runway, lol.
I am not lying or over exaggerating when I say this. Our landing…it was the smoothest landing I have ever experienced. EVER. And still is. Honestly, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t experience any turbulence. Karl was shocked and said that never happens. It was pretty anti-climactic, but I’m glad we made it safely. We all cheered as our plane turned at the end of the runway and into the gate. I think we all attribute our good Karma to our goat, Lucky. I still feel his good fortune around me at times.
We made our way up the hill to have breakfast at a very charming lodge and get the gear organized. We also met our porters for our trek. They were little, and yet they carried what seemed like an insane amount of weight with ease, or at least it looked like that. We took some time to do a bit of a stretch and yoga with Joe and then we started our seven mile trek. I was feeling good, no headaches or nausea, and I’m glad I was feeling strong because there were a lot of ups and downs that day. Both are difficult and I learned to use my poles very quickly after that first day. My knees suffered because of my stubbornness. I didn’t use the poles I had purchased in Kathmandu because I wasn’t comfortable with them yet. We went over a few bridges which was both scary and thrilling. Jalena laughed while crossing because she was so nervouos. The views were so amazing, but I feel like so much escaped me because I was looking at the placement of my feet so often. Again we had fantastic warm and sunny weather. That means I sweat quite a bit. Thank goodness for our frequent breaks to eat snacks, and drink water. At one of our longer breaks, we were all introduced to the glorious and magical honey lemon tea. One of my favorite things to drink, though I did need to take a break from it at times because we had to have so many liters of water per day, and when you’re drinking that much, whatever it is gets old. I did manage to find an easy little recipe for it once home. I’ll post that at some point soon. Once we reached Monjo (9,301 ft.), I was ready to crash! So sweaty, so tired. I jumped in the shower first. I proposed and then married the shower because it was the best shower of my life! I changed into my clean lodging clothing as fast as I could to not loose much energy to shivering. That was always the first thing we did when we got to our destination-changing out of our sweaty clothing and into dry, clean clothing to stay warm and conserve energy and stay healthy. We had a wonderful dinner and then I was ready to snuggle down in my heated bed and drift off to sleep.
I slept hard. Usually I wake up once in the night, but I was out like a light! It felt good. I woke feeling refreshed and ready for another day of trekking. I didn’t feel sore at all which was a big relief. Our breakfast was absolutely amazing. Things were moved outside where our view was of course stunning. It was a beautiful, sunny day and this breakfast was the first of many that showed us just how spoiled we were…it’s almost embarrassing. French press coffee, frothed milk, honey, maple syrup, muesli, pouridge, fancy jams, tea…again, Anywhere+ raising the bar. Nara and Jangbu would take care of our water and tea needs, getting our breakfast that we ordered after dinner to us. On that note, it became a joke how Nara would be waiting with pen and paper in hand to take our order for the next meal after we had just finished eating. We were always so full, and as we got further into the trek, appetites diminished because of the altitude or sickness. It was sometimes a difficult task to look at the menu and order food on a full and/or queasy stomach. Anyway, Karl reminded me of the mother from A Christmas Story. After making sure everyone got their breakfast order, tea, water, coffee, etc. it seemed that just as he was sitting down to eat, someone would need something, lol. If you don’t know this movie, watch it. It will hand you some laughs.
On this day, we were headed to Namche Bazaar (11,290 ft.). It was a shorter day, but it was up, up, and more up on the famed Namche Hill! It was definitely a challenge. We walked into Sargamartha National Park and had a brief but tricky bit of going down. Again, I was watching the placement of my feet a lot, but this time I was using my poles. I will never go without them again because as clumsy as I am, I really need them at all times…walking with my friend’s fur kids, walking in the grocery store, walking around the house, lol. They have saved me multiple times from totally biting it on trails! Looking back, I feel like I was being a huge wuss the entire time. OR maybe it was just that I didn’t really understand how to listen to my body and adjust my pace when needed, let a lone find a rhythm in my breathing. Karl was very helpful in showing us rest pace, which I tried to do, but trying out all of these new techniques at the same time made it feel a bit like trying to rub my belly and pat my head simultaneously. It took some getting use to. I am also a competitive person, and to be the slowest wasn’t my favorite thing, so I pushed myself harder than I should have at times. By the end of the trek I was okay with adjusting things because it was much more enjoyable.
We reached Namche Bazaar and I was so thankful it was over. We would be there for two nights. We had a late lunch at our lodge and then a yoga session. I was so surprised with how much I was enjoying yoga. I’ve tried it a few times and have not been impressed. My guess is that it was my teacher…maybe the setting, too. You really can’t beat being surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks, colorful buildings lined with prayer flags, and being accompanied by some of the loveliest people you have ever met. The stretch felt wonderful after long, strenuous hikes. Joe was also great at giving relief from injury. I had pulled something in my right hand while hauling my three large and heavy bags from country to country and he worked some of it out with massage and gave me some tips on how to avoid injuring it further.
We had some time to ourselves in the afternoon, so some of us decided to grab a cuppa at 8848 (that’s the height of Everest in meters). I had a really great cappuccino that was comparable to those I had in Italy. That is really saying something. I finished my time with some journaling before going to dinner at a very popular spot for Everest climbers and trekkers. It was our last chance to have beer and meat…so most of us enjoyed a burger and an Everest Beer.
For some reason, I was under the impression that our acclimatization hike to Laudo Gompa Monastery (12,470 ft.) was going to be easier than it was. It was really unfortunate to have that idea in my head because it sent me into a really negative space when I realized it was going to be pretty tough. We started with such a great yoga session, watching the sun rise as a large flock of birds dotted the valley and mountains with their silhouettes. Another great breakfast followed with the famous brown bread Karl had been talking about. The trekking then commenced and immediately it was a lot of up. No bueno. There was a little break from the constant up, and then the up part came back. My knees were feeling it and I realized I was favoring a leg. Unfortunately, that led to the knee pain, but sometimes the best things about life come out of being uncomfortable and being challenged. I’m not saying that I always handle it with grace, or that it’s pretty (I was a sweaty mess), but the rewards were most definitely worth it. I can’t wait to go back and do it again!
We made it to the monastery where we were greeted by and Aussie monk who was only there for a few months. The view was magical, with the clouds starting to roll in, covering the base of the mountains and only the revealing the peaks. We all loaded into the small meditation area to do a 30 minute session with Joe. Meditation is really difficult. To calm your mind and ignore an itch, ignore the painful tingly feeling when your foot falls asleep, or simply ignore the sounds of others moving was nearly impossible. The 30 minutes felt a lot longer. Shorter sessions of meditation have agreed with me much better. It’s a great feeling to calm you mind and focus on your breathing for a change.
Again, a portion of our fees went directly to the monastery as it had been hit by the earthquake and sustained substantial damage.
Our visit concluded with a traditional lunch of ramen, potatoes, and tea. I was extremely full after the ramen, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I went ahead and forced a few potatoes down. Ooof. I should have just asked people to roll me back down to Namche, it may have been less painful that way. Our pace was very quick, with a lot of loose rock, and this was not doing any favors for my knee that was already hurting. Fortunately for me, I found encouragement from Jo and Kelly, as well as my breath and pace. We made it down the rest of the way and even passed some Nepali mountain goats. We showered and got into our clean and warm lodge clothing, but I was still pretty cold. The hot lemon tea that followed definitely helped to warm me.
I woke the next morning pretty early. Dogs seem to be roaming everywhere you go in Nepal. In Namche, they were always barking. Always. It echoed across the valleys and made it difficult to sleep deeply. They were at it when I fell asleep and at it when I got up. I wasn’t feeling well and experienced bouts of nausea. It worried me a bit that it would develop into something unpleasant and embarrassing, if ya know what I mean. The other alternative was that it was the altitude getting to me, and that was a scarier thought. I wanted to reach EBC so badly! I pushed through breakfast and ate as much as I could knowing that eating and drinking were key to keeping altitude at bay. I had moments of feeling better as we were getting everything ready to leave.
I hate to end this entry so abruptly and was hoping I’d be able to summarize more of this trek and keep the length down, but it looking like I’m not very good at doing that. I don’t want to leave everything out to be able to make it shorter, so I’ll have to do this trek in a few installments. Sorry this Nepal section of the blog is so long, but it was such an important part of my travels. Stay tuned!!
I thought I needed to recognize today since it was the catalyst to everything that has happened since then.
A year ago today is kind of where it all started…I follwed my wandering heart and adventurous spirit to Denver to chase storms. It was difficult and I often looked back in the beginning. With all of the uncertainty and doubt, my feet still couldn’t help but move in a forward direction.
A year ago, I wasn’t a very happy person. I wasn’t a very good version of me. I was wasting my time here on earth. I loved to travel, but my fear of the unknown had held me back from exploring, from being bold, from doing things I had always wanted to do. Why was I so afraid???
My desire to see and do took over and became stronger than my fear. I was no longer paralyzed by the unknown. I wanted to start checking things off of my bucket list so at the end of this short little thing we call life, I wouldn’t regret not taking chances and not pursuing the things I wanted.
I threw caution to the wind, quite literally, and booked a tour to go storm chasing, something I had dreamed of doing since I was a little girl. It was thrilling. It was exciting. It was amazing. It was beautiful. It was humbling. It brought me to tears.
It also made me want to kick myself for not doing it sooner. I realized I had wasted so much time living in fear. I’m not saying I still don’t get scared by trying new things, meeting new people, etc…I just handle it differently. I recognize it and then move forward. I am a totally different person from who I was a year ago, and I couldn’t be happier.
I encourage who ever reads this to live in the moment, to travel and travel often, to embrace adventure and the unexpected, to greet obstacles with grace, to go after the things they want, and to be open to whatever life throws you.
Our time here is so short. Cherish every moment, even the bad ones. I’ve had some pretty intense blows over the last seven years, but they helped me grow. I am stronger. I know that I can weather through extremely dark moments and get to the other side while recognizing the silver lining that always seems to be there.
This next chapter is very uncertain at the moment. My heart wants to wander and yet travel is slowing down for a bit. I fly back to my hometown in a few days to pick my vehicle up and drive across the country again, so there’s that. I’m pretty determined to try and figure out how to make travel, photography, and writing my ‘work’ thing. I’ll see how van life goes, and maybe I’ll consider making modifications and live on the road for a bit, who knows. All I can say is that I’m open to whatever my life morphs into. I’m excited. I’m right where I’ve always wanted to be. I’m a pretty good version of me. I’m happy.