Windhorse Three 8/22/2005
Hello to All,
It’s hard to believe that in one short month, I will be landing in Kathmandu and be surrounded by stupas and prayer flags. It is equally hard to believe that it has been almost two months since I stood atop Denali. Wow. Did I really stand there? I’ve been meaning to send you the URL’s of two of the expedition members in case you wanted to see more pictures of the climb.
Week three of training is over…I made it to Sunday before having my traditional weekend nap. Next week is a rest week…yahoo!!! Thursday, Antony and I went out to Butterpot Provincial Park with our bikes. We climbed Butterpot Mountain on our bikes…well, actually we climbed Butterpot WITH our bikes is a more apt description. During the initial stages we rode up the trail but then the wooden stairs, granite slabs, and narrow trail soon has us pushing and carrying our bikes up the hill ever upward in search of ride-able terrain. About 200 feet from the summit, we clued in and left our bikes beside the trail for reclaiming on the way down. The view from the top astounded us both…clear in all directions with a brisk breeze to remind us that we were very much alive in that moment. The summit cairn is about 5 feet high and we scampered up to add our contributions. Butterpot Mountain is 303 metres high. I will start my bike expedition more than 10 times higher than that…and the highest pass I will cross in Tibet will be 17 times higher than Butterpot.
On the way down, my rear fender broke off. I tried unsuccessfully to attach it to my rear rack with my seat cable…lateral thinking abounded…then the only solution appeared…I would wear the fender! I slung it down my back tucked through my bra and sticking out of the neck of my T-shirt. I thought of it as an arrow quiver and I was Robin Hood riding through the forests of Sherwood…it was a bit hard to maintain the fantasy as the end of the fender flexed beside my chin with every pedal making me more resemble a giant moving metronome than working class forest hero.
To avoid the double day of long training sessions at the end of three weeks of training, I did my long ride on Friday morning. I headed out around Quidi Vidi, out by the dump, through Middle Cove and Outer Cove to Torbay then across Indian Meal Line to Portugal Cove and up to the university to do my gym workout. As I rode, I was thinking about wind. Since I’m looking for windhorse and since Newfoundland and Tibet both have lots of wind, I thought it a good idea to think about wind.
What is wind? Moving air. Why does air move sometimes and not others? When does moving air become wind? I move air in and out of my lungs anywhere between 6 and 30 times a minute…does that make me wind? Do I take in wind? Does wind pass through me? Or around me? Or over me? We talk of headwinds…these are foe. We talk of tailwinds…these are friend. When can a headwind be a friend? And a tailwind, a foe? Does the wind have to be a dichotomy? Can the wind just be? Why do I project onto the wind? What do I gain by giving up my projections onto the wind? What do I lose? Is the wind not just moving air? Air moving in and out of me keeps me alive. No wind breath, no life. Wind equals life.
I remember being evacuated off of my first NOLS course with a knee injury. The driver who picks me up from the field tells me Wyoming is one of the windiest places on earth and as a result, more people commit suicide in Wyoming. That idea has stayed with me. Wind as danger. Wind as madness. Wind causing suffering. Is wind’s effect contextual? Is wind different on Denali than in Newfoundland than in Wyoming? Is strong wind always to be feared? We always talk of strong winds, not weak ones. Weak ones are breezes I guess…
I’m pedaling into the wind (what else is new?). I experiment. Just let the wind be. Lower my expectations of pace. Invoke patience. Stop fighting the wind. Just pedal. Miles and hours pass. The wind dies. Why do we speak of the wind dying? We don’t think of it as resting. Does the wind need to rest? Does it die and then get reborn? Does it just go somewhere else and blow there instead? Where does the wind go when it is not blowing? Is it always windy somewhere?
Amazing isn’t it, that I didn’t fall off my bike or get hit by an SUV…
I’m brewing a case of Achilles tendonitis and so wisely skipped my long run this week-substituting another long ride this morning instead…you can congratulate me for my restraint. Thanks for sharing stories and ideas about your personal Denali’s with me…I look forward to hearing about wind stories this week. Have a good one.
Windhorse Two 8/14/2005
Greetings to All,
My airline ticket to Nepal arrived this week…I guess I must really be going…I purchased the ticket from a wholesaler on-line so I was a bit nervous that they didn’t really exist…but I know have in my possession a ticket to Kathmandu via London and Abu Dhabi. The last time I flew to Nepal it was from Abu Dhabi. I leave here on September 19 and arrive in the early morning on September 21. I meet my group for the bike trip on September 22nd and we fly to Lhasa on September 24th. I’m going to rent a bike in Kathmandu rather than take my own-I decided not to risk my bike to the airlines and this way I could bring many more fun things home.
Today was a big training day-I did both my long run and long ride today with a little meditation sandwiched in between…frankly, I’m a little sick of myself at this point. I’m eager to go play an interactive game of hockey tonight. Training went pretty well this week-though a few sessions got sacrificed to my new deck-I had to stay and supervise construction on Wednesday and Thursday. In the final count, probably put about 15 hours in this week and my appetite has responded once again-the inner hungry bear is out of hibernation once again. I’m on my fourth meal today and I imagine there will be a few more before bed.
In my meditation group this week, we did met a few extra times to do a special meditation practice that the Sakyong (the head of our Buddhist lineage) designed to raise Windhorse-our life force. Needless to say, I was quite excited given my recent focus on windhorse and my fondness for this particular practice. I was also moved this morning in a reading at Sunday sitting when the reading mentioned Windhorse or Lung Ta…lung is wind and ta is horse in Tibetan…given my fondness for my name, the penny dropped and I noticed my name is contained in Windhorse… probably a clue that when looking for Windhorse-it might be important to look within as well as without.
On Friday, I took down the Wickersham Wall at school-that’s the wall where I’d posted an outline of Denali, some inspirational quotes, and pictures of many of you. Every time I walked inner or out of my office, I was reminded of my goal and recommitted myself to it with each passing. Emotions and memories swept in and through me as I removed reminders and celebrations of Ring of Fire challenges, recalled the moment of summitting, and relived the entire Denali year. I’d drawn the outline of Denali in water-soluble marker but it wouldn’t entirely wash out so a faint outline of Denali remains.
I was tickled by the metaphor of Denali shining through to the next adventure of Looking for Wind Horse. Using the same elevation scale, I put the route of the bike expedition on the wall with Denali’s bulk position squarely behind. Again, it is a powerful process to give the dream a physical manifestation and public commitment…the six mountain passes are there for all to witness and for me to see at regular intervals so that once again, I have the view (the entire expedition) and the footsteps (the training and pedaling revolutions that will get me there). One can’t get there with only a view or with only footsteps. I’ve also changed all the desktop pictures on all of my three computers to pictures of prayer flags. The visual reminders help keep me devoted to and disciplined in training even when my body or mind is flagging.
Vera, who gave me a piece of agate to protect from storms on Denali, dropped by as I was putting up the new wall. She asked about how the bike expedition would compare to Denali. In many ways, they are incomparable but I’ll give it a try. The bike trip will start at about 3600 metres with less acclimatization time than we had on Denali and I think we spend more time at higher elevation than on Denali. Hopefully, we won’t be camping in snow and the weather should be a bit warmer in Tibet. Both places have reputations for being quite windy (I was thankful today to be training in Newfoundland where you can ride a circular route on a bike and face head winds the entire time!)
There is no possibility of helicopter rescue in Tibet so in that way it is more remote than Denali-though one could drive 5 days to lower elevation. Both expeditions demand physical outlay and mental toughness. Rather like carrying to a camp and then retreating back to a lower elevation, we will cross 6 mountain passes-the lowest one is 4600 metres and the tallest around 5200 metres.
Here is an outline of the proposed itinerary for the Tibet trip to help give a picture of what I’ll be doing:
We will ride more than 1,100 km through Tibet on crushed stone roads and over spectacular mountain passes. The high point of the journey comes when we arrive at the monastery of Rongbuk and see Mount Everest Base Camp (5200m). This is the only trip in the world where you can visit Everest Base Camp with a bicycle! It was here on the North Face that Reinhold Messner began his successful solo ascent of Everest in 1980. This mountain bike experience will also bring you into contact with three religions (Buddhism, Lamaism and Hinduism) and act as an introduction to the mysticism of Tibetan culture, the friendliness of the people.
Day 01 – Arrive in Kathmandu.
Day 02 – A full day of guided sightseeing around the Kathmandu valley including visits to Durbar Square and the temples of Swayambhunath, Bouddhanth, Guheshwari and Pashupatinath.
Day 03 – Fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa. We take the 09:30 flight to Lhasa and soar across the highest mountains in the world. Arriving in the Tibetan capital (3,680m altitude) you will be given plenty of time to relax and adjust to the high altitude. In the afternoon you can unpack your bicycle and explore this legendary city.
Day 04 – On this day we will enjoy a full day of sightseeing. We will visit Dshokhang Temple and the local market, but the highlight of the day will undoubtedly be the visit to Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lamas, which dominates the city.
Day 05 – After breakfast we’ll visit the monastery of Drepung. In the afternoon you will be free either to explore the remaining attractions or prepare for the next day’s biking.
Day 06 – Start the Bike Expedition! Finally, your trans-Himalayan biking adventure begins. We leave Lhasa and cycle along the Tsangpo River to the foot of the Kamba Pass (3700 m). [Total cycle: 85 km]
Day 07 – Kamba Pass. Your first mountain pass. A strong uphill climb reaches a summit lavishly adorned with prayer flags (4794m). After descending we continue alongside Lake Yamdruk, at the far side of which we set camp (4490m). [Total cycle: 55 km]
Day 08 – Karo Pass. Leaving the beautiful lake behind, we cycle through a ravine and up to the foot of the Karo Pass (4750m), where our tented village will be prepared for the night. [Total cycle: 54 km]
Day 09 – Gyantse. A significant day on the trip, as we have to get up early to climb the high Karo Pass (5010m). By now you will be feeling in good physical condition. Around us we can see glaciers of 6000m and beautiful lakes. You are rewarded for your effort with a night in the city of Gyantse (3980m). [Total cycle: 79 km]
Day 10 – Shigatse. First we will take an hour to visit the Palkhor Monastery and the old part of Gyantse town. Although today involves a longer distance, the highway is paved and flat. In the afternoon we will arrive in Tibet’s second largest city, Shigatse (3860m). [Total cycle: 94 km]
Day 11 – Gyachung Monastery. We leave Shigatse and ride over two small passes and through several small Tibetan villages. We will cycle past the isolated Gyachung Monastery and camp. [Total cycle: 75 km]
Day 12 – Lhatse. The route lead us through picturesque valleys. Then the long ramp begins which leads over the Yulong pass (4520m). After lunch we head towards Lhatse (3860m). Just before this town there is a hot springs. [Total cycle: 95 km]
Day 13 – Shegar. Today we have to contemplate the stunning canyon of the 5220m Lakpa Pass. On a clear day you will be rewarded for your effort with your first view of Mount Everest. After a 40 km ride through flat prairie towns you will arrive in the town of Pelbar, often referred to as Shegar. This town is a popular stopover for anyone heading to the Everest region. [Total cycle: 75 km]
Day 14 – Pang Pass. It’s now time to divert from the Lhasa-Kathmandu highway and head towards the world’s highest peak. First you are faced with 20km of uphill switchbacks (42 hairpin bends in total!) before you reach the summit of the Pang Pass (5150m). Enjoy lunch as you gaze over Makalu (8463m), Shishapangma (8012m), Cho Oyu (8210m), Lhotse (8516m), Everest (8850m) and several other breathtaking peaks. Then a 20-kilometer downhill follows to the Rongbuk Valley (4200m), where we camp. [Total cycle: 67 km]
Day 15 – Rongbuk Monastery. Now you should be at peak fitness and very excited about the approach of Everest Base Camp. A bumpy road winds up through the Rongbuk valley until the majestic Mount Everest appears before you. We will camp beside the monastery with the unforgettable sight of the 8850m peak in front of your eyes.. We will stay here for two days. (5150m). [Total cycle: 35 km]
Day 16 – Everest Base Camp. A day to relax. However, you will definitely want to get as close as you can to Everest. You can walk, cycle or even take a donkey and cart ride to the base camp, which is 8km from the campsite.
Day 17 – Tingri. Leaving Rongbuk, we head back down the bumpy road then take a “short-cut” into the mountains. Another bumpy trail takes us over a canyon and down into Tingri (4340m). [Total cycle: 76 km]
Day 18 – Lalung Pass. This day begins with a 40 to 50km flat ride before lunch. Then we tackle the gradual incline of the Lalung Pass (4990m). From here you will feel like you are as high as the peaks around you, including Shishapangma (8012m). [Total cycle: 75 km]
Day 19 – The Ultimate Downhill. Now get ready for one last kick uphill. After breakfast you climb Thang Pass (5050m). Stop and pat yourselves on the back because from here on down to the Nepalese border it’s all downhill. You will be treated to breathtaking views of the Himalayan chain as you freewheel down. From the town of Nyalam you will notice that the scenery is starting to turn green again. Spiral on down past countless waterfalls to the border town of Zhangmu (2300m). This will be our last day in Tibet. [Total cycle: 117 km]
Day 20 – Back to Nepal. From Zhangmu we have to pass through customs and into Nepal. Once you are in the Nepali town of Kodari the downhill continues for the next 50 km. Suddenly it is tropical and humid and green again. After you reach the town of Dolalghat you must climb up to Dhulikhel (1600m). [Total cycle: 97km]
Day 21 – Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. What a wonderful way to end this expedition – a big breakfast at sunrise and the spectacular panorama of the Himalayas. You will certainly enjoy the last few kilometers as we freewheel down to Bhaktapur. Here we will stop to see some of the town’s famous temples, before we ride into busy Kathmandu again. [Total cycle: 35 km]
Send along quotes or pictures for the Windhorse Wall. Thanks to all who sent stories of meaningful things in your lives-I love to hear about is going on in your lives…I’ll leave you with a question which I’m considering as a title of a book I might write if I can ever make myself sit down long enough…
What is your Denali?
Much appreciation to you,
Windhorse One 8/7/2005
Hello to All,
Thanks for your encouraging words and re-upping on your support team memberships. It means so much to me to have you along. The week’s training caught up to me yesterday when I could hardly get out of bed. Until about 2:00 PM, I alternated between sleeping, reading and getting up. Fortunately, I found the energy to go on another amazing cross-country exploratory ride with my friend and colleague, Antony. We have a motto-it’s not a true ride until we push our bikes across at least one bog and cross three patches of standing water. I like to see how far I can get across the small ponds in the trail before bailing and getting myself totally soaked. Our rides have been quite technical and I’m appreciating the great focus and presence in the present moment they require in order not to crash into small conifers or large rocks-something akin to being high on the glacier on Denali and having to manage the rope, ice axe, and crampons. My grandmother will be quite pleased that I used some of her birthday money to purchase a new bike helmet to protect my brain on such rides.
Someone asked me to detail what I’m doing for training these days…Monday is a leg day in the gym, followed by step class and yoga class (when it’s happening), and then closing the day with a 60 minute recovery ride on the bike. Tuesday is an interval run day-you remember the dog crap story on the back of Signal Hill-those wonderful one minute intervals up the slope over and over again, followed by Pilates class for core strength to be able to wrestle the bike up gnarly roads, and finally an off-road bike ride to work on technical riding skills and stamina. Wednesday is upper body day in the gym, followed by yoga and step, a 30 minute recovery run, and finishing with Signal Hill Intervals on the bike …basically seeing how many times I can ride a bike up Signal Hill in 60 minutes…the answer this week was 4.
Thursday is a 60-minute run followed by more Pilates for core strength. Friday is eegad day in the gym (both legs and upper body), followed by yoga and step, and ending the day with a bike work-out I’m calling “uptown downtown.” Those of you who know downtown St. John’s know it is flocked by hills. The workout involves riding up one street and then down the next and then up one street and down the next for 60 minutes. This week my quads went on strike after 30 minutes so I’ll have to work up to the full time-maybe it was the double ascent of Holloway Street and Church Street that did them in. Saturday is a rest day. Sunday is a long run (building from 90 minutes) and a long bike (building from 2 hours). OK-so maybe I can see what I had to have several naps yesterday…
I’m trying to train both my aerobic and anaerobic systems-train for strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and recovery…training both my mind and my body. Early in the week, my body was very excited to be back at it. The first gym session seemed like a joy and all was well with the world. As the week wore on, I realized that although my body is recovered fully from Denali, my mind might not quite be…today on my long run I thought that that was OK. That it’s easy to train the mind when things are easy-harder to train when things are harder. There is a lojong slogan that says that if one can practice even when distracted-one is on the right track…so I figure it’s good to practice pushing mentally even when tired because that’s when I probably need to draw on the training the most. I also know that rest is important and to balance pushing with relaxing, reaching with receiving, stillness with activity.
Being back in training gives me many opportunities to reflect on my Denali experience and one of the things I thought about this week was responsibility. Deciding to climb Denali and spending 10 months preparing for it has given me a renewed sense of responsibility for my decisions/direction in life. It no longer seems possible to use “I can’t” as an excuse…perhaps needing to use “I don’t want to” instead because Denali taught me that I have the discipline, drive, and direction to go after whatever I set my mind to…not that I’d be guaranteed success by any means but that I can no longer let myself off the hook (i.e. back off an idea or dream without at least a full effort first) so easily in the future.
I also remembered writing in an early Denali piece about wanting to make peace with going uphill. I guess I didn’t quite get there as I’ve chosen another adventure that involves going uphill once again-this time in the form of six mountain passes-this time there can be an escape-the Land Rover that will follow us bikers-and I imagine having such an escape will plague my mind with doubt and such doubt may interfere with the making of such peace. Making peace with going uphill means surrendering to moving slowly, to breathing hard and in rhythm, to learning to enjoy the hillside as much as the summit, to staying present in each bike pedal or footstep, and to embrace suffering without trying to change it…a tall order…one that requires lots of practice… thus the focus on “hill work” in training.
I’ve begun reading and researching about prayer flags and windhorse this week as well. Here is a descriptive paragraph that I found about the windhorse design that is printed on some prayer flags. The “windhorse” design is a classic prayer flag motif. In fact the Tibetan term Lung Ta literally means windhorse, and has become practically synonymous with the English term “prayer flag”. This symbol has its origin in the fact that Tibet had a deeply rooted ‘horse culture”, which is to say that the horse played a part of great importance in the Tibetan life ways. The image evokes the notion of a power, which is like the fastest horse in that it is swift as the wind as it goes about subduing negative forces.
Have a good week-drop me a line about something that’s fun or meaningful in your life these days.