The Tibetan Plateau muted my senses. Its colour palette draws most strongly from the autumn family of ochres, tans, beiges, browns, but there are also the most intense sky and water blues imaginable. Other than blue, there were no bright colours. The hills and mountains mix these tones in blankets and weaves that inspire thoughts of the southwestern United States. There were not many sounds on the plateau except the intense wind, the grinding of tires on stones, the bleating of livestock, and the voices of hundreds of children calling, “Hello.” No birds sang. No bugs buzzed. There was only the relentless rhythm of breath going in and out as we pedaled against the altitude.
Two more 5,000 metre climbs delivered a magnificent view. As I rounded the last punishing corner, the north face of Mount Everest was abruptly revealed. Despite the challenge of getting my bike moving again at that elevation, I stopped and stared at the massive mountain. Different from the view of Everest in Nepal, here it was easy to grasp its magnificent stature. We camped at the Rongbuk Monastery and I often stared at Everest. The next day we watched a climbing expedition make their way towards base camp. We followed in a cart pulled by a high altitude pony. Arriving an hour later at base camp, I had an inkling that my inner voice was getting ready to speak. Despite it appearing as an impossible task to me, I began to contemplate climbing Everest. To seal the moment in my memory, I had a friend take a picture of me at base camp holding the Newfoundland flag. I nurtured a tentative thought: “This might be what I came to Tibet to find.”
(An excerpt from More than a Mountain: One Woman’s Everest by TA Loeffler, published by Creative Publishers)
The picture beside is the one mentioned in the excerpt above. I was mountain biking from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal. I took the picture to serve as a reminder that I had had a glimpse of a dream while visiting Everest base camp. When big dreams first come into my mind, they are most often quickly followed by the thought, “That’s impossible” or “I could never do that.” I’ve learned that I need to capture the dream somehow so that the slightest bit of “that might, with tons of work and discomfort, be slightly possible” can be nurtured.
I took the picture to remind myself that I wanted to climb Mount Everest and didn’t want to forget that intention over the great distance I still had to cover before I got home. I took the picture because I was terrified about raising the money for the climb since I am very shy and phone phobic and the idea of having to call people and ask them to donate money to a climb seemed a task bigger than climbing Everest. I took the picture because I knew the pressure inside myself to drop the dream in the face of fundraising fear would be huge. The picture was my covenant with the dream.
As I’ve now committed to climbing Mount Vinson in late fall 2011, I now need such a talisman to represent that dream. I need a picture or object that will keep the spark of the dream alive when downpours of doubt threaten to extinguish it. I need a metaphor that will support me in pushing through the fear that inevitably and already has arisen.
It took me ten days to make a phone call to set up an appointment for some business coaching. Ten days of having it on my to do list. Ten days of each day staring at the phone and willing myself to punch the buttons. Nine days of shying away from the fear and feeling bad about myself. One day of walking through it, picking up the phone, and making the call. I have that appointment on Wednesday.
When I watch myself struggle so much to make a simple phone call, I see it as a miracle that I ever made it to Everest the first time…let alone the second. It’s why I so often try to find climbs that I can manage to finance on my own. It’s why it’s taken me six years to commit to Mount Vinson. In truth, I would rather climb Signal Hill ten times in one day than make a phone call. Email was a godsend to me and I can accomplish tons with it but sometimes it’s more efficient or effective to use the phone.
Since I can haul a tire up Signal Hill ten times or camp outside in winter for weeks on end, people will sometimes assume that everything is easy for me. Many things are easy but many things are not. The challenge of going after our Everests or our Vinsons (whatever they may be) is that the path often requires us to go to places that scare us, do tasks that scare us, and live in a way that scares us. Some days that’s exciting and some days, that just sucks. As Pema Chodren says, “Run towards the biting dog.” That’s what I’m doing these days-except instead of a dog, it’s a phone.