Today is a two-fer…one entry looking back just after 2017 began and one entry from when we first landed in Bhutan. Enjoy!
Originally Posted on September 27, 2017
“But wait,” you doth protest. “Where is update number 13?”
It’s in the same place as aisle 13 on the Druk Airlines plane we flew in on yesterday, left out for superstitious reasons/aiming for good luck.
Our guide, Namgay Tenzin, has been teaching us about Bhutanese customs, thoughts, and Buddhism. After explaining about one Bhutanese way of doing something, he concluded, “We Bhutanese are very superstitious. So to honour that tradition, update 13 is being skipped.
After our exciting landing, at one of the most dangerous airports in the world, where only 8 pilots are certified to land, we were met by Namgay and his assistant, Titi.
We spent a little time in Paro exchanging money and looking around before heading to our accommodation. We are staying amid the red rice fields and it is stunningly beautiful. We learned that Paro wasn’t made the capital because no much agricultural land would have been lost.
Today we visited a Bhutanese icon, Taktsang Dzong or the Tiger’s Nest. It’s called the Tiger’s Nest because according to legend, Guru Rinpoche rode to the temple’s site on a tiger where he meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days, 3 hours, and 3 minutes. In 1692, Tenzin Rabgye built the temple on this holy spot where it stood until 1998. It burnt in a horrible fire but has since been rebuild because it is a national treasure.
We head tomorrow for our 28 day trek to Lunana It’s going to be a tough month with 11 pass crossings, cold weather, and (hopefully not too much) snow. Our trek distances will build quickly and this trek is considered one of the hardest in the world. After a week off, it took a bit to get the cobwebs off this morning on the steep climb to Taktsang. These will likely be the last typewritten updates until October 25 or so. If the technology plays nice, there will be a map and audio update each day for you to follow along with us.
We’ll be eating lots of chilies over the next weeks as they are a staple of the Bhutanese diet as is red rice which we had for the first time at lunch today.
Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon are often spotted on the four corners of Lungta. They represent the Four Dignities or four ways of being in and thinking about the world. I’ve seen them represented here many times already and I’ll be thinking often about the teachings I received about them. One of my Buddhist names calls me Lion so I’m often found of spotting the Snow Lion, who often joyfully jumps from mountain top to mountain top, in Buddhist iconography. As I toil against gravity and hypoxia, I plan to keep the images of Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon close at hand/close at mind in assisting me in always having the support of a joyful mind-even when going uphill feels very hard (which it mostly does these days.)
Thanks in advance for thinking of us and sending us strength (of all sorts) and gods thoughts. We promise lots of pictures come October 26 or so and in the meantime, enjoy the audio updates.
Of Hands and Helicopters
Originally Posted on January 8, 2017
That’s my left hand holding Climber Smurf as we are traveling to Hebron, Labrador last August to begin our Paddle2Peaks expedition. It’s been a rough year for my hands. I hadn’t realized how rough until just before Christmas when I received some medical treatment that eased the pain for the first time in six months. As Joni Mitchell so aptly said, “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” I hadn’t truly perceived the level of pain until it was absent. I’m working hard in physiotherapy to keep it that way and trying to be smart and sensible about activity choices. now that I’m pain-free…to stay pain free in both the short and long term.
I’m going have a gnarly set of worn-out hands when I’m 85 ‘cause I’m already well on my way there now. I consider my hands badges of a well-lived life. I love my hands. They are my connection to my paddle, my ice axe, my keyboard. It’s been tough to have such deep pain and doubt about that connection. Humbling too. It makes me wonder if someday that connection will be permanently broken or too painful to make. This doubt, in turn, makes the connection all the more precious and the activities I can do because of that connection, all the more precious.
The new year is often an occasion for looking back over the last one, for reflection, for seeing the high peaks and the low valleys. 2016, for me and so many others, had its fair share of both.
A friend recorded the series, Everest Air, that aired this fall and I recently watched the series. It was both tough and exhilarating to watch. Seeing the rescues, of course, reminded me of my own helicopter flight (read about it here) off of Everest and issued an invitation to continue processing that experience (and perhaps if I’m honest, triggered a wee bit of the PTSD I still carry from that sudden ending of my expedition). Just as I did in my own flight, I love the views of Everest and Nepal from the air, from above it all. The views of the Khumbu Icefall are breathtaking. Watching some of the episodes, Marian and I have seen remote regions we’ve trekked in and enjoyed the cascade of memories that comes with that reminder. I watched the rescue of one of my teammates during Episode Two. We stop and pause the video when views of my tent at base camp or other camps come into view. (Mine is the last blue one in the series of five blue ones :-))
During Episode Three, Everest Air flew to Makalu to pick up a sick climber. Because the Everest Air crew was picking up that climber, they were busy when the call went out for my pick-up so I was picked up by a different helicopter and crew that also happened to be filming a series about helicopter pilots and rescues in Nepal. That series starts airing tonight on Discovery and is called Everest Rescue. I don’t know which episode exactly my flight will be covered in-only that it comes later in the series.
As folks may remember, I often can’t watch my own media appearances. I often cover my ears and run screaming from the room when an interview comes on. I don’t often have interview remorse these days but it takes me a while to be ready to watch or listen to myself. I have no doubt that this will be the same. The series crew captured footage in the helicopter, base camp, at Lukla, at the Kathmandu airport, at the hospital, and then in a long interview in Kathmandu the evening before I was heading home. All of that will likely be condensed into a short segment that’s mostly focused on Jason Laing, the pilot who flew me off. Of course, when you consent to be filmed/interviewed in any context, you have no idea how you will be quoted/portrayed/shown but I’m hopeful, given the way the crew treated me throughout, that they will tell the story well and with respect.
I’m sure, once I gather the courage to watch the episode my flight is featured in, I’ll once again be tossed back into those moments, that day, those days, those weeks, that expedition. I’ll have another opportunity to understand the experience, its lessons, and its effects. I’ll see new connections and continue to accept/heal/let go of old ones. I’ll re-live the hope and anticipation of the beginning of the expedition and the bitter disappointment of the unexpected ending, and all points in between. I’ll see how the footage captured the moments and how that looks and feels the same (and likely different) than my lived experience of it. I’ll work with it as I’m ready and able.
Those of you with access to Discovery and in the inclination to watch-enjoy! I ask that you watch it with compassion for all involved-know that I may be a few weeks or months behind in the watching-and that hands and helicopters can both be very intense life experiences understood in the looking back rather than in the moment.
May 2017 bring you adventures of your choosing, teammates to share them with, and Everest sized compassion for you and all!