This is a long post. Lots to say! Lots to explain…
After the stress of last night, I don’t think Buck-30 or I slept much. We both were up easily by 5am and packing; wondering if we would make it out of the village without any further interaction from the supposed guides we negotiated with last night. We went to sleep with the idea that a continuous GHT thru-hike was off the table. Before heading home, there was a section ahead that continuously strung together the areas of Makalu, Annapurna, and Dolpo that we wanted to do. As we packed up, Buck-30 told me he had crunched the numbers (he’s an accountant) overnight in his head on what it would entail to do the section we had in mind. Long story short, it would boil down to about $1000, quite a bit of logistics and travel out and back, and just about 16 days of hiking. We both agreed we weren’t feeling it.
For me, it was the combination of it all. I just couldn’t connect to this hike. Even before this guide incident, I just wasn’t connecting to this hike. A combination of sickness out here, the altitude to contend with, never feeling more than 70%, and personal things pulling me to want to be home this season. It just wasn’t a fit. Here is a link to Buck-30’s trail journal to read his view on all of this.
Yes, we could’ve put our heads down and gotten it done as a thru-hike likely going around on low route if we really pushed. We could have come out and jumped around to hit the places we wanted to see. We could just jump around Tashi Labsta and continue from there. However, the drive just wasn’t there. Some will say that we are Americans who are too caught up in connecting steps. It’s deeper than that, and behind each hiker is a human being with more than just hiking in their lives. There are a lot of factors.
I’ll come back to more of my thoughts on all this, and my personal motivations for making this choice, but I first want to continue on with how we handled the next few days. Being in Thame, We were conveniently just a two day hike from the Lukla Airport. Yes, we were in Lukla a week ago. Here’s a snapshot of the loop we did that overlapped the Three Passes Trek. Most commonly, hikers doing the Three Passes Trek just complete the whole loop starting and ending at the Lukla Airport. Our GHT route would have had us continuing west, and not closing the loop.
So we set off from Thame, and hiked less than three hours to Namche. Griggs was already there, having hiked there via another route yesterday when he got sick again and decided to fly home to figure out what this month-long sickness could be. It was a great view to see it in the morning before the clouds moved in.
We all planned to hike to Lukla the next day, which would take a solid day to hike. We booked early morning flights out of Lukla for the day following the hike there. The travel agent saw me later in the day and told me there was a morning helicopter flight from Namche to Lukla for $100 if we didn’t want to do the hike, which we had all already done the first time into Namche. I led the charge on this one. I was totally in “fuck it” mode. I was dealing with my period exhaustion, and just wanted something fun after the last few days of things not going our way. The guys decided to spring for it. It was a highlight of the trip for sure! Just a handful of minutes, but for sure a life list experience, and where would be a better place than surrounded by the Himalaya mountains?
I have to say that watching Griggs have this experience was worth the $100 alone. He really is obsessed with flying, and had never been in a helicopter. Of course, he got to sit up front. It was good to see him so happy with how terrible he’s been feeling for most of the last month. I think it made all of us wash away the feelings of the last few days.
We got a day to relax in Lukla, and Buck-30 got to enjoy getting nudged by one last mule train, haha;)
The strategy at Lukla Airport is to book flights to Kathmandu as early as possible because clouds move in early, and flights get cancelled quickly. Lukla only has morning flights for this reason.
Lukla Airport is known as the most dangerous airport in the world, and has a very short runway going off a cliff at an angle so the small planes can land quickly and take off faster. Weather had not been ideal and some people had been stranded in Lukla waiting for a flight for days. Notice how the runway is going downhill in the photo.
We were fortunate and made it out of Lukla on our scheduled morning. Apparently, the majority of flights the last 4-5 days hadn’t taken off. Good timing on our part, whew! Buck-30 got a flight out of Kathmandu that same day, and Griggs and I stayed two days. We played tourist and went to the Swayambhunath Stupa, aka “Monkey Temple.” One of the most sacred Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
View looking out over Kathmandu.
Bouddha Stupa, one of the largest stupas in the world. I personally liked this one. Great light to go at the end of the day.
Most importantly, we found a real milkshake place in Thamel (tourist district of Kathmandu). It was called Keventers. I went three times and got the Chocolate Oreo flavor each time. Yep, I was a happy tourist:)
It was a nice transition to take some time in Kathmandu before returning home. I didn’t really feel like I needed time to absorb this one all that much. I know we were out for a month, but comparatively, it wasn’t as long as I’m used to. I had no grand delusions about the GHT, and it was very much what I expected. I studied up enough to know I’d likely be sick, cold, uncomfortable, and tired much of the time. I knew this was one I’d struggle to connect with. I knew it would put me out of my comfort zone on many levels, which is something I can tolerate. Mostly, I thought it would be good for me to find some kind of acceptance and peace in an environment where very little was in my control. That’s always been a challenge for me. So much in Nepal is unpredictable and uncontrollable. It was good for me to have that experience and sit in it for an extended period of time.
All three of us are fortunate to have been thru-hiking for many years. This is definitely not our first or last rodeo. Having many trail years under our belts has given us a perspective of normality out here. This isn’t some wanderlust angsty hyperbolic dreamscape. We aren’t out here to impress anyone. We just like experiencing countries at a 1-3mi/hr pace. Our motivations are internal despite however many people are “following” through our respective trail journals or social media. We all are known for our real opinions, and aversion to hyperbole. We aren’t out there to give an illusion, garner accolades, or attain more followers. Contrary to popular belief, all that has little impact on our decisions.
We all three have the freedom and independent finances to pretty much hike wherever our whims take us. That wasn’t Nepal anymore. We all have things we are anxious to get to in the coming months, and are leaving this experience feeling like it was unique, surreal, and worth having. A month has shown us so many aspects of this diverse country, and I’m glad to have had that experience. Yes, there is a part of me that slightly yearns as I look at a map and see what all was left to be explored. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll return to pick up where I left off. I think I’ll need quite a bit of time to forget how uncomfortable it was to be out there first, ha! In the end, it boiled down to the fact that we didn’t feel the need to hike something just to say we did.
So What Happens Next??
The immediate question is always, “What’s next?!” Well, you all can follow Buck-30 and Griggs to see where they will be heading. Neither are big on announcements, so give it some transition time, and it will reveal itself eventually. Those two will likely always be hiking somewhere. As for me, it may be a bit of a surprise for everyone, but I’m very excited to go….HOME! I’m actually writing this on the plane as I fly home, and will post it as soon as I land. I realize it’s the prime hiking season, and I have the whole world to choose from. I have a suitcase, full of trail food, all new hardly used hiking gear, no professional obligations, and the money to hike the next 4-5 months…but I don’t want to. I’d planned to explain this after the GHT, but I’ve had a bit of a shift in the past year.
I want to explain this properly, as so many of you have come on this journey with me the past 8yrs. Many people ask me what motivates my travel and thru-hiking. I often respond by explaining that it’s where I feel most “in the pocket.” Those that have followed for years, know what I mean by that. “In the pocket” is the term I use for that feeling of being exactly where I’m supposed to be at exactly the right time. Everything flows, feels effortless, natural, and in-sync. I tend to give the analogies of that moment when you swish a basket or hit a golf ball just right. Everything seamlessly aligns in that moment to all come together, and for a split second, it all clicks. I’ve described thru-hiking as the place where I’ve felt that feeling most consistently for the most extended amount of time. It may not be every day all day, but that feeling comes, and I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
Now step back for a minute on the past 8yrs. For me, the true thru-hike is the thru-hike of life. Eight years are just a small section of that proverbial thru-hike (as I am approaching 40yrs old this year). It’s a significant section no doubt, but it isn’t what defines me. There’s a lot more going on than the 5-6 months I spend hiking each year. Over the years, the time on trail has been my vessel for internally figuring a lot of things out. It gave me that time to reflect while also addressing challenges on trail, sometimes intentionally, that I knew I wanted to figure out. Some I’ve been more open about than others in my journaling, but you all know it’s been quite the journey. There’s been a ton of growth and happiness as a result.
Last summer, while hiking in France, I took the intensity down a notch, and found an incredible levity and happiness I didn’t know I could feel. This past year, that feeling just grew. I’ve found that, at this current time, I’m more “in the pocket” at home than I’ve ever been anytime and anywhere in life. Both on the trail and off. It made leaving home more difficult than ever, and made the decision to cut this trip short a no-brainer in my mind. I want to be clear, this was not an epiphany brought on by hiking in Nepal. I knew this going in, and it was only further confirmed each day I was gone. Even before the hike, I mentioned that after the GHT, I’d be road tripping in the Pacific Northwest this July instead of traveling back to Europe to hike. This is not a new concept, and is one that’s been growing ever since I returned last September from Europe.
I know it sounds crazy, but for the next month and a half, I know I’ll be happiest at home, going to work as a substitute teacher for the rest of the school year. Then I’ll road trip in the Pacific Northwest the month of July with no intention of journaling. As for August, I’ll wait to see what my gut says. Maybe I’ll be in the mood for some long distance hiking and journaling before the school year kicks in. At the moment, nothing is pulling me more than being home and nesting for a bit.
My hiking friends who know of my plans joke that I’m “retiring” from thru-hiking. I seriously doubt that. I just have nothing pulling me out there at the moment more than home. Things aren’t that black and white. Again, the thru-hiking doesn’t define me. It’s one part of me, and maybe that part just needs a bit of a break. I felt like this hiking season came too soon this year. I wasn’t ready to leave home. I wish I could say something more definitive, but it’s all I have. I’m incredibly happy at home, and in the pocket…and that’s where my gut is taking me.
I hope that’s an explanation everyone can understand in a way, and appreciate. Life is the true journey, and thru-hiking has been such a valuable section of it. I’ve grown immensely because of it, and have evolved into this new phase it seems. There’s a shift and transition happening, but to where, I’m not quite sure. It just needs some time, but I’m pretty excited to have found such a wonderful pocket. Yes, I’m a very happy camper:) Don’t worry, this isn’t a series finale, just a mid-season hiatus…I think…
One final note: I’ll be off the grid this weekend if anyone comments or emails me and I don’t respond.