Have you ever noticed how the things that terrify us can also be the most thrilling experiences all tied into one? Climbing Mt. Everest is much like that, it intimidates and scares me every minute I think about it, yet I can’t seem to get enough. It only seems natural that as I make my way to the Holy Grail herself, Everest, another fear of mine would literally walk into my sleeping bag giving the biggest adrenaline push of all time a little bit sooner than expected.
“Fear speaks first and fear speaks loudest. Learning to listen to the small, still Voice within is the only way to render it silent.” -Marianne Williamson
The long trek to Everest basecamp requires climbers to move slow. Very slow. This means we spend many nights in different villages along the way. Each of these villages are comprised of bakeries, monasteries, shops, and tea houses-our home-away-from-home until reaching basecamp. A little over a week into our trek, I made myself comfortable in my spacious room in the town of Periche. It’s important to take advantage of these tea houses because it is a chance to spread your stuff out inside and let everything breathe. After leaving my room in a state that one might suggest mirrors a battle zone, I went downstairs to enjoy dinner and tea. After too much apple pie and enough of the internet I wandered back up to my room.
Nestling up in my -40 degree sleeping bag on top of a cot with a thin mattress, I was snug as a bug playing Candy Crush while waiting for my Benadryl to kick in. I started to feel my eyes getting heavy and thought it would be best to turn the iPad off, place it in my sleeping bag next to my other electronics, turn off my headlamp, and bury my face deep in my bag. I can’t be certain how long my eyes were closed before I felt something plummet down my back. My initial thought was, “Your headlamp just slipped off your side-go to bed”. I closed my eyes and began to doze off again…until I felt “something” scamper up my back. I lurched out of bed petrified of what I was certain was a colossal tarantula crawling up my body only to realize I was still zipped tight in my sleeping bag. SMACK. Face plant on the floor and electronics airborne. Shit. I stumbled around my unfamiliar room searching for the light switch. One stubbed toe later I found it. Click. Click. You have got to be kidding me. They turn the electricity off at night???
Relax Kim. Don’t panic. You have another headlamp in your bag by the window. Well that would have been super helpful had that headlamp been charged and working. Okay. Plan B. Find your camera. Shuffling around for another minute or two I was able to locate the camera. Like out of a horror movie I kept taking pictures of my bed in the dark with my flash, hoping to locate my headlamp. Seven flashes later, I found the headlamp. Once the room was illuminated I began to calm down a bit as my fear dissipates slowly in the company of light.
Next task: slowly and calmly shake out your sleeping bag. Don’t be scared. Whatever is in there must come out!! After a few deep breaths I told myself to not be a sissy and snatched my bag and began shaking it violently. Waiting for the tarantula to come falling out, I was shocked to find nothing but my ear plugs rolling out of the bag. Seriously? Well you sure have done it this time Kim. Why do you always assume things like your headlamp falling down your back means a nest of spiders are trying to co-habitats with you? Unbelievable. Go back to bed.
I collected my electronics, kept my headlamp on, and crawled back into my sleeping bag. The altitude must be playing with my mind? Perhaps a very vivid dream? Either way, I rolled over and attempted to adjust my pillow. Eeeeekkkkkk!!!! A mouse came sprinting out from under my pillow. Again, I leaped out of bed only to remember that I was zipped tight in my sleeping bag and…SMACK. Face plant. I scrambled to my feet and saw the quick little f&*ker sprinting across the room. Great. It’s going to be in my bags that are wide open with all of my gear out. I searched around the room but could not find my furry friend. The only thing worse than waking up to a mouse in your sleeping bag, is not knowing whether or not the mouse was still in your room. Now what? I could go wake up Justin (our guide in the room next door) but I’ll never hear the end of that. Paul is probably sleeping with his ear plugs in and won’t hear me banging. I could sleep outside but it’s cold. Steven is somewhere in Nepal but not in a helpful location. I opened the door and looked down the hallway hoping to share my misery with someone walking to the bathroom but had no luck. Looks like you’re just going to have to put your big girl pants on, get back in your sleeping bag, and sleep with your headlamp on…all night. Reluctantly I listened to myself and crawled back into bed. Thankful for Benadryl, I finally passed out.
Startled by the sunlight beaming through my window I jumped out of bed (unzipping my bag first this time) and walked downstairs to share my tale of near death by giant mouse. One teammate heard the thud of me falling out of my bed while another asked the very important question, “How big was it?” My response, “Big enough!!”
One might think waking up to a mouse in their sleeping bag isn’t that big of a deal, and they are probably right. For me, waking up to a mouse crawling on my body in my sleeping bag was one of the most terrifying things to encounter in the dark. The important lesson here is that I wasn’t a sissy and I took control of the situation I was tossed into and came out victoriously. That mouse had no chance of scaring me out of my bed, much like Mt. Everest has no chance of scaring me away from the summit. Both scenarios are terrifying, but like I said before, the things that scare us often times are the most exhilarating experiences that remind us that we are, in fact, ALIVE