It was a long journey out, but we finally made it to the town of Lukla, where we would be flying back to Kathmandu and then home. As we walked to the plane on the tarmac in a single-file line, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia wash over me. We were leaving. Staring down the 1,729ft runway of the Tenzing-Hillary Airport, I saw a small fixed-wing plane, sitting eager for our departure. Climbing up into the plane, you could smell the years and miles of history it had traveled and hear the age of the engines. The sound was so robust they offered cotton balls for your ears. With no seating assignments, I found myself wandering toward the front row. Normally, I’m a back of the bus kind of gal, but today was different. I took a photo of our team all smiling in the back, and returned my camera to my bag for the rest of my journey home. With headphones in my ears and eyes staring out the window, the engines thundered and the vibrations of the plane felt oddly soothing. As the short runway disappears, the plane threatens to kiss the side of a mountain. But somehow, by the grace of God, the pilot maneuvers the plane for yet another flawless takeoff. Did I mention this airport is the most dangerous in the world? My eyes were now locked out the window watching the Himalayas fading in the distance. With every breath I focused on the music in my ears to keep from falling apart. I felt as though I was mourning the loss of a life or a soul…maybe my life and soul? I focused my mind on how great dinner in Kathmandu will be, along with a shower and clean clothes. I wonder what the city looks like? Is it as devastating as we keep hearing? Should I stay and help? Just focus on the mountains.
“Sometimes the greater plan, Is kinda hard to understand, Right now it don’t make sense…” –Luke Bryan “Drink a Beer”
Upon landing in Kathmandu everything appeared normal, and then I laid my eyes on the military planes from India, Pakistan, and the U.S. Did we just land in a war zone? Greeted by our local staff we were shuttled into a van and carted to the Yak and Yeti, a classic “climbers” hotel in Kathmandu. The buffet was calling my name! My first round was slightly embarrassing as I came back with a five-course meal, which included six different deserts. The food was comforting and delicious. When I had finally stuffed myself sick, I retired to my room to shower and repack what possessions I still had.
After much needed naps and showers we gathered in one of the gardens to see the first of our team members off. Although clean, we all looked a bit disheveled, as everyone had lost weight and clothes fit loosely…well everyone except me! After a quick selfie and a big round of hugs, my dear friend Paul was the first one off. I was going to miss Paul. With five left, we quickly migrated to happy hour at the bar followed by a romantic dinner in an open-air courtyard held under candlelight. We laughed, we drank, stared at each other over the flames of fire, and once again, ate ourselves sick. Upon returning to the hotel, we enjoyed a quick nightcap before we were all spent. The trip had come to an end and we all felt it. It was time to say goodbye and this chapter was much tougher than I thought it would be. After all, my teammates had become my family and I couldn’t imagine waking up in the morning without them.
They say Everest changes you. I used to find hilarity in this statement because to me, it was always just a mountain, nothing more. Yes, I thought of it as majestic and summiting would be a grand accomplishment, but at the end of the day it’s just a mountain. I was naively wrong. Everest has changed me, and not in the capacity I ever thought possible. In fact, I know I have not fully realized the extent it has changed me, and I’m not sure I ever will completely comprehend this journey. I am forever bonded to my teammates. To those I climbed next to, drank tea with, or sat with while checking email, I am grateful. For these people are the only souls on the planet that will ever fully and truly understand what took place in April of 2015 in Nepal. I pray I get the opportunity to climb with these individuals again.
The next day the sun rose like any other day and I dragged my bag down the hall to the entrance of the hotel. For the first time I noticed a large crack in the marble wall, a chilling reminder of the earthquake. I moved quickly past it as my heart trembled. Back in the security of my room I called my parents and to let them know that I was flying out of Kathmandu in a few hours, but that I would be making a pit stop in Thailand. In my dreams, I had always visualized my trip ending on the beach, and it was time to see my dream to the end. Thailand or bust!
“And yes it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability –and that is may take a very long time.” – Unknown
Having already traveled extensively in Thailand in 2008, I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been. The classic post-Everest spot is Krabi, a beach/rock climbing area in the southern region of Thailand. In all honesty, I wanted to get as far away from climbers as possible. I had relived the ordeal enough over the last two weeks and I couldn’t bear having any more conversations about it. Arriving in the Bangkok airport I found a place to store my bag, threw the essentials into my backpack, and walked to the Thai Airways counter to book the first flight available…but to where? Ko Lanta, picked at random, what could possibly go wrong? A quick night spent in Bangkok in the company of street pad Thai and a cold Chang beer, my early flight was all I could focus on. Within 12 hours of landing in Thailand, I found myself walking into the foyer of a beautiful resort (thanks hotels.com). The place was deserted which was fitting for the low season and I welcomed the quiet serenity of whispers. After sleeping 12+ hours a night, I continued to wake up groggy and fatigued. My body had finally given in to the torment I had put it through and I was sick as a dog. Bronchitis mixed with death, Paul assured me via Facebook that I would survive. With each swim in the pool and dip into the ocean, my skin and lungs began to heal, along with my mind. Massages, ice cream, smoothies, and scooter cruising all over the island allowed me to deliberately forget about Nepal. At times I felt selfish for wanting to push away a country that was in such turmoil, but my mind had turned numb thinking about it.
My time in Thailand eventually had to come to an end and the sun was setting on my final night. My body urged to run. Grabbing my music and nothing more, I sprinted to the beach barefoot. My toes welcomed the soft sand and my legs praised the stride. I couldn’t slow down. I felt like my body was tumbling in a forward motion and someone else was driving it. People looked at me like I had lost my marbles somewhere with my shirt. I didn’t care. I was free. Running is the human body’s most raw form of freedom and I was finally free from my own mind. Like all impulsive things, it finally came to an end. I watched the sun melt under the water and the stars begin to twinkle. The beach was empty. Even with the beautiful colors gone I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the ocean. My breath suddenly became short, panic filled my throat, and my skin burned. Flinging my clothes off into the sand I dove headfirst into the glistening water. I floated on my back like a child and gazed upward with full eyes. Emotion overcame my whole body, tears began filling my eyes blurring the beautiful night’s sky. Relief. This is where I was supposed to be. The water against my skin slowly soothed my mind much like a warm bath when you’re sick. Tomorrow I would be going home, but I wasn’t ready. I began to wonder if I’d ever be? Would any amount of time ever make me ready? Doubtful. I just had to trust the process. I wanted to be back with my mom and dad, but I knew, they would never understand…no one would, except those of us that were there.
“You can find peace amidst the storms that threaten you.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
I cannot predict the future nor can I undo the past. Events have happened which created pain and disappointment that turned into life changing experiences. In my experience Mt. Everest was much like surviving a lightning storm. The odds of surviving a direct lightning strike alone and unharmed is bleak, but when two people holding hands are struck, they often times survive unscathed. Being connected to another can help disperse the electrical current of lightning, but does is actually save anyone? In life, does holding onto someone actually lessen the blow? Thailand was my chance to escape, to run away, to avoid being imprisoned in my own head and wait out the storm. In hindsight, maybe I should have allowed myself the chance to weather that storm on my own, instead of holding onto someone else for balance, because it is only after living through the storm that one can truly appreciate the sunshine.