Guest blogger S. Bedford , author of It’s Only the Himalayas and Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker, tells us about her misadventures in the Himalayas. Read on for a tale of adventure, motivation, survival and triumph.
The most common misconception people have about travel is that they can’t do it.
I know, I know. That’s as cheesy as a classroom poster from the early nineties—a kitten dangling from a clothesline reminding you to, “Hang in there, baby!” But it’s true. People encounter backpackers who’ve adventured the world over, clambered atop alpine summits and bathed in jungle streams and toasted in numerous languages, and assume these travelers were just born knowledgeable, stoic, and bold. If you’ll forgive a second corny quip: travelers aren’t born, they’re made.
From the Nat Geo journalist delving into the Peruvian jungle to chat with a clandestine tribe to the mountain man foregoing his Western life to live on the Tibetan plateau to the motorcycle renegade circumnavigating the globe on his Frankenstein scrambler—or, more accessibly, to the Millennial wanderlust backpacking though Southeast Asia—everybody was once an ignorant, trepid newbie.
I’ve traveled through more than 50 countries, am a columnist for a Canadian backpacker magazine, and recently had my memoir It’s Only the Himalayas and Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker published by Brindle & Glass (available in bookstores throughout North America and on Amazon worldwide), and I still make stupid mistakes. I nearly got myself kidnapped by hitchhiking in a dodgy Mexican state. I drank the tap water in Kolkata because “the other backpackers were doing it and they seemed fine” (I on the other hand was very much not fine). Of course, even the most rookie traveler probably isn’t dumb enough to try either of those. That’s why I’d like to share the consequences of a more common backpacker error.
This is what happened when Team Average Joe took on the Himalayas:
A few years ago, my best friend Sara and I decided do take a year-long, round-the-world trip. While I’d backpacked through Australia/New Zealand and Europe, I’d never explored regions and cultures so vastly different from my own, and admittedly had no idea what to expect—and thus left most of the research up to Sara. We decided to do the two-week Annapurna Basecamp trek in Nepal as it’s often rated the best trek in the world. Yet I remained sketchy on the details; namely the specific definition of a trek
“A trek’s like a hike,” explained Sara in what would turn out to be the greatest lie she’s ever told. “In fact, it’s like a walk.”
Sara’s wanderlust is inherited from her father Albert who journeyed overland from England to Australia in the seventies. Nepal was his favourite country from that trip and so she suggested we invite him along for that portion. And if Albert was going, well, Dad wasn’t going to miss out—regardless of the fact that the most exotic place he’d been to date was Scotland.
In retrospect it’s incredible that four people so excited about trekking the Himalayas managed to overlook what it actually entails. Sara’s naturally fit but I was no athlete; meanwhile, our fathers were in their mid-sixties, Dad a good 20 lbs. overweight and Albert lacking half a lung from a previous illness/surgery. While Dad “trained” for the event by wandering around the parkade for 15 minutes every lunch hour, the rest of us didn’t even do that. We arrived in Kathmandu in old toques and mittens, without water bladders or hiking poles—I was wearing jeans!
Our lack of preparedness was evident within the first hour. The trek began with a steep staircase upping from the carpark into oblivion, and within the first three flights Dad collapsed, drenched in sweat and grabbing his chest in a terrifying manner. Looking back, he insists he was just dehydrated but I’m convinced he was on the verge of cardiac arrest. It was then I realized how stupid we’d been, how most people trained for months for such an undertaking and outfitted themselves with top-end gear, and how we were not only wasting time and money but possibly putting ourselves in real danger.
I tried to convince him to turn back, saying that we could explore Kathmandu and Pokara instead, but he would have none of it. Fueled by the mental fortitude of a sexagenarian unexpectedly gifted with another chance to carpe diem, he huffed and puffed and crawled his way up those onerous stairs over three grueling hours, finally buckling in a satisfied heap at the teahouse on top.
Indeed, that was only the beginning of our tribulations. While that first staircase was the worst, the next two weeks were riddled with arduous inclines and daunting descents, our lungs and knees wailing with every step. We all contracted horrific food poisoning, puking into buckets and sprinting to the outhouse during what would be forever known as Black Noodle Soup Thursday. We had frigid nights (and not enough layers) to contend with as well as freezing rain and electric storms that raged throughout the mountains. If I could’ve breathed, I would’ve cried. It was by far the greatest physical challenged I’d ever faced.
But there was beauty, too. Ice glistening on crimson rhododendrons; waterfalls cascading down rocky precipices; and of course the tremendous Himalayas sneaking up from all sides until they surrounded us with their majesty. It was this natural sublimity that propelled us forth—every ache suddenly eclipsed by a fantastic mountain-scape.
Sadly, Albert didn’t make it to the top, although he later confessed that he’d never expected to. He waited at a village mid-way for a few days while Sara, Dad and I pressed onwards to ABC—one tiny step for man, one giant leap for Team Average Joe. Once the trek was over and we were fed and warm and relaxing, our tour operator confessed we were the most unprepared group of misfits he’d ever encountered and that his guys never expected us to achieve our goal.
If I could do it, you can do it. Wait, scratch that—if my 62-year-old, festively plump, utterly naïve father can do it, you can do it. There might be more sweating and cursing than you anticipated, but you’re also capable of more than you think.
As a wise kitten once said: hang in there, baby.
If you enjoyed this piece, visit the author’s website – www.sbedford.ca