Friday, April 5, 2013


"My GHT dream is officially over."  

Andy's proclamation came halfway through another long climb leading into the town of Sama, on the Manaslu Circuit.  It was only the second week of our trip, a second hard week of trekking uphill through sickness and snow, and morale was not high.  Andy had been troubled at both ends, so to speak, and clouds were shrouding the mountains again.  It had turned from too hot down low to too cold up high, and we mysteriously seemed to have missed the comfortable middle ground.  There had been plenty of good things, sure, but those were far from the forefront at the moment.  Instead, the immediacy of getting to Sama along a steep, narrow, uneven path through 2 feet of heavy, wet snow was setting the mood, and the tempo.

As previously chronicled we eventually retreated from the heights of Manaslu to the comfortable shores of Phewa Tal in Pokhara to lick our wounds and convalesce.  Despite our best efforts, we never got healthy, not really, and the snow kept falling up high.  Yes, we're from Alaska, and no, snow doesn't scare us, but postholing for miles on end along an unknown trail when you're sick is no one's idea of a good time.  It became painfully obvious that this was not to be our year.  Andy and Mary succumbed early on and made plans to leave Nepal for greener pastures, but Abby and I were still clinging, ever so tenuously, to our through-hiking dream.  Andy was heading to Iceland to do some skiing, Mary was off to Turkey to meet a friend, and our plan was to head out west once they left and trek through the high desert regions of Dolpo.  If nothing else, we'd have 2 months to hike the western half of the GHT by ourselves, leaving the eastern side for another time.

But before we all went our separate ways, we had a few weeks to redeem ourselves.  We decided to climb Mera Peak as a final group outing -  a chance to have a taste of success on a high peak that offers unparalleled views of the mountains in the Everest region.  The trip went well, but group health proved once again to be elusive.  Recurring GI issues materialized in waves, and a nasty chest infection knocked me flat at high camp.  Andy, Mary and Abby made the summit on a beautiful morning, and then helped me struggle back down to base camp.  Andy started wheezing a few days later.  On the final day of the trip, as we climbed over the last pass before dropping into Lukla, the skies erupted with thunder and lightening, and first hail, then heavy snow started falling.  Abby and I looked at each other and nodded in agreement.  We were officially throwing in the towel and accepting defeat.  We were going to leave Nepal.

Despite the rewards of another fantastic travel experience, ultimately a lingering disappointment prevails.  I want to make sure to properly explain this because I think it's easy to take that statement to mean that we're leaving Nepal with frowns on our faces, and grumbles in our throats.  Not at all.  It was a wonderful two months full of new places, new experiences, new friends, and a better understanding of the country.  However, it comes down to the fact that we didn't come to Nepal to travel, we came to hike the GHT.  We arrived with an agenda, and ambition.  Certainly, the foreign component was a large part of the appeal, but we didn't just want to wander around aimlessly, discovering things as they presented themselves.  We've done that, and loved it, but this time we wanted something more.  We wanted to push ourselves towards a discrete goal.  

Further, that we failed is not a problem.  We knew it was going to be hard, with many unknowns.  In fact, that's why we wanted to do it.  It was not supposed to be easy, and we were prepared to leave some miles unhiked.  However, that we failed so spectacularly is an embarrassment.  Of the 1,700+ km we came to hike, we covered about 40.  That is not a misprint.  In almost 40 days of walking through the hills and mountains of Nepal, we managed to average 1 km of GHT a day.  (To be fair, we saw those 40 kms from both directions, so we know them both backwards and front - quality over quantity.  So there's that, I guess, as far as moral (morale?) victories go.)  

So now we have 2 months left, and still want to push ourselves in some other exotic endeavour.  Originally, we were reserving a few weeks at the end of our trip for some Thailand beach hopping and food gorging.  However, present circumstances considered, that's just not going to cut it.  Instead, we're still heading to Thailand, but to spend our remaining time bike touring through Southeast Asia.  We flew into Bangkok 4 days ago, and have spent the intervening days trying to get our kit together.  Yesterday, we found a pair of battered but trusty stallions for only 3,000 baht (~$100) a piece, from a bike tour company that's replacing their equipment.  We rode the bikes home through the heart of Bangkok, and decided that helmets were also going to be necessary.  Today we went to the local bike shop and spent almost as much again on accessories - lights, locks, racks, helmets, bike shorts, bike jerseys, bike gloves, bar ends, handle grips, a pump, a patch kit, a bike computer, spare tubes, and a flowery bell that dings like the sound of a million angels laughing.  We left a happy shop owner in our wake, and we now look the part - who knew I looked so good in bike shorts?  Tomorrow, we bid adieu to the comforts of Pleasantville, and pedal off to start our adventure.  Excitement levels are high.

Abby paying for all the loot at Interbike, in Bangkok.

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