For the last month or so I’ve been living with a Sherpa family at 10,000-feet in the Himalaya and training for my upcoming ascent of Mount Everest. Sherpa’s are naturally athletic, genetically designed for these altitudes, and as far as I can tell they don’t need to “train” for anything. My best hope for success in their kingdom is to stand on stilts in a valley full of giants. I spend my days here trying to find my stilts (and sandwiches).
Lukla (the village where I’m living) is a great place to prepare for Everest because of its location. The village itself sits at an elevation of 9,314 ft. Surke is below Lukla at the bottom of the river valley at an elevation of 7,511 ft. The Kalo Himal range rises above the village, with a couple of easily accessible peaks stretching above 15,000 ft.
When I arrived, I would spend the day running up and down the trail from Lukla to Surke to Lukla. A return trip between the two villages nets 2,000 ft. of elevation gain (and loss) over five miles and would take me about an hour-and-a-half to complete. As my training continued, I worked my way up to completing this course five times in a day – netting a total of 10,000 feet of climbing with 25 miles of running and hiking.
As the weeks passed by, the temperature began to rise and the snow started to melt up high. On my first trips up the ridge the going was very difficult and I had to break trail through snow that was often up to my thighs. It made for slow going, but good training. Eventually I was able to connect the two routes into a single course.
The trip from Lukla to Surke to the ridge and back to Lukla allows you to climb (and descend) 10,000 ft. in roughly 18 miles. It also allows you to spend a couple of hours above 14,000 feet and to reach an ultimate elevation of 15,100 feet. The groups heading to Mera Peak take three to four days to complete this course, but with training it is possible to complete it in less than eight hours.
The people in Lukla initially reacted to all my running around with great amusement. “Look at the American,” I imagined them saying. “He’s always in such a hurry, but never seems to get where he’s going!” Over the last few weeks the laughing has slowly turned to cheers, and the people who live in the incredibly modest houses along my course now come out as I pass to offer me encouragement and tea.
Three days ago we celebrated the Nepali New Year during the Losar Festival. Pasang and his wife (my hosts here) invited me to attend the celebration as their guest. After the villagers finished their worship and prayed for blessings in the New Year we spent the afternoon sitting together drinking milk tea and chang. I was surprised to discover that everyone already knew who I was.
“Oh! Running, running, running! Incredible!” An old man said while shaking his head.
“Stronger than a Sherpa!” Another added.
“Like a pink Yeti!” Another shouted (noticing my sunburn), and the group roared with laughter.
Stronger than a Sherpa, I’ll never be. But the “Pink Yeti” is something I think I can grow into.Continue reading
Losar is the celebration of the Tibetan New Year and is the most important holiday of the year in Tibet (and in the Everest region of Nepal). The Tibetan calendar is composed of 12 lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month. In Nepal, Losar is celebrated for an entire month, but the first three days are the most important and are marked with special ceremonies and meals.
This year, I celebrated Losar in the Nepali village of Lukla, which is located about 30 miles from Tibet. On the third day of Losar the entire village comes together to pray for health and prosperity in the New Year through a special puja ceremony.
The puja takes place on a hill high above the village of Lukla, where a special alter is erected in honor of Buddha.
The first people to arrive at the puja are the Buddhist monks and lamas who officiate the ceremony.
As the celebration continues, representatives of each house in the village bring a long bamboo pole dressed with prayer flags called a tartshing. The flags attached to the pole are in five colors (blue, white, red, green, and yellow) and represent the five elements (water, air, fire, food, and earth). Each flag in inscribed with special prayers and the people believe that when the flags blow in the wind that the prayers are being spoken.
A fire of juniper branches is made near the altar, which blankets the ceremony in smoke and incense.
Each family’s representative places their tartshing near the altar with the tartshings from the other families.
Some men come in groups with their relatives.
Some people bring gifts. This man is carrying milk tea in a ceremonial flask.
The women bake many special foods for the celebration, and bring tea, chaang (rice beer), and other drinks.
Some of the luckiest children get to tag along…
…while others sneak away from school in order to catch a glimpse of the festivities from a good hiding place.
During my stay in Lukla, I’ve been living with Lakpa Sherpa and his family. Lakpa carried the tartshing for his house.
Lakpa’s wife, Poonam, brought a tray of dates, nuts, chocolate and pastries.
After all the families had arrived, people take their seats and prepare for the festivities. The women sat together and wore ceremonial hats called tshering king op.
The men also gather together in their ceremonial dress.
Everyone has a great time.
Those who don’t have the opportunity to join the festivities are kept up to date with everything that happens.
This Sherpa used his iPhone 4 to broadcast the ceremony via Skype to his family in Kathmandu.
As everyone settles in, tea is served.
The lamas continue with their prayer…
…and play ceremonial music.
The men then carry their family’s tartshing around the Buddha…
…as a large chotar is raised above the village like a flagpole.
Conversations continue into the afternoon…
…and round after round of tea is served.
The monks continue their prayers for hour after hour…
…with periodic musical interludes…
…and an occasional snack break.
As the celebration continues, some of the children sneak away to play.
The final task of the afternoon is to blanket the village in lungdar (prayer flags).
As the project commences, men set off from the center of the party in every possible direction.
Many of them climb to the top of the tallest trees…
…and within a few minutes every tree seems to have a person perched at that top!
Before long, prayer flags fill the sky…
…bringing good luck and blessings to another year in Lukla.
Yesterday I walked 22 miles for a sandwich. Along the way I had to climb up and down the height of the Empire State Building a total of five times. As I walked I was so overcome with longing for the object of my desire that I needed to distract myself, which I did by solving a Rubic’s Cube - a total of 18 times.
It wasn’t until I had finished the sandwich and made it safely home that I took a moment to ask myself, “Is there something wrong with me?”
I answered the question in the same manner that I answer all questions of profound importance in my life – I opened my laptop and turned to Wikipedia. After reviewing a chapter on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I became convinced that I’m fine. My pursuit of the sandwich was not motivated by anxiety, uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry. And while the journey could arguably have been “alienating and time-consuming,” it did not cause “severe emotional or financial distress.”
As it turns out, I just love a good sandwich.
As I look back on the great expeditions of my life, each of them is marked by an amazing sandwich. In fact, the correlation between great sandwiches and great expeditions is so strong that I’ve begun to wonder whether I’m subconsciously traveling to these remote locations in pursuit of something other than mountains.
In the Central Andes, I pledged my devotion to a “super-hamberguesa.” This culinary masterpiece consisted of a fresh over-sized bun, a giant Argentine hamburger, and fresh tomato, onion and lettuce. It was smothered in cheese and unexpectedly topped with two fried eggs! I grew to love this sandwich at an unmarked stand on the dusty shoulder of a highway near the trailhead to Aconcagua (the largest mountain in the world outside of Asia).
Not all the sandwiches I’ve loved were so complex. In fact, many of them might be considered excessively minimalist in more luxurious contexts. For example, during a summer spent in Yosemite Valley I would frequently lay awake in a hammock 2500 feet off the ground pining for a ham and cheese sandwich from Degnang’s Deli. Days later, the sleepless nights would somehow justify spending $7.50 on a couple of slices of ham and cheese, two stale bits of white bread, and an unnecessarily modest serving of mustard and mayonnaise.
My relationships with some of the sandwiches went on for years. Toward the end of my college career I planned an annual trip to the French Alps, as much for a taste of the “Chamonix Special” as for the climbing around the Mont Blanc. This work of art was created with an 18-inch baguette that was stuffed with French fries, layered with fresh Brie and mayonnaise, and then toasted to perfection. My hands still shake when I think about it, and until recently I didn’t know if I could ever love another sandwich so completely.
This week everything changed, when, in an empty bakery at 12,000 feet in the Himalaya, I met my culinary soulmate. As I felt the warmth of the fresh wheat roll against my fingers, I became convinced that every curve of the bread had been created specifically for my hands. Here we were, the two of us, finally meeting after so many years spent searching. Sadly we were separated as quickly as we met, as my journey took me back into the valley below.
Days later I woke to the Proclaimers' anthem ringing in my head,
I would walk 500 miles,
And I would walk 500 more,
Just to be the man who walked 1000 miles,
To fall down at your door…
I knew immediately what I had to do. While I would have walked 1000 miles for that sandwich, I fortunately only had to walk twenty-two.
Experts will tell you that the airstrip in Lukla is officially the most dangerous airstrip anywhere in the world. The runway has been carved out of the side of a mountain and is therefore also one of the shortest airstrips in the world and the steepest. The asphalt slants downhill at a 15-20 degree angle before coming to an abrupt halt on the edge of a 2,000-foot cliff. The runway was recently extended, but when I first started coming to Lukla, pilots would roll down the hill, shoot off the cliff, and hope to find enough lift to support the aircraft somewhere during the resulting freefall.
In my opinion, the Lukla airport creates the perfect bookends to an adventure in the Himalaya and everyone who has flown to Lukla has a story to tell about it.
My friend Jon Quinn isn’t all that interested in the type of adventure that a flight to Lukla entails. Jon has been a supporter of The World Tri since it’s very inception and was one of a few people that convinced Cate and I to put the ball into motion more than two years ago. During the Channel crossing, he acted as the team physician, and months later he offered to head to Nepal for a visit and to help ferry some of our expedition equipment to the Himalaya.
When Jon made his plans to come to Nepal, there was no Lukla flight in the itinerary. My schedule originally placed me somewhere in northern India or southern Nepal. However, after I was diverted from northern India I arrived in the mountains a bit sooner than expected.
Jon is easily one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. He’s a physician who solves the Rubic’s cube in about two minutes. He’s a chess champion who has played against many of the grandmasters (Karpov, Kasparov and Spassky to name a few). His chess library contains more than 1500 volumes. He craves knowledge and lives his life to research and learn.
When the flight to Lukla suddenly appeared on the itinerary for his four-day trip in Nepal, Jon approached it the way he approaches everything in his life – he called his brother and then he researched the hell out of it. I’m not exactly sure what form the research took. Perhaps he caught the History Channel’s current documentary, “The World’s Most Dangerous Airports,” which awards Lukla its grand prize. Perhaps he Googled the terms “Lukla” and “near death” and read some of the 1520 search results. Perhaps the burned-out airplanes along the runway in Kathmandu were enough for him. We’ll really never know.
What we do know is that when Neeraj went to pick him up in Kathmandu and transfer him to his flight, he had done his research and reached his verdict.
“I’m not going.” He told Neeraj.
As I waited for Jon at the airport in Lukla, I was thrilled to receive this news. I immediately jumped on a flight back to Kathmandu to meet my friend. After my first hot bath in more than a month and a trip to the steam room at the Yak & Yeti, I told my friend, “Jon, you absolutely made the right choice.” As he watched me devour every dish in the lunch buffet, I think he began to smell a rat.
The next morning we were on the plane and headed to Lukla.
Some days, I’m not very smart. My optimism and intelligence are constantly at war with one another and on a great many days, my optimism wins. What is so shocking about these battles is that my optimism frequently prevails on days where there is an unbelievable amount of contrary evidence to be drawn upon by my intelligence. Nevertheless the evidence is too frequently overlooked as I press on enthusiastically into disaster.
About three weeks ago I contemplated this as I stood knee deep in what had appeared to be a frozen river. As the icy water slipped down into my shoes, my brain clicked back into action and I thought, “Something about this is not right. If I was on the trail, there would be a bridge.” As I looked around there was not only no bridge, but there was absolutely no sign of any trail.
Three hours earlier I had crossed a bridge in the valley below, taken a sharp left turn, and charged up a ridge where I expected to find a pass at 11,000 feet. As I climbed, the thunderstorm that I had been hiking through turned into a thundersnow. The snow began to pile up with awesome speed and the trail quickly disappeared. I marched on, with a stupid grin stretching from ear to ear.
Now the grin was gone. I looked at my altimeter and discovered that I had somehow reached an elevation of 14,000 feet. After extricating myself from the river, I sought shelter under a nearby tree. With images of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” racing through my mind, I carefully consulted my map and wrung out my socks.
Without any visible landmarks I couldn’t make any sense of the map and decided I had to go down and look for help. Thirty minutes into the descent the snow was so heavy there was almost no visibility. However, through the storm I noticed a very small shack on the ridge with smoke rising from a chimney. Salvation.
I charged through the whiteout toward the shack, as a mangy dog appeared to greet me. In retrospect I’m certain that I scared the hell out of the dog. Here I was emerging from this incredible storm, in a very remote area, in my bright red coat, screaming “Namaste! Namaste!” The dog knew I was trouble right away and shot out of the hut, circled around behind me, and locked firmly onto my heel.
Not to be deterred I continued on toward the house, dragging the dog through the snow while beating it wildly with my walking stick, all while continuing to yell my cheerful greeting, “NAMASTE! NAMASTE!”
Just as I sensed the dog was about to get the upper hand, a man emerged from the hut. He was wearing a pair of flip-flops and carrying a chain of Buddhist prayer beads in his left hand. I’m certain that he though I was an apparition who had traveled through the storm to carry him off to the afterlife. After what seemed like several hours, but couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, he realized that I was in fact a man - a “tourist” even - and ordered his dog to release me.
“Nuntala?” I asked, and gestured off into the storm optimistically.
“Nuntala? NUNTALA?” He responded, wide-eyed.
I nodded again.
He laughed and laughed. Then he pumped his arm vigorously as if preparing to throw one final Hail Mary at the end of a game.
I understood immediately. I had climbed the wrong ridge.Continue reading
“There are 260 levels of enlightenment on the Mayan calendar,” my new friend Kachima told me. It was my son’s third birthday and Kachima had offered to perform a special reading for the occasion. “James is at level 259,” Kachima continued. “He is highly enlightened.”
This came as no surprise to me whatsoever. James and I were on a walk in Charlotte, North Carolina a few months ago when James looked around and said, “It’s going to snow soon.”
I wisely told my son, “James, this is the south. It doesn’t snow here. It’s not like Iowa.”
He looked back at me and shrugged. “It’s going to snow in a few days.”
Kachima ran his fingers across the pages of the book that was laid out before him, studying the entries as his face gradually sagged into a frown. “I don’t see strong ties between the two of you. There isn’t a lot that you’re going to have to teach him. In fact, you’ll learn much more from him than he will ever learn from you. He’s a 259. His sign is the blue crystal serpent. He’s very independent.”
I was sitting around the fire with the rest of the February misfits as Kachima flipped through his book and casually dolled out my destiny. Casey and Cecile looked at me sympathetically, no doubt wondering how I was going to react to this news. In honor of James’s birthday I was proudly wearing my “World’s Best Dad” medal. One of James’s favorite toys (which I’ve carried with me on my journey) was on display on the table next to me.
“The good thing is that there is no pressure,” Kachima added, scratching his beard and looking up at me. “You guys can just have fun and be friends.”
I considered Kachima’s news. When I was a kid I was constantly in awe of all the things my dad knew how to do. I remember being about eight or ten years old and watching my dad work in his shop. My duties were primarily holding things in place, timing things, and painting things. I remember being in the shop and wondering how in the world I could ever possibly learn all the things that my dad knew.
“Couldn’t have done it without you Chip,” he would tell me at the conclusion of one of our many projects. I was always pretty certain that ten bucks spent on a good clamp, an egg timer, and a spray gun would have made me instantly dispensable. However for some reason the clamp, the egg timer and the spray gun never appeared.
Twenty-five years later I was sitting in the passenger seat of our Highlander as Cate drove me to the airport. I was explaining to James that I was heading off on an adventure and trying to make it sound like something important and exciting. James thought it all over carefully with his brow furrowed. Then he looked at me and said, “Charlie, I think you should stay here. If you go, mom is going to miss you. If you stay, she won’t miss you!”
Wisdom, he’s got. Connections I’ll have to work on.Continue reading
October is the peak trekking season in the Everest region and last October more than 10,000 people walked the trail to Everest Base Camp. It is a mythically beautiful place and unlike anything else you can experience in the world. If you haven’t been here, you should come. Just don’t come in October!
February is the official trekking season for solo travelers and social misfits. During the month of February about a dozen or so trekkers descend on the trails of the Khumbu region with the realistic expectation that they will bump into absolutely no one. In February, the Everest region is probably the most quiet, most peaceful place on earth. You can walk for days without the obligation of talking to anyone. It’s just you, the mountains, and your thoughts.
This year was little different. This year Saturn moved into a new constellation, upsetting the natural order of the universe and causing all six of us “February trekkers” to descend on the Jiri trailhead on the same day. Perhaps this was an event that was foreseen by the astrologers and saddhus in Kathmandu, but it was a complete surprise to the six of us.
During the first day of the trek we tried our best to ignore each other. Most civilized people would find it hard to ignore someone when you’re sitting six feet away from them in a tiny room in a solitary teahouse deep in the Himalaya in February. But solo travelers are really good at this sort of thing. Books, journals, and headphones are the most useful tools for conversation avoidance in remote areas, but I’ve also witnessed solo travelers fake illness or pretend not to speak English in order to avoid a conversation with someone who looked like they might be from the same hemisphere.
On the second day each of us realized that we were most likely going to be spending the next month or so together on the trail. Our social isolationism gradually caved in and we decided to be pleasant to one another. Within another 24 hours our motley crew had become an improbable team, and two of our six were even sharing a room!
It was a great group. Casey and Jimmy were responsible for getting the kindling going. Casey is an interior designer in Capetown and you can tell that she has a knack for working a cocktail party. She has blonde hair (exactly like my sister’s) and greenish eyes (exactly like my sister’s) and expresses herself in a way that felt very familiar (she acts exactly like my sister). We became immediate friends.
Casey’s sidekick is Jimmy. Jimmy is a bush pilot. He wears aviator sunglasses and spikes his hair. He is very tall and very handsome and has a very thick accent. Casey explained to me that his accent is evidence of his highly prestigious family heritage, but it resulted in me being able to understand only about 10% of the things he said. Our inability to communicate wasn’t a huge setback as Jimmy is a man of few words and mostly stuck to his Kindle while Casey and I gabbed. Jimmy’s nickname is “Jimmy James” just like my Jimmy James!
Casey and Jimmy were in Nepal celebrating their recent engagement with a seven-month trip through Asia. We met on day four of their journey. (Cate and I did the same trek the summer after we were engaged, and at the same age as Casey and Jimmy!)
The third member of our group is the Belgian, Kachima. I’ve long believed that every multinational travel group should include a Belgian because they speak every language that you can name and are more than happy to translate. In addition to speaking five languages, our Belgian came with the added talents of being an expert in Mayan calendars and a psychic! Kachima has the appearance of a man who has been on the road for a very long time and immediately won our contest of “toughest travel story” by recounting a tale of two weeks spent in a Thai prison.
Cecile was the next addition to our team. Cecile is a French nurse who works to rehabilitate homeless substance abuse addicts in the South of France. She is tiny and has the two classic features of French women – her eyes are as deep and dark as a black hole and she has between 20 and 30 pounds of flowing brown hair. She kept her hair a secret until our third night around the fire. Then, as she removed her stocking cap and carefully ran her hands through her knotted locks, Kachima instantly fell in love with her.
Nick was the last of our group. He’s a nineteen year-old kid who has trouble with questions like, “Where are you from?” After a *long* discussion it turns out he was born in Boston, but lived most of his life in Kenya and several other places that I couldn’t keep track of. He is in Nepal as part of a three-month stint teaching English in a remote Himalayan village - because hey - what else are you going to do at nineteen? If he wasn’t nineteen he would be the best-read fifty-year-old I’ve ever met and he was sitting on offers from a handful of Ivy League schools while drinking rakshi in the high country. (Also - I’m 90% sure his dad’s a spy, but you didn’t hear it from me.)
(More on my adventures with the February Misfits next week…)Continue reading
Today is officially Opening Day in the Everest region! “Starbucks” put out their welcome mat (it’s not a real Starbucks), “Illy” fired up their espresso maker (it’s not a real Illy), and as I walked past the “Irish Pub” I swear I could hear an order of “fish and chips” drop into the fryer (it’s not a real Irish Pub and the “fish and chips” are made of Yak).
When I arrived here two weeks ago it hadn’t occurred to me that Lukla might actually close for the winter. In my memory, Lukla has always been a place that was bustling with excitement and expectation. It’s the place where the biggest climbing expeditions in the world begin, and where they end. It’s a place where uninitiated trekkers belly up to their first Yak dung fire as their lives begin to change. With the airplanes and the porters and the yaks and the buzz… there is an energy here that is unlike any place in the world.
Except, of course, in February. In February, everything is closed.
Of course, February in Lukla was never part of the plan. I hadn’t expected to walk into the Himalaya for another five weeks. However in early February I abandoned my plans to travel across northeast India to Calcutta after a group of WWF workers were abducted along my route and increasing political instability in the region made travel unwise. Upon reaching India my machismo cracked, I got scared, and I turned my bike around and hightailed it back to Kathmandu.
In Kathmandu I received a series of stern trans-pacific pep talks from my wife, who, having been raised in the South, could be overheard telling me things like “don’t choke on the tail” and “inch by inch, life’s a cinch.” A week or so later, I was packed and headed up.
Most people who wish to stand on top of Mount Everest take whatever advantage they can get and kick things off with a 45-minute airplane flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. I, on the other hand, have spent the last year attempting to connect Mount Everest to a tiny village in England called Cricklade, in an effort that only periodically makes any sense at all (even to me). The continuation of this effort required that I walk from Kathmandu to Lukla, rather than fly. It took 11 days and I’ll tell you all about it later.
Since then, each day has become a routine of training, eating, reading, writing, and reflecting. It’s been a good two weeks, but I’ve been feeling the distance of home a bit more than usual.
Today as I walked through town to complete the final task in my daily routine, I was thrilled to discover the doors of the bookstores, bakeries, coffee shops, and gear stores opening and welcoming the spring. A team of yaks passed me carrying huge expedition barrels addressed to Everest Base Camp. A group of trekkers stumbled off their flight with cameras blazing. Things were finally beginning to feel familiar.
As I reached my destination on the far end of town, the shopkeeper recognized me, opened his door, and waved me inside. He nodded and grinned at me as I handed him a postcard, completing my daily ritual.
“Good man, you!” He laughed. “Proud father.”
It’s funny how the simple things can keep us going.Continue reading
As I flew to Kathmandu yesterday, the end was finally in sight – Mount Everest stood proudly above the clouds, like a giant diamond in the Himalayan crown. I wondered what it might feel like to pop open the door of my Airbus and hop across to the summit, but quickly remembered that it is the journey that matters and not the destination.
And what a journey it has been. Seven months ago I waded into the shallow waters of the River Thames near Cricklade, England bound for Everest. During the course of the months that followed I suffered significant physical, mental and financial challenges, but I kept stumbling forward.
Then in Tibet, I broke.
I was lying on a hard bed in a tiny shack that was located in an abandoned village in a remote section of the Tibetan Plateau. Outside my door there was a pack of wild dogs that I had seen cleaning up the corpses that are left behind by the villagers at the end of the tourist season. After suffering a cerebral edema a few days earlier, I had lost most of the vision in my right eye, and as I stared at the ceiling of the shack, there was only a small pinpoint of light. My heart had begun to beat irregularly and the pain between my legs had increased significantly in recent days, convincing me that I had somehow suffered a hernia. I was mentally, physically and financially bankrupt.
A week later I reached Kathmandu, and a week after that I was back in the United States at the Human Performance Lab at Des Moines University as a team of physicians tried to patch me back together.
As luck should have it, the trip home coincided with the holidays and I soaked up time with James, Cate, and the rest of our family. Cate provided me with the opportunity to catch up on some parenting as we potty-trained our not-so-little boy. Then in January, I extended my planned return after Cate’s grandmother passed away at the end of an incredibly blessed life.
By the end of the break I had settled comfortably back into family life. As James and I began to discuss what lies ahead, my almost-three-year-old son told me, “I’m a good climber. I’ll climb Mount Everest with you!” After discussing the sacrifices that he’d have to endure to get there – missing his mom, his friends, his toys, and his favorite teacher, Ms. Kristen – he decided he might prefer to stay home after all.
Now after what seems like a blink of the eye, here I am, alone again in Kathmandu.
Tomorrow I’ll head back out on the road for the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. I’ll be traveling unsupported once again, hauling my equipment in a trailer behind my bike. When I reach the ocean, I’ll jettison my bike and head back into the Himalaya by foot bound for Everest.
It’s going to be an incredible Spring filled with surprises and adventure. Some familiar faces are going to return, and many new faces will join me along the way. In the months ahead I hope to make some friends and learn a bit about our world and my role in it.
Of course it’s no fun to go alone, so I hope that you’ll join along from wherever this message finds you.
It’s 5:30 in the morning in Charlotte and I’ve been writing and re-writing words on this page for the last two hours. My body is back home with my family, but my brain seems to be stuck in a time zone that is half-a-world away.
In my life there have only been a few times that I have been at a loss for words. When I proposed to Cate the two of us sat silently on a park bench as I moved a ring from my pocket to her finger. She smiled. I cried. It was quiet. A few years later the two of us became three, and as that tiny little hand wrapped around my finger for the first time I cried, she smiled, and it was quiet.
Today there is so much to be thankful for, that I’ve found that words won’t provide much help. Just as those days when Cate and I started our life together and James joined us, I could spend the rest of my life writing about how I feel and I wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface.
Upstairs, a little boy is fast asleep. He is warm and dry and healthy and strong. He is safe. As he sleeps, he dreams. And when he wakes up, he’ll have every opportunity to live the life that his imagination has conceived. His dreams will become opportunities because of the twin miracles that he was born in this place, and in this time. He is blessed. As his parents, we are blessed.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful to live in this place and in this time - a place and time where anything is possible - and a place and time where we can be together.
As a family we are thankful for the opportunities of the last year and pray that we remain ever mindful of the needs of those who we have met along the way.
The last several weeks have been a push for Charlie along The World Tri route. He suffered pulmonary and cerebral edema in Tibet but made it safely to Kathmandu. Then he flew over land and sea arriving just in time to spend this Thanksgiving with James and me. Today, we are thankful to be together as a family. As we begin the baking, cooking, and (yes!) grilling, we would like to thank all of those who have made The World Tri possible and touched our lives through this experience.
The team that has supported this expedition is incredible. Some have been with us from the beginning and others appeared along the way in an answer to our prayers.
Dr. John Quinn was the first member of our team and has been invaluable to us ever since. When Charlie stopped working to train fulltime, Dr. Quinn offered “to pay for the diapers.” He stuck with us through the early stages of planning and kept an eye on Charlie from the escort boat as he swam to France.
Dave Vellinga and Joe LeValley at Mercy Health have also been with us from the very beginning and were part of the team that encouraged us to leap off into the unknown. Dave and Joe and the entire Mercy team have been a constant source of inspiration for us and we could not continue without their ongoing support.
The entire group at Davis Brown Law Firm have been amazing to us and have encouraged and supported us at every step of the way. We are so privileged to be part of such a high caliber team.
Toyota provided the power for The World Tri machine. All the Toyota dealerships have been fantastic to work with and we are especially grateful for the support and encouragement of Steve Luebke and Pete Dalamaggas at Toyota of Des Moines, Danny Wilson at Wilson Toyota in Ames, Matt Johnson at Fort Dodge Toyota, and Lou Walsh from Walsh Toyota in Carroll. We are particularly thankful for Steve, who kept Charlie going through a series of tough phone calls in Prague when things got tough. Charlie always says that if he accomplishes anything it is because he stands on the shoulders of giants, and you are those giants.
Douglas Grimes and MIR Corporation answered a prayer after the expedition began and made sure that Charlie was cared for in Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The team that was assembled worked continuously to overcome the many challenges that arose along the way including Katerina and Vladmir in Russia, Vadim and Igor in Kazakhstan, and Anton, Meerbek and Bolot in Kyrgyzstan.
Brian and Vanessa Block with AAO and Missy and Jason with Active Endeavors kept Charlie and the team supplied with the clothes and equipment needed to stay safe and warm, along with our partners at Marmot, Osprey, Khunu, 2XU, Petzl, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Oakley and SPOT. It has been so fun for us to work with each of you and to be participants in such a great industry.
Zac and Sarah Voss and their team at Voss Distributing provided for our communication needs and allowed our family to stay connected as the time zones between us continued to grow.
The human performance team at Des Moines University has been the answer to many prayers. Dr. Weir and Dr. Vardaxis and the entire team at the DMU Human Performance Lab spent days working on Charlie and making sure that he could make a safe attempt on this expedition. Dave Mable and Mary VanHeukelom then worked with DMU to make Charlie as strong as possible for the trip.
The team that supported us on the road and in the water did an amazing job in extremely difficult and changing circumstances. I’m eternally grateful for the work of Andy Stoll and Brian Triplett who joined us from Iowa, for David Phillips, Alex Brown and the entire team at the London Port Authority, and for Andy King and his team in the English Channel.
Don Jay came to our rescue and did a great job of getting us out of the many customs troubles that we seemed to continually find ourselves in as we attempted to move our team, equipment and vehicles around the world.
We could not have survived without the people that joined our team along the way, including Nigel Knighton and his family, Indira Sakhaulova, Kazimirez, Dawa Steven, Pasang Tamang, Lhakpa Sherpa, Pasang Dawa, and so many others.
Thank you to everyone on our educational team at The Adventure Institute and at Topics Education, including Phelps Sprinkle, Josh Thomas and Elizabeth Andre. I am so excited about what is to come!
Our Global Health team has been working equally hard behind the scenes, including Dr. Yogesh Shah, Dr. Deb Stoner and everyone at the White Ribbon Alliance.
Thank you also to Strategic America who provided so much support to our team, including Mike Schreurs, John Schreurs, Lore Solo, Cyndi Fisher, Lara Plathe, and Jack Wilkie.
Thank you to our family and friends who have nurtured our dreams and supported us in innumerable ways as we have traveled along the path of The World Tri. Thank you especially to Bikal, Ambika, Apeksha, and Anusha Adhikari for sharing your family and culture with us.
Finally, thank you to all of the kind folks Charlie and I have encountered from London, England to Kathmandu, Nepal who have given us a meal to eat, a bed to sleep in, and provided safe passage along our way. As a family, we have been recipients of the kindness of Good Samaritans the world over and for that we are eternally grateful.