844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Kongma La (Three Passes Trek, Nepal) Part IV

March 26, 2010 - I left Chhukung around 6 am, not long after dawn began casting its silvery glow upon the mountains in the valley. The Lonely Planet trekking guide allots nine hours for the journey from Chhukung to Lobuche, on the other side of the Kongma Pass. I can normally shave an hour or two off the book's timetable but I had to account for the 'Wait! Where the f*** am I" factor so I left at first light. I have to admit it, I was a bit nervous.

Being alone does not bother me and my fear of getting lost was minimal.  My trepidation was more about all the little things that could happen, things that might be fairly innocuous when you have company but could turn malignant when going solo…..like getting hit by a meteorite. No, not really. I am thinking more of a broken ankle or semi-serious cut or scrape. Bringing a buddy does have its advantages. But then again, if I waited for a partner every time I wanted to go for an adventure I'd be stalking bovine in a pasture near my house with a safari hat on. Nobody wants that.

The early morning went well. The skies were blue, the air fresh, and the scenery heart-stopping as usual. Without wind a Himalayan valley can be remarkably quiet and take on a mysterious if not ghostly quality. At times like that it is not difficult to make believe you are the only person of the planet. No complaints. The sensation was sublime.










At the onset the trail was easy to distinguish but an hour or so after setting off I came across snow cover. This was not much of a problem because the tracks of the two previous 'parties' were clearly visible. This cut a bit of the pressure off. However, it did not take me long to realize that the folks coming from the other way had not stuck to the trail and deviated in predictable ways (due to the snow). The trail that was clearly visible to me going up eluded my predecessors to some degree coming from the other direction. It is all about perspective. It was not a big deal because, like they assured me, there is only one way to go in a valley. Can't go wrong, right? Wrong.

I misjudged what ridge I was supposed to climb (read your guide book moron) and consequently gained way more elevation than I needed to. I went the right way, just entirely too high. I thought, I bet it is over that ridge' and when I ascended where I believed I needed to go I thought, Huh, you're a douchbag'. Admittedly, there was a two minute spell of poopypants panic, but from my vantage point I quickly realized that I merely needed to head northwest into the bowl of another valley and then beyond. In fact I could see the distinct prayer flags marking the pass in the distance. Pheeeew.



A couple factors made my journey arduous. First, I expended so much energy hauling my disoriented ass up that ridge needlessly that I was a bit exasperated by the time I came back down (I was also carrying over 40lbs on my back). Second, there was enough snow to make finding the path of least resistance a bit trying. Of course, I could have put on my gaiters and just plowed through but I was too much in a grove to be bothered to put them on. Sometimes, I not so smart.

The important thing is that after my mini-tribulations I did manage to make it to the pass, much to my relief. Coincidentally, just as the prayer flags and stone cairns came into view I was startled (as in I almost pooped a little) by a Russian trekker that had just reached the pass a few minutes before from the other direction. I was not expecting to see anyone else but after the initial jolt I was relieved to have a chat with a fellow human. My conversations with me were becoming a bit insipid.

So I sat on the top of the Kongma La basking in the high altitude sunlight and exchanging pleasantries with my new pal from Moscow. Broken record time. The views were resplendent and awe inspiring. And it was nice to have someone there to share it with (we bonded like rubber cement, heterosexually manufactured rubber cement that is) and to snap a few pictures of moi.











There was only one problem. Now I had to go down. Descending may sound like a pleasant break in the monotony but in some cases it downright sucks. This was one of those cases. The area just below the pass was steep and littered with small boulders and loose scree. This is not a problem as long as you move slowly and concentrate. But I was in no mood to think, damn it! I wanted to let my mind wander within my own little realm of private ridiculousness. But it was not to be. Richie had to focus.

And if thinking were not enough of a chore my Himalayan ADD was compounded by the effects of altitude, which, until my downward jaunt from the Kongma La, had been blissfully dormant. Actually, altitude may not have been the culprit. It is quite possible that solar radiation (reflecting off the snow) was the rascal. Then again it could have been a tag team effort. Either way a snare drum was pounding out Hakuna Matata in my brain. Shortness of breath and fatigue were the other two musketeers of discomfort. This would also explain the complete lack of photographs on the way down. I was grumpy and couldn't be bothered.

After playing Trip-a-dee-doo-dah below the pass I had one more small obstacle in my way: A glacial moraine with more ups and downs than an episode of The Bold and The Beautiful. In retrospect it was not that bad but I was tired and hungry and just wanted to take a nap. No rest for the wicked. Most people would probably take more breaks but I am of the philosophy that getting where I want to be and then relaxing is the way to go. 

After about seven hours or so I stumbled into the 'village' of Lobuche, found a suitable abode, and laid prostrate on a bench in the dining area. I was exhausted and hungry. My mood was less than jovial. I am ashamed to admit that I was so drained and bereft of motivation that I nearly exclaimed 'F it!' and headed back to Lukla. Childish. I was in the grip of fatigue and in no mood to fantasize about Kala Patar and Everest Base Camp. Tomorrow would be a new day. One pass down, two to go.

Random Mental Swirlings

This is a repository for ponderings, pontifications, tangents, maunderings, rants, epiphanies, and any other sorts of profound or maybe not so profound musings. This is where I try to pin down some of the capricious and sometimes obtuse machinations of a mind permeated by the random.

Walking alone for hours in an isolated mountain landscape can do things to you. It will make you think, ponder both the deeper mysteries and the inane 'why would anyone give a rat's ass' topics that churn through one's mind when exploring one's own depths. Regrets.  Everyone has them. If someone ever says they have no regrets they are full of more shit than the Ganges River. Choices often lead to regrets. That is life. You cannot have it both ways. 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood' or so the poem goes. Regrets can be inconsequential or soul destroying but they are there whether you face them or not.

I have two regrets that phase in and out of my consciousness from time to time. They are not fatal. By that I mean they do not tear at the very fabric of my being or anything melodramatic like that. But they do tug a little, perhaps even gnaw.

The first is my grandfather. I miss him. In a way I miss the grandfather I never really knew, the one I never bothered to ask about. When I was around 3 or 4 years of age I used to sit in the kitchen with grandpa and sip coffee with him. I liked mine black. Coincidentally, so did he (I am not going to take credit for that but I was pretty influential at that age). Don't go all social services on me. It was a small yellow plastic cup not much bigger than a shot glass. It's not like we were out nights cruising for hookers and throwing down shots of Jack at the local speakeasy. 

We often retired to living room for the occasional game of 'Sorry'. I could never be sure but I always suspected he did everything he could to lose the game. Grandpa was an interesting guy. He was an iron ore miner (Republic Steel Corporation) in Upstate New York for many, many years. It was not a fairy tale existence and the job could be exceedingly hazardous at times. So much so that my grandpa was known to refuse a job when he sensed extreme danger. From what I have been told some that went ahead anyway paid the ultimate price. And when someone died a siren went off alerting the nearby villages (Lyon Mountain and Standish) to the dreadful news to come. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for grandma (a story unto herself) when she heard that siren.

My grandpa had a million and one stories, his mining career merely a fraction of those. Unfortunately for me those stories are gone forever. Yes, I could ask my mother or my uncle to share their own memories and retell the stories told to them but it wouldn't be the same. I cannot look at my grandpa's face and see the memory flash across his eyes as he delves deeper and deeper into a recollection. I cannot listen as he shares experiences of which I could not possibly conceive. You see, I travel all over the world and see places that inspire, confront peoples and cultures that capture my imagination, and do things I used to only dream about. The truth is, long before I went scurrying through the hills of the Papua New Guinea jungle I had a fascinating blog entry right in my own family. But I was too immature to appreciate it. I'd rather be with my friends or doing this or that. Who the hell wants to hang out with old people? But what I would give now to sit down with him and let him talk until his heart was content. And he would have loved it. It is a bit sad that I had to travel around the world before I realized just how intriguing my boring old grandpa really was. There is a reason someone coined the phrase 'youth is wasted on the young'


To be honest I do not beat myself up over it. In a way that is life. Kids are stupid, although I must confess that he died when I was twenty. I guess that still falls within the 'kid' category in the span of a human lifetime. In many ways I took him for granted. I cannot deny that but I know in my heart that the love was always there. He was one of the most kind and generous people I have ever met. He was a beautiful person. I loved (and still do) him immensely and I miss him. Maybe they have blog feeds in heaven…..and 'Sorry'.

I'll end this with one story. Not many years before he passed, when I was too cool for my own good, he bought me a gift. He bought me a puzzle of the United States. It wasn't a jigsaw puzzle but one framed by the outline of the country's contour. All you had to do was put the pieces (each a separate state) into the proper geographic alignment. Not exactly a brain teaser and meant, undoubtedly, for toddlers. I was in my late teens. It is one of the best gifts I have ever received.

My other regret centers around a woman (now there's a shock). I was 17. She was 23. We both worked at a restaurant (Duke's Pasta House). She was a waitress and I pretty much ran the place (actually I was allegedly a dish washing pizza cook but the years may or may not have blunted the sharpness of my memory). She was extremely attractive (blond hair with a stare that could pierce titanium), kind, intelligent and old enough to consume alcohol. Who could ask for anything more? She did smoke but I forgave her this vice. We got along well and I always felt like I saw a hint of longing in her eye in regards to me. I found this perplexing as I was about fifteen pounds lighter than I am now (I'm not exactly a fat ass), in high school, socially awkward (i.e. shy), not old enough to drink, barely old enough to see a rated 'R' movie, and drove a 1979 light yellow Chevy Impala monstroid. Neither I, nor the car was exactly a chick magnet. And yet I had the feeling that Deb Campbell saw past all that. She was something. I know she eventually attended graduate school at NYU but after that I have not a clue.

So what do I regret? I never told her how I felt and, contrary to what you may believe, it was more than 17 year old hormones raging out of control and was not the typical 'Wow, an older woman' infatuation. Whatever it was (and I am still not sure), it was real. How do I know? Because I can still feel it. Because after all these years it still haunts me. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that had I spilled my guts my entire life would have taken a right turn down some glorious path and I'd be summering in the Hamptons with Deb and my three children (Not that I am complaining. After all, I just spent thirteen days skipping through the Himalayas). We were headed in different directions even then but who knows what just a few weeks or months would have been like? My ego is well aware of the possibility that she may have not felt anything close to the same way. My confession may have been met with a, 'What are you, like twelve? Go practice potty training and get back to me in a few'. But then again………


"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swaps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it's yours." — Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) 


3 comments:

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