Why money isn't the only way to prove you're committed
Dear Reader: If you really are looking for the quick and easy three-step program to be memorable, I'm not your writer and this isn't that article. If you already know me, strap in.
The cold was just awful. Outside the wind and snow were battering the windows. The glass was thin, and my hotel room’s walls weren’t much to speak of either. Our small hiking group was spread through the upper floor of the tea house. We were thousands and thousands of feet about sea level.
May, 2014. The best time to climb in the Himalayas. The first few days were sunshine, flowers and warming breezes. Easy, right?
In high country, there is no such thing as a time when you can’t be slammed by a serious snow storm. We’d just been hit by a blizzard just shy of Memorial Day.
We were two days away from summitting Everest Base Camp, which is just under 18,000 feet. The tea houses where we stopped for the night had no electricity and only one single big stove in the common area. Once we got hot food down our gullets, we all tramped to the common area or our rooms to set up our sleeping bags and pass the time until bed.
I was 61, and incredible shape. I had just done Kilimanjaro and Macchu Picchu. However, my body is a sieve.
This was compounded by the fact that in order to warm up, you drink tea. Lots of it, which is a natural diuretic. We were also eating noodle bowls, which meant even more liquids.
What’s a body to do?
Wake you up at night and demand relief, that’s what.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but after trekking for six hours on average, every day, up very steep slopes, my legs get fried. Quivering, at best. Full-on wobbling at worst.
We Westerners and other tourists who trek the EBC are not the locals, for whom heading up and down the mountain every single day is just life. Their legs are like stone, hewn from years of schlepping bottles of water and Coke and Fanta and great boxes of junk food for those hungry hikers every single day. Some balance long, heavy beams of wood, slated for repairs in someone’s home or a sagging tea house roof. Those who owned animals had it better but they still had to climb.
As with Kilimanjaro, most of us are so terribly proud we make it at all, when the locals make that trek daily. It’s one of the steadier sources of income on the mountain.
We Westerners? If we’re smart, we train hard for the trek. Even then the relentless demand on our thigh muscles can leave them galloping like a guttering candle by day’s end.
Those legs had to launch me out of my warm sleeping bag and up off the hard surface of my “mattress” so that I could relieve myself.
My breath pluming, I would locate my headlamp, then sleepily pad way down an unlit, bitterly cold hallway to the closest water closet.
Now this wouldn’t be so bad, except. These toilets are, or at least were at the time, very basic. Plumbing as we know it just doesn’t exist on the high slopes. I think the seats were porcelain. I can’t remember, I was comatose at the time.
But I remember two things: the stench, which was beyond awful. Sadly, cold didn't freeze the olfactory receptors.
I would drop my drawers in the deep sub-zero of the tiny room. On the way down, my quads would shriek "fuck you!" and collapse. I’d land with a resounding thud which I swore woke up the whole hallway.
After blessed relief, well.
I grabbed the cold edges to heave myself back up.
Except now, my warm skin had frozen to the porcelain, the same way a kid’s tongue gets frozen to a cold pole after a dare.
As I struggled my way back up, the seat came with me, gorilla-glued to my butt skin. It pulled me back down because first, that HURT. Second, my quads were still cursing at me in Icelandic (I hadn't gone there yet but already I was practicing the language)
I was glued to the seat, in a tiny cold room where the smell was enough to scorch the nostrils of a dead wart hog.
I paid how much to do this?
With a mighty effort, I would peel myself loose. The frozen porcelain peeled skin off my butt, then landed with another sharp bang.
THAT is real skin in the game.
Happened every single time. My legs were way too wobbly to hold the air drop position, and I was too tired to do anything other than hobble back to my bag.
I’ve never been brave enough to investigate whether or not I have a semi-circular scar on my rear, but I know there’s evidence.
There were a lot of those toilets and I had to pee a whole lot more.
That trip was the inspiration to come up with a way to relieve myself without leaving the relative comfort of my room/tent/whatever.
Interim versions involved open cups.
I pee a lot. Tents are small. You only knock it over once. Just saying.
My final version was, and still is, a well-marked water bottle which allows me to take care of business right where I am: in a tent, in a yurt, in a car sometimes, without losing my dignity or, for that matter, more skin.
It’s WELL-MARKED. Just in case.
These days when I hear someone talking about having “skin in the game,” I offer to show them what that really looks like.
Nobody’s taken me up on it yet, but I’m still willing. I'm seriously committed to proving how seriously committed I was to getting to Everest Base Camp, no matter what the cost.
Even if my butt paid the ultimate price of serious skin in the game.
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