The Death of a Dream

Still glowing from reaching our goal, the village of Phortse, Dean chose a path through the village that went past the Khumbu Climbing Center, the building Dean had helped design as a graduate at Montana State University and then later, lived in Nepal for 2.5 years to start construction. The project is funded by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, run by Jenni Lowe-Anker and her husband, Conrad Anker, a world famous mountaineer and climber. While the building has been in construction for the past 8 years, the school has been going for over 15 years, teaching Sherpa and high-altitude workers the technical skills vital to their safety in guiding and working on the mountains.As we walked through the site, I saw that all the external walls had been erected and the current building team was working on the supporting structure for the roof. The plan is to have the entire building complete for the 2019 climbing season (March – June) with a grand opening ceremony in the spring.


View from the Future Library Space in the Khumbu Climbing Center Builing

Just beyond the climbing school is the Namaste Lodge where the proprietors, Lhakpa and Ngawang, welcomed us with delight. Well, they were mostly delighted to see Dean as he’s considered an extended part of their family. But they were very happy to make my acquaintance and immediately demonstrated their famous hospitality over a cup of ginger tea. After exchanging initial pleasantries and finishing our tea, they showed us to our room and I collapsed into my sleeping bag exhausted but proud.

That night, we shared the dining room with 4 boisterous Germans and after having rested throughout the afternoon, my appetite had returned to enjoy a full plate of dhal bhat – lentils, rice and vegetable curry. Unfortunately, my stomach did not cooperate and I found myself perfecting my squat technique shortly after. We had planned on continuing our trek up to Pheriche the next day but after the 7 hours of torture experienced on the way to Phortse, I asked Dean if we could take an additional day to rest before continuing to trek.

My sinus infection hadn’t improved, meaning that I carried tissues and ColdEase in every pocket. Now my stomach was choosing to rebel, forcing me to visit the back house several times daily and my appetite to disappear. I spent the morning sitting in the sun, chatting with Ngawang about our respective families and asking a number of questions about her life. Both Ngwang and Lhakpa have spent time in the US, so their English is fairly good and we were able to communicate easily.

A new set of trekkers joined us at the lodge around noon and I enjoyed speaking to a woman who shockingly enough, lives about 1 mile from us in Denver. What a small world! Dean had been down at the site, working with the current building team, Bud and Mike, but wanted to show me around the village a little since we intended on leaving the next morning. So in the afternoon, we slowly hiked up one side of the village, the hill being much steeper than anticipated, and worked our way over to the local Buddhist monastery (traditionally called the Gompa) perched on the hill overlooking the entire village. We enjoyed the view down valley, looking across and up to Mong La and the trail that we had painstakingly travelled the day prior. The peace was only broken by the “ooing and ahhing” from the nearby group of Spanish speaking trekkers, reveling at the same beauty.


Buddhist Prayer Wheels Leading to Phortse Gompa

In packing that night, we discussed my health and weighed the risk of continuing our trek. While the brutal sinus pressure had subsided, I was still constantly blowing my nose and my cough had worsened. I hadn’t kept any nourishment in my body for the past 2 days, my appetite had vanished and so far, my body wasn’t responding to the first day of antibiotics. By any account, things weren’t looking good. As I took an Ambien to ensure a good night’s sleep, I told Dean that we would reassess in the morning and I quickly proceeded to fall into a deep slumber.

Eating my toast and Larabar the next morning, I wasn’t feeling any better. Alarms were going off in my head, red lights flashing “Danger!” But when asked what I wanted to do, that little voice inside my head said that I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.

Just before the sun had peeked over the looming peak of Thamserku, we slowly made our way up to the top of the village, stopping every few minutes for me to lean on my poles and catch my breath. A Sherpani woman was on the hill above us, herding her three yaks out of the village to graze, so I could clearly see the path we had to take – which according to Dean, would be the most difficult uphill of our day’s 6 – 7 hour hike.

While enjoying the sunshine at a porter’s ledge, where the trail finally had stopped climbing out of the village, Dean again expressed his concern over how long it had taken us to make the climb and my apparent lack of energy. I shrugged it off. We’d finished the hardest climb of the day and I figured if I could just warm up a little, I’d start to feel better.

As we tackled the next section of trail, a 3 foot wide cut in the side of a cliff, I experienced a few moments of light headedness and my right trekking pole slipped over the side of the sheer drop. In that moment, I knew that this was as high as we would climb.


View of the Hillside Trail Leaving Phortse

The little voice inside me screamed. You see, I’m not a quitter. If there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I charge into things, head first and open hearted. It’s both a strength and a weakness. God damn it – I wasn’t ready to give up. I could do this! But the thing is, I couldn’t.

I then did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – I turned around.

Tears filled my eyes as Dean hugged me, again stating that there was no shame in turning back. I didn’t want to hear it. I did feel shame, as well as the overwhelming grief of the death of my dream. We stood there for what felt like ages – probably closer to 10 minutes – perched on the side of a cliff in the sunshine while Dean’s arms encircled me as I cried.

Everyone was very sympathetic once we returned to the lodge and I was immediately whisked back to our room to lay down. Dean tucked me into my sleeping bag, ensuring an appropriate supply of tissues, Strepsils and ColdEase within easy reach, and I proceeded to cry myself to sleep.

I slept through the morning, got up for lunch in the dining room with Dean, and then returned to our room to cry myself to sleep for the remainder of the afternoon. At dinner that night, Dean watched as I half-heartedly ate half a bowl of RaRa veg noodle soup.

My symptoms persisted throughout the night and into the next morning, I could only stomach a cup of tea and a single piece of toast for breakfast. I think this is the time where Dean really got concerned as he started to insist that we head down to Namache the next day to seek medical help. However I still wanted to ride it out and thought another day of bed rest might help.

So reluctantly, Dean left to spend the day rock climbing with the guys from the KCC and allowed me to rest. I laid in bed most of the morning, hovering in that place between wakefulness and sleep, occasionally pausing for a bout of good crying. Not only did I feel miserable but I was also mourning the loss of seeing Everest Base Camp. More importantly, I think I was mourning the loss of the experience and the pride I would have felt in achieving that goal. I had dreamed about this for so long, and now I knew there was nothing I could do to make it happen.


Khumbu Climbing Center Crew Climbing Off the Trail

The next morning, Dean made the call. It was time to head to Namche and get medical attention. We unloaded virtually everything from my daypack, overpaid a Sherpani woman to carry our big packs down to Namche, said our good-byes to the people in Phortse, and began the trek out.

I felt good during the 30 minute hike down the hill from Phortse to the river, but prepared myself for the brutal climb up to Mong La. Luckily, this side of the hill is shorter than its sister trail on the other side of the pass. Unfortunately, that means that the path is more vertical, comprised almost entirely of switchbacks and irregular rock stairs. I tried putting in headphones and counting my steps, but towards the top, with Mong La still towering above us, I could only manage 20 at a time before needing to sit down.

After an hour and a half, we finally made it to the top. The lodge owners remembered us from a few days prior and asked if I was feeling any better – I wasn’t. I spent our hour long break with my eyes closed, laying on Dean’s pack in the sun streaming in through the windows. Once lunch was eaten, we said good-bye (and good riddance) to Mong La and cruised down the long hill. We passed a dozen groups of trekkers, in the same state of struggle we had experienced days prior, causing us to christen the hill “Soul Crusher.”

The remainder of the hike was mostly downhill and we made it to Namche just after 2:00pm. We proceeded to the clinic and checked the placard listing the opening hours posted on the side door – Open Monday – Friday until 3:00pm. We had barely made it! As we proceed to the main door and we were confronted with a handwritten sign stating that the clinic would close at 1:00pm on Fridays, and is closed on Saturdays. Welcome to Nepal!

The next day, Dean consulted with Dawa, the owner of our lodge, and called Tsering to discuss our options. He was told that there was a slight possibility of getting a helicopter down to Lukla, otherwise we would make the 2 – 3 day hike out the next morning. At 3:00pm we received a call from Dawa, stating that he could get us a helicopter down to Lukla. Oh, and we had to be at the helipad at the top of the village in the next 20 minutes. We made a mad dash sprint up to the helipad, my big pack strapped to my back while Dean balanced my daypack on top of the large pack on his back, while his daypack was strapped to his front. I would have applauded his strength if I hadn’t been about to pass out. We made it to the helipad with 3 minutes to spare.

As soon as our helicopter landed, Dean hustled me up the step and I scooted along the back seat. He and Dawa then threw in our bags and we were away. The whole operation took less than 2 minutes. Tears had filled my eyes while saying good-bye to Dawa and once seated, I couldn’t hold back any longer. I unceremoniously cried as a large group of trekkers stood at the edge of the helipad, taking pictures of the fascinating performance.

The ride down to Lukla took no longer than 15 minutes and during the journey I was conflicted. I was heartbroken, tears streaming down my face, but we had just paid $300 for this helicopter and damn it, I was going to get my money’s worth of stunning views!

I was still bawling as we disembarked in Lukla and made our way to The Nest, our lodge for the night. We shared the dining room with several trekkers and a group of porters playing dice, all of which were giving me sideways glances as the tears continued to fall. Dean finally got the key to our room and ushered me upstairs. For the next 20 minutes, he rubbed my back as I cried. I felt like a complete failure.

Dean let me cry, allowing me to grieve. After my tears were finished and I was hiccuping like a small child, he said something that blew my mind (as he does on occasion). He reminded me that the reason why I wanted to take this trip was to learn and grow, to put myself in uncomfortable situations to hopefully gain perspective and become a better person. And this is how life works – sometimes, you have to deal with disappointment and unfulfilled expectations. Maybe, this experience could help me learn that some things are outside of my control. Not a welcome message to a person who is super Type A.

As I reflected on it further, I realized that he’s right. Life is all about change. It’s good to have big dreams, to constantly be striving for something. But you also need to know when to recalibrate. The learning happens throughout the journey.

I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks. I’ve never questioned that I’m made of some stern stuff and that I can push well past my limits. But this experience has helped to remind me that I’m not invincible, my health is important and I need to listen to my body. I need to accept change and count my blessings. And maybe most importantly, this experience has demonstrated that I have someone who loves me more than anything, even the highest mountain in the world.


Though We Leave the Khumbu – The Journey Continues

The Trek Begins

We started out our journey to the Khumbu like any new adventure; with me bouncing up and down, asking unending questions, and extremely excited for what lay ahead. I’d gotten a taste of the chaos of flying domestic during our trip to Pokhara so I was prepared for the endless waiting. All I knew is that we had one of the early flights of the day scheduled at 8:00am.  The departures waiting area was mayhem, even more crowded than our previous venture to Pokhara, people ruthlessly eyeing and snatching open seats. I finally snagged an end seat next to the gate, and opened my book to wait patiently. After two hours of watching airline employees, looking at other traveler’s tickets, and false starts, we learned that there was a “traffic backlog” on the runway that was causing the delay but had now cleared and we were finally out the door and on our way.

Similar to our flight to Pokhara, we were treated with a view of the gigantic mountain peaks presiding over the lowland network of valleys, however this time, the view held more than beauty as we were going to be trekking around these mountains, valleys, and peaks. After landing in Lukla, we took a short walk over to a lodge, The Nest, to get a cup of ginger tea, discuss reserving our room for the return trip, and left our return plane tickets in 18 days in the care of the lodge. Dean found a porter willing to take our heavy backpacks up to Phortse – a somewhat difficult task as the porters tend to prefer the longer treks which guarantees a longer trip and more wages.

Balaram, our porter, is a small, skinny man who appears to be in his mid to late 40’s. While Dean had provided the name of the guest house that we intended to stay at that evening, allowing Balaram to take off and meet us there, instead, he paced with us on the trail, consistently pulling ahead during the hard, uphill sections and waiting for us to catch up. It was humbling to be passed by the numerous porters, carrying heavy loads. I mean, I’m a Coloradan, not some pansy from the coasts, but watching these small men carry huge, awkward burdens at a slow and steady pace, wearing shoes completely inadequate for the terrain (sometimes flip flops), I couldn’t help but be impressed and humbled.

We made good time descending the hill out of Lukla to follow along the Dudh Koshi river below but as the afternoon continued, my energy started to wane. I had been struck with bad allergies on our last day in Pokhara, which had decided to morph into an aggressive sinus infection, causing me to get very little sleep the night prior due to a runny nose and sinus pressure. I’d taken Mucinex, but the medication hadn’t touched my symptoms, and I paused often on the trail to blow my nose. Per usual, my appetite flees when feeling ill and I had repeatedly told Dean that I wasn’t hungry, causing us to continue hiking on only a slight breakfast. He wisely stopped us for the day after three hours, two hours shy of reaching the village where we had initially planned to stop. I immediately collapsed into my sleeping bag while Dean went down to the dining room to order dinner. When I reluctantly left my warm cocoon for dinner, he made sure I ate everything.


Trail Paralleling the Dudh Koshi River into the Khumbu Valley

The next morning we were on the trail by 6:45am. Feeling a little better, I was energized by the beautiful scenery and the fact that we had the trail to ourselves while the throngs of other trekkers heading into and out of the valley were still waking up and having breakfast. Crossing our first cable bridge, I was awarded a view up the valley and the realization hit that we would be following the river for most of the remainder of the day, meandering up and down on either side but always moving up between the big peaks.

We hiked steadily for four hours, stopping once for tea on a patio in Jorsale and again at Monju to purchase the permits that allowed us entry to the Sagarmatha National Park (a park that encompasses the Khumbu Valley). It had taken 20 minutes for Dean to work through the Nepali bureaucracy to obtain the permits. In the meantime, I had a conversation with an Army guard from Kathmandu. His job was to stand at the checkpoint to ensure travelers hiking out on the trail had the necessary permits. A national park enforcer if you will.

Dean and I continued on the trail, navigating a riverbed and dodging a number of middle-aged Japanese trekkers heading down-valley. Looking at this group, I thought to myself, “if they can do it, this should be a piece of cake.” A half hour later, Dean pointed to a cable bridge, located high above the river, and told me that we were now starting the hike up to Namche Bazar, our final destination for the day. Nonchalantly, he mentioned that our next 1.5 – 2 hours would be spent climbing the hill up to Namche. Um, pardon?


Cable Bridges High Above the Dudh Koshi River, Namche Bazar 1-1/2 Hours Higher

The hill was no joke as this is where the trail leaves the river and starts to ascend along a higher position amongst the mountains. We started up the stairs, crossed the cable bridge suspended 200 feet above the river, and began the slow plod upwards. Immediately I fell in behind a group of porters and I worked to mimic their foot placement and pace. We stopped several times at porter ledges, multi-height benches of stone built into the hillside to allow for respite without the difficulty of dropping the load on the ground. At one of these ledges, Dean called my attention to the big peaks above moored in clouds, specifically pointing out the base of the Everest massif. My heart leapt. Getting an on the ground glimpse towards our goal, I couldn’t help but feel re-energized and for the next 10 minutes, we attacked the hill. But as Newton’s First Law of Physics dictates – an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. And that unbalanced force, my friend, was the extreme degree of the hill. I quickly fell behind the porters but was able to miraculously continue my slow upward progress. When Dean pointed out the first views of the village, perched another 100 feet above us, I couldn’t help but feel relieved. We had a brief respite at a permit checkpoint and then made our way up to our lodge.


Sharing the Trails with Yaks

After dinner and a quick shower, I felt like a new woman. My sinus infection felt like it was improving, well, at least the Mucinex was making a dent in the symptoms and Dean had procured tissues, Strepsils, a hard cough drop, and Coldease, a Vick’s knock off. So I was fully armed to deal with the lingering discomfort.

The following day, our scheduled stay in Namche for rest and acclimatization, we awoke early and made our way to the top of the village to the Sherpa Museum and Nepal Army post perched atop a promontory overlooking the valley. This hike was intended both to gain additional elevation and enjoy the clear early morning views of the mountain peaks and villages that enclose the valley. As our lodge was located at very bottom of the Namche Bazar, a village built inside a steep mountain bowl, we hadn’t seen these views the previous day. We sat in the sun for over 30 minutes, enjoying the views of Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Khumbyula, Everest and other massive, snow covered peaks. Dean and I went to check out the museum while Balaram, who we had run into coming down the trail, waited outside for us.


The First On-The-Ground View of the Top of Mt Everest

We said good-bye to Balaram for the remainder of the day, and decided that we would check out Namche Bazar. Over lunch, I made the comment to Dean, that notwithstanding some differences in architecture, Namche had the feel of a Colorado ski town, with restaurants, retail shops, and coffee shops at every turn. For some reason, I began this trek expecting everything to be more rustic. My imagination had built a picture of single story stone huts with low windows and outhouse toilets. However, most of the two and three story buildings appeared newly built with large, common dining rooms that boasted walls of windows to allow for the amazing mountain views. This village clearly capitalizes on the money flowing in from the trekking community and caters specifically to that population. It made me anxious and excited to see Phortse, as Dean had explained that it was often overlooked by trekking groups, who instead, opt for a different trail through Tengboche (a village across the valley that boasts a famous Buddhist monastery) on their way up to Everest and therefore a bit more traditional.

We left early the next morning, hiking the rock stairs to where the trail continues high along the mountain Khumbila above Namche. The path was sparsely populated and we enjoyed clear views of the sunlit, snow covered peaks at every corner.


Empty Trails and Clear Skies (Thamserku Peak to the Right, Ama Dablam to the Left)

After a quick cup of morning tea shared with Balaram in Kyang Juma, we took the middle fork where the trail splits; the left fork heading to Khumjung and the right to Thangboche. The morning felt magical as we climbed steep irregular stone staircases through the deciduous forest along cliffs The sun had finally risen high enough to peek over Ama Dablam and the light made the terrain feel enchanted. The sun’s warmth was a welcome addition as there had been frost and snow the night previous and I quickly shed my gloves and coat.

At a porter’s ledge atop a haphazard set of stairs, the valley opened and Dean pointed out Phortse, nestled on a hillside across from us. All we had to do was hike up to Mong La, a village towering above us, down the backside of the hill to a river crossing, and then back up a hill to Phortse. The hill to Mong La appeared to be moderate and I actually told Dean, “No problem.” An hour and a half of slow plodding later, Mong La appeared to be no closer. My cold symptoms had returned with a vengeance and with each step, I became more miserable. I sat down on the side of the trail, completely unconcerned about the line of porters passing us, and had a good cry. Dean, being the extremely loving and patient man that he is, took my daypack and after an appropriate amount of time allowing me to vent of my frustrations, asked if I could continue for another 20 minutes to the lodge where we would eat lunch.


Slow and Steady Up to Mong La (Phortse across the valley to the right and Mong La in the distance above left)

The lodge was perched on the edge of the hillside and has panoramic windows on three sides, allowing for 270 degrees of stunning views. However, I felt so poorly that the most I could do was stare into my cup of ginger tea as I waited for my bowl of vegetable soup. Dean also made me eat an energy bar and some jerky, trying to get both protein and carbs into my system to provide energy for the next two hour hike. After an hour of recovery and lunch, we started the trek down the back side of the hill to the river. This part of the trail is extremely technical, with mostly stairs and steep dirt track allowing for a quick descent to the river below. We took a 20 minute break at a lodge next to the river for a cup of tea and a Bounty bar (the magical coconut and chocolate candy that cures all ailments) before continuing.

Here’s where things got inspired – I decided to put in headphones and listen to music to help pace on the hour long hike up the hill to Phortse. After crossing the river on a short steel truss bridge, I hit play on my Soundtracks playlist and started plodding to the musical stylings of the Moulin Rouge soundtrack (no judgement). I also started counting my steps and at 350, I made Dean stop for a rest. During our break at 749 steps, we made a bet – Dean thought it would be 1200 steps to the top, while I thought his guess was conservative and went with 1500. It took everything that I had to continue up that hill but after 7 hours and 1376 steps, we made it!

Waking Up Above the Clouds

Because Nepal is located at the same latitude as Miami, the seasons are a little different than what we’re accustomed to at home in Colorado. In this small country, comparable in size and shape to Tennessee, the monsoon season begins in early May, bringing with it cloud cover and near daily rain, and lasts until late September/early October.Considering most of my knowledge about Nepal previous to meeting Dean was related to the Himalaya, I imagined a country that was comprised solely of snow covered mountains. Boy was I surprised when we decided to take a quick trip to Pokhara, starting point for most journeys to the Annapurna region and a bustling tourist enclave nestled against a lake among the lush high altitude jungle.


Himalayan Flying – Clouds and Haze Below, Massive Peaks Above

We went to Pokhara on the recommendation of our hotel manager/owner, Sushil, as a diversion since we were unable to get the “reliable” early morning flights to Lukla – the starting point for our trek up to Everest Base Camp – for another 4 days. Sushil kindly put together an itinerary including flights and hotel for our two-day trip however, the night prior, we had gone to dinner with Dean’s close friend, Tsering, who offered to hook us up with a hotel. The only information Tsering had provided about the accommodations was “it’s above the Peace Pagoda, overlooking the lake.” I was a little suspect when Tsering said, “I’ll make a call,” but later that night Dean shrugged and let me know that is the way things happen in Nepal.

We arrived at the airport the next morning, ready for our 9:00am flight and were greeted by sheer mayhem in the domestic airport terminal. Once again, Dean had set my expectations, stating that your ticket may have a flight time, but the flights are often delayed due to inclement weather, plane shortage, air traffic congestion, or overall bad management and there is no obligation by the airline to update travelers as to the number of flights ahead of you or the estimated wait time. With this in mind I sat down to read my book and left Dean to manage the anxiety of figuring out when we would scramble to the bus that would take us to our plane and be airborne.

We arrived in Pokhara two hours later than expected, what I can only assume is a Nepali record. After landing, we grabbed our backpacks and started walking toward the lake, where we would find the area that catered to tourists and hopefully, lunch. Once fed, we decided to meander through the main drag, aptly called Lakeside, and then find a taxi to take us to Raniban Retreat, our Tsering arranged hotel.


Lake Phewa from Pokhara

Since Dean speaks a little Nepali, he is responsible for ordering all meals and negotiating for transportation. He walked away from the first taxi driver as they wouldn’t take his original offer, but the guy tracked us down and ushered us into his the standard Nepali cab, a compact maroon hatchback Maruti Suzuki, hovering a mere four inches off the ground. Normally, the clearance of a vehicle is unimportant however in Nepal, where the roads are often a mishmash of pavement and rutted dirt, this can be a critical factor in your journey.


A Bumpy Climb

We made an uneventful trip through the town and slowly started climbing the backside of the Raniban hill – crowned by the Peace Pagoda, a famous Japanese Buddhist monument and local landmark and “near” our hotel. I sat in the backseat, looking out the window and enjoying the view of the terraced valley beyond. The enjoyment ended once we made a turn off the paved road and started traversing steep and narrow switchbacks on a rough dirt track. This, my friends, is when the clearance of a vehicle becomes extremely important. At this point our driver started to bottom out, grind gears, and lose traction as he worked his way up the steep cobbly inclines. When we reached a flat spot just above the Peace Pagoda and determined that we were “near” to our hotel, Dean, whose thigh might have been a little bruised from my hard grip, paid our cab driver 1800 rupees, a 30% tip, and we grabbed our bags deciding to tackle the remainder of the hill on foot.


450 More Steps to the Top

Up the dirt road, about 100 meters, we found the sign to Raniban Retreat painted onto a boulder lodged into the hillside, and started making the 450 step trek up to the top of the hill where we could see several white buildings perched. The climb was worth it. We were rewarded with a view of the entire valley, including all of Pokhara, the lake, and 500 vertical feet below us, the Peace Pagoda.

It was unreal – there’s no other way to describe it. Our hotel room faced due East, promising an unimpeded view of the sunrise from the small patio leading to the French doors. Not to mention, our bed was scattered with flower petals in the shape of a heart, flanked by towel swans. Seriously Tsering? Awesome!

The next morning we got up at 5:30am and were rewarded with a valley covered in a blanket of undulating fog. Scrambling out of bed we made a quick trip up to the elevated restaurant roof and sat in awe for over an hour, watching the sky lighten, the fog breath, and occasionally, catching a glimpse of pink Himalayan peaks through the humidity. Remember when I said that Pokhara is the starting point for trekkers headed to Annapurna? Well, it turns out that there is a range of extremely high peaks (2 of the 10 highest in the world) within view and the only thing obscuring them at this time of year is a hazy layer of humidity, providing us with just enough of a teaser to ensure that we make the pilgrimage back during the winter months so that we can see the towering peaks in full.


Alpenglow Sunset on Annapurna over Lake Phewa and Pokhara

We learned that the Nepali word for “peace” is “santi,” and santi is exactly what we felt as we listened to the birds and marveled at the beauty of this place. If we would have stayed at the hotel located down by the lake, we would have been socked in the fog and missed the uniqueness of this experience. We made a pact right there that we would seek the road less traveled – a pirate’s code to try and find places that are off the beaten path in the search to find a more unique experience.


Hiking Out of Paradise

Will we always succeed? Probably not. But we’re going to work hard to do our research. Because if we can find places like Raniban on our own, this is going to be one hell of a year!

The Beauty in the Chaos

We arrived in Nepal almost a week ago. Having talked about this trip for so long, Dean had set my expectations and highlighted some of the differences in culture. We hopped out on the dark tarmac at 10pm, being one of the last people to deboard the plane and were greeted in the airport by a long line to use one of the 5 automated machines for our visas, followed by an even longer line to pay our $40 (note the American currency instead of the Nepalese rupee) per person entry fee. If you know me, you know that I am an extremely efficient person who follows the rules and hates to waste time. But I settled in for some good people watching and we made it through with very little hassle.

Driving through the city, we were rewarded with a city adorned with decorations for the Nepali Hindu festival of Tihar. The most common of the decorations being assorted colored lights strung down the facade of most every building. Our ride to the hotel was quiet and quick as everyone was at home and the roads clear of traffic due to the Tihar celebrations. On arriving to our hotel we quickly collapsed into a deep sleep.

Waking up early the next morning, we had the city to ourselves with a few other early risers as we meandered through Thamel, the tourist quarter of Kathmandu. It appeared that every other shop was a trekking outfitter, cashmere supplier or art (read: tchotchke) dealer. Obviously, this area is prepared to take advantage of every tourist dollar available and ensure that you don’t leave wanting for any souvenir that Nepal can provide. 

Later in the day, we had the opportunity to leave the tourist quarter and see an older part of the city around Durbar Square. Dean’s friend Sushil had arranged for us to attend a Bhai Tika ceremony, the last ceremony of the 5 day festival of Tihar at his friend Narbottom’s house. Here’s the thing about travel, you try to make connections with people and learn about their culture but often you only touch the surface. We had the good fortune to delve a little deeper while waiting for 4 hours with Narbottom’s daughter, Namrata, and nieces, Samata and Sachita. We had the opportunity to ask an unlimited amount of questions about their lives and the Nawari culture. I hope they didn’t feel that I was grilling them, but I couldn’t help but be curious. We learned a lot about each other that afternoon, and more importantly, we found that we have a lot in common.

Toward 5:00 in the evening, both Dean and I were fading from jet lag, amplified by sitting in a warm room for several hours. Fortunately, we were soon shown the family’s rooftop terrace with a view across the city to Swyambunath Stuppa, more typically called the Monkey Temple. Invigorated by a cool breeze and the imminent promise of the Bhai Tika ceremony, we both were able to perk up. 

The ceremony is something that I will never forget as long as I live. Dean was asked to sit next to the three brothers of the family and was effectively worshipped as one of the family’s own siblings. We were given special foods that are typically cooked by the family’s ethnic group (Newar); lung, liver, prawns, mutton curry, and homemade yogurt were only a few of the delicacies on our plate. The love demonstrated within their family and the hospitality they showed us was unforgettable. This ceremony and the gracious hospitality served as a reminder for why we continue to travel – a chance to connect, learn, and share experiences with one another. 

I was flying high after our experience, especially after pictures with the entire family and after a nighttime stroll back to our hotel, through the old city with the family’s three daughters as our local guides. This feeling spilled over to the next day as we woke up early to go to Swayambunath Stuppa, the Monkey Temple. As we navigated through the busy streets of Kathmandu, we could tell that Tihar was over; the roads were crowded with cars & motorbikes adding to an ever growing reddish haze of dust and exhaust. When we arrived at the bottom of the hill to climb to the temple, I was shocked at the amount of litter discarded in the open spaces and the smell of rotten garbage. It was overwhelming and, I’m ashamed to say it, deflating. Here I was, feeling so high after the previous night’s once in a lifetime experience, and the scene of squalor sent me into a state of disgust. How can people live like this? How can they desecrate what is supposed to be a holy place with what appeared to be pure ambivalence? 

My feelings increased as we made our trip to the top of the the stuppa, the disarray worsened with trash thrown unconcernedly on the ground, street dogs with open wounds, and monkeys eating rice and other sacrifices from in front of the temples. It took two rounds of the stuppa and roughly 15 minutes of standing by myself, watching those around me, before I could finally start to find some calm. A little boy was walking in front of a group of adults, making their way around the stuppa, spinning the prayer wheels as part of their devotions. He smiled at me. His smile was so genuine, it was disarming. In that moment, I could tune out the noise, pollution, and wounded animals to just be a person, smiling back.

A seed of empathy was planted and on the way down the stairs, Dean and I talked about the challenges of the Nepalese people who culturally are still in a transition from historically biodegradable garbage to the modern world of packaging. I’m sure there’s more complexity to the issue but I can’t help but wonder if the pollution and garbage is normalized and perceived by the citizens as simply a part of life. Does that make the stuppa any less awe inspiring? Or people’s devotions any less holy? Or that little boy’s smile any less authentic?

During the 45 minute walk back to the hotel through the outskirts of the city, instead of looking at the trash, pollution, and squalor, I looked at the people. Men, sitting in a group laughing. Women taking care of their children. Tourists actively taking in sights that are so different than those they see at home. And I remembered that which yesterday, was so apparent to me; we’re all people living our lives and our similarities often are much greater than our differences.

23 Hours in Singapore

After what can safely be classified as the most brutal flight of my life (well, so far), we made it to Singapore last night at 7:00 in the evening. Our flight to Kathmandu didn’t fly out until 6:20pm the following day, leaving us to decide, via a long back and forth discussion, if it was actually worth leaving the airport to go into the city and get a hotel room.

Apparently back in his college years, Dean has spent long layovers in the airport and finding a chair, bench, or in some cases floor, crash on for the evening. While I’m always up for some urban camping, sleeping on the floor of an airport is not the way I wanted to kick off this trip. So we compromised with a cheap hotel room in Chinatown, located a quick 10 minute walk from the metro station.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t consider the shape we’d be in after a 16 hour flight (the longest I’ve ever done), which included the soul-crushing screams of four small children in a 7 row cabin. This, compounded by the fact that there was a single drink service during dinner (one glass of wine each), meant that sleep was impossible and we deboarded the plane feeling like the walking dead.

Somehow, we navigated Immigration and Customs, only had one small hiccup in getting on the train, and walked through the night market to our hotel. We crashed at 10:00pm after 22 hours of being awake and slept for a full night on local time (traveling score!).

The best thing about waking up at 6:00am is that you often have the city to yourself, beating other tourists and sometimes locals to breakfast and the coolest sites. We noticed this in Paris last year, when we were awake and getting coffee & quiches at the local patisserie to eat on the steps of Notre Dame as the sun was rising, with only a few other people to share the glory of the moment.

This morning was no different. I spent a few minutes on Yelp, finding a coffee shop that was both open early and had something on the menu that I could eat. Since the local breakfast fair is soft cooked eggs and toast, spread with butter and kaya jam, I struggled as it’s physically impossible for me to eat an egg with a soft yoke (I know it’s weird ok – I just can’t do it). But was lucky to get 2 large pork bao buns and some strong coffee (yes!).

We then decided to hit up one of the major attractions in Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Buddhist temple. What a treat! We arrived in the middle of a daily devotional that meant the entire sanctuary was filled with monks and worshippers chanting. It was unreal, walking through this beautiful building that had so much beauty and detail, while hearing mesmerizing chants.

We found another sacred room on the third level, complete with meditation platforms and a golden stupa containing one of Buddha’s canine teeth. From there we climbed to a roof top garden that we shared with a singular old man who was reading something on his iPad. Standing there, in front of a massive prayer wheel that rang a small bell, it was difficult to remember that there is a bustling metropolis just beyond the walls and that this peaceful, awe-inspiring feeling wouldn’t last.

I came out of my awestruck fog once the ceremony ended and we walked out of the temple. We then spent the next three hours, walking around downtown Singapore, checking out cool buildings and the riverfront Esplanade park system. That’s one thing I really love about Dean. We don’t need to always have a plan and he can be perfectly content, walking around, looking at cool architecture, and going into the occasional coffee house or concert venue. I realize that my lack of research and planning means that we might miss something super cool during our travels, and I’ve made a commitment to doing a better job prior to getting to new places, but this morning, it just felt right to wander.

We headed back to the hotel for a quick shower (I was soaked in sweat), and a trip to the Michelin starred food stall that earned it’s prestigious award with chicken rice (a Singapore specialty). After checking the location on Google Maps (a mere two blocks from our hotel), we managed to walk up the street without finding it. Now, the cool thing about Smith Street or Food Street as it’s known, is that it’s closed down to traffic and filled, right, left, and middle with food stalls and tables. Normally, I would walk through this hubbub, checking out the stall offerings and most likely, other people’s meals to identify what I want to eat. But we had a plan to find this particular food stall, so the search continued.

On a whim, I decided to take us into the China Market, a HUGE building loaded with individual stalls selling anything you can imagine from underwear to shark fin. Up an escalator, we found ourselves in a place similar to what I imagine heaven to be – a whole story of the building dedicated to food stalls! Like a huge mall food court, but the stalls are packed side by side every ten feet, displaying their different menu wares via picture boards and glass fronted display cases. Obviously, we had to explore and wouldn’t you know, we stumbled across the food stall for the famous Hong Kong Soya Sauce Noodle, our Michelin starred holy grail.

Who knew something so simple as chicken and rice could be so amazing AND cheap – $4.00 Singapore dollars paid for meals. That’s $2.94 US (be still my heart!). After spending $4.00 for fresh pineapple and watermelon juice, we headed to the metro station to hop a train to the airport.

If the last 6 hours is any indication of the possibilities of Singapore, we’ll definitely try to make it back to this beautiful city. And this time, I’ll do some research!



I Brought Too Much Stuff… The Challenges Of Packing For A Year On The Road

We are officially homeless. After handing over the keys to the house on Friday, we headed up to Wyoming to spend a week with family before flying to San Francisco for 4 days to spend some time with one of the most fun-loving and awesome people I know (have you met Ilsa?!), before heading to Kathmandu on the 18th.

Last night with bottle of wine in hand, Dean and I laid out our entire inventory of clothes, medical supplies, toiletries, electronics, and food (cause, you know, I get hungry). After getting all of my things organized between my backpack as well as my daypack, I realized…. I have WAY too much stuff.

Every travel blogger writes about this dilemma with varying opinions on how to maximize space and minimize the amount of stuff that you feel you need. Remember, you have to carry all of that tonnage on your back for 10 months.

Trust me, I’ve gone through my inventory five times now and I have done a good job (I feel) of removing unnecessary items. Then again, I’ve added quite a few others. Because when you’re leaving for an extended period of time, with a loose agenda and the need to be prepared for different seasons, you just don’t know what you can afford to leave at home.

Packed in my Gregory Jade 63 backpack are:

7 Patagonia & ExOfficio underwear
3 Lululemon sport bras
6 SmartWool hiking socks
2 Hanes no show athletic socks

1 bikini top
1 Athleta swim short
1 rash guard
1 Athleta capri dive pants
1 Athleta Pack Anywhere dress

1 Soloman hiking boots
1 red canvas Toms
1 black Chaco’s sandals (I’m officially a hippy, and I like it!)
1 Nike sneaker

2 Athleta tank tops
3 GapBody vneck Tshirts
1 FreeFly long sleeve Henley hoodie
1 Athleta Viva pants
1 Prana technical pants
1 Athleta ¾ tights
2 Lululemon shorts

Cold weather
1 Marmot rain jacket
1 Patagonia base layer
1 Under Armor base layer
1 Patagonia down sweater coat
1 Lululemon vinyasa scarf
1 Athleta fleece lined tights
1 set of gloves and a beanie
1 REI Lyra 24 sleeping bag (we need for those cold nights in Nepal)

1 scuba mask, watch & box
1 toiletry bag
1 dry bag (for scuba diving & laundry)
2 luggage locks and floss
2 large Ziploc bags of RX bars, Epic bars and Larabars (again, to combat hanger on the        trail)
1 large pack of Huggies baby wipes
2 rolls of toilet paper (Dean recommended this as TP in Nepal is likened to butcher             paper)

You’ll notice from the pictures (that I took on my in-laws covered pool table), that I have everything separated into smaller bags or packing cubes. I learned about the awesomeness of packing cubes last year, when I traveled 23 out of 52 weeks for my job at Softchoice (hello gold status!). Having the option to segregate my work clothes, gym attire, and casual clothes to different compartments within my carryon rolling suitcase made the packing for the regular journeys stress-free and I’m hoping for a similar experience as we load & unload daily while trekking to Everest base camp in Nepal.

You’ll probably also notice that almost all of my clothes are comprised of Athleta, Gap, Lululemon, and Patagonia brands. Yes, I like expensive clothes but also, I try to purchase clothes that I feel are well made and going to last. I particularly love Patagonia as I had a down sweater coat purchased in 2011 that developed a hole in the sleeve two days before heading to Toronto in January (during one of the coldest, soul-crushing winters in Canadian history – or so it felt to me). I took the coat into the Denver store and they put a patch on the hole. When the patch started to seperate a month later, they had me come in to exchange for a new coat. That’s right – 6 years after I bought the original coat, I got a new one for no charge! You just can’t find that kind of customer service any longer and I’m extremely loyal (and open for sponsorship opportunities – call me!).

I’ve included a picture of an empty bag as well as fully packed (roughly 35 – 40lbs). I have no doubt that I’ve over packed, and will hopefully be able to identify what items are absolutely necessary over the coming weeks/months.

For my carry-on bag, I purchased an Osprey Talon 22 with Camelback. Mostly so that I can have a daypack with hydration while on the trail, but also for use when traveling or to keep important items on my person. Listed below are the items that I currently have in my daypack:

1 Apple iPad with Bluetooth keyboard (so I can keep up with my writing and internet surfing)
1 toiletry bag with prescriptions and other medications
1 headlamp
2 Yoga tune up balls, 1 large rolling ball, and 1 Voodoo band (for body care)
Wet wipes and face wipes (for use on long flights)
1 cribbage board and 2 decks of cards
Assorted charging cables for all electronic devices
Noise cancelling headphones and Bluetooth headphones (just in case one dies)
Ear plugs, sleep mask (absolutely essential for long flights and sleeping in hostels)
Toiletries for flights – brush, toothbrush, deodorant, face lotion, dental floss, antibacterial spray
1 Patagonia hat

And lastly, I have a luggage lock that I somehow seemed to randomly set the combination and now can’t open. My mission on our 14 hour flight to Singapore is to try every combination starting at 000. I will not be defeated!


Preparations for the Journey

Here we are. T minus two weeks until we leave Denver and head off on our 10 month tour! Technically we only have 4 more days to finish packing the house and getting everything ready to leave as our renter moves in on Saturday! Meaning that bags have to be packed and ready to go while everything else is packed into storage by Friday morning…. What?!

To me, it feels like we’re blasting off, leaving behind our world of comfort and the life that we’ve both spent years building, to head out to the great unknown. Luckily, I finished working on September 1st, leaving me with just over a month to get all of our affairs in order. Unfortunately for Dean, he doesn’t finish work until Friday – yep, the same day that we have to be out of the house and leave for Wyoming to say good-bye to my family.

Now you would think that leaving to gallivant across the globe would be simple – you sell off or put your belongings in storage, book your plane tickets, pack your bags, and you’re off! That’s what every travel blogger tells you. Reality is that we aren’t in our 20’s with few responsibilities (ah… the days when our lives were carefree and simple). Instead, we are in our thirties with commitments and responsibilities coming out the wazoo, creating a veritable TON of things that needed to be done prior to our departure.

Here’s where my attention to detail and ability to work through a process to get things completed comes to the forefront (cue super hero music). Outside of packing, cleaning, and getting the house ready to rent, I’ve been spending a large part of my days researching all of the individual details that need to be in place before we leave.

Because I truly believe that more people can and should embark on a similar experience, I wanted to document all of the individual tasks to act as a guide for future adventurers:


  • Travelers Insurance

    • We’re purchasing from World Nomads, covering medical accidents & evacuation, lost or stolen belongings, delay of trip, etc. This policy should cover us in case we have an injury or accident that requires transportation and in-country care.
  • Medical Insurance/Expat Insurance

    • On top of our travel insurance, we’re purchasing a global healthcare plan from Cigna, specifically designed for world citizens and expats who will be living/traveling globally as well as needing coverage when returning to the US.

Bank Accounts & Credit Cards

  • Automatic payment of mortgage

  • Set up travel alerts & transfer of funds

Renting House

  • Hiring a property management company to take care of all the details of rental. We lucked out and found a smaller firm that found a tenant within a few weeks.
  • Landlord insurance – because your homeowner’s policy doesn’t work if you’re renting to someone else.
  • Purging of 7 years’ worth of stuff – self-explanatory, but wow was I holding on to some things that should have been thrown away long ago!


Legal Affairs

  • My friends, Mike & Grace ( were the ones who suggested we set up a will & power of attorney before leaving.
  • Additionally Dean & I put all of our passwords into an application that consolidates and secures all of our log in credentials/passwords so we don’t have to remember the myriad of passwords or if something were to happen, god forbid, our executors can easily get online and into our accounts.


Doctor’s Appointments, Vaccines, & Medicines

  • Make sure you complete routine physical, dental, and eye appointments prior to leaving (or losing your super good insurance).
  • Schedule a travel appointment with your doctor (maybe while doing the physical?) to discuss any vaccines or medication you’ll need while traveling. My suggestion would be to talk to your primary care physician as sometimes the travel specific clinics can be a major rip off. I experienced this when getting my vaccines for India last year. The clinic didn’t take any insurance so I had to pay out of pocket and then cross my fingers to get reimbursed (never happened). I also learned that the nurse was paid on commission for each vaccine I got and therefore recommended yellow fever when it wasn’t needed for where I was traveling. Not cool.


Packing/Buying Supplies

  • It has taken me several months to identify and purchase the items needed to for a compact yet comprehensive set of clothes, medical supplies, etc (full list provided in next post!). When fully packed, my bag is 25lbs which I know is going to be super heavy when lugging around however we’re preparing for several different seasons, including bringing sleeping bags, and my comfort is that I can always donate items if I find that I don’t need them (like those fleece lined leggings that I don’t like but am bringing cause I hate being cold).


By the way, did I mention that my in-laws are taking our dog, Bodhi, for the year? Hence a series of vet appointments, purchasing dog food, prescriptions, and pills for the pup. They are also allowing us to forward our mail to their house as the postal service allows mail forwarding for up to a year (they are the best!).

Lastly, I had the fun challenge of figuring out how we are going to pay our taxes in April of 2018. This turned out to be WAY easier than anticipated as I received a recommendation for a good CPA, and after a 30 minute conversation and some review of 2017 financials, we decided to file for an extension and submit in October. Whew!!

Having read this list, I still can’t believe I was able to get all of this done (it really was quite an undertaking) however I did, and we’re really leaving! I’m so excited!!

See you Softchoice … Next Year!

As I sit here, getting ready to embark on what promises to be one of the greatest adventures of my life, I’m scared.

There are tears welling up in my eyes, a lump in the back of my throat, and this sense in the pit of my stomach feeling like I ate a hippopotamus for breakfast. The fear is palpable. But there’s a different sensation hiding just under the surface and my need to explore is motivating me to write this message.

The source of the fear, you ask?  My new husband, Dean, and I have booked a one way ticket to Nepal in October. We’re renting our house, leaving our adorable boxer, Bodhi, with his grandparents in Wyoming, and saying good-bye to our friends and family. The plan is to travel to the village of Phortse, where Dean lived for several years after architecture school, working to construct a seismically sound building in the Khumbu housing a program for Sherpa to learn the climbing skills they will need to guide on the mountains of the Himalaya. We’ll fly into Kathmandu, trek up to Phortse, and continue on up to Everest base camp. Then, we travel. We have a list of places that we’ve always wanted to visit kept in Excel, a ridiculous number of pictures and blog posts saved by country on Pinterest, and nothing but time until the end of August 2018.

We each have a “bucket list” of three places or experiences that are an absolute must! Mine include traveling to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, scuba diving to see antiquities in Greece, trekking to Machu Picchu, and returning to India and the computer lab Softchoice Cares built in Rajasthan.

Ok, I realize that’s four places. However, this last place in particular is extremely important to me. Just as Dean wants to share the people, places and experiences that shaped him after architecture school, I too want to share a place that forever changed me and how I view the world. That experience is the catalyst for this year long trip and one that wouldn’t have been possible without the company that I’ve been privileged to be a part of for the last nine years.

As is sit here reflecting on this next chapter in my life, preparing for my final days of work for a whole year (holy cow!), the fear is still present but is starting to be overshadowed by a completely opposite feeling – gratitude.

I remember graduating from college in my early 20’s, ready to take on the world with the illusion that building a successful career, working my way up the corporate ladder and making a lot of money were the keys to a happy life. This is what you’re supposed to do, right; The American Dream? What no one told me (or if they did, I definitely wasn’t listening), is that happiness doesn’t come from your bank account, career success, being a better salesperson than your peers, the car you drive, or the house you own. Happiness, for me, is the good health of you and your loved ones, making a difference in the lives of those around you, and creating every opportunity to share experiences with people who are important in your life. What a change for that 26 year old working 60+ hour weeks, missing family holidays or a friends’ weddings because work was more important.

I didn’t come to this realization out of the blue one day. This was a long, often painful process, and one in which I’m still working to improve daily.

Looking back, there are a number of people who helped me on this journey and the most surprising (at least to me), is that a majority are people with whom I’ve worked at Softchoice. People who take the corporate values and live them every day.  People who were able to recognize my weaknesses and cared enough to hold up a mirror, pushing me to be a better professional, and more importantly, a better human being. People who understood that this trip is a once in a lifetime chance for personal growth and allowed me the opportunity to take a leave of absence for a year.

I swear, I didn’t drink the orange Kool-Aid. But I do think it’s important to take a step back and remember that I work for an amazing company, comprised of people who are focused on a common goal, and truly care. And for that, I am grateful.