First Day Jitters
05.09.2012 - 05.09.2012 18 °C
The Lonely Planet guidebook suggests spending the first night of the trek in Phakding, a town of maybe 60 buildings at 2610 meters above sea level. There are many guesthouses here and the township is larger than most every other settlement in the area, so clearly it is benefitting from the Lonely Planet’s advice. We stopped for some lunch and to decide whether or not to stay for the night or to press on until Monjo, another two and a half hours further along on the trail and 225 meters higher, per the advice of a German trekker we had met over breakfast in Lukla.
Most all of the restaurants on the trail are part of a guesthouse and we found one that looked nice and was actually open, and went in. May is just after the second busiest trekking season in the Everest region, but with dust in the air and the heat building up, and the monsoons just around the corner, the numbers drop off quite a bit. The restaurant was empty and dark, and we had to yell upstairs for someone to come down to take our order. They in turn, had to fuss over what was not possible from the menu right now, and then went off outside somewhere to fetch the cook.
After 4 hours of “breaking myself in” trekking, it felt really good to just sit back and take in the surroundings. Varnished logs made up the walls and a central support pillar. A picture commemorating the 50th anniversary of Tensing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous climb sat on the wall next to another signed group photo of one of the more recent Everest summit expeditions. A few signed expedition T-shirts and national flags were pinned to the bulging wood-plank ceiling. A selection of imported alcohols sat in a glass case hung on the pillar. A rack of over-priced postcards showing the Himalayas, or Base Camp, or perhaps a shaggy yak, was on the wall near the door. Candy Bars, cans of Pringles, and other tourist chow were available from a case under the register. Through the windows, I saw an occasional Sherpa pass by, hunched forward and laden down with goods.
It was the first day and my body and mind were busy figuring out how much effort they were going to be needing to exert on this trip. It was heaven to have my backpack off; Adrian and I talked about maybe staying here for the night, but we would see how we felt after lunch. I had felt an unfamiliar tingling in my fingertips and a mild headache over the last hour, which had me worried about the possibility of altitude sickness. I had read about the symptoms but was unaccustomed to what they felt like. I didn’t want to push myself too hard, but I also didn’t want to psyche myself out simply because my comfort zones were pushing back in on me.
My apple tea arrived, and I pulled out my map to circle the places we planned on staying at each night as the pages torn from our Lonely Planet, and our German friend suggested. Namche Bazaar on nights 2 and 3, Tengboche on night 4, Dingboche on 5 and 6, Thukla on 7, Lobuche on 8, and Gorak Shep on the 9th night, after we had dropped our gear off at a lodge and continued on to Everest Base Camp. A string of mysteries and questions spread across the map before me. But for now, I was mostly concerned with answering just one: Go on to Monjo or stay in Phakding?
My attempts to arrive at the correct conclusion via reasoning and/or intuition were failing me entirely. Lunch came and went, deliciously. Adrian slumped back against the wall, into a post-food, post-trekking nap. When he awoke and I was still busy studying the map, guidebook, and chewing over my indecisiveness, he suggested that we just flip a coin. Though the tingling and the headache had disappeared with rest and food, this idea sounded a bit too risky to my mind, now driven to certainty-seeking analysis-paralysis. But he said that he would sometimes just ask God to give him the answer via a coin toss and it had always worked out in the past. Sometimes though, he hadn’t liked the answer and had changed his mind, but either way, he ended up with a good answer. I said, sure, why not? Pulled out a Nepali coin and called the side with Everest on it as ‘we go up the trail’ and the side with a map of Nepal on it as ‘we stay right here.’
It landed on Everest.
Satisfied and getting excited again, we paid for lunch, pulled on our packs and got back out on the trail. It had clouded over a bit, obscuring the mountains in the distance, but otherwise the weather was holding and comfortable. But ten minutes later, the sky opened up and started pouring a thick cold rain on us, and we ducked into another guest lodge to reconsider the results of our coin flip. The rain kept up, so Adrian asked the owner about rooms and she took us to see what 200 rupees would buy for the night. I felt a little let down by the rain, but my body was already getting happy about the idea of sitting back down and not getting drenched. The room was a basic double with a common bath; two beds, wooden floors, and a window. We told the lady that we would think it over for a minute first and meet her inside with our answer. While we were discussing it over, the rain let up to a light drizzle. It wasn’t too bad to walk in, but the downpour might return and we had tasted the sweet possibility of collapsing for the day. Now we were both indecisive. Adrian told me to flip the coin again, to double check our answer.
It landed on Everest.
Clearly, God and/or Benford's Law wanted us to head up to Monjo!
So, on we went, coming to a steel footbridge over the river Duhd Koshi. Adrian went ahead so that I could take a triumphant picture of him crossing the first of many bridges that would engage his fear of heights. He paused just long enough for the photo then hustled to the other side. (And surely he meant that I should also take a shot of me giving him the middle finger with my tongue out, while his back was turned. What else do you entrust your camera to a friend for?!)
I took an extra moment to stand mid-span, savoring the raw intensity of the water surging and spitting over the rocks and around well-worn boulders below. Mountain winds sped down the valley, whipping prayer flags strung along the bridge and blowing a cold thrill across my face and into my soul. I would have stood there, suspended in the emotions rushing off the Himalayas, all day. A fully-loaded Sherpa started across, allowing just another moment of communion with the elements, before I had to get out of his way. But no matter; by the time I stepped foot on the opposite bank, my spirit was running as strong as the river and all reluctance to go on was washed cleanly away.