If we were ever on vacation, we’re certainly not anymore. We’re not simply visiting the Himalayas. We live here now. These mountains are our home for two weeks. We haven’t seen a road since our flight into Lukla five days ago. Only trail. And we’re still going up it, further away from anything we’ve ever known.
The mornings are cold. I wake fully clothed, shivering on a bed of concrete covered by a half inch of cloth. I have a headache and bronchitis and am just one of many who have been battling illness. I lift myself up, turn on some tunes and thankfully accept the hot tea and smiles served by our Sherpa. As I pack my bag, my roommate Bobby – a cancer survivor – and I exchange a few words. But mostly we enjoy our silence while contemplating what the day will bring and harnessing the mental and physical energy to take on the trail another day.
We file into breakfast, which is usually a U-shaped arrangement of tables in the communal room. Our team members enter one-by-one until all 29 are seated cozily next to one another, which is for survival as well as community’s sake as this room is usually colder than the temperature outside.
Then everything begins to warm up. Our bodies fill with hot porridge and tea. We pour way too much cocoa powder or hot chili sauce or both onto our breakfast. Our bellies fill with laughter while stories of last night’s antics are exchanged. One of the doctors realized he was locked inside his own room when nature called, so he began to relieve himself out the second-story window. He had to cut it off when the noise of his pee hitting the tin roof led to commotion below, so he did the next best thing and crawled out the window onto the roof to take care of business.
Our minds and hearts fill with warmth of the tales of how each cancer surviving trekker found his or her way to make it through the day with grace. Trace pulled out his phone to look at a picture of his two-year-old daughter on the last leg of a difficult day.
Linda called the high school in central Iowa where she has been the principal of for 11 years to make the morning announcements. The students cheered so loudly she could hear it through the main office where her call was connected.
Karen stared over at me one moment on the hike and mentioned how much the morning reading had stuck with her. It spoke of the security of sameness and how dangerous to the human spirit that could be. As she hiked toward Mount Everest, she described how each and every one of us was stepping outside our comfort zone, and what a good thing that must be.
“It will be interesting to see in a year how much this has changed everyone’s lives,” she said.
Her voice broke as she recalled the phone call she’d had with her teenage daughter that day. She’d told her mom that after following this journey of 14 cancer survivors proving they could do anything, she wanted to be a nurse who helped cancer patients.
You don’t have to be on this trail to be changed. But as I type this to start my morning while Mt. Everest teases me through a blanket of clouds with a few holes burned into it, I am reminded that even though this is not an easy way to become a stronger person, it is a beautiful way to do so. And it’s not just because of that mountain. It’s the soft souls that make you forget about hard beds, the warm stories that make you forget about cold nights. The new friends and new days that make you want to push the security of sameness off a cliff and watch is soar through the sky as you wave goodbye and walk onward toward a horizon you’ve never seen before.