In just over 5 weeks I’ll be boarding a plane to Kathmandu. Tomorrow is my last day of work at my desk job. I’m due to move out of my house just after that. As chapters of my life draw to a close, the trip feels progressively more real every day. Three years of planning. It’s all about to come to fruition. And that means the pressure is on to finalize my plans and collect the remainder of my gear. I am so packed with nervous excitement that sometimes I need to remember to breathe.
The first notable item, and the one everyone asks me about, is how I plan to deal with the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake(s). Well you might as well be asking a journalist why they are volunteering to report in a war zone. This is a tricky question because the reality is that I don’t have all the information, and the information I do have is very mixed. What I do know is that 11 out of 75 districts in Nepal are affected to varying degrees. I’d like to address a few questions and concerns I’ve encountered recently. Basically, what it comes down to is that my stoke is still HIGH and this disaster has not killed my dream!
Yes, my adventure is still a go, and ideally I won’t have to make too many substantial changes to my route. However, I fully recognize that as a result of the earthquakes, I may have to modify my plan or possibly even skip some sections entirely, such as the Langtang region where almost 95% of the structures were destroyed. Final decisions on my plan changes will be made over the coming weeks, and modifications will continue to happen even while I’m on trail. Right now, Nepalese people are unsure of how the current monsoon rains will move around the recently shifted earth, as it could cause more landslides and further damage to the villages and trail network. I have to consider the fact that I don’t want to further stress areas that are still struggling to get supplies and food in. However, beyond the 11 affected districts, Nepal is fine. Why would I change my travel plans to areas that are fine?
Yes, I am fully aware that some of the worst affected regions have been deemed “unsafe” for trekking by bureaucrats in Kathmandu. I’ll cautiously comment that “safe” is a subjective term, and “safety” is largely perception. I don’t mean to imply that the trekking routes impacted are “safe” by any means. I simply question what “unsafe” really means. I find I’m often accused of being unsafe in my activities here in Canada, but I recognize that I’m often being called unsafe by people who lack the experience to make that judgement call. Additionally, Nepalese people are already working on repairing the trail systems, since they use these very trails for every day travel between places, including for the delivery of supplies, which they need. If the trails are in ‘safe’ enough condition for Nepalese people to use every day, then they are ‘safe’ enough for me.
Yes, there “will be better years” to trek. Of course I can wait until next year, or the year after, when Nepal has had more of a chance to recover. But I say there is no time like the present. If anything this tragedy draws me to this country even more now. My tourist dollars can help people in tourism-dependent communities that have been experiencing mass cancellations. In addition, the timing of this trip will allow me (and you, indirectly) a window into how Nepalese people are re-building their lives after this disaster.
No, I am not worried about more earthquakes. Honestly, I’m more terrified of the possibility of tiger attacks, giardia infection, altitude sickness, or getting stranded in my tent for a week waiting out a blizzard, to short list just a few of my fears. Sure, more earthquakes are possible, but for me this is not the straw that will break my back in the giant list of “what ifs”. In addition, and as bad as this sounds, an earthquake won’t really affect me if I’m camping in an open meadow in my tent. I would be a lot worse off sleeping in a building, which I’m purposely avoiding.
Yes, I am scared and yes, there are way more uncertainties. I have no idea what I’m going to encounter in some cases. But you know what, that is part of the adventure. The very remoteness of some of these regions is exactly what draws me to them.
Yes, I will pull out if I need to. If I get to Nepal and it’s just not possible to get through or around affected areas logistically, or if crossing the country becomes nearly impossible for any variety of reasons, I will pull the plug. I have a lot invested in this trip, but I know when to quit. However, I have assurance from a variety of well informed parties, including my trekking agent, that the earthquake aftermath should not affect most of my trip. I’m not sure if this is any marker at all, but Nepal Tourism Board has informed me that the government is still issuing trekking permits for all regions, which gives me a beacon of hope.
Now that you feel substantially better or worse about my Great Himalaya Trail plans, I’d like to provide you with an update on some recent things I’ve been working on! Firstly here is an example of one of my “to do/to pack” checklists:
Here are some fun facts:
- $1200 spent at the travel clinic later, I’m now vaccinated against every virus known to man (ok maybe not quite, but at least I’m well protected against a few?)
- In case you didn’t take a cue from the above image, I have happily accepted a two week long job selling beer while scantily clad at Cowboys for the Calgary Stampede! Come visit me and tip me with all of your monies, please! I need the cash!
- I bought a tent! A really fancy one! THANK-YOU to Chris at Intensity Trekker for coordinating that order for me! Including shipping this baby cost me over $700.
- I bought a new sleeping bag! A really fancy one! Thank you to Ian Holmes who helped me with that. After discounts that cost me another $350.
- I am still meeting with my tutor and slowly learning more Nepali language skills every week. Namaste! Mero nam Michelle ho. Ma Nepal janchhu. Ma ek mahina jati baschhu. (Hello! My name is Michelle. I am going to Nepal. I am leaving in about one month.) I am ETERNALLY grateful to my tutor Sabita for her patience and kindness. If anyone in Nepal is even half as kind as she is, I’ll get along juuuuust fine.
- I’m mid-way through a navigation course at the University of Calgary dedicated to working with paper maps and compasses. I have a GPS and know how to use it but somehow the idea of relying on a battery-powered device leaves me feeling uneasy.
- Unfortunately I’m sad to report that I’ve been experiencing knee pain due to over-exertion in my last races. It’s on the mend and I think it will be a lot better in 5 weeks when I leave, but for now it’s definitely slowing me down. Bummer. I have to do short days in the mountains instead of long ones for now.
- I’m moving back in with mom and dad! Not for long, but just for the month before I leave. Thanks mom and dad for storing me and my belongings. But wow – I somehow have to fit the time to move into my busy schedule! I also want to extend a thanks to my landlord who is AWESOME enough to be filling my spot in the house with a temporary tenant. Yay for having a place to live when I come back already!
- ps my trekking permits are going to cost a whopping $3300 CDN. For the privilege of walking on soil. Haaa. Hence the Cowboys job.
More updates to come before I leave! I’m looking forward to having you follow along as I post information from the trail as often as I can. I AM SO UNBELIEVABLY EXCITED TO GO! It’s all I can think about. I just wish it was tomorrow, and not in five weeks!
If you believe in me and my story – please consider donating to my Go Fund Me campaign to help a girl out with her costs! A fraction of your donation will also go to the Calgary Nepalese Community Association, to earthquake relief in the form as cash handed directly to individuals in Nepal, and to Wide Open Vistas. You can also donate directly to Wide Open Vistas on their website, which I encourage you to do! At least check them out and see what they’ve been helping Nepal with post-earthquake. I am honored to be working with such a stand-up organization.