Cycling to Everest
In pre-bike days I once trekked to Everest Base Camp.
Along the way I met a young Japanese chap named Goto who was cycling, kind of...
The Everest trek kicks off with a 'Whoopee-do! We're on our way to Mount Everest!' bus ride northeast out of Kathmandu towards the Tibetan border. After getting down at the small town of Giri, it's a two-week walk up through the foothills to your first major stop, Namche Bazaar.
A day out of Giri and you are having doubts, two days out and you are having serious doubts, and by day three you wish you'd never come, despite what you are meant to think.
Imagine walking, baggage laden, up the stairs of the tallest building you have ever seen, and then walking down again. Do that twenty times a day, for three days, and then come back and tell me you are having fun, no matter the view.
This is what trekking is all about.
But on you go, because Mount Everest, after all, must be worth it, so they say.
Namche is the famous Sherpa town that you see in all those documentaries about Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to actually climb Mount Everest. Having personally shaken the man's hand, I can attest that he was a good bloke (I think he's dead), but so what? How is that going to help you? Not much...
Namche is perched on top of a hill at an altitude of 3000 metres, and sports outrageously expensive pizza shops and (these days) outrageously expensive internet cafes, which is fine, because having walked there, you'll pay any price for a pizza (and a long email back home detailing your sifferings.)
The critical point about the Yeti Pizza Bar though, is that oxygen depletion sets in big time at 3000 metres, and this is a problem.
The oxygen depletion is talked about in the tourist brochures in a somewhat Starbuckian way; clinical and accurate, yet warmly non-threatening. It's a marvellous literary stunt, the more humanly accurate words and phrases having been edited out.
'Agony', 'misery' and 'if I just step off this ledge and fall to my death my pain will be over...' not being big tourist draw cards, one would assume.
Having ingested your pizza, your brain is now working, more or less, and the reality of your situation hits you; you are stuck inside the world's tallest mountain range, with very little oxygen, and the only way out, short of a free ride on a Royal Nepal Airforce Whirly Bird, is walking. What this implies is that you are in for a terrific amount of pain.
In the oxygen starved environment, even the smallest movement (standing up, lighting a joint etc) leaves you faint headed and reeling. You gasp for breath, you reel, you think you are about to die, and it's a wet dog with fleas.
(Please pause to imagine this....)
By 4,000 metres you feel like you've got the worst hangover of your sorry life, and by 5,000 metres, up around Everest Base Camp (another week away from Namche), death is worth thinking about.
Yes, it gets that bad...
Then the sun goes down and the nightmares begin.
You climb into your lonely Sherpa bed, and are woken at 1 am by a grinning, oxygen-depletion induced phantasm who sits on your chest impeding your air-flow, and won't get off.
He looks deeply into your eyes and laughs.
Terror grips you. You flail, you kick, you go 'aaaagh!' You sit up andbegin sucking desperately at the air. You look around the room, but there is nothing and nobody there, only shadows and lingering fear.
After a few moments you lay your head back down, and know that that your pal will be back.
And indeed he does come back, every hour, on the hour, until the sun peaks through the curtains at around 6 am, at which time, one assumes, he goes to bed himself.
Oh, daylight, what a relief!
Oh, Great Shining Light!
Oh, Beauteous Golden Orb Who lights the darkness, how we worship Thee!
After breakfast you strap on your 8 kg load and plod out of the guesthouse into the snow. You work your way, painful step by painful step, along the foot-track that wiggles its way upward through the boulder-strewn Khumbu Glacier Valley to Everest, like a lone sperm on a quest.
Ah, sex! It falls like a boulder into your brain.
Suddenly, inexplicably, you crave it.
Strange sex, odd sex, weird sex, illegal sex, petty sex, grand sex, sex with fluffy socks on, sex with whips and hand-grenades; anything, as long as it involves sex.
You are sinking in self-pity and suffocating under an avalanche of regret, and sex is the only way out, as long as you can find The Cut.
This high altitude trekking has taken on a whole new life.
Somewhere just before Pherice, a small way-stop outpost a few days short of base camp, you stop and let yourself down on a rock.
Upon this rock you sink. Where is The Cut?
What started out as the hopeful road to freedom has become its own torture; demon sex hordes taunt and swirl, you crave, you cry out "How long, oh Lord? How long?' but there is no answer.
Just then you look up, and perched high above the mountains you see it! The Cut!
You haven't thought about Kathleen Ryan's panties for maybe 20 or more years, not since she showed them to you in her bedroom during a seemingly innocent pubescent romp one afternoon after school.
Well, OK , the thought may have flitted through your mind on the odd ocassion, but you never took much stock of it, and up until Pherice, it seems to have gotten buried in an avalanche of short films, good and bad.
But there it is now in glorious oxygen starved pantyscope, high above the mountains, high above the pain, high above anything you've ever seen, felt, touched or thought before, and the view is, indeed, glorious!
Who would have guessed?
Right then you know you would sell your own grandmother for a touch, for such is The Cut, and such is the personal hell you now find yourself in.
But now you know you are gonna make it! Life is worth living! There is a way through...
Just then you see a young man approaching from further down the glacier, wheeling a bike. You figure he must be Japanese because he looks Japanese and is pushing a bicycle, and who else but a Japanese would be 'cycling to Everest', which is obviously what he's doing.
He sits down on the rock opposite, using his bicycle as a crutch, and wheezes like an old man. He doesn't look good.
You nod, he nods.
"I Goto," he says, pointing at himself. "Japan."
"Felix," you reply. "Australia." You both take a few laboured breaths.
"Cycling?" you ask.
"Yes," he says, and smiles wanly. "Not easy! Velly hard!" He takes another laboured breath and you wonder just how much actual cycling he is doing, and how much straight out blunt pushing, considering the fact that even standing up forces you draw long deep breaths, much less turning over pedals on a boulder strewn landscape.
Somehow you know that Goto is going to fall like a stone into the pit, very soon. Exactly how you know this, you don't know, but you do, and you almost feel sorry for him - he missed The Cut.
He pulls out some Japanese salted crackers and offers you the open pack. "Thanks!" you say, as you take a couple, although even eating requires short pauses of breath in between the up and down motions of the jaw.
You've got some chocolate, so you hand him a couple of squares.
"Chocorat!" he says, and smiles.
"Yeah," you say, and take another breath. It's like talking to a dying comrade.
After a few minutes of silence, you point northwards up the valley, towards Kathleen Ryan's panties. "I gotta go," you say.
You stand up, just as a wind squall cuts down from the mountains and blows straight into your face, and nearly knocks you over. You give Goto a short wave, and walk on.
"Good ruck!" he calls out.
"Yeah, cheers!" you call back, and your last sight of Goto is a small man sitting on a rock, his bike laying at his feet, a metal cow with a broken neck, and how the fuck is he gonna pick that thing up?
Then you forget about him.
Ten days later I sat in the guesthouse adjacent to the Thangboche monastery, a day's walk from Namche. Well buoyed by the company, the opium and the endless rounds of cards, and the thought that Everest Base Camp and the demon sex hordes were mostly behind me, I felt almost exultant.
"Did you hear about the Jap cyclist?" somebody said.
"No," I replied, passing the pipe. "What happened?"
"They dug him out of a snow drift somewhere near Pherice!"
"They dug him out of a snow drift?" I said, alarmed.
"Yeah, he apparently just collapsed. They had to carry him back to Lukla on a yak and then fly him out." (Lukla is a small town with a mountain airstrip a few days walk from Namche.)
"What happened to his bike?" I asked, sipping on a hot chocolate.
And moral of this tale? Cycle the Terai, my friend.