After the disappointment I experienced climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (see Climbing a mountain to nowhere), I threw myself into baby-making. We’d been trying for coming on two years without telling anyone bar my bestie. Kilimanjaro had been a good distraction for me, scheduling in training hikes and trawling the gear and equipment stores for those must-have items. I thought I would come home feeling better about having delayed our baby journey for six months because, after all, I was achieving a long-held dream.
When I made the summit and was left empty, I put it down to a million things: I was oxygen-deprived; I was sick; I was tired; regret at not having trained more. What I never considered was my own mental state. I’d read countless books and blogs about the Kili climb and knew that the mental challenge was even greater than the physical. I felt as prepared for that as I could be. Years later, when I was diagnosed with depression, it was like my metaphorical lightbulb not only lit up but blew a fuse.
I could see clearly how my depression had tainted my entire Kili experience; how I dealt with the demands of the daily hikes, my constant need to cry and the overwhelming urge I had every day to give up. I had no resilience. I was mentally unable to deal with the altitude sickness, the sleep deprivation, the food, and more exercise than I’d done in consecutive days for years. The trip left a bitter taste in my mouth and some part of me knew it wasn’t the right way to feel about having climbed to almost 6,000m. There’s a much-touted saying for wannabe summiteers – leave it on the mountain. It means you should finish your climb knowing you did everything you could to reach the top. It’s a way of saying, don’t have any regrets about your climb. But I had regrets. Big ones and they gnawed at me.
Fast forward four years and my ex and I had separated. I was living alone and struggling to find new purpose after my infertility diagnosis. The day my ex and I made the decision to get lawyers involved and start the divorce process, I decided to hike to Everest Base Camp (EBC). I had legit wanted to for a few years but it had never been like the itch I had for Kili. I had researched costs and tour companies but never read the accounts of those who had done it. Oh, I had read about the feats of the true mountaineers, those who had climbed to the great lady’s summit. Those fearless men and women who scaled the 14 mountains around the world over 8,000m – that was inspiring and crazy! But I don’t think I had ever seriously considered I might make the trek to EBC, certainly not on my own.
But, I was bored at work (as was true of most days during this stage of my life) and thought I would suss out flights to Kathmandu. When I discovered they were on sale, with a reputable airline rather than a shady budget national carrier no one had heard of, I took it as a sign and booked on the spot. Within a day I had secured my place with a local tour company, applied for leave and was committed. It was less than five months away so, in theory, I needed to start my prep straight away. But this is me, motivation zero, so I actually didn’t start until about two months out. And that’s when AndrewNotChris reappeared on the scene.
AndrewNotChris told me on our first date (see My name is ChrisNotChris) that one of the reasons he was attracted to me was because I was planning to trek EBC. He said it jumped out of my bio on POF and said a lot about me. On many occasions he said he was in awe of me and the fact that I wanted to climb it just because it was there. Knowing what I do now, maybe this was just more of his bullshit, but part of me does know he meant it.
Terrible Tuesday and Shit Sunday had come and gone. I knew everything about him now, all the lies and the half-truths and still I couldn’t keep him out of my life. When I confided that I was worried about my EBC training, he jumped at the opportunity to help me. With 52 days to go until I flew to Nepal, he put together training plans and schedules but most importantly, he asked me to identify what my motivations were.
This was much harder than I had thought it would be. Was it me trying to do-over Kili? Was I trying to prove I could do something on my own? Was I just looking for another distraction in my life? (This was closer to the truth than I realised at the time).
I know that I had been left disappointed by my Kili experience and I wanted that “Oh what a feeling!” Toyota moment. I wanted to stand in front of the rock cairn at EBC, arms wide and high above my head and look happy. I wanted to get there under my own steam, without having to be physically supported by my guide. I wanted to feel proud, like I had left everything on that mountain.
I had never travelled on my own. I had flown on my own, but always I was meeting people at the destination. This would be true solo travel in the sense that I was flying and hiking knowing no one. Sure, I was booked with a company, which as it turned out only had one other client, but they were a stranger to me. This seemed more important to me now that I was getting a divorce. I wanted to know that I could do this, like a grown-up.
Since I was 14, I had been single for a grand total of six months, prior to my separation from my ex. I had spent almost my entire adult life as one half of a partnership. I wasn’t scared to be alone, and in fact I was loving having an entire bed to myself these days, but I did need to know if I could truly be happy with my own company. A foreign country is the best test of this, because there is no one to turn to when you get lonely.
In light of my Kili experience, I was exceptionally worried about how I would cope on EBC. On Kili, I cried all the time. I crumpled at the first sign of struggle. I was weak. I was terribly vulnerable to physical and mental pain. This was a huge concern for me. I was on medication now and had been receiving regular treatment for my depression and part of me was curious how I would cope, given this influence on my psyche.
Most of all, I wanted to be able to feel. I wanted to be awed by the landscape and the people. I wanted to taste my food and remember the cold, sleepless nights as being part of the journey and how enchanted I was by the sight of snow. Being able to feel was critical. It’s what I had been missing for so many years.
And despite everything he had done to hurt me, AndrewNotChris knew me well enough to understand that. He knew how important this was to me and he set out to help me. His encouragement and excitement were infectious. Before I confided my concerns to him, I was still in the blah stage about my upcoming trip. He changed all of that.
We went on training walks together, which may have ended with us fucking on a rock platform somewhere between the Spit and Manly, or a blowjob in a car park by the beach, but he made sure I was getting out and training. We talked incessantly, hardly pausing for breath, as the kilometres flew by beneath our feet. I was feeling fitter and healthier than I had in years and most of all, motivated. There were still doubts in my mind about whether or not I would make it, but part of me was OK with that. I knew it would be different this time. I was ready as I could be.