What goes up, must come down, so after achieving our goal of reaching the Everest Base Camp, it was time for the long trek back down to Lukla and then Katmandu. Our route back tracked our route up. We hiked five hours to Periche where we would stay overnight and retrace our steps back to Lukla. It’s a slow trek down to avoid injury and because it’s the final opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of this place. I used these days to reflect on the trek. I focused on what I learned, how I can integrate this knowledge into my life and also how I can share it with other members of the Spiritual Adrenaline community
Smoking & Recovery: I am proud to report my lungs functioned amazingly during the trek. I had no issues getting up steep inclines and hiking through difficult terrain, often times in exceptionally cold weather. After five years smoke free, my lungs functioned exceptionally well and past the “Everest Base Camp Test”. I remember when I was trying to quit smoking, reading materials that explained how lung function improves after one year, two years, three years, etc. I am proud to report that what I read back then has come true for me. My lungs have the capacity to heal and they have. The good news for people in recovery is this is also true for the heart, liver and kidneys. Cutting off toxins and integrating a healthy lifestyle can aid healing in the lungs and other critical organs. Throughout the trek, all the way from Lukla to Everest Base Camp, cigarette butts littered the pristine natural beauty of the trail. Tourists, porters and Sherpa’s alike smoked to get their fix and more often than not, threw their butts on the ground, contaminating the very natural beauty which drives the mountain economy. Like any addict, the only thing smokers care about is getting their fix. The damage to their health and the majestic beauty of the mountain country in Nepal matters not. The only thing that matters is getting their fix. I am glad I did not contribute to the cigarette butts littering the trail. I could not have completed this trek if I still smoked. I’m glad I quit and did not contribute to the destruction of the natural beauty of the Everest region. If you are trying to quit, visit our smoking cessation page at spiritualadrenqline.com.
The Benefits of Community: This trek was challenging for two reasons. First, we trekked more than thirty miles over some really tough terrain. A couple of days we trekked for hours at a time up steep mountain passes with inclines exceeding forty-five or fifty degrees. Second, the weather was 20 degrees Fahrenheit or thereabouts during the day and as cold as -10 to -20 Fahrenheit at night with the wind-chill. Dealing with the cold became a major emotional challenge that at times exceeded the challenge of the actual trek. I don’t think I would have continued up without the support of my five fellow trekkers. I raised the issue at breakfast one morning and they all confirmed the same was true for them. There is a power in being part of a community, whether it be a group fitness class at the gym, your home group, a class or club at an educational institutes or group therapy, that make challenging and sometimes down right unpleasant situations more palatable. Research has confirmed that people are far more likely to continue to participate in activities when they are part of a group. I think it’s fair to say I would have turned around and headed back to a warmer environment had I not been part of a group of trekkers. The same is true for my recovery. If I hadn’t had an amazing sponsor and home group in my first year, I am not sure if I would have hung around and succeeded. In so many ways, being “part of” increases the chances of success in so many areas of life.
Life Off the Grid: A wonderful part of this trip was living off the grid for almost two weeks. By “off the grid” I mean no access to cell communication, Wi-Fi or any other type of social media. Given the demands constantly placed on me (I bet you can relate), I am rarely present in the “now”. I am multi-tasking, constantly receiving texts and messages on my social media sites. So even if my body is present, my mind is often not. It’s off in other places thinking about other things. It took me three days to fully “withdraw” from the toxic effects of my electronic devices and social media. Once I did, I felt a profound sense of happiness. I am actually in Nepal, without any outside people, places or things to obstruct connecting with the Nepalese people, my fellow trekkers, and nature. My anxiety went away, I feel so “one” with the people and my surroundings. I truly feel like I am living, rather than trying keep up with the demands being placed on me by others back in New York. Working is not living: It took me almost fifty years to learn that. For most of the last two weeks, I’ve truly been alive.
Gratitude for the Little Things: One thing that becomes unmistakable in Katmandu, and even more I the mountain culture is how difficult life is here for the average person. This is not unique and true in many developing counties. However, up above the clouds in the mountain country of Nepal, it smacks you right in the face. People carry heavy loads of goods on narrow mountain passes for miles and miles for the equivalent of $1.50 a day. Women wash cloths in mountain steams barefoot in high elevation. Most live without running water and heat even though temperatures can -20 with wind-chill at night. Whenever I return from a trip like this, it grounds me and reminds me that on my worst day in New York City, I live in better conditions than so many people around the world. It reminds me to stop bitching in the morning when a train is late, or a waiter takes to long to deliver my food at a restaurant. It reminds me to stay in gratitude for all the blessings I have been given. This trek reinforced that I have no excuse but to maintain an attitude of gratitude for how fortunate I am.
Comfort Zone: This trek has been hard. Many times I considered turning back. Waking up in the freezing cold was jarring. Endless hours of trekking up steep inclines, sucks no matter how beautiful the surroundings. However, as the days passed and I successfully cleared physical and emotional hurdles, the sense of accomplishment pushed me to continue on. I developed an attitude of gratitude for my recovery program, my lungs which have been restored to health, and all the other blessings in my life. Accomplishing positive things can, in and of itself, become addictive. Addictive in a good way! It makes me want to challenge myself and push myself further. I am not looking to hide in what I know and makes me comfortable, but rather to learn new things and continue to grow, even if it makes me uncomfortable. That’s where life and recovery begins. Think about this: If you weren’t willing to step out of your comfort zone, you would have never stopped using drugs and alcohol? Probably not! So you’ve done it before and benefitted with a whole new lease on life. Why not try it again, in sobriety, and see where it takes you? That’s my attitude about life. When I step out of my comfort zone, even if it doesn’t take me where I want to go, it takes me where I need to be.
The Power of Nature: I was born, raised and live in the concrete jungle of New York City. It’s a place I love but also a place that makes me feel disconnected from nature and the natural rhythm of things. For the last two weeks I’ve been almost completely disconnected from the concrete jungle I know and have been almost exclusively surrounded by nature. Not just nature, but probably the most majestic and grand natural preserve in the world: Sagamartha National Park! which includes the Everest region, in Nepal. I was not only surrounded by nature but lived within its rules and in concert with its rhythms. I awoke when the sun came up, went to bed when it set, hiked during daylight and avoided trekking at night given how dangerous it is in the dark. I ate primarily foods gleaned from the land or animals that can live at high altitude, for example “yaks”. I lived as one with nature rather then apart. It took me back to my instinctual roots. I feel like this is how I was meant to live. Most of the time, I am in a city with de minimus green spaces, where most of the social events happen after dark and most things I eat have no connection to my local community. Although I love where I live, I’ve felt much less stress and anxiety living within the natural cycle of things. It’s made me start thinking about how I can make changes to my lifestyle back home to try and keep a closer connection to nature. I think it’s easier to stay sober when you live within the natural cycle of things rather than an environment where man manipulates nature.
Active Sober Lifestyle: I could have gone to a beach resort as my vacation. At various times during the trek I wished I had. However, for all the reasons I already shared, this trek was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. Whether I went to a beach resort or on the trek, I think it’s critical to vacation in a manner consistent with my desire to stay sober. it’s self-defeating to put myself in a “party” like crazy environment when I purport to want to live sober. I say this because this is my second go round at sobriety. The first go round, I refused to leave the “party like crazy environment” and thought I’d be the “sober guy” surrounded by partying and all the decadence that comes with it. Guess what? I relapsed badly. However, I’ve learned from my past mistakes and now make sure to vacation in a manner consistent with my goals in sobriety and life. I place great emphasis on being surrounded by nature and by showing my gratitude where appropriate. For example, in addition to the trek I visited the spiritual birthplace of Buddha. Lastly, I try to incorporate an active sober component into the trips I take and places I go. All of theses things make it not only easier to stay sober but so much more fun. This trek has been a blessing and in some respects, life-changing in a positive way. I won’t be returning home the same as when I left. I’ve grown exponentially from my experience. Come with me on an adventure. Check out the “adventures” page at spiritualadrenaline.com.
After six days of trekking, it is becoming crystal clear that the physical challenge of hiking is taking a backseat to the mental challenge of living in freezing temperatures for days at a time. Yesterday was 19 degrees and overnight reached -15 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind-chill. The tea houses we are staying in are definitely warmer than a tent, but not heated and quite cold at night. This morning when I woke up my water bottle which was outside my sleeping bag was partially frozen. I slept with my phone, head-lamp and charging batteries in my sleeping bag as otherwise the cold would drain the batteries! If the cold can do that to electronic devices you can imagine it’s impact on the human body.
Increasingly, the challenge we face are mental rather than physical. Part of the altitude acclimation process is for the body to slowly to adjust. I’ve experienced many of the usual symptoms which include flatulence, difficulty sleeping, intense dreams, difficulty breathing (especially at night) and loss of appetite. My fellow trekkers have all experienced similar effects from altitude and cold. As someone who tries to be as respectful as possible to my body, given I abused it for so many years, trekking seems to be completely inconsistent with self-care. However, this type of short-term challenge to my physical and mental limit is a very healthy thing. It gives me the opportunity to test the limits of my abilities and pushes me further and further out of comfort zone. It’s a form of physical, mental and spiritual growth that empowers me to continue to grow as opposed to staying safely in the comfort zone I know. To me, that’s a form of death. Slowly expecting less and less from myself. That’s the opposite of growth. I am fully committed to aging optimally, rather than gracefully. To do that, I must continue to push myself.
Everyone in my group went for an acclimation climb today. I decided to stay behind and give my body a rest. My back is staring to hurt and my feet need a break from being in my hiking boots. So I decided to stay back, stretch my back with yoga poses like up and down dog, journal, tape some videos for Spiritual Adrenaline and just relax. I bring my morning spiritual reading with me. In Just for Today, my morning reading included this passage.
“We inventory our lives in great detail, and discuss our inventory with our sponsor. We ask the God of our understanding to remove our character defects, the shortcomings that are the source of our troubles. We take responsibility for the things we’ve done and make amends for them. And we incorporate all these disciplines into our daily lives, practicing these principles in all our affairs”.
I skipped the acclimation climb today to have a “me” day full of introspection. The reading this morning brought a smile to my face as I believe it’s a message from my higher power confirming my choice for today was the right one. It’s my higher power’s way of signaling his or her approval. I’ll put the day to good use and be ready for the tough days to come.
Today wake up at 13,500 feet and trek to Pheriche at 14,600.
It was a beautiful morning once again. My trek took us past yak farms and that’s about it. I didn’t see much else except stunning views of snow-capped mountains and an increasingly spartan landscape. The entire morning, I enjoyed the roar of the Dudhkosi river below me. A fierce and beautiful river that roars very loudly. I could hear the roar all the way up where we were trekking and I’ll bet up to the top of the mountains as well. It’s a beautiful sound to hear as you slowly make your way along narrow mountain trails on the way to Pheriche.
What starts to set in as I made my way along the narrow mountain trails was just how far away from civilization I truly am. This place is like being on a whole different planet. I was aware there were small mountain villages up here but not aware that such a strong mountain culture existed. There is an entire civilization here that lives completely differently from the way we do. Everything is a struggle and only achieved through hard work. Clean drinking water takes work. Heat takes work. It’s impossible for me not to reflect on just how much I take for granted.
Another thing that becomes crystal clear is just how far off the grid I truly am. There’s almost no cellular service and minimal Wi-Fi. If you want to get online, you have to pay for the privilege. For the first time in a really long time, I feel completely present right here and now. I’ve got no email to check, no texts, no social media just the present. It’s an awesome thing, but in some way scary thing, to be in the here and now. For me, it’s an opportunity to turn completely introspective. Tomorrow is a rest day and I plan to inventory where I am in my life, both in positive ways but more importantly in areas where I need to improvement and prepare a gratitude list. I will also do a detailed tenth-step inventory.
Waking up in Tashinga was an experience. When we arrived at this small village the evening haze blocked the view. The weather here is pretty consistent with clear morning skies and overcast and foggy afternoons and late evenings. After waking up I went outside to check out the scenery and my jaw literally dropped. In each direction you could see tall snow-capped mountains. The view was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I am not exaggerating when I say the view brought tears to my eyes. This is what I came to see! I felt so alive and excited to get back out and trek higher. Like any addict or alcoholic, one gorgeous mountain vista is not enough: I want more. I want to go higher, see bigger mountains and more of them. I just finished my morning spiritual program, reading Just for Today and Daily Reflections. So I tell myself easy does it. Pace yourself. Stop chasing more and enjoy what is! Stay in the present and breath deep.
Today we wake up at 11,500 feet and when we arrive at our destination, Pongboche, we will be at 13,500. Off we go….
We hiked for two hours on a forty-five-degree angle straight up. Right at the beginning of our trek we came to a suspension bridge. Not as high or as long as some of the others we encountered. Having gone over so many yesterday, I took Deep breath, said to myself “fear is not my friend” and “fear is not a fact”. I kept my eyes on the other side and made my way across. It was a little less challenging than the day before. When you confront fear, it loses its power.
Our two hour forty-five-degree incline climb was hard. To say this was a challenging is an understatement. There were a couple of times I thought my heart might pop out of my chest it was pounded so hard. I needed a lot of breaks as did everyone in our group. Once again each of us was supportive of one another and slowly but surely we arrived in Tambuche.
Tambuche is the location of a stunning Buddhist Monastery with a breathtaking view of the valley, including Mount Everest. No matter what direction you turn, snow-capped mountains take your breath away. You can see a number of peaks, including Themacrku, Khonde, Amadablam and of course Everest. The place has a surreal and almost magical feeling to it which is hard to explain. Prayers have been carved into rocks all around the town and prayer flags also adorn the hilltops. I will never forget the beauty and peacefulness of this place. I will also never forget how it sits so perfectly in the valley and seems like it belongs there. As if it was meant to be by the design of some higher power.
After Tambuche, we began another two hour hike up to our final destination of Pangboche. I think it’s worth pointing out that we don’t just go higher, but drop down hundreds or thousands of feet and then have to re-climb back up to the altitude where we started before going higher. We have to follow the natural contours and that means often going down and then back up. Both the morning and afternoon hikes took us way down in altitude before we began our ascent. It’s frustrating but part of the trek and everyone has to do it and you kind of get used to it.
When we arrive in Pangboche, the skies are still somewhat clear but clouds have rolled in. The clouds give the mountains an eerie, almost ominous feeling. The landscape becomes so much more dramatic when the clouds role in. On our hike up, we passed massive prayer rocks high up the cliff face. We passed rolling fields with mountain yaks grazing, lots of Sherpa’s carrying heavy loads up to the villages in the higher altitudes and of course fellow trekkers.
Our tea house for tonight is the Everest View Lodge. True to it’s name, we have a view of the summit of Mount Everest with the snow and wind blowing flares of snow off of the summit. As we go higher, the tea houses become increasingly basic and quite cold. Not like sleeping in a tent kind of cold but all the luxuries from lower on the mountain are slowly disappearing, Aside from the cold given the building has no insulation, the lights flicker on and off. As I laid in my bed, I started to realize that this altitude isn’t really meant for people. We as humans are able to master nature to some extent, but up here nature is showing us who the boss truly is. It’s not us! By recognizing nature is in charge, I avoid the mistake of my ego not showing nature and the mountains the respect they deserve. Mountains show no mercy! So it’s good for me to remember this and keep my ego in check as we begin our final days of trekking into much higher altitudes.
For most people trekking to the Mount Everest Basecamp, the journey begins in Katmandu. The City is ancient and full of rolling alley ways with restaurants, bars and all other kinds of shops. The tourist district, known as Thamel, is in the center of the city and is party central. It’s full of trekkers and an odd assortment of other tourists looking to party hard. Many of the trekkers get totally wasted given this is their last chance before beginning their trek. Although I don’t drink, I wanted to “experience” the scene so I went to two well-known bars, Buddha Bar and Purple Haze. I’ve got to tell you, the Thamel scene rocks!
I had a really good time and met people from all over the world. The only problem is drinking and altitude don’t mix. The next morning I saw many of the same people at the domestic air terminal waiting for flights to the mountain region and other parts of Nepal. Their bloodshot eyes and faint look told the story of their night (or nights) out in Katmandu. If you are looking for an alcohol free activity, high-altitude hiking or mountain climbing is for you. Given the pressure on the body in high altitude and diminished oxygen, even small amounts of alcohol results in hospitalization. Hopefully the partiers got it out of their system. Last night didn’t look like so much fun this morning. I remember those mornings very well, hungover and totally miserable. Seeing some of the same people from the last night at the airport made me grateful I no longer drink! I woke up rested and ready to trek for the next two weeks.
The scene at the airport was what one should expect at a domestic terminal in a very poor third-world country. The place was packed, flights oversold and the atmosphere pretty chaotic. We arrived at the airport at 9 a.m. for our 10 a.m. flight to Lukla. At 2:30 p.m., we are informed that we may not be able to get a flight today as all the flights are overbooked and one of two planes to our destination is out of service.
That’s how it is in Nepal, your flight may or may not happen. It gets worse though as we are then told the airline has oversold flights for tomorrow as well (starting to see a pattern here 😂) and even if we come back tomorrow morning and wait again all day, we may not be able to actually get on a plane. That’s when our guide recommends we hire a helicopter. It only costs $400.00 a person. Only $400.00 a person! It’s either that or drive all night for approximately ten hours over unpaved mountain roads to Lukla. What would you do? So we hired a helicopter. The only thing worse than dealing with this crazy third-world bullshit is doing it with a hangover. I am once again reminded of how fortunate I am to have stopped drinking. As no helicopters were available, we headed back into Katmandu for the night. The day challenged my patience but reconfirmed the benefits of meditative practice based upon Buddhist principles. I never blew a gasket, never got the urge to drink or smoke, and took deep breaths in and out with the out breath symbolizing my agitation and the in breath symbolizing patience and loving kindness.
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