Indian Garden to South Rim
We woke at 3:30 a.m. on the final day of our hike with the goal of getting started by 4:30 a.m., to beat the sun and allow some hikers who were having trouble more time to ascend. I packed up my tent and camp for the final time and was excited to embrace the challenge this day would bring. I said my final goodbye to Indian Garden and The Plateau and silently thanked this place for hosting me for the previous night. I recognized the privilege I had been given as I embarked on the last major portion of the hike. I decided to break with my group for the day and challenge myself to ascend as fast as possible. I still have a heavy load of about fifty-pounds in my backpack. However, I want to see just how hard I could push my heart and lungs and what they are capable of.
The final ascent was harder than I anticipated. I had seen many-out-of-shape day hikers come down into Indian Garden and then head back up and thought to myself if they can do, it must be a piece of cake. However, I hadn’t realized I saw them after they came down, not after they went back up. The ascent is a consistent incline and continues all the way up. I pushed myself and continued to motor up. As we started out so early, I did not pass any other hikers who were on their way up. I also didn’t pass many hikers who were on their way down until I was almost all the way to the South Rim. I felt amazing! My body was still able to perform after four days to rigorous activity. I could feel my heart pounding. I thought to myself how blessed I am to have a heart capable of such physical activity at the ripe old age of 51. My lungs never failed me and I kept breathing deep, in an out, without any wheezing like eight years ago. I kept thinking to myself how miraculous the body truly is and how it can heal itself with self-care and time.
This got me going on a full-body mediation. I started with my toes and made my way all the way to my head. As I hiked up the switchbacks, I tried to pay close attention to how each body-part felt, the work each was doing to help me ascend and to identify the other parts of my body that were working together to make all of this possible. For example, I really focused on my how my calf, quadriceps and hamstring muscles all worked together to permit me to lift my feet. The more attention I paid, the more I realized that each-and-every-step is a miracle. How each and every breath is in-and-of-itself a miracle. I was sofocused on how my body was functioning one step at a time, one breath at a time, that when I looked up, I was almost at the South Rim. Hours had seemingly turned into minutes and I was very close to my goal. Just as I was about to reach the South Rim, a young man who I gotten to know over the last couple of days of passed me and said: “Ha, ha, I’m going to beat you up!” I was so impressed by the fact that he beat me, I bought him breakfast. Turns out, he is also in recovery. His drug of choice was crystal meth and he has been sober for two years. I then met his Dad, sister and nephew who were hiking with him. His Dad had twenty-years in recovery from alcohol. I thought to myself, what a small world. I also thought to myself, miracles are all around us if we chose to recognize them. I have seen so many miracles over the last eight-years and know that by continuing to live the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle, I will be blessed to see many, many more.
My Final Gratitude List and Reflections
As we drove back to Flagstaff, my brain was overwhelmed by the sensory overload that is the Grand Canyon. It’s a lot to take in and I think it will take me a long-time to truly digest all of what I experienced over the last four days. I am grateful for being in the natural splendor of the Canyon, which reaffirmed my belief in a higher power. I am grateful for the people I met in the Canyon and shared the journey with. I met a father and son who were hiking together and enjoying an experience that neither would ever forget. I could sense their love for one another and that each recognized the opportunity to share this experience together as something incredibly special. I’d have given anything to have the same experience with my Dad, who passed away fifteen-years ago. In a way, watching the two of them allowed me to imagine what it would have been like for me to have been able to do this with my Dad. This was a very special and unexpected gift.
I watched members of my small group struggle to get through each of the days but never quit. I watched as things got tougher and we all supported one another. What became important was not that Imake it to the South Rim, but that we, collectively as a group, make it to the South Rim. The power is in the collective, rather than individual experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have been of service on two days, and carried the backpack for another hiker who was struggling. I am grateful to have met other members of the recovery community along the trail. This reinforced my belief in the power of combining exercise and nutrition, a/k/aself-care, into an addiction recovery program. Also, the power of being in nature and way from the concrete and crowds of the big city. Lastly, I am grateful to no longer have my life confined to a small and unhealthy comfort zone. I’m grateful that I now recognize that life truly begins outside of my existing comfort zone.
People, places and things matter. I am grateful for all of the people, places and things, I experienced over the last four days!
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press in January 2019. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
Cottonwood to Bright Angel Camp Through “The Box”
I slept like a baby last night at the Cottonwood Campground. From inside my tent, I could see the star’s shining bright up in the unobscured night sky: It was magical. I woke very early and watched as twilight started and a blue silhouette arose above the red rock cliffs all around me. The sky turned slowly from black to blue and then the sun came up with beaming rays of pink and purple, before turning to an unobstructed blue sky over Cottonwood and the Grand Canyon.
After our grilled bacon, egg and hash brown breakfast, we packed up and set out at 6 a.m., for another day of hiking along the Bright Angel Creek. The only way I can describe the cathedral like red-rock walled canyons surrounding Bright Angel Creek is spiritual. The area is known as “The Box”. Being in The Box felt like attending a mass or sermon in a beautiful natural cathedral. I felt as if the rock canyon was speaking to me. Being here reaffirmed my belief in a power greater than myself. Some call that a higher power, others call it God and still others call that the Creator. For me, I spent many hours communing with the Creator as I made my way through this spectacular place. Towards the end of our hike, we pass the world-famous Phantom Ranch as we arrived at our next campsite: Bright Angel.
We anticipated a 90+ degree day and lots of sun. It turned out to be 106 degrees! The heat was exhausting but both Cottonwood and Bright Angel are near creeks with ice cold water. I got in the creeks as frequently as possible to avoid overheating. It’s an all-natural form of air conditioning and cooling and worked perfectly well.
I’d always heard of Phantom Ranch and was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to see it in person. The Ranch is a 1930’s retreat with cabins and dorms. The Ranch has become an icon of a bygone era. It’s like going back in time. It’s limited number of accommodations are in high demand. The only way to stay at the Ranch is to win a lottery or like us, stay at the nearby Bright Angel Campground along the creek. The camp is full of adventurous, sunburned, outdoor enthusiasts, most of whom are having the time of their lives. No alcohol is allowed in the camp-sites so the environment is not loud and crazy. The lack of alcohol also has a lot to do with the fact that you’d have to pack it in and pack it back out. Carrying alcohol adds lots of weight to your pack so you’d have to be a real alcoholic to bring a large amount with you. The Campground is peaceful and contemplative. I’d describe it as an oasis of serenity surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty.
Some in my group decided to head to the Phantom Ranch. I decided to turn in early and enjoy the relaxing sound of the creek, review my amazing photos from the day and put together my gratitude list. Here it is: I’m grateful for: the natural beauty of the red-rock canyons that mesmerized me today: my wonderful guide Julie and fellow hikers who I laughed with continuously throughout a challenging day; getting to visit Phantom Ranch, which I’ve heard so much about and never thought I’d get to see; the cool water of Bright Angel Creek that made 106 degrees bearable; my lungs which have now permitted me to hike many miles from the North Rim to Bright Angel Camp without difficulty and a fifty-pound back on my back; the twelve steps and sober activity community which has inspired me to push myself and always do more rather than less; overcoming my fear of heights and not letting fear keep me from hiking here; the absence of internet, text messages and emails that would distract me and take me out of the present; and, a willingness to live a life outside my comfort zone.
As I climb into my tent after one of the most rewarding days I’ve had in my entire life, I get excited to put self-care first. I went to bed at 7 p.m. rather than heading back to Phantom Ranch to hang out until late. I’m also excited to look for the Big Dipper through the screen on my tent and enjoy looking at all the other stars without city lights or pollution. I’m excited to wake up tomorrow which wasn’t the case when I was in active addiction. I’m truly blessed and smart enough to know it. I’ll have sweet dreams given the beaming gratitude emanating from my heart. Good night!
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.
It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m in a van heading for the northern most point in Arizona to begin my four-day, three-night, hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim. The sun is coming up over the horizon. There are no buildings or other traces of modern “civilization” for as far as the eye can see. As we enter the Navajo reservation, I cannot help but think of how blessed I am to see the beauty around me and to be getting started on this magical adventure. I am getting quite emotional as I am overcome with gratitude, for the gift of health that permits me to be here to enjoy this experience.
It was only eight years ago that I had difficulty walking a city block without wheezing. My lungs were damaged from twenty-four years of smoking and eating unhealthy foods. My lower gums were bleeding from putting cocaine on them. I had constant chest pains from the cocktail of deadly substances I ingested as well as the processed and comfort foods that comprised my active addiction diet. I was so sick in May 2011 that on the way to Conifer Park, a drug and alcohol rehab in upstate New York, I had to be taken by ambulance to the cardiac unit at Ellis Hospital near Albany. I spent two days there for observation before being released and transferred to Conifer. I stayed at Conifer for twenty-eight days. Fast forward eight years and I’m on my way to hike across the Grand Canyon. Last year I hiked to the Mount Everest Base Camp and before that to Machu Picchu, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier and other smaller mountains.
My trips to these places are called “Gratitude Trips”. When I go on vacation, I try to focus on places I’ve always wanted to go, but only talked about and never followed through. I focus on celebrating my health and embracing the recovery process: A process of health, hope and healing. My gratitude trips reinforce the radical change in my physical and mental health that happened once I let go absolutely of old ideas that led me to dark places. The lifestyle I lay out in my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Nourish & Strengthen Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press, is the plan I followed. It incorporates the twelve step into what I eat, how much I exercise and my spiritual program. I’ve learned that self-care is the opposite of active addiction. In my book, I share with you the tools that I utilized to radically transform my life and got me started on my journey. I invite you to join me for the next four days.
We arrived at the North Rim, our start point after a four hour van-ride through the Navajo reservation and rolling empty dessert hills as far as the eye can see. Fear always tries to exert itself when I am starting a hike. Fear starts to tell me “you shouldn’t go, you’re not going to make it”, “your too old for this” and “turn around before its too late”. I usedto listen to fear and believe its self-limiting message that sabotaged me on so many levels. That has changed over the last eight years. Given all that I have accomplished, I tell fear to go f*?! itself and I push on down the trail into the Grand Canyon. Fear no longer has the power it used to have. It’s been replaced by the confidence that comes from succeeding one day at a time for the last eight years. As we descend into the Canyon, the landscape looks more like the moon. The rocks and cliffs in the distance give you perspective on the millions of years it took to create this place. It’s awe inspiring no matter which way I turn. I also realize that I am not getting calls, receiving texts or emails and am totally present right here, right now. No external distractions from back home and my professional and private life to interrupt the spiritual connection I am having with nature and my creator. I have my phone in airplane mode, which I write about in Spiritual Adrenaline. To me, airplane mode is a spiritual tool that enables me to practice mindfulness. As we carefully head down seven miles into the Canyon, I focus on my breath and how my lungs feel so strong, without any wheezing. I focus on my steps and think of something I am grateful for each time I take a step. I meditate on how radically different my life would have been if I had not gotten sober. I realize I’d probably have had a stroke by now and maybe COPD. You cannot hike the Grand Canyon with an oxygen tank! These meditative practices always bring me back to my breath. My breath brings me back to gratitude.
Today’s hike was no walk in the park. It was exhausting with the sun shining and temperatures hovering around 100. The sun heats up the rocks, making the terrain even hotter and more challenging. I had high expectations for the beauty of this place. They were not only met, but exceeded, on my very first day. The color of the rocks and the vegetation come together in a kaleidoscope that had me mesmerized. The scope of the place also had me in awe. Geologists confirm that for every foot of sedimentary rock is equal to 10,000 years of earth’s history. We started at the North Rim, where the rocks are 250 million years old. We camped at Cottonwood Campground for the night, seven miles down and surrounded by rocks that are 1.7 billion years old. The scope of this place is almost impossible to comprehend.
I made a short gratitude list at the end of the day to memorialize how I was feeling. I am grateful for: my health, my sobriety: my family: my sense of adventure; friends who are wonderful and extremely giving; people in my life who inspire me and challenge me to be a better person; the amazing people who I’ve gotten to know from Spiritual Adrenaline; nature; god; and, being born in the United States.
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press. Spiritual Adrenaline is available on Amazon or at your local Barnes & Noble Store.
Dan T. is in long-term recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. In a couple of months he will be celebrating ten years sober. However, his current lifestyle prevents him from optimizing his physical health. Dan is looking to get past “the wall” he has hit and has agreed to follow the Spiritual Adrenaline program for the next six months.
One of the recommendations in my book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, before embarking on a journey of change, is to write a letter to yourself about where you are at the present time, the reasons you’ve decided to embark on your journey and what realistic goals you hope to achieve.
If like Dan, you’re looking to get past the wall holding you back, check out our blog at www.spiritualadrenalilne.com, visit our social media platforms and, pick up a copy of my book, Spiritual Adrenaline, available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.
Here’s Dan’s letter to himself incorporating his reasons for embarking on the Spiritual Adrenaline program.
I’m writing you this letter at the beginning of your program with Spiritual Adrenaline. As of today, you are 9 years, 5 months and 12 days sober. This is unbelievable. It has been an incredible ride and you truly have a life beyond your wildest dreams, just as they promised. But, as they also told you, you have the disease of more. And although life has gotten so good and the cash and prizes have come, in other ways you continue to give over to your addictive ways and character defects. Workaholism, fiances and food have often gotten the better of you. You are aware of this. You contemplate it. You talk to fellows about it. Like drinking and using, you’ve sworn you’ll change and that it will be different a million times over. As I sit and write this to you, I’ll remind you that over the past months, there has been a lot of acceptance that has grown up around these issues. Not a resignation that this is how it will always be, but more of an acknowledgment that in spite of these things, you have managed, with your higher power, to build a vibrant, full, and happy life. That is sobriety!! And it’s awesome!! But you are always thinking about what life would be like if you could tame these obsessions, the way you have drugs and alcohol.
In regards to this Challenge and dealing specifically with nutrition, relationship to food and exercise, this is something you think about on a daily basis. To the point of obsession at times. Even before getting sober, diet and exercise could be an obsession. But you’ll remember that a few years ago, when the workload was so intense, you gave yourself permission to eat whatever and whenever you wanted and to exercise whenever you could. It brought you comfort to fill yourself up with comforting food. You told yourself that when it was time, you would get back on track with consistent exercise and diet and lose the weight you gained. That has yet to happen. And right now, you are heavier than you’ve ever been and your exercise regimen is the most inconsistent it’s ever been. You aren’t wondering if you can change. You’ve done it before and you know you have it in you. The question is: How? And whether or not you can an adopt changes that will become a way of life, and not down the road put the weight back on in the midst of what turns out to be another 18+ month food bender.
What you want from this Challenge is simple. To lose 40 pounds. To have a consistent exercise regime. To feel the fantastic feeling you feel from a clean diet. To not literally feel dirty inside from eating crap and sugar. To look great in clothes…and out of them. And, at least from time to time, feel that really great feeling when someone you find physically attractive feels the same way about you. You’ve been on both sides of the equation a few times. You’ve been the overweight one in your group that friends will occasionally make a joke or two about. And you’ve had the type of health and body that have people asking about your regime.
As you read this, know that your 6-months-ago-self was excited to start this process. He’s known for a while that he had gone beyond the point of being able to do this by himself. He knew this was a win/win/win scenario and at the very least, he was going to learn a lot about himself. People are often telling you that you’re a bit hard on yourself. So remember in this Challenge, and in life, to take it easy…….but still take it!
Meet Sean S., he’s committed to follow the program in Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery for a period of six months and to share his experience with you. Here is his background and reason for accepting the Spiritual Adrenaline Challenge. Pick up a copy of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.
“I moved to the New York area 7 years ago to, among other reasons, live in a more racially/ethnically diverse environment, and to avoid ever having to drive an automobile again. With me, I carried a severe alcohol use disorder that I have had since the age of 17, but thankfully, for over 5 years now, I have been successfully in recovery from alcohol addiction.
Growing up, substance abuse wasn’t noticeably present in my family, or at least not noticeably present to me, being a child with parents that were very adept at keeping up appearances. My parents, who met when the lived in Los Angeles, later moved to Colorado where I grew up. I became painfully aware of feeling different and being uncomfortable in my own skin as a child. Living in a predominantly white town, predominantly meaning all white with the exception of my family, I stood out, and from an early age sought mental escape. I just wanted to be inside of my head where I could feel comfortably cordoned-off from the outside world. In early adolescence, before I had access to alcohol, music, specifically bands like The Cure and The Smiths, spoke to me and took me took me to a world where I belonged.
As I moved past adolescence, a time when a “normal” person seeks financial security, a mate, and an education,. I studied business media and communication, on my 1st go at higher education, and won an audition to co-host an alternative music video show on an awesome PBS affiliate in Denver in the late 90’s. I sought the things that “normals” seek, but my strongest ambitions were for escape and comfort. Alcohol provided that for me. Like seeks like, and I liked to keep the company of those who liked to escape with alcohol.
Alcohol may give, but alcohol most certainly will take away. Everything I managed after my drinking I lost. Eventually everything I managed before my drinking went away too. Recovery, as people say, is about getting those things back. IMore important, one learns in recovery to get a fulfillment and a peace in life one has never had. I am so grateful to be in recovery in New York. There is a huge community here, and so many people and resources to help.
At this moment I work for a British travel company, but my goal, my purpose, and hopefully my future life will allow me to give back all of the support and sobriety that has been given to me, and to help another person break free from addiction”.
Patricia Moreno is the author of the IntenSati Method and creator of the IntenSati movement. In this interview, she shares on experience, strength and hope with us. For more information on Patricia, visit http://www.patriciamoreno.com.
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.
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.