One of my favourite things about preparing for my trip has been when people ask if I’m doing anything nice for Christmas, and I’ve been able to reply nonchalantly: “Well, nothing special really, I’m just going trekking to Everest Base Camp.” But the funny thing is how many people have misheard it as “Everest Space Camp”. Every time, there then follows a conversation reminiscent of a Two Ronnies sketch. “Wow, that’s amazing, what are you doing there?” “Well, just going there and back, and climbing a few peaks along the way.” “Do you need special equipment?” “No, not really, just the usual.” “What, like a helmet and so on?” “Err no, it’s not that dangerous, not like going to the top.” Several minutes later, somewhere the penny has dropped that I’m not going to a space station in Nepal, and their odd questions have made a bit more sense. The only trouble is, I then feel as if I’ve rather disappointed them by not becoming an astronaut.
But of course, the reason I’m going has nothing to do with anyone else. This is the annual two weeks in my life when I can stop worrying about work, friends, family, what hot topic is on the news today, whether my bum looks big in that dress and what to cook for dinner. I turn off all contact with the outside world, leave my computers at home, switch my phone off for the entire holiday as soon as I get on the plane, and barely wash for 2 weeks, let alone worry about whether I’m having a bad hair day. Not that I ever really worry about my hair or whether my bum looks big, especially since my hair has looked pretty much the same every day for the last 20 years. Oh, and the reason I don’t wash for 2 weeks is only because there are no washing facilities, not because I find it liberating to go without a shower.
Of course, that doesn’t stop me stressing before I go away: last minute work deadlines, packing and baggage limits. I thought I was being very chilled by not even really thinking about packing until 48 hours before I left, knowing that I had all the kit I needed, and just needed to pick up a few toiletries and so on. When I started packing, however, I kept an eye on the weight of my kitbag, and was rather horrified to find it was over 10kg (the maximum weight allowance for the internal flight from Kathmandu to Lukla) before I’d got anywhere near filling it. I was awake half the night trying to work out what items I could take out, but kept coming back to the conclusion that cutting down on a few items of clothing was the only thing I could sacrifice, but wouldn’t help much with the weight. Being diabetic is a real pain when it comes to weight limits, as you need a lot of extra kit. For 12 days on trek, I’ve packed 6 insulin pump infusion sets, 3 insulin reservoirs, 6 tubes of glucose tablets, a big bag of jelly babies, 2 bottles of short-acting insulin, 2 cartridges of emergency long-acting insulin, a blood glucose meter and 150 strips, a spare meter and pack of 50 strips for that, and 4 emergency syringes. Plus spare batteries for the insulin pump and meters, and some alcohol wipes. And that’s about the minimum I think I can get away with. Then in the middle of the night, I remembered that people often get stuck in Lukla for a few extra days due to the weather conditions, and wondered if I should pack a few more emergency medical items in case. This evening, I determined to unpack everything and repack it to see what I could leave out. On weighing the bag again, I realised my mistake. I’d been looking at pounds instead of kilograms on the scale! No wonder I’d been panicking about weight! So crisis over – it’ll still be tight on weight, but I should be able to manage, and might even have room for the odd cereal bar. I’m also much more organised than on previous treks, where I’ve ended up spending half of the first night at the base hotel sorting through all my pack and determining what to take and what to leave at base. This time I’vc separated everything ready, from dividing up my clothes, tablets, diabetic supplies, and even the toiletries I’ll take on trek and those I’ll only use in the hotel. I’ve even divided my loo roll into two bags – one for my daypack, and one for my main kitbag to be used in the huts. Incidentally, I must share with you my favourite loo roll packing trick. It’s silly to travel with a normal loo roll, as the hole in the middle takes up space, and it’s also hard to split a loo roll into sections if you don’t want to carry around the whole thing (and who wants a whole loo roll in your daypack?). Fear not, I have the perfect solution. Squash the loo roll as hard as you can until it’s flat, then grab an edge of the cardboard tube, squeeze it between your fingers, and gradually edge it out of the loo roll. What then happens is genius – when the cardboard is gone, you’re able to get your hand into the gap and pull out and break off a wodge of however much you want in a section, without having to unwind and rewind it. Serioously clever. And it then fits in a ziplock bag perfectly which is very important. as at some point you’re guaranteed to drop the whole thing on a wet floor.
How did I get onto the subject of toilets again? Right, I promise not to talk about them any more. Except to say that I still haven’t mastered the art of peeing in a Nalgene bottle, and I’m wondering whether I should practise before I go just in case it comes in handy. Hmm, a bit late now. But in some sense, this brings me back to the original point. For me, it’s absolutely critical to have a time like this to switch off from all the things that I normally spend my time worrying about, and instead consider the pros and cons of yak dung, long drops and seeing how many words of Nepalese I can learn.
And finally, back to a topic I’ve visited before. For me, trips like this are challenging, both physically because of my (lack of) sight and my various health conditions, but also mentally. I’m going with a bunch of strangers, to whom I shall have to reveal many personal details, not to mention putting my trust in a Nepalese mountain guide who might never have come across any of my medical conditions, and who’s most likely never taken a registered blind person on a trip, without anyone accompanying her. And I will have to rely on this person in an emergency. I have to trust that people will help me at night when it’s dark and I can’t get safely around the camp. That people will remember that I can’t see very far, and help me not to get lost, or just attempt to do the myriad things that my friends are used to helping me out with, that people will understand how challenging even simple things can be for me sometimes. And I have to try not to care when something embarrassing happens as a result, or if someone doesn’t understand, or if I trip on something I didn’t see, and get injured. Or even if people just hate me because I sometimes have boundless energy, because I always have an opinion on everything, and because I can be quite intolerant of people who annoy me. These kind of trips are an opportunity to take a good look at yourself, to push the boundaries if that’s what you want to do, and even to try out different personalities (more on that another time). And for me, the chance to do the things I want to do, regardless of what other people think. Or perhaps in spite of what they think.
- 3 weeks till Everest (expandyourlimits.wordpress.com)