Oct. 7, 2008
OXFORD, Ohio - During the summer two Miami softball players got a unique education in the world when they participated in study abroad programs. Recent RedHawk graduate Natalie Savona spent a couple weeks in Nepal trekking through the Himalayas, while senior Ashley Gartland spent time studying in Dublin, Ireland. What follows is Natalie's story in her own words. Check back Thursday for Ashley's report.
How to describe an experience of a life time:
A few weeks after coming back to school for my final year at Miami, my eyes fell upon a study abroad poster and wouldn't detach. Finally, after memorizing the photos and details I walked away, but there were two embolden words that wouldn't leave my head: Mt. Everest. Whatever attracts anyone to the highest mountain in the world had caught hold of me. I knew at once that this was going to be my trip. The trip consisted of trekking through the Himalayas and peaking at the first base camp of Mt. Everest. After growing up with softball and other sports being my primary adventures, I was ready to take this on.
On May 16, 2008, I arrived in Kathmandu, it was late in the evening (or early in the morning), whatever it was I was completely out of it from the 13 hour flight and utterly dazed by the fact that I was on the other side of the world and about to embark on the coolest thing I had done thus far with my life. But before any trekking began we spent a couple of days in Kathmandu. After growing up outside of New York City most of my life, I was convinced there were few places could equal its craziness. Kathmandu is its parallel rival. Throughout the city you can take in one breath and be overwhelmed with the smell of gasoline fumes, roasted goat and chicken, feces and hashish. That is the perfume of Kathmandu. I witnessed entire families riding on motorcycles. There were hundreds of vendors with stores filled with climbing gear, jewelry, prayer flags, or carved Buddha's. As you walk the dusty, filthy streets, at the sight of you, children would run at you to begin their incessant begging. It was extremely disheartening to see the intense poverty that strangles Kathmandu, but for some reason I felt complete admiration for the Nepalese people who live so close to such beauty that hardly anything I've seen in the states can compare to.
To get to the base of the trek we had to take a small 15 passenger plane through the mountains. By far the scariest, but most thrilling flight I've ever been on. After 30 gut-wrenching minutes we landed in Lukla - the first village of our trip. Stepping off the plane I got what I consider my first true view of the Himalayas. How could I have ever expected what I was laying eyes on? Distant Himalayan giants and rolling mountains covered in intense greenery. The clouds seemed much closer than ever before. Every day of the trek was filled with this beauty. While trekking I was usually looking down, watching the trail closely so that I wouldn't trip over a rock and roll for five minutes down the side of a mountain. After I realized how lost I had been in thought while watching my steps I would look up and be completely knocked back into reality by the view. For two and a half weeks most days consisted of: waking up around 6:30am to the sound of our Sherpa knocking on our door with hot tea in hand, then some breakfast (usually an egg of some form that I could never choke down, maybe some corn flakes or granola and toast) and a daily blood oxygen level and heart rate reading to see how our bodies were responding to the altitude. We were usually trekking by 7:30 a.m. and would go until tea time around 9:30. Lunch would come around noon where we would stop in a village and our Sherpa, who would lug around all the food and cooking necessities, would unpack and make us some lunch that was usually accompanied by potatoes and rice.
The People: The Nepali people are so incredibly beautiful, strong, compassionate and loyal. Every day they would haul all our bags and necessities for the expedition to our next lodging village. With the help of the 4 yak we had, they would carry on their backs all of our stuff in baskets packed taller than they were(and probably weighing twice as much). Not only could they carry all that weight on their back and climb faster than we could with only day packs on, but most of them did it wearing sandals or regular sneakers. It was unbelievable. After being introduced to all of the Sherpa (there was about 30 on our expedition), I felt an immediate sense of care and warmth from and for them. Throughout the expedition they were always ready to help us in any way they could. Their concern about our well being at all times was extraordinary. While they could definitely understand more English than they could speak, I didn't find it too difficult to convey anything to them. Their constant smiling and dedication to our expedition is what made the trip.
The Food: Transitioning to the food was not an easy feat. In the morning, it was impossible for me to eat the eggs they would usually cook. Breakfast might also include oats, cornflakes, toast or "Sherpa pancakes." Lunch might be rice, some form of potatoes, a vegetable, cheese sandwich or spam. Rice and potatoes were served 1-2 times every day and by the end of the trip the sight of them made me want to vomit. I wouldn't say the food was good and most of it I couldn't even touch. There was one point during the trip when I had caught a cold after having worn just shorts in a snow storm and then staying soaked and cold for a couple of hours. But for the first time on the trip I was able to eat everything because I had lost my sense of taste. Also, the altitude absolutely affected my appetite considering as we got to higher altitudes, my appetite declined. I was definitely hooked on the tea they would serve though. Every morning we were awakened around 6 by the knocking on the door by two of our Sherpa yelling "Tea!" Stepping out of my nice warm sleeping bag and drinking cup of warm tea before having to put on my damp trekking clothes was an incredibly good feeling.
The Lodging: When I imagined parts of the trip, I thought that we would be sleeping in tents throughout the trek, but that was not the case. In every village we slept in a lodge. It was such a good feeling at the end of a day's trek to get to the lodge, kick off my boots and just sit down in the common room, talk to every one, play cards, watch a cloud roll in, write in my journal, read or just sit and watch the vibe of the room. And every so often it was nice to just look out of the window and see the sun setting over the Himalayas and try to take in that I was on the coolest trip of my life. One particular lodge we stayed in belonged to the mountaineer, (Apa Sherpa) who holds the world record for number of times summiting mount Everest. The night we stayed at his lodge, he was summiting Everest again for his 19th time. An autographed postcard from the lodge by Apa Sherpa is by far my favorite souvenir from the trip.
The Class/Altitude: Every morning throughout the trip we would take measurements of our blood oxygen levels and heart rate and fill out a questionnaire in order to discover the physiological perspectives of acclimatization. The main question I get asked is if I felt a lot more out of breath than at sea level, but to be honest, I didn't feel that much of a difference. There were definitely at times, mainly just before falling asleep that I would feel a sharp shortness of breath.
The soaring point of the trip was reaching our highest point at 18,000 feet. For about two hours straight we walked up this incline that felt like 90 degrees. It was so grueling that I found myself counting every one hundred steps and then resting. When we reached the top we had the clearest view of Everest's summit and I swear I can replay the whole time we spent on that summit in my head second by second.
The very next day we walked along the Khumbu ice fall to Everest base camp. Since the monsoon was coming in soon, there weren't very many climbers left, but it was still an amazing sight. While I was there I couldn't help but wonder if I would ever come back... and if I did come back would it be to summit. Since the trip, I wrestle with that idea every day! There is so much that isn't in your control that makes me so apprehensive. But the feeling and the sense of triumph that I got from just setting foot at base camp tries to override my feelings of hesitation.
Another part of the trek that I can't leave out is when we reached the Gokyo Lakes. There are five of these lakes in the Himalayas, and we were able to lay eyes on four of them. These lakes are the most amazing blue - definitely a color that is exclusively meant for those five lakes. But the most amazing part about these lakes is that their depth is thousands of meters. Oh, and golden ducks swim in these lakes. Cool.
After two and a half weeks of trekking, our trip took an unexpected change when we found out we weren't going to Tibet any longer. Instead, we would be spending five days on an island off Thailand. While I would have been psyched to go to Tibet, I felt no disappointment heading off to an island. I stayed on the beach or by the pool all day, explored the island, went on several boat trips and ate amazing food. It was a serious contrast from the trek.
I know I haven't fully grasped the experience that I had, and I'm not sure if I ever will, but not a day goes by that I don't think about how awesome it was. But something I can grasp is that it wouldn't have been possible without my parents. I was able to take this adventure because of them and I know I could never show how much gratitude they deserve for what they allowed me to experience.