I went to Nepal with a New Zealand company with which I had done trips before: Active Adventures. There were six of us in my group, plus two guides – one Kiwi/Maori and one Nepalese (and four porters – who were always well ahead of us, despite their loads).
Some of us were more fit than others. Some of us were younger than others. I was an other, not an us, on both accounts. The first day of the trek was a little rough for me. My primary thought: I should have taken training for this a lot more seriously. The terrain was mostly steep up and steep down (and then up and down again) on hand-hewed stone steps (uneven surfaces, uneven heights – I’m guessing over 100,000 of them all told) or on rocky, root-strewn forest trail.
It was humid at the lower elevations and I’m not used to that. So the strenuous first-day uphills meant lots of sweating. After half a day of this, we had to rather quickly step up out of the way of a donkey train (the method for moving goods at the lower the elevations). As I stepped up off the track to let them pass, I got an intense charley-horse in both of my hip flexors, from knee to groin. The definition of OWWWWW. I had to consciously relax them. The muscle cramps subsided soon enough and I moved on (one guide took my day-pack, which helped). I had experienced this once before, years ago after a strenuous hike without enough water, so I knew it was continuous use coupled with a bit of dehydration from all that sweating.
That evening, after arrival at our tea house, settling in a bit and downing an electrolyte packet and lots of water, I had to watch how I moved so as not to set off the charley-horses again. Worrisome, but so far so good. But as I lay in my sleeping bag after dinner, ready for sleep, I start to shiver – although I wasn’t cold. My mind raced – “What was I thinking? Can I do this? Maybe I should turn around.” And I couldn’t stop – till I realized that the shivering was probably a physical manifestation of anxiety and I had to consciously corral my thoughts and attitude or I’d be quaking all night. So I switched to deep breaths and: “I’ll make it to Chhomrong (which was an actual small village more on the main track and our next destination) and then I can go back down if I have to. In the morning, I’ll talk to DK (our competent, patient and experienced guide). We’ll figure out options. It will be alright. I will be alright. It. Will. Be. Alright.” And it was. I calmed down and when I woke up I was fine. Physically and emotionally.
Although the relentless up and down and stone steps never stopped … neither did I. It never got easy, but I gradually got into the rhythm of hiking six or so hours a day - about 2 hours at a time (we stopped for morning tea breaks and for lunch): Breath deep (especially as elevation increases), drink water, keep moving forward … slow but steady. It is cliché to say, but now I know what Lance Armstrong meant when he said: It’s not about the bike. Now I see: It’s about the psych. I’ve never experienced that so poignantly. THAT will stick with me. As will the melodic sound of the donkey trains. And I have a (hopefully temporary) aversion to stairs.