When I first met the group of my fellow trekkers at our hotel in Kathmandu my doubts started to return. They were friendly and polite and they tried their best but I could see the surprise on their faces. I could see that I was by far the most overweight person in the group. They were all young and mostly looked fit. Their very appearance suggested that this trip to the mountains was their domain. Not mine. I had to quietly remind myself that I had climbed a lot of mountains, that I had earned the right to be here.
After a spectacular flight into the mountains, we soon set out from the small town of Lukla along the trail to Everest. On that first day, the pace of the group was fast in the mix of excitement and perhaps a subconscious need to establish a pecking order of fitness. I was soon well established at the back of the group. Fortunately, on that trek, there were two others who walked close to my pace so we were never alone.
As our altitude increased and the air grew thinner over the next few days, I learned the hard way that maintaining a slow and steady pace was vital for survival as much as enjoyment. I’d put in a burst of pace just over 4,000 meters to catch up with the main group. Suddenly the mountain began to spin and I almost passed out. By the time we reached our teahouse in Dingboche that afternoon, I was shuffling along way behind everyone.
It was during the acclimatization climb out of Dingboche the next day that I realized, despite my slow pace, that I’d earned the respect of the group. On one of the many stops, I wearily plodded up to where the group was resting. One of the fitter guys who was always at the front commented that every time he stopped for a rest I always managed to walk in before they set off again. He said I just kept coming, like the Terminator. The nickname stuck with me for the rest of that trip and the one the following year to Mera Peak.
A few days later, past the settlement of Gorakshep with only a few miles of barren rock between me and Everest Base Camp, I finally thought I would have to stop. I was completely exhausted, the main group was out of sight and there was no one around me. Every single step was followed by a stop and several deep breaths.
Suddenly a voice piped up at my shoulder, “Geez! Sean, are you alright?” It was Mel, an Aussie who lived in London, and Kumar, our main guide. Mel was fine walking at my pace and Kumar re-assured us we could make it. That was all the encouragement I needed and we were soon looking down on Everest Base Camp from the rocks at the side of the Khumbu Icefall.
Our world has a perception of overweight people. They think we are lazy, irresponsible, and impulsive, that exercise and hard work are beyond us. Yet I know we dream like everyone else. When we put that dream in front of us and push ourselves towards it we can experience exhilaration and joy. Such is the joy of walking in the mountains free from the box they put us in.