Saturday, November 26, 2011

Culture shock

As the three of us ran into the finish line together - Beat, me and our new Canadian friend Patrick - I absorbed the strange familiarity of the scene. Beautiful Nepali children twirled in rapid circles, world flags flapped in the breeze, and the November sun cast brilliant light on the 8,000-meter peaks towering over the valley. A race official draped a medal over my neck as an old man dabbed red paint on my forehead. We had come a long way in one week. Farther than I could yet understand.

Contrasting the celebratory scene was a memory from the night before the race began, in Camp One just outside of Pokhara. I stumbled out of my tent for the fifth time that night and sprint-shuffled to the toilet, making it just in time to experience the startling sensation of purging a nearly clear liquid out of two ends simultaneously. I have had the flu and intense food poisoning before, but I had never before been so sick to really experience what it's like to have a body reject itself. As I stumbled back to my tent, I became so weak and dizzy that I had to lay down in a rice paddy, with my head resting on a clump of grass. They sky was white with stars, surrounding a sliver moon. The snowy mass of Annapurna South seemed to glow in the starlight. "If I don't start the race tomorrow, they won't let me continue. I won't be able to see any of it. Any at all."

I don't remember much about stage one. I remember Beat coaxing me out of the tent to the starting line and force-feeding me Hi-Chew candies. I remember sucking down sips of water at the first checkpoint and gasping as I struggled to keep it down. The race volunteer looked so concerned I thought for sure they were going to pull me out of the race, if I didn't quit myself. I remember wanting to quit. I remember Beat pulling me up the first mountain by holding one of my trekking poles as I limped along behind him. I remember vomiting water and Hi-Chews right in front of two Nepali children. I remember taking stone steps one at a time between rests with the other sick back-of-packers. I remember the Annapurna skyline in the sunlight. Actually, I guess there's a lot I remember about stage one. It was a difficult challenge unlike anything I've ever taken on.

I didn't want to gut out the first stage of Racing the Planet Nepal but I did. I'm so glad I did. It was an incredible experience and as the time comes I'll have much more to say about it, and of course tons more photos. More to come.