Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Interim

The cancer surgeon smiled. My scars were well healing and not too obvious two weeks after I finished radiation (MammoSite 5). Where did February go? Dr. Patterson named my new shepherd, the oncologist who would now take over the vigilance of my cancer’s aftermath, if any.

I smiled. Cheerful, never fearful, ready to change subject matter. Let’s get on with life.

An hour earlier I had dropped Jim Williams and his friend at the airport. Jim is the man to be responsible for herding me through Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan for two months (April and May.) He also pulled an aching me up the Grand Teton and other mountains with my 15 year old granddaughter in 2003.

So, I spent the weekend asking questions Jim willingly answered and introducing him to my family and trainers to give them confidence and peace about what I was about to undertake. He also prepared my laptop for the tasks ahead so I might keep up a blog and dispatches with photos, and I have to learn the ends and outs of a satellite phone and UU2. Where I’ll be going, there’s not even running water in some areas, much less electricity. I’ve ordered two extra extended batteries and an external hard drive for my laptop. I gotta be able to communicate. I switched from Verizon to AT&T’s global roaming cell phones (blackberries) since the former covers few countries, and the latter covers the world, including Nepal and Thailand.

Cancer. Trekking in strange parts of the world. Both are whatever you allow them to be. Neither is easy, but with faith in God and yourself challenges are surmountable and can be fun trying to figure out how to meet them. Even a freak blizzard in a normally modest town of winter (Memphis) posed weekend obstacles that demanded patience. Jim’s flight was cancelled, he ended up in Nashville, and arrived a day late so we miss the great party called Staxtacular, a fund raiser at Stax Museum of which various players from the Grizzlies NBA team and other corporations plus myself are sponsors. And on all of our minds is the massacre of six people and violent stabbing of three more little ones who survived, that happened on our streets last week.
It’s hard to believe this is Memphis.

It hasn’t taken long for me to switch focus from the cancer and crime to getting ready for the unknown. I’ve been sneaking in a good Pilates or gym workout all through the cancer moments. I’ve added tennis workouts again, holding my left breast in my hand so I won’t hit it with the heel of the racket, which I’m apt to do when warming up (I actually hit the ball better that way. Hmmm.) Jim bent the ear of my great trainer Kareem, telling him the upper body is just as important as the lower body, and that the main aim is to be able to walk two to three hours in the morning and then two to three hours in the afternoon. So we are on that treadmill of training. We’ll move outdoors Easter week.
( Photo: Kareem and Jim plotting my training)
First I must figure out the technical things - car chargers for laptop, phone, cameras, Itouch. I-Go connectors. Backup hard drives. Camera abilities. There are some things some of us can’t do without - although I know the doing without may be more valuable in the long run than the doing with. I need to shift around photos on my laptop to make room for new ones to come. This week I’ve designated electronics week. Next week, it’ll be rounding up gear - like waterproof duffle bags, rain suits, collapsible walking sticks, proper hiking boots broken into shape from the get-go and with sticky rubber outsole; sleeping bags warm enough for minus twenty degrees, my own baby pillows to stuff in its roll; Gore-tex pants, down jackets, hiking skirts (I’ll get those in Kathmandu - it's disrespectful for women to wear shorts or tight pants, the best solution is a long hiking skirt), lots of wool socks, long underwear (both lightweight and medium), hats (my ugly Galapagos hat with the hanging down flap will be good), gloves with liners, daypacks, backpacks (my nemesis), a Crazy Creek Chair (a collapsible camping chair) and things like a hydration system (Camel Bak), wide mouthed water bottles, thermoses, and a funnel to pee in. Jim explained the latter is for early morning calls when it’s freezing cold outside the tent. Alas, a new task to learn.

Meanwhile, prayer flags are in the making. Not traditional Buddhist ones, but our own kind of personal Bible Belt - Memphis flags are being painted by the youth group at Calvary Episcopal Church and by a first grade class in Nashville (my granddaughters), and hopefully by the girl’s in prison for whom I am chaplain and mentor. These will be rolled into the duffle bags after being blessed on this side of the seas, and again by a lama in Nepal, and then be left hanging in the wind, with hope and prayers blowing up to God, our God, everyone’s God. I’ll place them at the base camp of Mt. Everest and along the pilgrim route to Mt. Kailash in Tibet.
(Photo left - Youth group creating prayer flags.)

I’m expecting days will be long of tooth with lots of walking, trekking, hiking, climbing, riding in bumpy vehicles and probably wishing I could watch international news on TV. No way. Meals will be regular but probably unfamiliar and my likes and dislikes menu is odd now but may have to change drastically. I’ll learn to eat plenty of carbs to keep the body functioning, probably no sugar (yea) and some sort of protein to replace meat, chicken, pork, which I have denounced (except for barbecue ribs.) My favorite comestible is bread, home made bread, and that’s not a biggie in the parts to which I’m going. There is something called Roti I’ll discover. Once the daily routine sets itself in like a good jello, then the fun will begin, the body and soul acclimatizing to a new place, a new life, a new hope, a new altitude each day. I’m most excited about meeting a new nationality of people, and not having to dress fancily to step out the door, but figuring out how to dress warmly with the possibility of peeling off fabrics as the day heats up. Yes, Yes, I’ll have sherpas to watch over me, especially with that dreaded backpack. It’ll make me think of the guys who pick up the pulloff sweats and tops of NBA players as they go in to play. I’ll try to pick up my own stuff and keep tying things around my waste until we have a break. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with boiled water (it sometimes has to be boiled a second or third time, if not imbibed. ) Maybe I’ll take up tea drinking, yak butter tea.

I hope to write a blog every day or every two days and to illustrate it with photographs. You’ll hear every groan and every joy and all the "A-Ha" moments. Sharing the experiences with friends and readers makes it all worthwhile.

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