A concoction of uncomforts blended smoothly to make for a most memorable run around the world’s 8th highest mountain.

Following the Annapurna 100, after a short  though intensive and emotional period of contemplation, I decided to extend my stay in Nepal rather than moving on to the south Pacific as originally planned. The nature and simplicity of the Nepalese Himalayas provides me with a sense of ease and belonging.

An airline ticket to Australia is just that, a reserved seat on an airplane; not a compelling mandate.  This year is intended to be about acceptance and discovering what makes the changed me happy. Despite the challenges that come with travel in the developing world, I felt it an opportunity to push my comfort zone. Australia is not going anywhere, the comfort and cleanliness would still be there in a month or whenever it is I might make it there. I felt that a short stay in a chaotic, dusty city that is Kathmandu would make the fresh mountain air all the more soothing.

Most fortunate in so many aspects of life, I was able to both reschedule my flight and get a final spot in the  7-stage the Manaslu Mountain Trail (MMT) race which circumnavigates the world’s 8th highest mountain in the Mansiri Himal, a subrange of the Nepalese Himalaya. With the event starting with departure from Kathmandu a week on from the original day I had planned to fly out, the opportunity felt too fitting and a (somewhat) timely challenge for me  -both physically as well as my quest for acceptance of my life changes and adapting independently. So the week leading up to to the MMT I found myself enjoying early morning runs with a local running guide  providing fascinating insight into Nepalese culture while getting enough elevation in the Kathmandu Valley  to see the mountains otherwise not apparent from the city proper.

A large group of strangers, unpredictable situations, lack of routine, unfamiliar food, each factor alone tends to forge me outside my comfort zone, however the concoction of such circumstances blended smoothly to make for a most memorable experience though the mountain itself served a healthy dose of the power of Mother Nature that challenged any feelings of invincibility.

When altitude played havoc with my head, generating unwelcome feelings that superficially brought me to Station 44 in Murnau Trauma hospital where I spent the initial months post accident; the path, the rocks, the glacial lake, the sky, all felt surreal. I was trail racing in the Himalayas, the most sublime  picturesque, mountains in the world yet my skull was fractured, my brain bleeding and swelling. I was flooded with memories of the head pain and fear felt each time I had an MRI of my brain 3 years earlier.  It was  a very real example of why behavioural therapy to face frightening memories is used with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) however exposure to Manaslu  clearly had not found a place in my rehabilitation program.

Listening to my body has never been a strength yet the fear that accompanied the kopfschmerzen with each meter of altitude gained during Stage 4 was screaming. Compromising another athlete’s race just so that numbers would not be replaced by letters in the form of DNF, the shame of not following Dr Santos’ mandate, risking a helicopter ending and a lot of explaining to do with no room for brain injury/memory excuses, was not the fairy tale ending I was hoping for yet found it in me to remember that it was not simply a thousand meters of trail below where I came from; hundreds of days in intensive care, repeatedly telling doctors that I just wanted to be in the mountains – not carried off them. As vividly as I remember persistently shouting at medical staff in frustration, racing up the Himalayas was certainly not on my imaginable  radar, my expression was rooted in  my need to get some independence back, movement meditation, fresh air and freedom of judgment, questions and stares.  

Notorious for pulling out tubes, lifelines necessary to  see me through another day, late in 2016 I turned a corner in Colorado thanks solely to people who believed in me and never gave up hope even when I gave up on myself. Though turning back on the race trail was not the direction I wanted to take, I am trying to see that making the decision was in fact growth;  a step towards acceptance and being mindful of that which is important.

Nostalgically leaving Nepal, I reflect with gratitude. With the significant life change came losses that I am working at accepting. Losing 70 % of my eyesight has enhanced my vision for that which I feel important. Though the MMT race numbers did not measure up as I hoped, I know that it is not in fact numbers that are of value; time with inspiring new people have made for unforeseeable  highlights to this chapter in my recovery. Short anecdotes, an extended wink, polite curiosity, a random hug, insight and reality checks; numerous seemingly insignificant actions coming from a handful of manic mountain runners who, I feel, have no idea of the meaningful impact they have had in helping me embrace this, my differently abled, life.

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  1. Nadine says:

    What an experience. The bravest people are those who make the decision to turn around at the right time. Now on to Australia, right?!

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      An experience indeed; Nepal was a story in itself. I am most fortunate to have experienced both time alone in the himalayas and to have crossed trails with people who have become an integral part of my story.
      With respect to turning, the voices shouting from each shoulder did not make for an easy decision nor one that I will easily forget. The devil I call Rocky, can be nasty and he was on fire in Stage 4. That said, I was able to dig deep, put him in his place and take a small turn towards personal growth.
      With such a sense of ease and belonging in the Himalayas, extending my time there meant that Australia was not much more than a stop over.

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Thank you Glenda! I am humbled and most thankful you are willing to share my story / website with the global Physical Education community. In turn, I hope that a message of resiliency will make its way to Health and Physical Education classes around the world.

  2. Julie Lightfoot says:

    Wow. What a great read. Loads of respect for you, your Manaslu experience, your larger trip and your honest writing. Sending a “random hug” your way.

  3. Thomas Stevens says:

    I am seeing a very well written compelling story in a new format, and I love it. TBI sufferers have a place to anchor in a sea of the unknown. A place to study the charts and navigate another route to a fulfilling life.