“Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away”
In late October, I was incredibly privileged to stand on the 6,476m summit of Mera Peak, a beautiful mountain in the stunning and special Himalayas in Nepal. I spent three weeks trekking upwards to reach four miles into the sky, coping with intense cold, challenging terrain, incredibly basic living conditions, the effects of altitude and loneliness. It was the toughest thing I have ever done, much harder than the marathons and ultra marathon I have been lucky enough to complete and much harder than the previous treks I have enjoyed.
Standing on the summit, looking out over our beautiful world, I cried with a mixture of happiness and relief. Happiness at having achieved what I had dreamed of and what I had been working towards for over a year. Relief at having made it to the summit safely and not letting anyone down who had been so generous in their support. The trek as a whole, and the summit climb in particular, was brutal, exhausting, rewarding and inspiring. Despite all of the challenges, I absolutely loved every minute of the three weeks and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Since returning, many people have been kind enough to ask me about the experience. It has been very hard to describe beyond saying it was an amazing three weeks. I have tried to explain about the beauty of the mountains, the kindness and generosity of the local people who share their world with us, the inspiring challenge of the trek itself and the wonderful group of people I was privileged to be with but it still doesn’t capture all that I took away from the experience. I have therefore tried to write down the lessons that I learnt and thought I would share them with you.
As background, I know I am very lucky to lead the life that I do and I therefore want to be able to help those who aren’t as fortunate as I am. My way of doing that is to take on a new challenge each year and fundraise whilst I am doing so. This started 12 years ago with a 10km run, which at that point was a huge challenge for me. To feel able to ask my generous family, friends and colleagues for their support each year, I want to challenge myself more every time. I also hope that I become a better person by pushing myself to the limits of, and sometimes well beyond, my comfort zone.
This year, I set myself the challenge of summiting Mera Peak, and overcoming my fears of heights, drops and exposure in doing so. To help me prepare, I have run two marathons and an ultra marathon in 2018 – an amazing but challenging London marathon, the the inspirational Race to the King ultra marathon and the world record race (obviously not by me!) at the Berlin marathon. It’s been a fantastic year, albeit exhausting, and one that I’m very proud of.
So what have I learnt from the trek? And what lessons am I trying to take into my day to day life?
“If you can dream it, you can achieve it”
When I was a small girl, I was fascinated by Everest and the mountains but didn’t ever believe that I would be able to visit the Himalayas. For a girl happily growing up on a council estate in a town in the UK, the Himalayas seemed an exotic and magical place but not one that I would ever be able to visit. Even a year ago, whilst I had been lucky enough to trek previously to Everest Base Camp, I wasn’t convinced I would be able to reach this summit. But I had a dream and so I pushed myself every day through the training and through the mental and physical challenges on the trek itself. It has taught me that when I have a purpose, when I am passionate about something, I can achieve a lot more than I think I am capable of.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”
We all have dreams. We all have things we want to achieve. We are also all busy and all have pressures and challenges every day. It is therefore easy, understandable and sometimes necessary, to put things off. Fundraising for the wonderful charity, Cancer Research, meant that a lot of people shared their personal experiences of this awful disease, which was often humbling. The number of people who have themselves suffered, or have close friends and family who have, continues to shock and upset me. These stories were a constant reminder that life is short. I truly believe, therefore, that we should grasp, and make the most of, every opportunity that we have.
“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world”
It is hard to describe how beautiful the Himalayas are or how stunning the view from the summit of Mera Peak was, even through my tears! The pictures really don’t do it justice. The sheer scale of the peaks, the vividness of the blue sky against the white snow and the fact that this beauty continues for as far as you can see is simply breathtaking. For those few moments on the summit, it felt as though time had stood still. We are truly lucky to live in such an awe-inspiring place. At a time in our history where we seem to be becoming increasingly divided, this beautiful world is surely something that is worth sharing and fighting for, together.
“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude”
Living the life that I am lucky enough to do, there are many things I take for granted. Privacy, flushing toilets, hot water, choice of food, electricity and heat are all things that quickly became a luxury for all of us on the trek. It was amazing what the local people achieved, and how incredibly generous they were, with the little they have. It was a lesson for me to recognise how lucky I am and not to take things for granted. It was also a reminder of how important it is that I help those who are less fortunate than I am, whether that be through supporting charities or simply by showing kindness to others every day.
“I’ve always loved the idea of not being what people expect me to be”
It is always important to me to feel ‘like me’, to be authentic and true to myself. On the one hand, being in the mountains in a remote part of our beautiful world and in very basic conditions, you find out the most about yourself and are ‘you’ at your most raw. On the other hand, you can feel very different to your normal self. I am very proud to be female and to be feminine in a working world that is still, unfortunately, too male dominated. On the trek, where I was cold and dirty much of the time, being feminine, or feeling feminine, was challenging! I therefore chose to wear things that helped me feel that way. My pink outfits and my giant bobble hat may not have been what people expected but I realised that they helped me feel like ‘me’ and that was an incredibly important part of my coping mechanism.
“There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met”
I am a private and shy person. I like to spend most of my time with people who know me well, whether that be with my amazing family and friends or with my wonderful work colleagues. I normally take a long time to get to know people because of my private nature. I find it hard to share personal things. I find it hard to share my emotions and how I am feeling in a particular moment. Joining a group where I didn’t know anyone and was the only female on her own was therefore a difficult aspect of the trek. I forced myself to talk more and open up more and found that others did the same. This helped me build relationships more quickly than I would normally do and helped provide me with support at times when I desperately needed it. It taught me that being more open and trusting can help me build stronger relationships.
“Good friends are like stars. You can’t always see them but you know they are there”
It wasn’t just the wonderful people that I was with in Nepal who provided me with support. I was truly humbled by the number of messages I received each day on the trek in response to my daily blog. The miracle that is modern technology meant that despite rarely having heat or electricity, I could get Wi-fi at times! Whenever I did, I was inundated with emails, texts, videos and social media messages. Some made me smile, some made me laugh and some made me cry (in a good way!). They lifted me up when I needed it and made me feel that I had a huge team of people willing me on (or at some points, pushing me up the mountain). At the low points, it was knowing that fact that kept me going. I can’t put into words how grateful I was. It showed me, once again, the power of friendship, of personal support and of love. It reminded me how important it is to look after each other.
“A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there”
Throughout the trek, I was often operating outside my comfort zone. One example was in relation to organisation. In my family and friendship groups, I tend to be the one who often organises the various get togethers. I have a busy life and so I like to be organised, which allows me to spend time with those that I care for and to achieve all that I want to. On the trek, I had to hand this task over to our wonderful guides, who had a much more relaxed attitude to organisation than I do! We rarely knew the route we were taking, the time we were leaving or the time we were due to arrive. I had to trust that they knew what they were doing and would help me to achieve my dream of getting to the summit. I had to embrace a different way of being. Whilst I found it challenging at times, I also found it refreshing. It was a lesson for me to embrace new ways of behaving and to try even harder to understand things from a different perspective.
“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”
In conclusion, I look back on the three weeks in Nepal as very special ones. I missed my wonderful family and friends immensely and the challenges of the terrain, altitude, living conditions and cold were as tough as anything I had experienced previously. Despite this, I felt so lucky to be there and to be able to achieve my dream. Standing on the summit is a moment I will never forget. Importantly, the lessons I have learnt, or have been reminded of, are ones that I hope will stay with me in my day to day life, helping me to be a better person and helping me to inspire and support others.
I love the quote above from Nelson Mandela. I believe that every person is capable of so much. Our aspirations will each be different, as will the challenges we face in achieving them. Some days it may be a challenge to simply get up and make it through the day. Other days we will feel like we can climb mountains, literally or metaphorically. We should embrace each day and make it the best one we can. We should never forget what we aspire to and we should never let our dreams be just dreams.
On that note, onto the next adventure!