The Everest Base Camp trekking trip my son and I plan to take is less than three weeks away. It is the culmination of over a year of planning and training. With mounting excitement and a tinge of fear, I await the trip.
As a child I had imagined going to see Himalaya. In a short story written in my ninth grade, I had sent the terminally ill protagonist to the foothills of the Himalaya. But going on a trip to see Himalaya was never a part of my childhood dreams.
I became aware of Everest Base Camp trek only about fifteen years ago. And I was fascinated. But most accounts I read about the trek seemed to be meant to scare the reader: the exhaustion, the knee pain, the squalor, diarrhea, thinning air, diamox, splitting headaches, and the specter of mountain sicknesses AMS and deadly HACE and HAPE. Some people expressed the allure of Himalaya, which made them fall in love with the region. A few accounts were reassuring: a sixty-five-year old wrote that he was not-so-fit, but had gone on multiple treks.
Actually, I had once given up on this idea, discouraged by the approaching age of sixty, the weakness in my leg caused by post-polio syndrome and the lack of any trekking experience. The post-polio syndrome seemed to keep weakening my legs, lessening my ability to walk. But two summers ago my wife encouraged me to take hour-long walks around the basket ball stadium called the Colesium in our town. Those walks changed my perception about my own ability. Perhaps post-polio syndrome did not deserve all the blame; some of the inability was caused by my sitting behind a desk all day.
Then one day on TV I caught the glimpse of a group of young people sitting on a rock, resting while on an EBC trek. Something made me think that I should at least give it a try. Perhaps I should try long walks. If I could comfortably walk over ten miles, perhaps EBC trek is a possibility. If I couldn’t, at least my health will improve. So in December 2014 I started trying out the local trails in our town, and finally selected the gently climbing Deckers Creek Trail.
I had expected that the long walks will leave me exhausted, out of breath, with my heart pounding. My problems, however, started at the other extremity of my body: My feet were the first to complain. Toward the end of the first long walks, it felt like boiling water was poured on my toes and soles. Several blisters were revealed when the shoes and socks were removed. An unclipped toe nail, flexed during the walk and lead to subungual hematoma under the big toe nail. I learned to moisturize the feet, clip the toe nails and wear toe socks, to prevent blisters from forming.
I had expected that the knee problems will first appear in my right knee as the right leg was weakened by polio, and lately I had begun to limp on that leg. But the left knee became the first to cause trouble. It started in May 2015 when I first reached the twelve-mile mark. On my return trip, which is mostly downhill, something started slipping in the left knee, like a belt slipping in an old machine. The feeling is more awful than painful. Stopping or slowing down helps. Folding the leg seems to reset the “belt”. But there is the nagging feeling that the “belt” may slip again and may even tear. Lifting the legs high while taking steps, as if in a march, helps. This amused a little boy on a tricycle, who would overtake me and stop to watch me as I was once taking a long walk around the Central Park in New York. The pain comes after reaching home, only while going downstairs, the left knee not being able to bear the body weight. So all the weight-bearing while going downstairs must be done by the right knee. Thankfully the injured knee would heal after two days. But unless this problem is overcome, there is no way I could go on the trek.
I tried different knee braces and learned techniques for massaging the knee. After three months of suffering from the knee problem, I got a break last September. One day I could do ten miles again without stopping or slowing down to reset the “belt”. I took that as the green light to go on the trek. So in October 2015 I decided to attempt the EBC trek.