Friend’s Mount Everest journey inspires new approach to vacations

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

My good friend, Beth, just climbed Mount Everest.

She’s not a hiker, runner or rock-climber. She’s a carpooling mother of four with a huge heart, and apparently an even bigger sense of adventure.

She went on the three-week trek alone, inviting no family or friends to join her. She began the journey in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her destination: Mount Everest Base Camp, more than 18,000 feet above sea level.

When she first told me of her plans, I couldn’t decide if she were brave — or stupid. Who invites such adversity into their life? Some of us have had quite enough, thank you very much.

Granted, she was not attempting to summit this beast of a mountain. And, she traveled in an organized group with itineraries and professional guides.

Nevertheless, this trek is incredibly arduous, especially the adjustments to the terrain, weather and altitude. Some do not finish. One fellow trekker, an avid hiker and rock climber, suffered from altitude sickness and had to be evacuated.

But Beth made it. And some of us “virtually” tagged along.

Through the wonders of a specialized GPS tracking device and instant messaging, Beth’s husband, Tom, faithfully updated 114 admirers. She would text Tom. He would edit, and then e-mail her groupies. We could click on a link and see a satellite picture of her progress online, updated every 15 minutes.

But the written details made it real for me. The time zone difference to Nepal was nine hours 45 minutes (what happened to those missing 15 minutes?). Wild dogs followed the group, and in one village they needed the protection of a red ribbon around their neck to avoid an army’s guns. Dinner one evening was a special treat — fried Spam.

She had no shower for 13 days, slept in the same clothes for two days since it was “too cold to take them off,” and had a fully loaded iPod for comfort.

She kept connected to her kids — she drank chi tea in one’s honor, listened to another’s “Vampire Weekend,” and shared the sounds of Deadmaus with some villagers.

But my favorite experience was when she danced to “Ice Cream Paint Job” and “taught the Sherpas” a few moves.

Tom sprinkled his updates with quotes sent to Beth for encouragement.

“All who wander are not lost,” her mother (and Tolkien) advised.

And I thought about my friend wandering about the highest mountain in the world, dancing with the natives.

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you do not take,” husband Tom (and Wayne Gretzky) offered.

And I thought about all the dreams some of us have lying on the table, while Beth put hers into action.

As I read her updates and insights, I realized this was more than just a journey of the body. Her comments about the region’s raw beauty reminded me of childhood vacations.

No matter what our destination, my parents insisted on “taking in the scenery,” constantly noting nature’s touch — autumn colors on the Appalachian Mountains, the rising sun on a sandy beach or the simple wonder of a hummingbird feeding at their rural retreat.

They knew, as Beth described, the restorative and inspiring powers of nature that can unlock new pieces of our body, soul, and mind — if we take the time to marvel at the wonder outside ourselves.

As we turn the corner of spring to face the new pace of summer, perhaps we need permission to wander a bit.

And to take one of those “shots” off the table … and put it into action.