I was born and raised in the prairies of Sioux Falls, SD. I succumbed to the creative lure of Austin, TX when I was 18, attending countless live music performances, as well as the University of Texas. I did not know it at the time, but that southern launchpad of many indie filmmakers had an impact on more than my musical side.
While I spent much of my time over the following 14 years chasing day jobs in fields ranging from nuclear engineering to tuning up people’s pacemakers, I passionately poured my free hours into making music, photography, and now film.
I recently shifted my time toward photography and filmmaking full-time, and wonder why it took so long. Nature plays the central role in my creative inspiration.
As a student of science and avid outdoor enthusiast, I am constantly striving to show how we interact with our environment on an intimate and personal level.
When I am not hiking up a trail or skiing down a mountain, you can probably catch me in Seattle, my current home base, planning my next photography adventure at one of my favorite pubs.
As I was getting ready to bring you some musical performances from Nepal for our #buskingforkarma series, I found this recording I did a couple months ago and forgot to post. This is one of my favorite Blind Melon songs. I cannot hit the high notes that Shannon Hoon was known for, but I hope you like this version anyway. As you can see from the video, this was the end of a very long day.
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First, I want to apologize for leaving you without any recent blog updates. Christen and I have been very busy behind the scenes working on storyline development and the official Karma Documentary trailer. The official trailer is not quite finished yet, but expect an announcement soon about its release!
Now that we are nearing this next post-production milestone, expect to see regular blog updates about the continuation of the story. I will share my experiences from many other areas of Nepal, ranging from the hills around Kathmandu to the plains and jungles of the Terai region. There are many more behind-the-scenes photos, videos, and stories to share with you!
What is a Traveler?
Before I left for Nepal, knowing very little about what I would experience in Asia, a very wise friend, Fredric, discussed with me the differences between a tourist and a traveler. He said that, “tourists are people who start at home, create a bubble around themselves, and then go look at other things and compare. Travelers are people who go someplace else and find out things that they never really expected.”
I thought I already understood what Fredric was trying to tell me on that cloudy April day in Washington. After all, I had traveled out of the country many times before. I pride myself on having an open mind and rarely turn down the chance to try new things or expose myself to different cultures. I like to interact with locals wherever I go, try strange food, listen to unfamiliar music, and ask about people’s daily lives. Surely, Fredric was not telling me about the virtues of being a ‘traveler’ for my own benefit. He was just explaining it so that I could use his explanation for the film, right? I was almost four weeks into my time in Nepal before I understood that Fredric was absolutely talking to me.
“Did you hear back from the lady with the guest house?”, I said groggily over my breakfast to Jenn while the assorted noises and smells of Kathmandu wafted in from the street. We had been in Kathmandu for three days, and while exciting and exotic, the noise, pollution, and hectic pace were starting to wear on us. “Yeah, I finally got an email from Amanda confirming the rooms, but the directions seem a little sketchy…”, she replied.
For the next week, four of us – Jenn, Tatiana, Christen, and I – were planning on exploring the outskirts of Kathmandu valley. In search of a quiet retreat from the melee of the Thamel neighborhood, we were all excited to get to the guest house Jenn booked in Changu Narayan, “a sleepy little village outside Kathmandu.”
I was looking forward to the change of pace, but I secretly worried whether there would be enough to see in Changu Narayan to keep us busy for a week. Jenn had originally booked an apartment in Bhaktapur, a popular and bustling ancient Newar city in Kathmandu valley. We learned the day before that the Bhaktapur apartment was no longer available. The property manager, a retired American woman named Amanda, recommended the alternate place. Normally, the twist would not bother me at all, but I was a little apprehensive no longer having the experience of Glen or Karma to guide us. I would soon learn both how wrong my worries were and how right Fredric was about my needing to learn what it means to be a traveler.
“Are we really going to fit all of these bags and ourselves into one cab?”, puzzled Tatiana as we gathered at the front of the Lhasa guest house, my on again/off again home base in Kathmandu. “Well, I asked Nwang to call for a van…”, I trailed off, taking in the almost ridiculous amount of luggage piled up. (Who knew that shooting on-location in Nepal would require so much stuff?). As the “van” pulled up, I said a silent thank you that there was a roof rack. Regardless of it’s vehicle class, the van looked like it would barely fit the four of us, let alone our luggage. We set to work loading our gear.
“Can you take us to Changu Narayan?”, I asked the cab driver, hoisting the last bag up to him on the top of the van.
“Changu? Hajur (yes). Where are you staying?”, he grunted as he deftly hopped off the roof of the van.
I glanced at Jenn. “Amanda said in the email to call when we get to the village, and she would give us directions”, she replied. “We can use Tatiana’s phone. She picked up a Nepali SIM card.”
“I guess we will have to get the location of the guest house when we get there”, I explained to the driver. With that, we all crammed into the tiny van and started off on our next phase of the adventure.
Changu Narayan, located high on a steep hillside overlooking Kathmandu from the east, is home to the oldest temple in Kathmandu Valley. It is believed to date back to the 4th century. As our taxi labored up the frighteningly narrow and twisting road, Jenn tried calling Amanda. “That’s weird”, she puzzled. “The call won’t go through. Here, listen to the message.” We would later learn that Changu was experiencing one of their regular coverage outages. We could not get through to either Amanda’s mobile or land lines. There was a message playing that made no sense to me.
“We can try again when we get there”, I said, wondering if we would have to wander the streets of a remote village, struggling beneath more bags than anyone should ever try to carry. I asked myself, “What would Glen do?”
At that moment, I remembered Fredric’s words. I realized I had only come part way on the journey to transform from a tourist into a traveler. The experiences high in the Himalaya kick-started me on that path. Yet, having Glen, Karma, and the rest of the staff there to call the shots when plans went awry prevented me from fully letting go of my western-bred travel tendencies. Christen just shrugged and said, “So, we will just ask people when we get there where the older white lady lives.” (She learned the difference between being a tourist and a traveler years ago while traveling solo in Italy.)
As we pulled into the bus park at Changu Narayan, the villagers welcomed us with open arms. After some local kids pointed the way to “Grandma’s house” (Amanda had made quite the impression in the village), we settled into our next little paradise. Amanda welcomed us into the guest house with the perfect blend of good old American Southern Hospitality (she retired to Nepal several years ago from Arkansas) and Nepali reverence for guests. I can see why she calls this place home now.
I felt my earlier apprehensions melt away, as I strolled onto the rooftop terrace at Amanda’s guesthouse and took in the sweeping views of Kathmandu valley. Over the coming days, I would make new Nepali friends in Changu Narayan who would prove to be pivotal in helping complete filming over the next five weeks. Most importantly, they would help me discover the path to complete my personal journey, transforming me from a tourist into a traveler.
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Once again, at Nye’s Polonaise Room, here is the next of several #buskingforkarma songs that St. Dominic’s Trio was gracious to perform for us. This is one of their original songs, titled “Bike Ride on 35W”.
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Our next Minneapolis band to volunteer for #buskingforkarma is the band of my longtime friend, Dax. They are called Scary Numan, and they play a mash-up of older hit pop and rock songs. Here is their first of several #buskingforkarma songs that they recorded with us one night at their band practice. This is a song by the band the Suburbs called Cows. Unfortunately, not everyone in the band was there this time.
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Those of you who have spent any time in Minneapolis know of a the incomparable St. Dominic’s Trio. In fact, they are so good, they have never even had three members, as far as I can tell. In addition to playing large festivals in the area, they are a Tuesday night staple at Nye’s Polonaise Room, the best bar in America. Here is the first of several #buskingforkarma songs that they performed for us last night. Enjoy!
If you would like to donate, please send money to Luke Mislinski Photography via Paypal.
Kathmandu. Capitol City. Urban center. Cultural hub. Gateway to the diverse and mysterious country of Nepal. The cultural stew of this city bursts forth with a beautiful cacophony that assaults the senses.
My eyes, ears, and nose were filled with a litany of new sights, sounds, and technicolor smells. Our late night arrival into Kathmandu weeks before meant that I was experiencing this exotic and hectic city for the first time as I climbed off the little puddle jumper from Lukla.
It is an understatement to say that experiencing Kathmandu is like taking a hyper-charged journey into the human condition.As I wandered down the streets of the Thamel neighborhood, the central historical, cultural, and tourist district of Kathmandu, I quickly learned a simple truth about urban Nepali life. Personal space does not exist in this city. And that is perfectly ok. Locals, international tourists, vendors, cars, rickshaws, motor scooters, cows, dogs and chickens all interact in an intricate symbiotic dance on streets the width of Seattle’s Post Alley. Vehicle horns blurt from every direction. Shopowners call out from every door. A diverse swath of humanity flows throughout. And, almost everyone offers a warm smile and a courteous “namaste” as you cross paths and share gazes.
After settling into our rooms at the Lhasa Guest House and cleaning up a bit, the group of happy trekkers converged on a middle-eastern restaurant for dinner in the more touristy part of the Thamel neighborhood. Even though we were seated traditionally on the floor, and the power went out halfway through the dinner (during which time the staff seamlessly restored the ambiance with candles), the cozy and casual atmosphere felt luxurious compared to the typical rustic surroundings we had in the Himalaya.
I puzzled over the paradox of material security and creature comforts as we ate. Had I had my first full experience with Kathmandu before going on the Himalayan trek, it would have definitely felt like I was in a developing nation. The water is undrinkable – you can not even brush your teeth with it for fear of spending the next couple days violently ill. The electricity goes out for 6-hour periods a few times a day when Nepal’s sale of power to India peaks, and the schedule is typically different every day. The air pollution is tragic. The streets are managed chaos. The bathrooms in some buildings make the sets of all sevenfilms in the Saw franchise look like European spas.
Yet, I felt after having a cold shower in my hotel, drinking a cold(ish) beer, and sitting down in this restaurant that I was in the lap of luxury. What’s more, the hospitality I received from everyone I encountered was the warmest, most genuine I have received anywhere. Nepal may be an extremely ethnically and geographically diverse nation, but their hospitality never wavers. Even though Kathmandu is crowded, polluted, and has significant basic infrastructure challenges, seeing the contrast in lifestyle between this rapidly developing city and that of the people in the remote villages in the Himalaya was striking. Life in Kathmandu has significant challenges for the locals when compared to American standards. Yet locals in the capitol city were the first to tell me just how amazed they are at the difficulty of life in remote parts of their country. Those who have been lucky enough to travel to those areas talk about it as though it is like visiting another country altogether. I have to agree.
While reaching Kathmandu meant that some of our group would part ways for other parts of Nepal, it also meant reunion. As soon as we made it to town, I was able to meet up with my old friend, Tatiana, who had been spending the prior several months studying to become a Yoga instructor in Thailand. Tatiana and I then welcomed Jenn into the sleepy early-to-bed city of Kathmandu when her flight arrived late at night. The three of us sat up for hours having a couple beers, reminiscing, and planning our next few days of exploring the art, culture, food, and architecture of this amazing city.
One of our first stops was the famous Kathmandu Durbar Square. Durbar Square is home to many temples and palaces, and was the location of the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century. More importantly, there are no cars allowed in the general area. It is a fabulous place to enjoy the classic architecture of the city.
As we walked through the square, enjoying the scores of pigeons that were fluttering everywhere (they are seen as a positive sign and are treated with respect by locals), we were approached by a very friendly, soft-spoken Nepali man. He introduced himself as Ram and explained that he has been a cultural tour guide for 17 years. He asked us if we would like to hire him for a very modest 200 NPR (about $2.10) per person for a tour. I could see the usual American skepticism start to creep across Jenn’s and Tatiana’s faces. When someone approaches a group of American tourists offering a product or service out of the blue, I have noticed a natural tendency for us to say things like, “oh, that’s ok. I just want to wander around and look at stuff myself. I am just casually passing through. No thank you.” Thankfully, we swallowed our western-bred reticence this time and took him up on his friendly offer.
Ram, as it turned out, gave one of the best historical, cultural, or religious tours I have ever had. After we had spent two hours with him, he was even inviting us to his home and offering to arrange any possible trip we would like to take in Nepal. I was quickly learning that one of the best ways to experience Nepal is to fully embrace the locals and take them up on their offers. Sadly, we were not able to take Ram up on his, as we had already made plans for later that day. He taught us an important lesson in trusting the locals, though, that would open up amazing opportunities time and again throughout the remaining trip.
The next day, Tatiana was feeling a bit ill (she did not previously know about the danger of brushing teeth with tap water), so she elected to rest while Jenn and I visited the Garden of Dreams. The Garden of Dreams is on one of the busiest streets in Kathmandu. Once inside, though, the sounds and smells of the city melt away into a serene oasis. This garden, originally built as the Garden of Six Seasons in 1920, was restored with the help of the Austrian government between 2000 and 2007. It is a meticulously manicured garden of terraces, pavilions, and nooks and crannies for the most discerning pair of lovers looking for a romantic escape or a weary tourist looking for a quiet place to enjoy a cup of tea and a book. They even have wifi…
I need your help. These are four of the hardest words to say, sadly. I am not the most eloquently spoken when it comes to this subject, so I am posting this talk given by Amanda Palmer to better explain my reaching out to you all.
As some of you know, I have left my past career to pursue a way to bring the beauty and stories of the world to you through photography and, now, film.
However, the life of the independent artist is one of uncertainty. It is a life where you work more hours than you ever have before, yet you rarely have an income. Meanwhile, the costs of keeping the projects going are constant.
I would be extremely happy to receive any help you can give, to keep the projects moving forward. Christen and I have the raw materials to bring you all a story about how to see the world, transcend vastly different cultures, and find a path towards better understanding yourself through adventure.
If you like what you have seen so far, I promise you that you will enjoy what is yet to come. I want you to be part of it. If you want to join the journey, please contribute to the cause.
As we prepare to shift the focus of the blog away from life in the Himalaya toward the other regions of Nepal, we wanted to share one more little moment of enlightenment that only these majestic peaks can inspire.
Here is a little weather from Base Camp (Khare). Enjoy!
Two entire days in a row of actual rest can have a strange and unexpected effect when on a multi-week trek in the mountains. My legs had not felt worn out or sore at any point on the trek. However, my legs were stiff and sore when we hit the trail to make our way back to Lukla. This was a nagging detail in the back of my mind, because our two day return to Lukla would be arduous. Our return would be shorter, because we were taking a “short-cut” over the Zatrwa La pass. However, we would have to descend first to about 11,000 feet and then climb up and over a very steep 15,120 pass feet before descending down to Lukla at 9800 feet. “Nothing like waiting until the end to do a burley pass”, I thought, as my legs begrudgingly worked their way down the trail.
Just before lunch, we made it to Takto. It was clear that the members of the group were starting to move more at their own pace the last couple days. Matt and Andrew, being the fastest and strongest, were far ahead of the rest of us. Christen and I, like usual, were still bringing up the caboose. We still wanted to keep moving, though. We opted to move ahead of our porters while they ate lunch and eat snacks as we hiked. It felt good to get a little bit ahead, since we frequently had to stop to rest. The trail after lunch started the very steep climb toward the Zatrwa La pass.
As we continued to climb, the view behind us opened up to staggering perspectives. Mera Peak was prominent in our sight. It was almost as if it were saying goodbye to us. The sun was warm and bright, and the clouds were big and fluffy. Once again, though, the weather started to cloud up very rapidly and temperatures dropped as we continued to climb through mid-day.
In the early afternoon, Christen and I appeared to be nearing the top of the steep climb and crested a ridge. I had gotten myself into trouble with Christen several times by suggesting that we were nearing the end of the day’s hike or the end of the uphill sections when we in fact were not. I almost ended up losing my life on this day. I made the very poor decision to tell her that I thought we were nearing the top of the pass. Not only was I wrong, we had several hard climbs left before reaching our destination for the night, Thuli Kharka, and a significant climb the next morning before reaching the pass. As we continued hiking (upwards) throughout the day and the next morning, Christen seemed to emit a little steam from her ears every time she looked my way.
As we got to Thuli Kharka, I made sure to give Christen a little space to protect myself. She cheered up quickly, though, as we made it to the lodge. There was an interesting group of people hanging out, highlighted by a Polish team that had a professional classically trained pianist as their chief diplomat. We had lots of fun comparing trekking stories and drinking tendencies with our Eastern European brethren.
As we were all laughing at one of Christen’s jokes, a porter with another group staggered up to the lodge with a load that was at least three times his size. I asked him how much it weighed, and he said it was 60 kg (132 lbs)! So much for legal weight limits for porters… They are supposed to carry no more than 35 kg (still 77 lbs). I was again glad to be working with a company that believes in fair work conditions.
On the morning of the final day, the weather was cold and bright. We were all anxious to get going, though. We had all been through a lot, and getting up and over the last big obstacle was all that was on anyone’s mind. The landscape was very open. There was no-where to hide from the wind. As we neared the top of the pass at 15,120 feet, the wind grew bitingly cold. The trail was also slick with snow in spots. Our normal routine of going fast on the descents had to take a back seat. The last day of hiking would prove to require just as much mental attention as any other.
As we made our way down over 5000 vertical feet to Lukla, we were greeted by many trekkers climbing up the pass. They were taking the shorter route to Mera peak over the Zatrwa La pass instead of the more gradual climb we took on the start of our trek. While their route is more direct, it is much riskier for altitude sickness. Many of the trekkers we met were going from Sea Level where they lived to Lukla (9800 feet) to the top of Zatrwa La pass (15,120 feet) in the matter of a couple days. We had run into a trekker several days earlier who had tried this aggressive itinerary and had to cut his trip short due to altitude sickness… I am glad we saved this pass for the end of our trek.
Just as we were working our way down from the pass toward our lunch stop, a hail and rain storm rushed in from seemingly nowhere. Once again, we were fortunate to be walking up to the tea house just as the deluge began. Thankfully, Glen had one more opportunity to break out his stylish plaid golf umbrella.
Just as we did through the whole trek, Christen and I decided to get our money’s worth and arrive last in Lukla. As we slowly worked our way through the farms dotting the mountainside, silliness prevailed. It seemed like we were in a constant state of goofing around and dancing. Everyone was in a fun mood despite the wet weather.
The last night of a trek is always special for one reason or another. In our case, the trekkers decided to do something nice for the porters and guides. Through the entire trip, they had been serving us at every meal. Matt had the brilliant idea that we should take a turn serving them dinner. The thought was nice, but the lodge owners were (understandably) weary of letting a group of clumsy, untrained, western tourists into their kitchen. We settled for a compromise. We had all of the staff order what they wanted off the menu and had a large meal all together to celebrate. They even let us buy the beer (and Red Bull for those who do not drink).
What started as a warm, relaxed dinner with friends turned suddenly into a West-meets-East dance party, complete with Everest Beer, Cheap Canadian Whisky, Red Bull, traditional Nepali music, and yes, Justin Bieber. Christen even joined the staff in a confusing, if not mind-numbingly lengthy, traditional Sherpa dance. It may be what drained all of her energy leaving her vulnerable to the rabbit trap that would snare her in the middle of the night… but that is for another blog post.
Once again, the weather in the Himalaya were to show us yet again how little we have in our own control. Lukla has a notorious airstrip. Not only is it nestled deep in a valley between a mountainside and a cliff, the weather frequently decides to muck up the flights. As we made our way off to bed (except Christen who was preparing to get caught in the rabbit trap), we all crossed our fingers for the weather. Flights had been cancelled for the previous three days. Glen told us that if we faced cancelled flights, our fallback plan was to hike an additional two days to where we would rent jeeps. Then, we would have to ride over treacherous roads for 18 hours a day for two days to get back to Kathmandu. I was crossing all the fingers I could. The jeep ride did not sound as much fun as it did when discussed in ‘theory’ at the start of the trek.
All of our fears were for naught, though. We woke to a beautiful morning with partially cloudy, but clearing, skies. Our flight back to Kathmandu was to take off as planned. The general theme of our trip had been ‘timing’. Because of weather, groups who were as little as one day on either side of us failed to make their entire trip without a hitch. Mother nature was very kind to us indeed.
On the 12th day of the trek, Christen and I were to stay back at base camp in Khare while the rest of the group hiked to high camp, en route to the summit. They planned to get to high camp in the afternoon, rest for several hours, and then climb through the night to reach the summit early the next morning. After that grueling task, they would hike most of that day back down to Khare.
As I walked around outside the lodge, the air was thick with excitement. Matt and Andrew both had to exchange pieces of equipment that failed during the climb to Mera La the day before. I had felt for Andrew as we were hiking together the previous afternoon, when I saw his left crampon explode in a spray of metal rivets and bands as he was trying to knock some snow off. He felt better about the replacement pair he scrounged up, since his original pair looked like they summited Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. Glen and Karma were up to their typical mountaineering warm-up antics, which were part dance, part chant, and part making goofy faces and chasing each other around like kids. Kami had finally decided to take his flip-flops off and was, to my surprise, wearing boots. (I later learned he was back to flip flops while lounging at high camp, though).
Once again, I was feeling really good about the decision not to attempt the summit. Just watching the frenzy of everyone doing their last minute gear checks was more than my brain could take while fighting the thick fog of altitude sickness. I had not sleept well. I kept startling awake throughout the night out of breath. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest when I would try to sleep.
As the group said their farewells on their way up Mera peak, Christen and I settled in for a day of waiting and rest. We decided to hang out at Khare for one more day and then head back down to Khote, over 4000 ft below, where I would hopefully recover and we would wait for the rest of the gang to meet us after they summited. As we sat and had tea in the chilly dining room, we chatted with Pasang about his previous two days. While the rest of us had been acclimatizing and resting, he had taken on two sets of clients and summited Mera Peak two days in a row! I couldn’t even retort that I was by far the oldest member of the trek. I had just learned that Pasang is only a few months younger than me.
The next morning, Pasang, Sonam, Christen, and I ventured back down the trail making our gradual descent to Khote. It felt a little strange leaving the rest of the group behind us, since we were always bringing up the rear. We were also a little worried, since it had started snowing in the afternoon the day before in Khare. We did not know if the team would be caught in a snow storm while at high camp or if they were above it. Christen and I were both a little low-energy as we made our way. The weather started out sunny, but deteriorated quickly throughout the day.
After a quick lunch in Tagnak, Christen tried to get into a dice game with some locals. Sonam would not let her, to her chagrin. Gambling is illegal in Nepal, he explained. I do have to give him credit. For a 21-year-old man, he held his own in corralling Christen away from something that looks fun. The weather was also starting to turn very quickly. It was getting windy, and we were starting to see some rain drops. That probably motivated her more than anything.
As we continued along the river and starting nearing Khote, we met a tour group from England. They were a friendly, talkative bunch, and they were asking about the camera equipment. I explained the documentary and some of the goals that Karma has for his business, employees, and Sibuje. One of the English trekkers said he was extremely happy to hear that Karma ensures that his porters carry loads below the legal limit, as he was personally disgusted to see how much weight some porters are asked to carry by their companies.
I felt extremely relieved when they were excited about the documentary we were capturing. I had been worried about whether we had enough to make a movie people would even want to watch. Making the film while also trying to manage the demands of the trek was turning out to be harder than I had imagined. I was relieved beyond words that other westerners could “get” what I was trying to say.
When Christen and I stumbled into Khote, I had one mission. I went straight for a shower. I do not think I have ever had a more satisfying shower in my life. Even though it was from an old paint bucket with a tiny spigot on the side sitting on a shelf in what looked like a tool shed, the water was hot, and it felt like it was cleansing my soul. Of course, when you only have 3 showers over the course of 18 days, they feel like ultimate luxury.
I mentioned in a previous post that “rest” days on a Himalayan trek are rarely just that. Usually, they are used to hike around and acclimatize to the altitude. Since we were on our way down and waiting for the rest of our group, Christen and I lazed around and had a magnificent day of laying on the beautiful grass, reading, hanging out by the Tolkien-esque water fall, and catching up on days of nasty laundry. On top of that, if you are going to have a rest day anywhere, Khote is hard to beat. The sound of rushing water is everywhere, the air is clear, the grass is soft and green, and there are not rivulets of questionable brownness running down the hillside everywhere like in Khare.
In the afternoon of our rest day, the rest of the team made their way into Khote. Amazingly, everyone looked even skinnier than when we saw them two days ago. The summit seemed to melt the calories right off them. Karma, Matt, Andrew, and Becky all made it to the summit. In keeping with the general theme of the trek, the team hit the perfect weather window. They had mostly clear weather (they were above the storm that pelted us in Khare), in contrast to the groups going up before and after them.
Unfortunately, Becky was starting to take her turn with the dreaded trail sickness. Because we had been getting such good weather, we did not have to use any of our optional lay-over days yet. Given this, we all elected to stay one more day in Khote to help Becky recover and to give the rest of us time to catch up on much deserved reading and laundry. Ironically, when you are on a trek away from all of life’s daily chores, they can still pile up on you!