Inspired by meeting a fellow fitness fanatic on Manly beach, I decided to turn my appetite for adventure into a profession and do what hadn't been done before. There are still regions in Nepal's Himalayas that are to this day, unexplored by foot. I chose to become a first, in an area that's uninhabitable.
Using the skills emulation and mimickery I read notes and asked questions of those who'd done it successfully before. (those who weren't successful are dead). I hired those who knew the skills I needed for climbing ice, surviving in blizzard and dealing with the elements expected at altitude in Nepal's Himalayas. I invested nearly half a million dollars in training, camera gear and equipment. When I notified National Geographic of my plans I expected to be asked to write about the trip for them. No such offer came.
Six months later I was there. My guide and I were camped acclimatising at a high altitude airport village, fending off sticky fingered children and keeping ourselves active in the freezing snow ready to start our 30 day expedition We were ready.
Or so I thought.
You see, setting a goal and achieving a goal are two very different things. Setting a goal is filled with excitement, uncertainty, adrenaline, a total antidote to boredom and depression. Achieving a goal requires the immersion in both boredom and depression in order to achieve it. I was prepared for the former, I was not willing to suffer the latter. And here begins a great tale.
What does it take to do something different?
Package up the idea of exploring the Himalayas in uncharted human territory and one gets the feelings one needs to keep their ego awake and alive. Enthusiasm bubbles over, obstacles become challenges, resistance is futile, naysayers are discarded like dental floss after a good teeth clean. The energy of life flows through the idea, the vision, the anticipation of an adventure.
I had been addicted to this feeling my whole life. Always looking for better. My first marriage lasted less than six weeks before I recognised someone who I thought might make a better partner. I'd had to convince myself over and over and over that I was on the right track no matter what I'd done. Even my business strategies were always questionable once I'd committed to them "was there a better way?"
Being satisfied is a terrible pain. It triggers an immediate response in the human DNA to ask "is this it?" and the answer is always "NO."
So what do we do? If we are, on the one hand living in absolute pursuit of satisfaction and yet, every-time we achieve it, our DNA sparks the thought "what's next" are we forever to be in doubt?
Short answer is yes.
The pursuit of an ideal leads to an ideal which gives birth to an ideal. There are those who argue otherwise but they are often supremely wealthy and have reached a financial nirvana or are the opposite, living in debt, and hope for nirvana.
For the rest of the world we vacillate between paradise and poverty. Satisfaction is therefore the goose that lays the golden egg. Satisfaction gives birth to an appetite to either defend it (which is, in other words, righteousness and depression) or reach for more (which is, for most, the cause of doubt and uncertainty).
Eventually, back in Nepal, on my first expedition, at 3am, we left the little poverty stricken village and airstrip to begin our adventure. The snow was, at times, waist deep but easy powder, quite fun and the trail easy because my guide cut the way by going first. If either of us was in real adventure danger, it was him.
After three hours the sun rose. And there before us, was the mountain range we needed to cross to begin our journey. Steep rocky ice. There was no track, it was a climb. Immediately I knew I was going to die. My pack was too heavy, my shoes too big, my hat too small, my gloves too loose, my glasses too old and my gortex not expensive enough. I knew I would die doing this and so I stopped and sat on the back on my pack. We drank a tea from the billy we boiled, ate enough for three days rations. And just enjoyed the heat of the morning sun. I had no idea what was to happen next.
As a hero, living his vision, being an explorer on an expedition, I had everything I needed, I felt 110% prepared. However, I kept looking up at that ridge, that icy, rocky, steep big fucking ridge and asking myself over and over, "what the fuck am I doing here?" - worse still my answers were the same every time. "I don't know, I don't want to die doing this."
The dangers of imitation and mimicry are unfathomable - disguised behind enthusiasm, until you get to the point of asking that question, "do I want to die doing this? And then you might, like me in this moment in time realise that the person you are imitating would say "fuck yes" but you can't. And then, after all this, you realise, it's a wild goose chase. I was living someone else's dream.
After five blistering sad and depressing divorces, my wealth and business' going up in smoke with the World Trade Centre, a near crippling spine surgery and a host of other calamities in my life, this moment I now describe to you has to be my darkest.
Be careful what you wish for....
But I am no victim. How in the hell did I get so far into the wilderness, spend so much money, invest so much energy and engage so many people in a goal that turned out to be a total and disguiseable myth?
Well as it turns out, I asked for it.
Each time I have hit the wall of emotional crisis, whether it's a breakup or a business challenge that seems insurmountable, I created a hit list of things I need to learn to prevent and prepare myself for the next event of my life. I've never needed adrenaline adventures, my whole life has been one. And so, filled with adrenaline and lactic acid I've set out to create a quest to resolve what I've self diagnosed as the cause of my disasters. And, after my first marriage failed and I set about to rebuild myself I included this statement "I want to go soul deep, I want to understand spirituality."
In retrospect, I may have been wiser to say "I want to go soul deep and understand spirituality, while keeping my wealth, health, relationship, dignity and self respect in tact." however, I did not. And here I am, standing in Nepal, invested in this business venture, drowning in my own rhetoric, realising that i don't really have the stomach, the physical prowess, the acumen, the wisdom, the experience, nor come to think of it, the photography skills nor the (now obvious to you) writing skills to turn this adventure into a business venture. And so, like so many other business entrepreneurs, my eyes were too big for my stomach.
I turned back.
Of all the millions of choices I've made that have changed the course of my life and the lives of those around me, this was it. $500,000 invested, at least 1,000 fans, sponsorship letters flying to every magazine on every corner of the globe, my closest friends watching in doubt. I turned around, i gave up, I surrendered to fear, I walked away, i reneged on the deal, I became a coward. For the first time, I had no other excuse, no one to blame, nothing between me an my stated goal except me. I was now soul deep, stripped naked, nowhere to hide, and here, in this moment, I understood spirituality. Nothing to hang on to, but still breathing.
Once you've done it once, given up on something) and survived, it's great. You come to see that it's all too easy to grab the tail of a great idea and grip it like it's the only thing that'll ever be right. But it's not. Let go one, grab another, let go another grab another. These ideas about new ideas about new ideas are endless and wonderful and each has to be grabbed, cuddled, and if necessary, released into the wild again.
The gift of turning back was not just a sense of integrity. I had to deal with my own ego that had the mantra, "never give up" and "show no fear" embedded into its language. My ego was, to say the least, shocked at my decision not to follow the usual "blokey" way and do it regardless. Self preservation had stepped in and the fact of the matter was, I really did not want to die doing this, but my close friend, from whom I stole the inspiration, would have, and nearly did. (read the books "Across the Top" and "a lone woman's trek across tibet" plus anything else from Sorrel Wilby)
When I returned to Kathmandu, after giving away all the food to my guide and his family, I was left with a bunch of expensive trekking gear and 20 odd days of waiting before the flight back home. After a few days in cafe's and sight seeing in Kathmandu I was desperate to get out. I hopped a rooftop seat on a local bus for the 13 hour ride to Jiri and began what turned out to be an exquisite adventure without the near death requirements of the expedition.
For the next 18 days, sleeping in ancient hidden monasteries, working from a dirty old map and a few sketchy instructions, desperately asking directions from local farmers and getting more than my share of digestive disturbances, I arrived at the Base of Mt Everest. Omg!!!!!! Sprained ankles, pleurisy, a night in a camp hospital, several snowed in with monks and nearly stampeded by runaway yaks. And i've been back 50 times since.
I'm convinced that there are no mistakes. However, if we don't know when to draw the line in the sand (snow in my case here) we do make the mistake of listening to our ego, a bird that has learned to repeat and automate choices based on the shortest path between now and the future. My ego cried out to keep going because that's what it knows. It knows what it has learnt "never give up" and "face your fears." All very good advice from an ego.
Instead, I learnt this day in the Himalayas, that our intuition and our ego can, from time to time, disagree. One will whisper softly while the other shouts, and the squeaky wheel always gets the oil. It was the sitting down on the backpack, the relaxing amidst a terrible reality, the calm patience of watching the sun come up, hesitating, waiting until it "felt" clear that separated those two voices up in the mountains that could well, right now, be the resting place of the unfinished life of Chris Walker.
Time is our friend.
When we hear those ugly words, "I got to make a decision" we know we are about to blow it. The ego has a grip. For the balance to be found, for inspirations to be heard, this intense tone must be allowed to dissipate. By relaxing amidst a very important decision, by boiling the billy, drinking a cuppa tea, by taking a few moments in a highly volatile situation, the need for a decision passed, and a conclusion became clear.
Rumination is our enemy. Had I kept walking instead of stopping, I would have ruminated. I would have had one eye on the path, one on the mountain cliffs ahead and my mind elsewhere. The odds are, I would have stumbled.
It's the exact same reason we recommend the emotional shower on the way between work and home, to prevent rumination while you are with your family, and to take a few moments, like I did sitting on your pack, stripped and naked, to clear the ego, and allow your intuitions to flow. In this way, time becomes your friend.