THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY
The personal story of Lawton & Dawe’s Managing Director, Lucy Dawe and her Everest trek (April 2016)
When I submitted my application to trek to Everest Base Camp I didn’t really give it too much thought, which is typical of me when it comes to fundraising for charity. I just say yes and then think about it afterwards – normally a few days prior to the event! This was no different, I was still planning on buying kit the day I flew out to Kathmandu.
There were other challenges ahead for me though, before I even got there, of which I was blissfully unaware. I was going to come down with food poisoning the day I flew out. So instead of packing and buying kit, I was bed-ridden, being more ill than ever before. It crossed my mind, when my head was in the toilet, which maybe this was life’s way of saying I shouldn’t go - but I wanted to do this trek more than anything.
I had raised money for my two chosen charities before, Worthing Churches Homeless Projects and Spinal Research, when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few years ago and I didn’t want to let down the people who had generously sponsored me. More than that, I needed this trip. My soul needed nourishment and I was convinced I would find this in Nepal and amongst the Himalayan air.
From somewhere I found the strength to get in the bath, and I cried, the hardest I have cried in a very long while. I felt physically ruined and as bloody-minded as I can be, I felt beat. I then received a message from a dear friend who said, “Lucy Dawe you are a machine, come on girl, we’re doing this.” So I shaved my legs!
I had my mum and another amazing friend who had got the rest of my kit and packed for me as I was still throwing up, and when I had to leave for Heathrow at 4pm, I was ready. My dad drove me and I slept the whole way. When we got to the terminal and he said goodbye, I had to bite my tongue to stop from asking him to take me home. Instead I grabbed my bags, waved goodbye and cried some more.
Meeting the trek team feeling like death wasn’t great. I kept thinking they all must have thought I was a moody cow as I could barely muster small talk and certainly wasn’t excited about what lay ahead. Then my bestie arrived and I could have cried again, but it gave me so much reassurance to know she was there with me. We met when we both did the Kili Summit trek and she was my rock.
The plane journey was by far the worst experience ever. I have never been so poorly, with people I didn’t know, on a flight for nine hours. I normally love flying: the food, the films, the excitement; but more than that I love not being able to be contacted for a short while and I get some time to switch off completely.
I had a lovely lady who was kind to me every time I disturbed her to get to the loo, and she kept an eye on me. Sat in the toilet after being poorly yet again I questioned my own sanity and honestly thought I would have to fly home before even setting eyes on the mountains.
We stopped in Delhi and we found a place that did massage and that was it. 20 minutes of a foot massage did something to my whole body, and I wasn’t ill once during the onward flight to Kathmandu!
Kathmandu is crazy, noisy, busy and full-on but as soon as I arrived I felt different. I felt light and not just because at this point I hadn’t eaten in 48 hours! The hotel was like an oasis. It was perfect and more than my imagination had led me to conjure up. The garden was exquisitely manicured and bright with flowers and considering it is less than a year since the earthquake, the hotel was regal and welcoming.
That night in bed I was so grateful for sleep. We had a day’s sightseeing ahead of us and I didn’t want to feel so lacking in energy. I reminded myself that I so wanted Nepal to feed my soul. I was well and truly empty of everything, so it couldn’t have been a better time to replenish myself.
Monday walking around Kathmandu was incredible; I couldn’t believe my eyes. This place is spiritual and hectic all in one. I fell in love. Head over heels. The monkey temple captivated me, and as for the views, I am not talented enough to be able to describe just how spectacular they are. I could have spent all day there but we went on to see more. In spite of the earthquake Kathmandu is recovering, it was described as ‘supported’ and I loved that. It wasn’t ruined, or unsafe, it was just in need of support. That I felt could be applied to life, and would be much kinder on ourselves than our normal self-talk.
Support was not something I was lacking. My mum was my rock as always. I know she was worried to death over me and the trek but I also knew deep down she understood why I was there. When a friend I love had suffered paralysis from a spinal injury, I took it hard. I took it hard because I believed I could fix anything; that I could come up with a solution to any problem and that was my role, problem solver. His situation I couldn’t do anything about, I just had to watch people I loved wholeheartedly go through this devastating experience and live with it daily and it had really messed with my head.
So to raise money for Spinal Research isn’t something I previously ever thought I’d need to do, but now I have an inbuilt need to do so. I can’t bear to think of anyone else having to watch people they love go through that.
Mum was there with daily texts and with the time difference she replied every time I texted her, so I know she didn’t sleep for three weeks. On the trek itself there were moments when again I wasn’t well, and when I felt like death, I walked alone and I just kept saying to myself ‘”Mum, you’re here, you’re holding my hand, do you see that? Beautiful isn’t it”. For the record I am not crazy but when I struggled, I needed to talk to my mum, so I did and I know she felt it and gave me the strength to carry on.
The trek itself was hard, but it wasn’t anything that a fit Lucy wouldn’t have been able to do. I knew my legs were strong; I knew physically my body was ready for it. It was just the illness that worried me as I wasn’t keeping food down, so I knew I wasn’t fuelled properly. I would add at this point that even though I started off this poorly, everyone else struggled and some were way worse than me with sickness, and they were bloody troopers. If ever you needed inspiration you could look at each member of our group and you’d find it. Diverse people, all hard as nails and incredible people with whom I was lucky enough to share this trek.
The first view of Everest was all too much, and I still can picture every part of that moment. I have seen Everest! Those are probably the coolest words I will ever write. The Himalayas are everything and more. The most picturesque landscape I have ever seen and I look at the photos daily (I have only been back a few weeks, mind).
I could go on about the whole trek experience but to be honest unless you do it, you won’t get how amazing hot lemon is when you get to the tea house, or how amazing having the best sleeping bag in the world is so you can sleep naked and be toasty and not have to wear a million layers. I learnt from Kili how vital the sleeping bag is after having the worst one ever and sleeping in everything I owned for the whole trek! I could explain just how funny playing ‘Bullshit’ is but unless you were there every night playing against the most competitive doctor ever, it’ll mean nothing.
What I will say is that everyone on the trek, including our local guides, made this whole experience life-changing for me. I had the opportunity to talk one-to-one with each of our guides. They are inspirational and they don’t even know it.
The day we headed to the Everest Memorial was the worst for me. My bestie was struggling and was poorly at lunch and again I couldn’t do anything to make her feel better, so we just sat together and I tried to be funny and just support her the best I could. When we set off she said she wanted to hang back and go slow. I asked if she wanted me to walk with her as I was keen to get to the Memorial. She told me to go on and she’d meet me there.
I didn’t think anything of it so I trotted off and an hour in our leader told me my friend had to go down as she was so sick. I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone so I kept my sunglasses on and walked behind our guide, away from the pack and just cried right till we arrived. She had worked so hard to get there and so wanted to see the Memorial and I felt guilty that I didn’t walk with her and support her to get there.
I know had I been with her I wouldn’t have let her go down alone as we started the trek together and as far as I was concerned we finished it together at base camp or not. I know her, and she would never have let me so it would have been an argument on the mountain, and that was the worst feeling.
I walked around the memorial and there was a lady who was two years younger than me who died last year. It hit home just how dangerous this can be and I cried some more. I had the feeling of being helpless again and I realised I hadn’t dealt with this feeling at all and I needed to. The expectation on myself that I can fix everything is ludicrous, which I see now, but it took me walking up a mountain (again) before I accepted it.
My mum used to have a saying in her kitchen: Grant me the serenity to change what I can and accept what I can’t, and the knowledge to know the difference. Those words rang out like church bells as I walked around the memorial. I may not be able to fix everything, but I can be there to support and love, and that is good enough.
Continuing on with the trek, we had snow storms but mainly sunny weather which I wasn’t expecting, I left my shorts in Kathmandu which was a major fail! It snowed on Easter Sunday and it felt like we woke up to Christmas. It all looked beautiful dusted in snow and as I love Christmas made me feel super happy.
The trek to Base Camp was an early start and a long day of walking. Getting onto the glacier was amazing but Base Camp still felt so far away. As it turned out it wasn’t as we had done the hardest parts and our leader went on ahead and made a finish line for us. Walking under the flag, the same feeling I had when I summited Kili flooded back. I had done it.
I couldn’t believe it; it took everything I had and more to achieve this but I felt ‘full’ and seeing as I felt ‘light’ when I started this trek, the whole experience had given me more than I could have hoped for. I sat down and looked at all the prayer flags, I took mine out and laid them down and prayed for my family, all of them. I prayed for my friend, the reason I was raising money in the first place, and his family.
I didn’t pray to a God as such, I just hoped my words would be caught on the winds and would find their way to where they were meant to be. It felt right doing that. I texted my mum and dad. I cried some more and then I realised I didn’t know why I doubted myself getting there. I realised I am a determined person and I do believe I can achieve whatever I want to. I reminded myself of this and weirdly it felt like the words stuck for the first time.
Every one of us on that trip will have taken something different from it. For me I realised who I am and that I love that person, and incredibly that may have been the first time I felt that in a long, long while.
Since returning I feel different, I feel replenished. I have raised good amounts of money for my charities and I feel more capable than ever before.
My next challenge is the 24 Peaks in September with one of the team who works with me, and after that maybe the Great Wall of China with my mum. There will be more but this one was a total game-changer.
Thank you for reading this – if you would still like to sponsor me you can; the links are below.
It just leaves me to say – Know no limits - Namaste*.
*A Hindi greeting of respect, meaning ‘bowing to you’
Expertly edited by Chimera Communications (UK).