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Back to the salt mines

Only 10 days ago, Mike and Dave were in another world. Now that world almost seems like a dream. How is Mike coping with his return to telephones, commuting, and business meetings? Read on to find out.


Louisville, KY, USA
May 8, 2000
3:44 P.M. EST

How odd to have a dateline saying "Louisville" after all this time! We've been back for just over a week now. This dispatch is late. Isn't it funny that we could get a dispatch out every day while we were in Nepal, but it took a week to get one out since we've been home?

With the possible exception of the flight to Lukla, the worst flight by far was from Dallas to Louisville. We hit such turbulence that I was beginning to glimpse the irony of surviving the Himalayan trek only to die on the flight home. Finally we landed, wings grasping for stability.

A bunch of people from work met us at the airport with balloons and paper Hawaiian-style leis. David's wife met him. My significant other has children sleeping on a school night, so that was not an option. But the TechRepublic crew had thought of that and brought plenty of yawning trunks waiting to take my gear home. We presented our editor, Heather, with an embroidered T-shirt we had made special. It had a picture of mountains and the legend, "ALMOSTEVEREST EDITOR EXTRAORDINAIRE." When I got home, the expedition duffel that was so hard to lift a month ago presented no problem at all as I hauled it around the corner and up the stairs to my apartment.

The next morning, I discovered that what little gas was in my car's tank had evaporated in the month that I was gone, so I had to walk to the gas station and borrow a gas can. Then I got busy with errands: bank, Home Depot for paint, groceries, pay bills . . . it felt strange driving again. And I realized how it was going to be from now on—always driving, where walking has to be "exercise" saved for a special time of the day. Sigh!

Tuesday I took off from work. On Wednesday, May 3, I went back to my office, fielded all kinds of congratulations, and stared at the wall until it was time to go home. On Thursday, the company was hit by the "ILOVEYOU" computer worm! No dispatch that day. Can you believe we made it through the trip with only minor technical difficulties and as soon as we came back, the server went down? Friday was a special day off—it's Kentucky Derby time in Louisville, and we were off for Oaks—the race day before the Derby. Then there was the weekend, which, unless I'm trekking in Nepal, is not a workday for me.

So here we are, Monday, and at last the dispatch is getting done. Not very productive.

I do, however, have the advantage of a week to reflect on my homecoming. As the Buddhists teach, life is unpredictable. News of my stepfather's health, first heard on the trail, is worse every day. It's a very dire situation. I can't quite get into the groove with the woman I'm dating; surprisingly, this requires a readjustment or reacquaintanceship of some kind that I'm still trying to figure out. My job, you faithful readers will recall, was reorganized while David and I were kicking up dust and gasping for air, and I have to slip into some new writing duties—not that I mind, of course. But how simple it was when we just had to cope with the impersonal weather and altitude and with the demands we placed on our own bodies and minds!

One of the first things I did when I returned was to reorganize my apartment. It's almost as though changes in my mind required changes in my environment. I painted my bathroom, erasing the horrible dirty "antique" white with a blue that reminds me of the rooftops of Namche. I threw out the old, stained southwestern-patterned rug in the living room—a legacy of a previous marriage—replacing it with a new rug purchased in Kathmandu. I bought an air conditioner for the bedroom. No way I'm going to be uncomfortable this year in Louisville's sweltering summers. And, by Saturday morning, I had written a new opening to my sci-fi novel. Now that's productive. What am I avoiding? Standing still?

The beard had also come off by Wednesday. Nope, it just wasn't me. At least not the everyday, Louisville me. That was special to the trail.

I couldn't wait to test out "big lung"—the extra capacity for O2 that I will supposedly have for two weeks. Yep, it exists. I went to the gym Thursday, got on the treadmill, and started turning up the pace, trying to find a level that made me breathe hard. Finally, when I was running 6.1 miles per hour, I just shrugged and went with it (I usually averaged 4.7 mph before). Twenty minutes later, I had to get off to shower and change for work. I couldn't get tired! That afternoon, I went back to the gym and ran 5.5 mph for another 30 minutes. Got a little tired that time. All these are personal bests. I'll hate to see them go away with the "big lung."

I got a surprise when I climbed on the scale. Twelve more pounds come off since I left for Nepal. That's an average of half a pound each day for the trip, and can't be healthy. Still, I hope to keep it off.

I ate more steak and splurged on blueberry pancakes. Otherwise, I'm just eating light meals—it's as if food doesn't matter as much any more. I'd like to keep that attitude! I've had a craving every day for corn flakes for breakfast. I didn't eat breakfast cereal for years until the trek. Too bad I can't buy yak milk here! And, I seem to have brought back a nasty cough that I can't shake—so a visit to the doctor is definitely in order.

Took me a few days to sort out all the gear. And now I'm wondering . . . how long is it going to take to air out? Whew! I'm still doing laundry—the fleece requires special care.

But these changes aren't all. There's some mental stuff going on. So far, I find television very disturbing—the commercials drive me nuts. I just turn it on to catch the news and weather, and then turn it off again. Radio in the car? No, I keep it silent, so I can try to keep the serenity as long as I can. Cell phone? Haven't checked it in a week. It stays in the car, just for emergencies now. And, as for combating that useless fear that I wrote about some time ago? When I go to the store and park the car, I leave the doors unlocked! Imagine my bravery! When I return to the car, guess what? Nothing has happened. I didn't have to be afraid, after all. (New Yorkers, it isn't suggested you follow this advice. There is something called "reality.")

At home, I hardly answer the telephone. I'll check for messages, but I find I don't like the interruption, the telemarketers, the wrong numbers. What am I doing that I don't like being interrupted over? Reading! Catching up on all the magazines, reading books, sitting in the quiet and petting my cats. (They've gotten matted since I last saw them—working on that, too.)

I bought new plants for the house and placed them in colorful pots and repotted the old ones. I check my e-mail, pay the bills, and then turn off the computer and leave it off—letting its hum die away has become a real pleasure. I open the shades and let in lots of light.

Silence is lovely. I'm going to hold civilization at bay as long as I can (well, most of it—I went to the movies last night). Already, I can feel the peace and serenity I felt in Nepal slipping through my fingers. After all I said about how I wished anger, fear, and aggression could be as rare here as they are in Nepal, I got mad when a car cut me off. I got angry when my girlfriend didn't make time to see me. Yep, it's starting—the carousel is warming up and taking me around with it.

As I look out the window here at my TechRepublic office, I see a hazy Louisville afternoon. Everyone's allergies are up (pretty much everyone suffers here), as you can tell by the runny noses in the offices. The sun reflects off a Chevy van parked across from me. A man in a suit, pinstriped shirt, and dark glasses hurries to his car. Small, isolated beech trees planted as landscaping in the asphalt lot sway in the wind. Over the berm, I can see rush-hour traffic starting up, and light poles, and power lines.

In the faintest overlay of imagination, I superimpose a dusty trail, with porters walking a few hundred meters before resting, hunkering down so that their wicker baskets rest on curved wooden walking sticks. I hear the jangle of yak bells, see the furry Tibetan yaks walking towards me as they sway their heads from side to side. In the center of a trail is a giant mani stone; above, the clouds sweep past the glory of the Himalayas, white and foreboding jagged peaks, the roof of the world. The god-mountain, Everest—Sagamartha—watches over all.

Mike Jackman is an editor in chief of TechProGuild, an editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. Together with his co-editor in chief David Bard, he recently returned from Nepal, where he was reporting on high-altitude technology and climbing in the Himalayas. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike’s an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.

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