It’s real, it really is!!

So I don’t even know how to begin putting this news down in print, but, in simple terms, the best way to sum it up is in this phrase: ‘She said yes!!’. Now before anyone gets carried away with the permutations or connotations of that statement, we are talking marathons here, and specifically the TCS New York Marathon 2019!

As per two posts ago, I have had this burning (in fact it was in flames 100 feet high!!) desire to do the New York Marathon later this year. This in turn was prompted by me being inspired by a certain someone who has done a few marathons herself, and also my belief that I could perhaps do one too. So, having asked her if she would join me in New York in November, and you now knowing the answer to the question like I do, then it is on!!

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So this is how it made me feel 🙂

So having got the nod :), I’ve been in touch with (the so far amazingly great) 209 Events, who hold an ITO (International Tour Operator) licence to get people into the run. The condition of this is that you buy (as a minimum) flights through them too. The actual entry for the run itself is a pretty hefty £420 per person, but at this point I’m really not focussed on the cost at all. This is after all a trip of a lifetime, an adventure perhaps to top them all, and that means I just want it to happen really badly.

209 Events are run by a guy called Mike Gratton, who it turns out won the London Marathon in 1983, in a then British record of 2 hours and 9 minutes. They’ve been really helpful, responsive and informative so far, and so they got my vote when it came to booking. So yesterday was a day of booking flights and hotels and getting entries done etc. The result of all that is that we are in! Whilst the 3rd November feels still a long way away (168 days away in fact :O) I know it will fly by. I intend to make the most of the whole thing from start to finish.

More to follow in due course, but I needed to record this for posterity and for all time, so I can remember this time and this day!!

 

Where do I start?

So as an update to my post last week, I am still awaiting confirmation of whether the Marathon is happening or not. It is 100% happening in my mind, and my desire to do it increases almost hourly, but as I’m waiting for confirmation from someone else as to whether they are doing it too, I’m in limbo, a bit. That’s frustrating (and that’s possibly the understatement of the century!) but it is what it is, and it will be what it will be.

A bit of light bedtime reading….

I am in the meantime very indebted to the various people I am getting good advice from. It’s great to get such encouragement and people telling you how incredible they find it that you are even entertaining the idea. Maybe they find it incredible that I am contemplating it at all, who knows, but it is all positive so far :).

I’ve also had some great help from a work colleague, Esther, with whom I run with at lunchtimes at work from time to time. Esther has done a great job of encouraging other people in our office to get from the couch to do a half-marathon, and sacrifices a lot of time and her own running time to do so. That’s really as inspirational as it is admirable, and she is also already helping my journey too. Yesterday she brought into the office a veritable library of books for me to borrow, dealing with almost every aspect of running, from the physical to the theoretical, the down and dirty to the esoteric. and as I have a thirst for knowledge I could be buried in books for some time……….:)

I cannot however bury myself in theory for too long. While it is important, there is nothing to beat getting out there. Strava tells me that I have run 268 miles this year so far, which is a (not bad for me) 14 miles a week on average. I’m currently (the last two or three weeks) at about 20 miles a week, which whilst a decent base, is nowhere close to what I will need to be running in order to get myself over the finish line.

The tale of the tape as at 14th May 2019…

Most training plans I have seen seem to go up to around 50 miles a week, and that is a massive (and daunting) amount to say the least. On top of the effort to do the miles themselves, is the time. That is about 9 hours of running, plus the faffing and changing, showering and what have you, so you can probably double that. So 80 hours plus a month, over 4 and a half months (most training programmes are 16 – 18 weeks) just to do the training. Gulp!

But even before that, I have to keep up my base fitness, keep doing at least the 20 miles a week, and then choose which plan to stick to. I have downloaded 5 so far, and while they are broadly similar, they differ by number of days, amount of miles, how hard you go, what you supplement your long runs with etc. I want to get the right balance between motivational, and doable, without being too taxing. I will stick to any training programme as long as it isn’t too hard, as if it is I will not succeed. I’m at the point where I now for the first time in my life am starting to actually enjoy running, and I don’t want to take the fun away altogether. Having said that, I know the next few months will be tough, very tough at times and I have to make sacrifices, but that’s all good – I am up for it completely.

So for now, let’s be patient (hard for me, as this is all as massive as it is massively exciting), and hopefully get my news through and my booking made. Then the hard work starts. Watch this space…….

Marathon!

So after way too much inactivity, the blog is back, and the above title says it all. Yes, indeed, I’ve decided that I need to do the Big One. And not just any Big One, but New York. Go big or go home, as they say!

Why, I hear you say? Why, at my very (and some would say over!) ripe old age, do I decide to suddenly do a marathon when one has never been contemplated (or thought possible, especially by me!) before? Good questions!

The answer is twofold. One, in short, is that I really, really, badly want to. I have for a couple of years in fact, but I didn’t think I was physiologically capable, and now I do. Secondly, someone (and you know who you are 🙂 ) has inspired me into it. And that’s actually the best reason of all. I’ll cover that latter point in a subsequent blog post.

But before I get too carried away, I need to ground myself. 26.219 miles is going to be hard. Ridiculously hard in fact. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, is that if you put enough, and the right, training in, you can get there. So that’s exactly what I’ll do.

I’m lucky in one respect, in that because I’m so anal about these things, then if I have a training plan to follow, I’ll follow it to the letter. It’s how I’m wired, and also that attitude allows for the fact that I have a fear of failure. And I thus have a training plan, or three in fact, and they have been scrutinised intimately for variations, difficulties, and the like. They are hard yes, but not daunting at all. The reverse in fact is true.

These things (by which I mean running full stop!) do not come naturally to me. I couldn’t run any distance at all over about 400m when I was young, my asthmatic physiology just didn’t allow it. But over recent years, despite a bit of a major mishap with two broken heels a few years ago when overtraining for the Great North Run :O, I’ve steadily built myself up to being able to do distance ok. I have a best (this year, in the Vitality London Big Half) of 1:48:58 at the half marathon, and have run 14 and a half miles as my longest run. I’m therefore never going to be great, or quick, but that’s not the point. I can keep going, and have enough determination, I hope!

In short, if something is good (by which I mean exciting) enough, and you want it enough, I do it. And I throw myself into it, and that’s what I’m doing here.

The marathon is to me the ultimate test of endurance, and also the most inspirational thing to so many people, even those who (very much like me until this year) thought they would never even think about doing one.

I also realise before I even embark on this that marathons take over your life. This one already has my attention for about 23 hours and 57 and a half minutes of my day for example, and I haven’t even signed up for it yet! But I do know from speaking to others who have been through it, that your eating, drinking, weekends, emotions, relationships and so much more will all be affected by it. But they are all containable, and they will all be dictated to by the extent of your determination. And I can honestly say that I have never (at least at this moment in time) been more determined to do anything, ever.

And mentioning emotions – I’ll talk about that in future posts, but it’s something I know I will have to control, especially in New York, the biggest of them all. When I did the Great North Run last time, I got such an overwhelming head rush of emotions after about a mile I thought it was going to completely consume me. My heart was beating so fast that I had to just slow down and think of anything but what I was doing to contain it all.

And the reason in the here and now as to why New York? Well that’s because at the moment of writing (early May 2019) it is the only one of the Big Six that I can get into. I’ve entered the ballot for London next year too, but that’s a lifetime away, and also around half a million other people have as well. My chances of getting therefore are a bit slim at best. And, being the impetuous sort, when I decide to do something I do it!

And of course New York is a city I love. And it’s an adventure. It’s hilly. It finishes in Central Park. It’s the biggest marathon in the world in terms of people and crowds (and I love that). It’s the City that Never Sleeps. It’s probably the most famous city in the world in fact. It’s HAPPENING, in every single aspect of the word 😀

So this is the start. I have a training plan, I have the desire (in absolute abundance). I have a travel company who can get me into the event and the whole shebang. I’ve even, for goodness sake, resurrected my blog after three years of inactivity – now that’s a sign if ever there is one! All I need now is someone to do it with………………………..as this has to be shared. And so, watch this space, because that’s the gating factor right now. More to follow (I hope and trust) very soon 🙂

 

 

 

 

Zermatt Day 2

So waking on day two (of two) in Zermatt itself, at about 1,750m, in a hotel, and not in a mountain hut some 1,000m higher up has its advantages. One, you get a nice shower; two, you get a nice comfy bed; three, you don’t get woken up about twenty times in the night by other climbers in your dormitory shuffling and snoring; and four, you get, if you are really really lucky, a view like this from your own balcony:

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn't want to leave the hotel!

How stunning is that for a sight to wake up to? I didn’t want to leave the hotel!

So today we had planned a much easier trek than the one the day before, which had seen us do about 22km in total, including a climb to about 3,260m on the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn. Today we’d take in a couple of the tourist paths on the other side of Zermatt, the Marmot Trail and the ‘5-Seenweg’, literally the ‘5 lakes trail’.

From the top end of the town (the south, geographically) we walked through town, grabbing breakfast on the way, to the north eastern side, and the rothorn funicular railway. This takes you up entirely inside the mountain in about three minutes to the Sunegga area at about 2,300m. This can be seen in the left middle of the map link below: http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

Blessed again by absolutely cloudless skies like the day before, and even warmer conditions, we set off firstly up the Marmot Trail, (we didn’t see any today unfortunately, but we had the day before) which is numbered 8 on the map.

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The Marmot Trail – a different and lovely side of Zermatt.

Then from the Blauherd cable car station at 2,571m we began on the 5-seenweg trail. The first lake, the Stellisee, is absolutely stunning, as you can see from the picture below: We stayed there for a while just to take it all in, as did many other people, it seems to be a bit of a tourist trap, and quite frankly why shoudn’t it be? It’s a natural lake, and just beautiful.

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

The Stellisee, at 2,537m. I can see why it is so incredibly popular!

Upon leaving the Stellisee towards the next lake, the Grindjisee, the path takes a pretty sharp descent. At this point Verena decided that her knee, which had been giving her problems on the latter half of yesterday’s walk, was too painful to continue with the rest of the walk. She therefore suggested that I carry on with the rest of the lakes, and she made her way back to the Sunnega cable car, only about 20 minutes away. After checking she was ok and could make it on her own, I took her up on her offer, and carried on.

The Grindjisee is at about 2,350m, and is a small and very tranquil place. You’d probably never come across it if you weren’t looking for it in fact. It was in a really pretty area though, and of course you could see a reflection of the Matterhorn in the surface of the lake, what more do you need!

The Grinjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

The Grindjisee, tranquil and stunningly beautiful in equal measures.

From the Grindjisee the walk is mostly flat for about three miles until you get to the Grünsee, which doesn’t have reflections of the Matterhorn, but you can still see it :).

 

The Grünsee - three down, tow to go!

The Grünsee – three down, two to go!

There was then a pretty steep and narrow trail through the woods towards the Moosjisee, a seemingly man made affair, but stunningly green in colour:

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The Moosjisee – and there’s that mountain again!

The Moosjisee is the lowest of the five lakes, and from there after another brief descent with stunning views back towards Zermatt itself, there is a bit of a climb back up to the Leisee, which I unfortunately didn’t photograph.

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The walk towards the Leisee, with some very pretty hillside hamlets en route.

Having got back to the Sunegga cablecar station, Verena was thankfully there waiting for me and her knee was fine. There would be no more walking for her though, and so we decided to have lunch at the very lovely mountain restaurant by the Sunegga, it would have been rude not to really! So a beer, a rösti, and some very pleasant views were the order of the day:

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Now that’s the way to end a walk!

The 5-Seenweg walk is about two and a half to three hours overall, and well worth it if you are visiting in summer.

After lunch we took the funicular railway back down to Zermatt before a bit of shopping before heading back to Bern, where I would be lucky enough to get to watch Stage 16 of the Tour de France the next day. We’d had a great weekend, and literally didn’t see a cloud in 48 hours.

I’ll leave off with a view more photographs of Zermatt itself. A great little car free town, with lovely shops, and just an idyllic place to be summer or winter. It’s my fifth time here all in all, and it won’t be the last.

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Zermatt!

So it’s obviously been way way too long since I last put up a blog post. That’s because about 11 months ago I took the decision to stop my apparently futile attempts at high altitude success. I had three or four goes at getting above 6,000m, and they all seemed to end in one thing – me heading downwards feeling like shit. So in the meantime I’ve done some nice sensible things, like change job, move house, and do some cycling.

Lots of cycling in fact, culminating in a fabulous 160-odd mile ride doing the coast to coast in a day. Details of that here of that ride, less the last 6 or so miles as my Garmin battery decided it didn’t want to go for over 12 hours! See Strava section here: https://www.strava.com/activities/623638383

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The Coast to Coast was at the end of June, and it was great, but (as is the way with me :)) I finished it and needed a new thing to aim for. And so after a bit of an impromptu flight purchasing, I was off to Switzerland at the end of July for a bit of ‘hill practice’ as they say!

I originally intended to head to Grindelwald, and trek around the North Face of the Eiger, something that has been ‘on the list’ for a little while. But after contacting my friend Verena, who lives in nearby Bern, she suggested that the Eiger and surrounds would be stupidly busy that weekend. She suggested Zermatt instead, as she hadn’t been there before, and would come along too!

And so off to Zermatt it was, for what proved to be an amazingly beautiful weekend in what is such a fabulous part of the world. For those who don’t know me, I have a bit (ok a lot!) of a fixation with The Matterhorn – I just find it a staggeringly beautiful and transfixing mountain. Spellbinding in fact. I also put my only ever Youtube video online with the mountain in it – I could still watch it every day! Skiing down towards Zermatt in 2013:

After a flight to Zurich and a train ride to Bern to meet Verena, we departed at the crack of dawn on the Saturday morning for the drive to Zermatt, about two and a half hours away. After a great drive which went under part of the Alps near to the Eiger in a car train, we arrived in the car free resort of Zermatt and headed up the mountain via cablecar to the Trockener Steg area of the resort. Cable cars aren’t cheap in Zermatt (nothing is cheap in Zermatt in fact!) at about £40 per single ride, but at least it got us up to 2,900m very quickly.

The great thing about the Zermatt area is that from practically anywhere you are, you can see The Matterhorn! It just dominates the place like the outrageous behemoth that it is, towering to 4,478m (14,700 feet), looking all Toblerone-shaped (the Toblerone logo is modelled on it for those who don’t know) and pointy, and just incredible.

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

The Matterhorn rearing up above Zermatt

We had chosen a trail which took us from Trockener Steg down to the Schwarzsee, and then around the west face of the Matterhorn and up to a mountain hut called the Schonbielhutte. I managed to persuade Verena though that en route we should try a tricky path up to the Hornlihutte, which is perched somewhat precariously on the North east ridge of the mountain at 3,260m. Thankfully she didn’t take too much convincing, and after trekking down to about 2,400m initially on what was a fairly uneventful route, we began the very eventful path up.

Approaching the Matterhorn - the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow at about 3pm on the picture.

Approaching the Matterhorn – the Hornlihutte is on the tip of snow middle right of the picture.

It was slow going, as a.) we were up at 3,000m and unacclimatised, and also b.) the path has several places where in simple terms a missed footing could be your last ever step on earth. To add to the perils of point b.) the path was still snowy and icy in places, and without crampons (which I have to say weren’t required at this time of year, but a month earlier and you wouldn’t venture up any of this without them) it added to the general feeling of precariousness. Thankfully at the most tricky parts there was a metal rope in place to cling onto, which I gladly took advantage of.

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts easily with a footpath and metal railing

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply....

The path starts to wend its way up quite steeply….

...and there are parts where you have something to hold on to....

…and there are parts where you have something to hold on to….

...and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

…and finally the hut comes into view just in the snowline.

It was a really great climb, requiring the use of hands as well in places to add to the mind’s focus. We reached the hut at about 1.45pm, and sat at the terrace for lunch (it would have been rude not to really) and it became apparent as soon as we stopped moving that the temperature when stopped was considerably colder than it had felt whilst climbing up, so jackets and hoods were quickly donned. The views were majestic – including the view directly upwards of the top of the mountain, which whilst still over 1,100 vertical metres above us, seemed much closer. I vowed looking upwards at the near vertical face to never, ever feel brave or stupid enough to try to climb it :).

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

This is the closest to the top I am ever going to get, promise!

Just to prove I made it there!

Just to prove I made it there!

The area around Zermatt is also home to around 25 4,000m+ mountains, including the Dufourspitze and the Dom, at 4,630m and 4,550m respectively the second and third highest mountains in the Alps, and the highest points in Switzerland.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

Starting the descent, Zermatt a long way down the valley in the distance and lots of 4,000m peaks up above.

From the Hornlihutte we took trail 27 and then a black-marked steep track down the mountain (see attached map) to Stafel, where we intended to begin the trek back up to Schonbielhutte.  http://www.matterhornparadise.ch/pdf/panoramakarten/panoramakarte_sommer.pdf

However on getting down near to Stafel at about 4.30pm, Verena was struggling with a twisted and sore knee, and so the climb up to the hut at about 2,700m and about three miles distant all of a sudden looked a bit of a long way. This was more relevant given the fact that the hut needed us there by 6.30pm latest (the cut off point for evening meals) and also there was no alternative should we not make it as the hut is at the end of a long and isolated valley.

Near Stafel - the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

Near Stafel – the Schonbielhutte in the far distance.

We thus phoned the hut and said we would not be able to make it, and then tried to find alternatives continuing steadily down the mountain towards Furi. Cutting a very long story short (about which I could write not just another blog post, but actually a fairly lengthy novel) we ended up all the way back in Zermatt itself at about 8pm. This at least left us best-placed for the next day, when we intended to head up to the other side of the resort, the Rothorn area.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it's western face.

The Matterhorn looking quite different from Stafel, this it’s western face.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

One of the very pretty hamlets we passed on our way back down towards Zermatt. This is Zmutt, I think.

Our route is in the attached Strava link – it was a fabulous walk of around 22km, showcasing some fabulous views of much of the Matterhorn area, and a lot of ascent and descent  https://www.strava.com/activities/643124049

After a very long day, sleep would come very easily, and at the thought of seeing the ‘5 Lakes Trail’ the next morning, where each lake held a different reflection of the Matterhorn, I was very very much looking forward to day 2!

 

Bolivian Climber – postscript

And so my trip came to an end prematurely. There was no going back to the mountains, and not even really second thoughts once I had come down to La Paz. I did actually see a doctor at my hotel, just to get checked out so to speak. He said I was as fit as a fiddle, and that my blood pressure was 120/80. I am not sure that I believed him, but I certainly felt the benefits of being at just 13,000 feet or so.

Over the next two days I ate steak, drank wine, enjoyed La Paz, and booked myself an early ticket home. I met up with the rest of the gang who had come down to rest for a day whilst they recovered from not having been able to attempt Pequena Alpameyo. They went up the next day to try to do summit two, Huana Potosi, and some summitted, but that was the end of the line summitwise – Illimani was a no go area due to dangerous avalanche risk, and so didn’t happen for anyone. The mountains, and the weather gods, won this time, as so often happens. The overall trip report is below from our outstanding leader Olan:

http://www.jagged-globe.co.uk/news/report.php?id=1213

In the meantime, I got delayed going home by snow, saw more of La Paz and Llama foetuses than I really needed to, and generally killed time, no more of which I need to record here. I had had a fabulous adventure though, which was capped off by the following when I was flying from La Paz to Santa Cruz in Bolivia on the first of a long leg home:…………………I have left it ‘unedited’ from how I wrote it at the time, which was Friday the 14th August:

“Oh my God” The phrase is so overused. A bit like awesome, a word I have never much cared for.

Today however I have used both, a lot.

I am sitting in seat 1A of an American Airlines 757, flying over the Amazon jungle. I’ve never seen it before until today, and is absolutely staggering to the point of being overwhelming.

From this point in my flight, it just got more and more amazing.......

From this point in my flight, it just got more and more amazing…….

From this.....

From this…..

....to this......

….to this……

....to this.....

….to this…..

...to this!......

…to this!……

...and this.....:)

…and this…..:)

This, is the Rio Grande. The greatest tributary, and the lead in, to the biggest river in the world, the Amazon. It discharges more water than the world’s next seven rivers added together apparently. Truly there are no words, in my language at least, to describe how utterly amazed I feel just looking down on it.

I have taken probably 50 photographs on my phone out of the window, none of which I know will ever even begin to convey the marvel, wonder and jaw dropping majesty of what I am seeing. The way the various tributaries snake backwards and forwards, the brownness of the water, the denseness of the jungle for unimaginable distances of vastness, the so abundant and different shades of green, which couldn’t even be replicated on the world’s most complicated supercomputer.

So many thoughts run through my mind: Why have I never been here before? Why is it declining in terms of deforestation as badly as it is and how can governments let it happen? What do the people who live down there think? Do they know how utterly, ridiculously amazing it is? I honestly thought I had seen it all when I saw the Himalayas, or Kilimanjaro and the plains of the Serengeti, but this is better, bigger, and more fantastic, if that is even imaginable as a ‘thing’. I feel incredible.

I feel so very lucky today, and just wanted to capture those thoughts. My plane out of Bolivia (firstly out of La Paz down to Santa Cruz) to Miami was delayed by an hour and a half due to ‘maintenance issues’. When I get to Miami I will miss my connecting flight out of here back to the UK, and have to probably sleep on this floor of the airport. None of that matters. I have seen under almost cloudless skies the majesty of this earth. The Bolivians have a name for this – Pachamama, the Mother Earth. Well Mother Earth, I see now, clearly, and almost for the first time, just how stupendously beautiful you really are.

Bolivian Climber Day Ten

Note this is a repeat of a post that I put on Facebook, but it is from my blog entries from my tenth day of my Bolivian trip, and so is repeated here for that reason…….:)

I am now back in La Paz, having come down from the Cordillera Réal range to recuperate, whilst the rest of the group that I was with carry on with their attempts on various mountains therein. I got to 5,340 metres at the top of Pico Austria two days ago, and all felt fine, but since then I haven’t been feeling the full ticket.

So today I took a decision to end my high altitude endeavours. I’ve been above 5,000m five times now, and each time I got varying forms of altitude sickness. My last three trips ended with just one summit, which was itself eclipsed by my getting high altitude cerebral edema (which could have been fatal), and the last two I have had to descend without summitting. My attempts this time to get to 6,500m (21,500 feet) have been futile, and maybe I should have known that before I came out here, but I wanted to give it one last go. I tried, but I haven’t failed. 

Over the last five or so years since I got to the top of Kilimanjaro, I’ve had a brilliant time. I started this episode of my life at age 45, and I don’t regret one single minute, in fact the total opposite. I’ve met some absolutely fabulous people, some of which I hope will be lifelong friends; I’ve seen countries, people and cultures that I would never have been close to had it not been for my pursuit of this; I’m healthier and fitter than I have ever been in my life; I’ve accomplished things and learned a lot more about life, and me, than I ever would have done otherwise.

The roof of Africa.......

The roof of Africa…….

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth..

Stood in the shadow of the highest place on planet earth..

...to the highest point in all of Europe....

…to the highest point in all of Europe….

..to nearly the roof of South America....

..to nearly the roof of South America….

...and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes....

…and my latest adventure in the Bolivian Andes….

...and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

…and some very special places inbetween. What a journey!

I fly back in a couple of days time, and will think about things in the meantime, but I’m not going to stop going to the top of (much smaller) mountains, or walking in the hills and fells, or travelling, or doing things outdoors that I love. I’m just not doing any more high altitude trips, ever. I’m done, and I’m good with that. The good thing too is that I have a million things to look forward to, and my life is richer because of what I’ve done. I’m very proud and happy about that.

Meantime, to those great people I’ve met along the way, and probably more importantly to those who have worried about me while I’ve been away, I’ll just say thank you, for everything, and for being part of this adventure. If you look forward on life now with as much enthusiasm as I do, then your life will be a fabulous and fulfilling one. Embrace life, we all only get one of them after all.