October 13, 2103
It was strange to be here deep in the Himalaya’s, and in exactly 24 hours my flight would be leaving Delhi bound for Beijing, arriving sometime the next morning. From Beijing to LA, LA to SF and then back to my old life… kind of like everything happened and at the same time nothing happened. I experienced unmeasurable change and personal growth, and saw many many things most people would only dream of… but a year is not a very long time, and while I was out doing and seeing, my friends were still in SF, living there day to day, making ends meet… For a year I was on their periphery, someone they would think about or hear about every once in a while… and now I would be back in their lives again, with an asterisk that might read:
*He was kind of present but not really for a year.
In the present I was bouncing along, queazy stomach, in the back of a Land Cruiser trying to make a 12:30 flight from Dehredun. As the sun started to come up I woke to us caught in the middle of a sheep riddled traffic jam. There were sheep all around us and a solitary shepherd trying to move them along and get them off the road. We probably pushed through the herd for about 15 minutes before we finally emerged out the front of the bunch. It is probably a safe guess that this road didn’t see too many vehicles… especially at this early morning hour. There was a lot of foot traffic on the side of the road as well. The first milking was done and the farmers were turning out in numbers carrying large pails of milk over their heads, trying to get the milk to the local dairies before the heat set in. These were the people who’s lives Sorin set out to enrich… It was really nice to see this whole story come full circle. This altruistic business opportunity had led Sorin to India, and because of that, I was here finishing my amazing year long journey, and actually circumnavigating the world. It was rewarding to see first hand the people he was trying to help. I laid my head back down and we bounced further on down the road. A stop for breakfast somewhere near New Tehri… A stop for a pee, somewhere near that roadside restaurant that got me so sick on the way up… and at 11:30 we were pulling into the airport.
We flew on to Delhi and Karthik and I caught the Metro to his place in Green Park while Sorin waited at the airport for his fiancee Bianca to arrive from Mumbai. They would be celebrating the weekend in Delhi for her birthday. I was still pretty destroyed, lack of sleep plus an abundance of beer, and would be following up a rough night partying in the mountains with back to back redeye’s… All of that while trying to process the end of the journey… Karthik went out to see his girlfriend and I slept at his house for a few hours and got ready for the trip back home. I recently found my ‘to do’ list from my time at Karthik’s: shower; write andi; download pics; check into flight; gift for johnny; treats for priya; unpack (from the hike), repack (for the flight home); charge camera, phone, computer; update fantasy football team (the priorities!!); find headphones; send video’s to Andi and Casey that I made during the hike. I woke around 6:00pm and caught a tuk-tuk to the Kahn Market where I’d rendezvous with Sorin, Bianca, a friends of her’s from college, Karthik and his lady for dinner. As I had only about 6 hours before I was taking off I thought this was the perfect place to pick up some gifts to bring home with me… especially at Fabindia, a traditional garment store (established by an American?!?) whose products are sourced from villages helping to provide and sustain rural employment in India. Seemed like a win win to me… but walking around, it was obvious (as it probably should have been to begin with) that this was a market that, unequivocally, catered to the expat community… and thus had marked up prices on all it’s wares… After a little more research (back here in the USA) I came to learn that the Kahn Market has been ranked as the costliest retail location in India… This is also a fact I came to learn after purchasing 2 Dhoti’s, food treats for the office, and a really expensive blanket (that my now wife doesn’t even care for!). More than that, I would still need to figure out how I would fit everything into my 40 liter pack.
We all shared a very nice dinner and sampled some local Indian wine… a recently revitalized industry in India. Despite my initial assumptions, viticulture in India has a long history dating back to the time of the Indus Valley civilization, when grapevines are believed to have been introduced from Persia. The wine industry began to decline at the end of the 19th century with a crippling phoylloxera louse epidemic, further crushed (get it, wine industry crushed!) by the movement towards prohibition after the country gained independence from the British empire. While consumption of wine in India is about 1/8000th of that in France, there is growing demand for the beverage with the rising population of the middle class. In the early 90’s India eased trade barriers with the rest of the world… about this time a Stanford Business School grad named Raj Samant moved home and began cultivating property in the Nasik region north of Mumbai. We were enjoying wine this evening from his Sula Vineyards….
We chatted about Sorin and Bianca’s engagement, I got to learn more about Karthik, his business… and his lady… and eventually the conversation came around to the hike. It was a great accomplishment… While kind of rough at times, the weather had been in our favor… As we sat there looking back we were all a little disappointed in the vetting process by Aquaterra. There were a lot of guests on the mountain who had no business being there. I guess it’s true… money talks. Shit could have gone really wrong out there, and most of these people were not ready for it. We got lucky, but Aquaterra couldn’t keep rolling the dice like this… It just wasn’t sustainable…
At 10:00 I caught a tuk-tuk back to Karthik’s, squeezed everything into my bag and carry-ons, and called a taxi for the airport. Leaving at 3am is an unsettling feeling. The airport was extremely well lit and eerily barren. I was simultaneously exhausted and restless. I was flying Air China through to Los Angeles and then United for the quick jaunt up the California coast. At 2am I boarded the plane. I was on the aisle of a 4 seat center section of the plane, and there was another guy in the opposite aisle seat of the same center section, presumably heading home to China. This seemed a decent situation as I thought I might be able to stretch out a little bit and get some rest. But as we took off a funny thing happened. The guy in the other aisle seat got up, and moved over so that he was sitting right next to me. And then before the flight had even leveled off he laid down to take up the three remaining seats, pushing his filthy feet against me the remainder of the trip… what a fucker!!
I arrived in Beijing at 11:00. Getting through all the necessary lines took forever, but I wasn’t flying out until 3:00, so I wasn’t feeling overly rushed… just that normal annoying feeling waiting in lines… an anxiety exacerbated in China, where people don’t really value order or respect lines… . An hour in the line for international transfers, then a half hour to collect my bag, re-checking the bag and another hour through security again… I still had a couple of hours waiting at the gate. I was wrecked at this point, 2 shitty nights of sleep in a row… and my recollection is hazy at best. There was a sense of relief boarding the next flight as my seat had a TV in it… unlike the last flight, there would be some entertainment. A couple of bumps, a couple of naps and soon enough I was touching down in Los Angeles. We left Beijing and 2:00pm on October 12, flew throughout the day, crossed the international date line (what a cool thing is that!), and I landed in LA at 11:00am, 3 hours younger than when I left!
I collected my bags again and walked from the International Terminal over to the United Terminal. It was great to stretch my legs and smell that sweet California air. I had about 5 1/2 hours before my flight north, and I suppose I could have gotten in to LA to see some people, but I was done. I was tired and drained, and really I was content to hole up at an airport bar, have a drink or two, and write and watch college football… ahhhh… college football! I caught the 5:30 flight north and touched down in beautiful San Francisco at 7:00. Johnny and Vamsi were there to collect me and we went back to John and Audra’s, where they fed me, filled me with wine and kindly lent me their pullout couch for a few weeks. The 4 of enjoyed a great dinner… the whole scene was not that dissimilar to the days before leaving on this crazy trip… I guess it would be easy to build up the significance of the return and and write about how I was overcome with emotion, but the reality was, it was just another day… Your life is a series of individual days, some more significant than others, but all of them making up an overall collective… My first thought was to write ‘one that defines you’, but do your days, and what you do with them define you? The safe answer is no… but in a way they do, don’t they? It is what you, the one living this life, are choosing to do with your days… you are making those decisions… Anyway, this was just one of those days where I was transitioning from a life on the road, to a more sedentary life in a fixed location… a life equally interesting and challenging and exciting! I really enjoyed traveling for a year… but now I was back and I was really excited to have a little more stability, to have a steady income, to soon enough be joined by my love and start the next adventure…