Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sit back, take a deep, sea-level breath and get ready...1,2,3,Boardman!I am now writing you from Puno, Peru (3820 meters), a little town onLake Titicaca. I have been here almost a week, outrageously ill. Notin the "old-school-Mike-D" way, but in the"teeth-chattering-chills-followed-by-hot-flashes-can't-get-past-the-bathroom-let-alone-outside"sense.

It all started when I was in the travel office booking a ride down "TheMost Dangerous Road in the World." Now as any active person I acceptresponsibility for taking necessary risks to have fun in outdoorsports, and I have a number of scars, and emergency room visit stories,to show for it. I want to say that I am never cocky, nor do I want to tempt fate. Nevertheless, when one decides to take a ride down something called the"MDRITW" you can not help but feel like, well, you're asking for it.

This road involves dropping over 10,000 feet over 30 miles on a one lane road consisting of rocks and dirt, cut into the side of a near vertical tropical mountainside with waterfalls constantly eroding what little it consists of, running between La Paz and Corioco, Bolivia. It is legendary for trucks, cars, buses, tourists- and everything elsethat attempt it daily...this road is busier than you might think-flying off the sheer edge (let's just say guardrails were not in thebudget) into the valley anywhere from 200-2000 feet below.

It is thehome of one of the largest single vehicle disasters in history, when anovercrowded bus succumbed to inevitability and killed over 100 people onboard after the most likely drunk driver careened into oblivion, and then of course, the very un-oblivion, unforgiving valley floor.

The great part about it is that it lives up to its reputation...as you ride by the jaw dropping scenery, you see remains of the most recent accidents...the rest are swallowed up by the relentless jungle foliage. The memorial crosses on the edge never get overgrown, always visibleto give you something to think about. 3 hours of descending on a dubiously functioning bike next to a sheer cliff gives you a lot of time to think.

So when I say "something to think about" for me took the form of "my brakes" or "I am such an asshole if I die on the most dangerous road in the world" or "Mom would be so pissed if she found out I am doing this" not to mention "I wonder which of my ex-girlfriends will come to the funeral?" or finally"I hope one of my friends has the ironic-absurdist sensibility, and theballs, to play 'Welcome to the Jungle' at the wake, because that would be hilarious!"

Thankfully we do not have to find out just yet, nor does potential danger affect my sense of irony. I know you were all worried.

But if I do go like that, you know what CD's to bring to the service.

So I made it back in one piece, hungry for more adventure. It was atthe travel office booking this journey I found out about Huayna Potosi,a very badass looking peak - my favorite criteria for picking climbs -that uses all 6,088 of its meters (19,975 feet to you, Yankee) to call to me as it loomed large over La Paz.

Also, I knew all but one of my friends (Garrett, the one who as I typeis on Everest right now...check him out at www.mountain-link.com) havenever been above 6000 meters, let alone summitted something that high. Bragging rights calling, I signed up.

It turned out to be great. Well, that and HARD. Everything that you have ever heard about being at high altitude is true (struggling for air, pounding headaches, feeling like a drunk old person, etc). I am in decent shape, have mountaineering training and experience, giving menot only advantage over everyone else in the group of 5 (all of whomhad neither), but also the sense that there are some very good impactsof US liability requirements and how they do actually make companies take some responsibility.

What I mean is that not only did the other clients have no experience,the guides did not speak english nor make any effort to explain to them how to use an ice axe, basic principles of not dying or maimingoneself, etc. What ended up happening is that I ended up having to work as a guidethe whole time. Being the only bilingual one I translated a lot, and did mini-clinics on everythingfrom the rest step to how to use an ice axe and falling protocol (rule#1: DON'T FALL). It is still my ass tied to the same rope, and even ifI was paying to be there I was damn sure I was making it off the mountain.

The Bolivian guides, of course, did not see a problem and just wanted to get up and go home; safety explanations just made this go more slowly.

This climb turned out to be a demanding glacier climb with severalIII-3 ice climbing sections, but damn was it worth it. If you arecurious and have a minute, check out the photos of one of my fellowclimbers, British Andrew:

Thing is, getting one hour's worth of sleep and ice climbing at altitude in the middle of the night takes it out of you. Two daysafter getting down my depressed immune system picked up a bug whichrendered me bed bound for 4 days. It caught up with me in Copacabana (Anyone who emails me back withlyrics of my predicament to the song stuck in all of your heads afterreading that gets a free pitcher of beer-Jeff, I am waiting), and followed to Puno.

The good news for The Boardman is that I got a room at a cheap, very comfortable hostal with a private bath (necessary), REAL mattress (verynice), and TV in the room (downright luxurious) to recuperate. Being sick here reminded me of being sick as a kid...no worrying aboutmissing work, lots of Sprite, saltines, and even the daytime "I Dream of Genie" reruns (hilariously dubbed in Spanish, of course). I even saw a doctor yesterday to make sure everything is okay-I am backon solid foods, and should be out having more Boardman blog adventuressoon. Oh, and drop me a line when you get a chance. It is always good to hear from you. Ciao,Boardman


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