IN HER SHOES trailblazer – Barb Crone 56. Women share stories of stepping up and out in Life Part II.
Nineteen years ago Barb Crone did something that would change her life forever. She quit smoking. Then, as is often the case, she gained weight. So she joined a gym and later a running group focused on training novice runners. Barb finished her first 10K hooked. She went on to complete numerous races including 10 marathons and a 50K Trail race. Each time lured back; a faster time or longer distance beckoned. It was all in the conquest.
When you meet Barb you can see she likes to push it…a compact bundle of energy with sparkling eyes. So, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine how she felt 2 years ago while fulfilling a dream of climbing Mt Rainier in Washington, she turned around 1200 feet from the summit and returned to base. It was the first time she did not finish.
The words of a fellow runner haunted her, “once you give yourself permission to quit it will become a habit; it will become easier each time.”
Luckily, there’s always the opportunity for redemption.
That came last Christmas when Barb’s husband Bob made a proposal, an invitation to tackle another dream, another climb, even bigger than Rainier. Would she like to attempt Mt Everest base camp?
After making an agreement with herself, “when you agree to do something you see it through,” she said, “Yes.”
The Journey to Mt Everest Base Camp
On October 6, 2014 Barb and Bob landed in the small town of Lulka (2860meters) in north eastern Nepal where yaks and mules roam the range and women plow fields with pick axes. Here they met the 2 men, a guide and a porter, with whom they would spend the next 13 days. The great adventure was about to begin.
Cheryl: What were you feeling as you prepared to leave Lulka?
BARB: I wondered how hard it would be, first we were offered tea and a snack and it seemed unless we accepted, the trek would not begin. We were anxious to get moving but nervous because we’d just handed our return tickets over to a complete stranger who claimed he would arrange the flight home. Oh well, we had each other and all our gear (gear did not arrive in Kathmandu for 2 days) and our flight had landed safely at one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
Cheryl: Did you have any fear you wouldn’t complete the climb?
BARB: No, I’m not usually too worried about bad things until they start to happen. I did wonder if I would end up with AMS (altitude mountain sickness) and if I did which symptoms I might get. We just needed to get moving.
Cheryl: What was your first impression? What did you see?
BARB: Farm smells, mules, Yaks, bells, incense, piles of hiking gear, monks, people washing in the same water as the animals drank. The people coming back were mostly smiling, first views of the Himalayas – BIG, trying to walk carefully over rocks on the main street of town and not fall in the first hour.
Cheryl: Sounds like a complete assault of all the senses…so much to take in. It must have been reassuring to see the smiling faces of the returning hikers!
BARB: I fully expected to see returning hikers smiling and laughing and moving quickly. In actual fact there was more of a quietness when you made eye contact. At the time I wondered why there wasn’t more excitement from those returning but I realized people had pretty much given all their energy to the 13 days. It was spent energy along with an immersion into the Buddhist and Sherpa way of life. Sherpa people are not boastful nor people who want, our guide would look at the mountains when we asked about weather despite the fact he had a cell phone with likely a weather app. Much more connected to the earth and rhythms of seasons.
Cheryl: Hiking for 13 days…no creature comforts….you called it “being in Yak mode”….what’s that?
BARB: We walked for about 5 hours each day. The shortest distance we covered in 5 hrs was 5km. Total distance covered — 124km. Showers were always available but they started to cost money and you had to prebook so the water could be heated then you enter a cold room, have a warm shower and get back into the cold. Sometimes it just became too much effort. Hot towels were always offered at supper and that became a lot of people’s daily wash. Toilet paper was not included anywhere either. We made it through 13 days with 2.5 rolls of paper – imagine that at home!
Cheryl: Yikes! What about yak mode?
BARB: Yak Mode – after about 4 or 5 days I coined this term. Day after day the yaks simply do as they are asked up and down the mountain. For several days all I could do was dress myself (easy as by now we are sleeping in most of our clothes) Eat, put one foot in front of the other and sleep – just like a yak. I no longer cared about hair or outfit or smell because everyone on the base camp trek is in the same boat. Our porter had only a bag that would fit a pair of shoes for 13 days worth of his personal supplies – he carried 40kg of our “stuff”. While I had dry hiking boots and a change of shoes, he dried his adidas next to the fire every night.
Cheryl: How many times have each of us said, “I’m going to simplify my life” and then we tweak a little thing or two…you really got down to base level! How did that feel?
BARB:As each day passed I was certain we required a lot less “stuff”…..did I really need ¾ of the things in my kit bag…….hair brush, tooth brush, deodorant were really all I needed. Did I need 2 pairs of hiking boots and down slippers? I always love our holidays where we live out of a backpack. We get by quite nicely. I never try on things 3 times when all I’ve got is in the bag so I put it on and say to myself – that’s as good as it gets – and I’m happy. I had a lot of thoughts about becoming a Buddhist as soon as I got home and at the very least getting a book to tell me how to live their lifestyle. And yes, I like hanging out at a nice resort and living the good life but it never fills me with happiness the way camping, hiking and mountains do. Our most expensive room was $20 and every night our guide secured us a room whose window had a mountain view.
Cheryl: We are often able to connect with our spiritual self when we are close to nature and the earth. Did you have any sense of this? Insights? Epiphanies?
BARB: Hard question for me……..when I am in the mountains anywhere I feel very alive, very peaceful, and they give me energy. I feel happy and free. The Himalayas are stunning and through 3 valleys they just get bigger and bigger. I was also struck with the hard lives the locals have but they don’t seem to know anything else. Imagine you have to store enough yak dung to last you through winter for heat and you need to save enough potatoes etc. Kids would run out the back door in the morning and squat without even looking for the outhouse. The only games we saw them play were made up games and things with rocks. Even in tea houses kids might be playing with 1 toy or they were helping parents. TV was intermittent at best. People were friendly and never seemed in a hurry.
Cheryl: Humbling? Grounding? Grateful?
BARB: All of those for sure. We were in a tea house at Periche (4371m)where I Facebooked – In this place if you teach your child to pee outside and you have potatoes to last all winter you have done your job. An over simplification but it felt that way. I very often felt spoiled by the things I knew were waiting for me at home. The average annual income of Nepal is $437US/year. Grounding – towards the end of lots of days we would just sit and look at the mountains surrounding us and take in the energy.
Cheryl: You encountered a mountain called Ama Dablam on your journey that spoke to you…how so?
BARB: Ama Dablam is 6812m – a tall thin mountain. Over the days we saw 3 sides of her, as if we kind of walked around her. She seemed to me to be watching, always there, sometimes in sun, sometimes shaded. Also kind of graceful in a range full of jagged mountains. It is a mountain known for its beauty.
Cheryl: What was the biggest challenge of the hike?
BARB: On hard days my mind is usually my biggest challenge. If I’m under fueled or things are getting too hard I can get a very negative brain. I spent a whole morning walking at a snail’s pace thinking to myself “why the heck am I doing this, just sit and wait for Bob, this is waaaayy too hard” crying by lunch. The tea house offered a version of hot tang which I inhaled, ordered oatmeal and doused it in sugar, added a handful of nuts and chocolate chips from my bag and inhaled it……..no more tears, my brain had created the hardship.
Cheryl: Living in the moment has to be one of life’s greatest challenges. You were living in the moment every day because you had no choice. How does it feel?
BARB: For me living in the moment means I’m only doing exactly what’s needed at this moment in time. No mental lists while walking, no checking mail….brain is in “now” not wandering. I love to trail run because if you start to think of other things you will trip, you must be present. On the Everest Base Camp trek it was pointless to think about anything but the thing at hand, there was no way out besides turning around, no TV to distract, the only warmth in the evening was by sitting as close to the yak burning fire as possible. Being present gives me energy until I can get it again.
Cheryl: You conquered! How did it feel to reach base camp at 17,500 feet?
BARB: It was a really long day, we saw 2 big avalanches on the way, moved quicker after a piece of shale slid our way from above. Seeing the base camp marker made me cry, I really couldn’t believe we were really at the place where all the climbers I’ve read about all these years have passed through. We were really proud of ourselves for making it. It was one of those moments when you tell yourself you can do anything you really want. I was also keen to get moving as the day was cooling off and the trip back to Gorak Shep would be slippery.
Cheryl: What about food? You come from the North American culture of gluten free, vegan, and lactose intolerant foodies…how did you manage on what you describe as a diet of potatoes, rice and spaghetti?
BARB:The real question is making 9 days without a beer or a glass of wine……kidding. Neither of us are picky eaters and while we like to eat fairly clean we don’t restrict any particular food group. At the end of 13 days we both noticed that we felt really well – no stomach issues of any type, clear headed. We actually had a conversation wondering if it was due to walking 5 hrs a day or was it actually the food – nothing processed, for the most part 100 mile diet.
Cheryl: You retired a year and a half ago at age 54…other than conquering new heights…what are you focused on?
BARB: I see a need to volunteer, giving back in my own community is important to me. Thinking of a small business – something related to fitness I have a few ideas but I get stuck trying to move them forward and into something that pays and not just ideas. I love the freedom of not working and only looking at my calendar a week or so at a time. I’m currently in the midst of a 30 day challenge to move everyday.
Cheryl: Your sons are 27 and 24 and launched AND you ‘got the place back…. How do you feel? What the best part of Life Part II?
BARB: Love the term Life Part II. Since the boys launched I’m so happy to have our couple life back – no one in the middle of us. Coming home the food in the fridge is exactly as I left it – ie it’s still all there. Sometimes a bit wondering about old age. When my last son, Ben, moved out he said, “once I leave you won’t be cool anymore mom,” I said what do you mean. He said, “I bring the new words, music and ideas home, now you won’t have that.” I do believe kids keep you young and in the loop. Because of that I make a special effort to listen to new music all the time and read about anything the kids or young people are talking about. I never want to be out of the loop.
Cheryl: I think a lot of us enter Life Part II with the intention of finding our passion. You seem to have yours. How did you find it? Any advice for others looking to find?
BARB: Passion has always been there, now there’s just more time to do the things I actually want to do. When I was younger you squeezed events into little windows of opportunity, now the windows are bigger. For others – I love talking with women and asking what they dream about doing – what are the things you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid to say or do. I’m good at flushing out ways for people to get things done. I believe the story of a bucket with rocks, pebbles and sand. If you fill the bucket first with sand there’s no room for the rocks. Fill your bucket with rocks – what you most want and there will be lots of room for the sand.
I asked Barb if she could leave us with her 6 word memoir… she needed only two…
BARB: Live Strong…..only 2 words but always resonates with me. I know Lance Armstrong is on the outs with the world but the words have always stuck with me. If means do your best, believe in yourself, you can do it, you are good, big girl panties.