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Monday, November 30, 2009

Knock Out!

Undefeated in Thailand. Has a nice ring to it...

Sunday was spent on a wave of nervous energy. I'm not sure who was more nervous, Troy or I, but we both did a good job trying to hide it.
We entered the stadium and I was overwhelmed with the smells of sweat and tiger balm. Yep, we had arrived. The little kids were up first and while I watched 7 year olds with boxing gloves the size of their heads and practiced spectating without squirming, Troy got prepared. Or should I say that the pit crew (as i like to call them) prepared him. First was hand taping, then the massage and grease-up, some pep-talking and off to wardrobe!

This was the real deal, a professional fight. He looked the part and was the picture of confidence as he climbed into the ring in his silk robe. (Though he later confessed that he almost fell on his face as he negotiated the ropes...)

Troy went through the motions of the Wai Kru (the traditional 'dance' performed in the ring prior to fighting) and then the inevitable happened. The fight began. I had been hoping the formalities would last a while longer as I sought out an isolated seat in the corner from where I could watch alone with my nerves.

It started out a little tentative, as was expected. This was Troy's first fight. This was not the first fight for his Thai opponent. Troy took a couple of good kicks to the leg in the first round and then I watched the momentum of the fight turn as Troy got, well, pissed off! He found his one-two and got into the game. I didn't need that seat after all as I found myself jumping up and down and yelling like a hockey-mom.

Round 1 seemed to pass in a flash and the team sprung into action!

Round 2 was even shorter. This is a picture of Troy trying not to celebrate prematurely as his opponent, in the bottom right hand corner, lies unmoving on the mat... So proud!
The fight was definitely a crowd pleaser and it was agreed that while it wasn't necessarily a real pretty or technical fight, it didn't matter. A knock-out is a knock-out and the victory tastes just as sweet! He even ended up with a Thai Tattoo (aka stitches, four to be exact) as a souvenir. Who could ask for more?

On the way home, one of the trainers looked at me, nodded his head, pounded his chest, pointed to the box of the truck where Troy was sitting (he couldn't bend his leg to get in the cab) and despite the language barrier, he managed the english to say "Big Heart".

Check out the link below to watch the Farn in action :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hearing Things

Though I had fully intended to attend each training session faithfully, (twice a day, six days a week, for the four weeks we have committed here), I was forced to take a day off on Tuesday of our second week. I knew I should have stayed away from that slimy incline bench. But I didn’t. Surrounded by impossibly toned six pack abs everywhere I turned, it had called to me. Unfortunately, what it didn’t say was ‘Take it easy Nicole, don’t overdo it’. If it had said that, I probably wouldn’t have lost valuable training time due to a pulled abdominal muscle.

By the following Tuesday I had also lost a toenail, the ability to turn my head to the left, several layers of skin from the bottom of my toes and feet, maybe a couple of pounds of sweat, the ability to run without a distinct limp, a small amount of dignity having been persuaded to participate in greased pig grappling, and the will to get out of bed.

Troy advised me to listen to my body and acknowledging the fact that it was screaming at me, I decided to give in and take a break. I have traded my remaining two weeks of group training in for one week of one-on-one sessions next week. This week I am concentrating on trying to heal my twisted joints, stretch my tight tendons, and relax my pulled muscles by attending the odd yoga class, receiving Thai massages, reading an embarrassing amount of chick-lit on the beach, and going for runs on flat terrain only. All in preparation to be in fine form to kick some butt next week! I prefer not to think of my need for a body break as wimping out but rather as a consequence of over-enthusiasm! It makes me feel better.

Troy, on the other hand, has decided not to heed his own advice and is clearly ignoring his body’s cries for help. He, instead, has committed much time to alternating an ice pack between his knee and his ankle and slathering his extremities with tiger balm. I suspect he will soon need earplugs to drown out the screams from his body. This morning I think even I heard little shrieks from his knee as he eased himself ever so gently out of bed and I swear I heard his ankle yelp as he wrapped it up in ice yet again this afternoon. However, with only three days of valuable preparation time left until fight night, I know that any reminders from me to listen to his body will fall on deaf ears. Instead, I am comforted by the words of the trainer this morning reminding me that regardless of the condition of his body, it is the size of his heart that will prove most valuable in the ring.

This is good news as, true to form, the only thing I can hear louder than the cries of Troy’s aching body, is the sound of his heart pounding with excitement, determination, desire, and sheer will. And so, I am not worried.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Out of my element

A lot of giggling.

That’s how I would describe my first day at muay thai training. Is that even allowed in fight training? I guess so. It was tolerated at the very least as I didn’t get kicked out. In my own self-deprecating sort of way, this is how I dealt with my initial awkwardness and embarrassment. If you can’t laugh at yourself…

Though Troy has mentioned many times wanting to try his hand at a martial art, I have never been into any sort of contact fighting. I can’t even watch boxing on tv without my face contorting as if in pain and wincing and turning away every time someone gets pummelled. What can I say, I’m a lover not a fighter. Heck, I could barely even pronounce muay thai apparently as when I told my sister where I was, she thought I was at bar tending school. Needless to say, I had no idea what to expect from this training camp, just that it was located 800m from the nearest beach.

I watched in horror that first day as people shadow boxed their way up and down the gym, let out guttural sounds with every punch and kick and grappled like greased pigs inside the ring. Will this really be me? I am nervous. I know I will feel ridiculous and conspicuous and like everyone is watching and laughing as I fight, of all things, an invisible opponent.

In stark contrast to the gyms of my past, there are no cute little spray bottles of disinfectant or towels to blot sweat from shared surfaces. I share the pink boxing gloves with other gals and ignore the dampness when I put them on. The punching bags are often glistening and the one incline bench that exists is constantly dripping wet and it is not uncommon to see actual puddles on the floor underneath the knee-pit pads. Nope, this is not Club Fit. I am however not deterred, I always thought all that disinfecting was futile anyway.

From the start, I have really enjoyed working with the trainers, learning the moves and punching and kicking their pads. They call out a move, jab, one-two, punch, right knee, front kick, left block, etc., hold up the appropriate pad or make the corresponding offensive move (at a reasonable speed ofcourse) and allow me to respond accordingly. Seeking that satisfying slapping sound of perfect contact with the pads is actually quite addicting. This part of training is called Technique. I could really get into this, I mean throw in a beat, coordinate some movements, paste on some smiles, and we’re practically dancing!

And then we move on to Sparring. I do not love this. This is where the trainer actually wants me to punch him. Did I mention I’m a lover not a fighter? This is also the part where, when I’m not doing any punching, I get pummelled by fists from seemingly every which direction (seriously, does this guy have more than two hands??). Blocking requires a certain speed of reflex, which, if you lack, results in being punched in the head and kicked in the abdomen. In frustration with my lack of defensive moves, the trainer drops his gloves altogether and tells me to punch him in the face. Seriously? I wind up and swing, my glove stopping just shy of contact. I wince. I can’t do it. He returns to swinging at me instead and I hear him remind me to keep my eyes open…

Though I ache in places I didn’t know I had muscles (or maybe I don’t have and that’s why those places ache?) and I have a distinct limp when I try to get my legs moving after sitting for a while, I am really enjoying myself, feeling a little more confident and, dare I say, a little bit ‘tougher’ after each workout. Now, today, as I shadow box my way across the floor, I am suddenly aware of a faint guttural sound being let loose with my every movement. It is coming from my mouth! Barely audible, it is not intimidating by any stretch, but who would’ve thought? I notice that I no longer compulsively look around to see if anyone is watching me or can hear me. In fact, I no longer care if they are. I have become somewhat comfortable (though I have not yet been asked to participate in the greased pig grappling so this could change) in this new environment so out of my element.

Don’t get me wrong, it has not been without missteps. I did have to be told to wear my punching gloves when punching the punching bag (I didn’t know…), I did give the trainer a high five once (and only once) when he raised his hand as a target to be punched, and there was the one time that I may have interfered with his ability to father children when I delivered a front kick that slipped off the waist target I had been directed to aim for.

Contrary to my worries of looking stupid or feeling ridiculous, it has occurred to me that, well, nobody cares. As I watch boyz bouncing themselves off the ropes like WWF superstars (I resist the urge to tell them they’ve got the wrong sport because I’ve never actually seen a muay thai fight and maybe this does actually happen), I realize that everybody is too busy livin’ the dream to worry about anybody else. I like that.

Now this is my turn to brag. While I am here to embrace the fitness training only, Troy is keen to fight. Troy left me in the beginner ring after the first practice and is rapidly learning how to channel all the ‘power’ he apparently possesses. With hopes that the promoter can arrange a fight for him before we leave here, he has taken on the training full throttle and the trainers are eager to get him into the ring. I often glance over during his one-on-ones or while he is punching the bag or skipping or while we are running together and I wonder if the theme music from Rocky is playing over and over in his head. I suspect it is more often than not .

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The smell of success

Okay, okay, I know I touched on this already but I felt it needed a little more attention.

Let me share something with you: 14 days of trekking, two t-shirts, two sets of socks, and one pair of boots is a recipe for stink. Not to mention the fact that in an effort to reduce backpack weight, deodorant did not make it onto the packing list, coupled with the fact that we were too cheap to pay for warm water for washing let alone a hot shower, to say we were ripe would be an understatement.

In our defense though, check out this example of the hot shower 'contraptions', as I like to call them, that were available to us. Does it really look like a recipe for clean to you? I don't even know how you were supposed to see your body to clean it as this little gem of a shower shed doesn't even have windows.

Seriously though, have you ever gone for 14 days without showering? Now to be fair, Troy claims he did splash his armpits a couple of times and stuck his feet in a river once (as I recall, his voice was a few octaves higher afterward). So if you want to judge someone, judge me. I just couldn't rationalize the use of freezing cold water to clean any body part that was going to immediately be clothed with dirty laundry.

You come up with little systems to make yourself at least feel less dirty. For Troy, it was the little celebration he had every 4(!) days when he allowed himself a fresh pair of ginch, I myself ceremoniously pulled my second t-shirt out of reserves after we crossed the Chola Pass, and a hat or tuque became a no-brainer after Troy inquired one day why my hair was wet (it wasn't, ewww.).

Seriously though, think back, what's the longest you've gone without a shower? Not that this is a competition but I think I could have this one all wrapped up. I have a cousin (not to name names, Scott) who went through a phase when we were growing up of wearing the same clothes every day, even to bed, so he wouldn't have to get dressed in the morning. He might be able to give me a run for my money but other than that, I'm pretty confident about holding the title. Notice I didn't say proud...just confident.

Anyways, not to dwell... just had lots of time to think about how disgusting we were as we passed all the sparkling clean people just heading out on their treks. I smiled inside and thought, just you wait...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One foot in front of the other

As I understand it, October is high season for trekking in the Himalayas. Based on this, a person would expect that flights in and out of Kathmandu's domestic terminal would be routine, after all they do this every day, right? The chaos we encountered however told a different story. Somehow, we weaved our way through the crowd of frustrated people clearly as confused as we were by the lack of signage and/or willingness of anyone to answer questions, and found our way onto a plane. As I looked out my window at the baggage cart, I was relieved by the confirmation that I would, by some minor miracle, indeed be on the same plane as our backpacks.

The 14 passenger plane spit us out on the air strip in Lukla and, much to the horror of my mother, we turned down the many offers of guide and porter service as we left the airport.

With plans to head up the western valley to Gokyo, go east over the Chola Pass, north up the eastern valley to Everest Base Camp, and back down the eastern valley, we hit the trail; Map in hand and backpack securely fastened!

We shared the trail with donkeys, cows and yaks, all earning their keep...

Our packs were dwarfed by the loads carried by porters which were at least twice their size, carrying not only individuals' belongings but also supplies to the villages and towns along the trail. It was not uncommon to see loads including such 'staples' as cases of beer, coca-cola, and even entire cows (butchered and soaking up the hot sun) being hauled up into the mountains
in baskets on backs supported by straps across foreheads.

Every day, the sights along the trail provided something new to look at.

We soaked in some culture,...

...we negotiated mountain side trails, and followed streams through the forest, ...

...we crossed bridges, and even enjoyed some solitude.

We trekked through tiny communities,...

...small, quaint villages, and some not-so small villages.

Each promised lodging with an impressive view (even if the message did lose a little in the translation).

Our first glimpse of Mt. Everest was met with a flurry of photo taking which required Troy to scale up the side of a hill, perch ever-so acrobatically on a stump, hold on to a tree with one hand and steady the camera with the other to get just the right shot of the very tip of Mt. Everest through some tree branches. Nevertheless, that first sighting, albeit just a teaser really, provided the rush we needed to propel us up the uphill section of trail we found ourselves on which led, naturally, to a lookout point where photos could be taken with no perching required. What fun is that?!

We spent an acclimatization day exploring the countryside and enjoying the mountains before heading on to Gokyo where we were promised our first panoramic 360 degree view of the Himalayas.

We arrived in Gokyo, assessed the trail up Gokyo Ri and after our ascent to 5,400m, were not disappointed in the least.

We were rewarded with beautiful blue skies (with only one cloud, naturally right behind Mt. Everest) and we celebrated at the top, having reached the first of our goal destinations. Our first glimpse of Everest, through the pine trees, obviously paled in comparison to this new view of The Big One!

The Chola Pass held our next challenge and at 5am we bundled up, not enough in retrospect as I quickly lost feeling in my fingers and toes, and headed out with headlamps blazing. This was the first of many occasions that I remember vowing to never again leave my sleeping bag before the mountains were cloaked in sunshine. Call me a slow learner. In this case however, leaving early was important as we wanted to be across the glacier, which was waiting on the other side of the pass, before the sun had warmed the surface too much, making it more difficult and dangerous to cross.

It was a slow scramble up and over the pass (the photo does not do justice to the gradient) and I had to make sure I kept the weight of my pack on the right side of vertical so as not to go 'ass over teakettle'. Half way up I passed a 74 year old man, 'supported' shall we say (some might say 'being dragged') on either side by two guides. He quipped to me that the website he had booked his tour with had claimed that this would be a moderate to challenging ascent. He felt quite comfortable in declaring it to be on the challenging side of things. He was in great spirits though and I was grateful that he made me laugh, especially since I think that helped kickstart circulation into my fingertips.

Up and over the pass, we were greeted by a winter wonderland!

Having cleared the pass, we eventually found ourselves in Gorak Shep at about 5100m. From here we would trek first to Everest Base Camp and then up Kala Patthar the following day.

We had been advised many times not to bother with going to Base Camp as it was described as a 'wasteland' with no views, not even of Everest itself, but we were glad not to have heeded this advice. It proved to be a highlight as it provided a visual of the scene we have so often envisioned in our minds when reading about Everest expeditions.

It was fun, though a bit eery, to walk across the glacier upon which Base Camp sits. On approach, it looks so unassuming, largely covered in rocks, it is easy to forget that you are actually on ice at all. That is until it gives off a grown or a creak, sending pieces of ice and rock falling down the sides. Looking out into (not to mention climbing on) the shear magnitude of the icefall, described as the first obstacle heading out of Base Camp on Mt. Everest expeditions, put the grandeur of our surroundings into perspective.

Reluctant to spend yet another sleepless night at altitude, we were eager to start our descent. The body has a way of waking up when it thinks it's not getting enough oxygen and many nights of sleep interrupted by waking up to take deep breaths were starting to wear on us. We climbed up Kala Patthar (5550m) (a little too early in the morning and again I remember repeating the vow of sunshine worship as we paused so I could warm my fingers in Troy's armpits. Don't judge me.), and began our descent into the valley.

Not quite ready to leave the mountains behind, we detoured into the Chukung Valley to take one last hike up to 5550m. Chukung Ri provided an incredible view of Ama Dablam and was our fifth and final goal destination. This would be our last day with Charles, our trekking partner from the Czech Republic whom we had met at the airport, so we made sure to capture the moment.

It felt good to be heading down although, as is usually the case, I hadn't anticipated so much 'uphill' sections to be in the 'downhill'. We decided to take our time though, and just enjoy.

While we did 'try' to take it easy, the call of a hot shower and hamburgers beckoned us and the four short days we had planned to spend on the descent turned into two long days instead with a stop in Namche Bazaar overnight.

As we had often met up with random butchered parts of animals in baskets resting on the side of the trail, on their way up the mountains on someone's back to eventually be turned into something gourmet no doubt, we decided to forego the eating of meat for the duration of the trip. When we reached Namche Bazaar however, the temptation of the hamburger and french fries, that out of nowhere once again appeared on menus, was too great and we decided to indulge. Only one day from Lukla, we considered it a calculated risk. Besides, we had missed this traditional feast to mark Dad's birthday and better late than never!

The protein craving out of the way left only one issue to deal with, that of a hot shower. We said goodbye to the himalayas, boarded our plane back to Kathmandu, and rock/paper/scissored for first dibs on the shower upon our arrival (I lost).

I read somewhere that if you don't like walking you shouldn't fool yourself into thinking you may like trekking because trekking is walking but with better scenery. I used to hate walking but these days I am constantly amazed by the places simply putting one foot in front of the other has taken me.