Jeff Brandt

Jeff2FCR.jpgThe All Abilities Trek to Mount Everest began as a pie in the sky dream.  When Tom Whittaker first talked about it, I went along but didn't believe it would ever become a reality.  At our first meeting in the Student Union, with a group of people with disabilities, Tom talked about the trail, the bridges and the terrain.  I was thinking "no way is this going to happen."  Then over Halloween, I went to Prescott to meet with Tom and Cindy Whittaker and saw their slide show and again I thought "no way."  But I put my faith in the group that wanted to try and we began the long process of planning and trying to figure out how we were going to pull this daunting task off.

As we looked for sponsors to help with our expenses, we quickly found that many people and businesses thought what we trying was admirable but they were skeptical, as I once was.  Nobody was willing to hand over hard cash, but many were willing to contribute goods.  Soon Steve and Cindy DeRoche's front room looked like an REI shipping room.  Sleeping bags, tents, poles, socks, power bars, beef jerky, hats, showers, and so much stuff.  It was beginning to look as if we were really going to try this.  The day the airline ticket arrived I knew I had reached the point of no return.  I was going to Mount Everest Base Camp with a group of people that this area had never seen.  Could we make it?  Would anyone die?  Could I make it?  These answers would come in time.

The arrival at Lukla airport, more of a gravel parking lot built into the side of a hill, was total culture shock.  There were people everywhere scurrying about speaking a strange language - at least to me.  Picking up bags - trying to help people grabbing stuff - it was crazy.  I grabbed the camera and began filming not sure of who was with us or who was not.  A person kept reaching for Ike to help him and Ike asked him to not touch him - finally Ike yelled at him to "leave me alone."  That set the stage for the All Abilities Trek, if I need your assistance I will ask, otherwise let me try.

Most inspirational aspect:
The Sherpa people:
They do so much with so little.  If they have an extra pair of clothes to change into on wash day they are living very well.  Life is very hard.  I felt that the Sherpa had little time to judge others.  People are just people and who has time to make judgements about whether they have shoes, body parts, or parts that work.  If someone needs a hand they give it no matter what or who needs it.  At Gorak Shep, a very rude trekker thinking he was cheated by a tea house owner over some rice threw hot tea in her face.  In the ensuing malay, several of our porters jumped a wall and entered the tea house.  We thought there would be a huge fight.  After several minutes the Sherpa and the rude guy came out wearing smiles and he was on his way.  It is not a part of the Sherpa custom to fight.  Wow!

Jeff3FCR.jpgSherpa Kids:
The dirtiest snot nosed filthiest little monsters you can imagine.  I loved every one of them.  They are so cute.  I visited every school we came upon.  Several had trails that only a goat would use.  Very steep and exposed and several miles from the village.  At one school, Allison Orton and I played hacky sack with the kids, the little ones used their hands and were remarkable.  We picked the kids up and swung them around making them dizzy, as they staggered and fell their companions would laugh and cheer wanting to be next.  We laughed so hard that Ali and I sat on the floor and laughed.   I took toothbrushes to give to the kids.  It appeared that many had never seen one.  They would look at it and after some time trying to get them to mimic me, they would brush their teeth, then their friends with the same brush, then drop it in the dirt and dried yak dung and brush some more.

Toughest part:
At Pheriche I developed a head cold and the altitude seemed to make it worse.  I had been struggling with it for a few days and just couldn't keep up.  I was having thoughts that I might not make it with the group.  I took a decongestant, big mistake, wired me up like a light and I got no sleep and was very anxious.  We had a rest day so I slept and read all day.  It rained most of the day and the sound of the rain on the tent made it very soothing.  After 18 hours of rest I was feeling better.

At Deboche I was getting tired of filming every day and every little thing that happened.  The guys on the horses would get ahead and never wait.  At lower altitude I could run and catch up but up high there was no way.  It was very frustrating.  I sometimes felt like the filming was taking away from my experience.  But I remembered the importance of getting this message out to the world.  And that the camera work is all a part of it.  One of our motto's is "Label yourself, for if you don't someone else will."   We can do this and show the rest of the world.

Because if ordinary people don't try to do incredible things who will the rest of us look up to?  If a person with a disability sees what this group has accomplished and says to themselves maybe I can do something incredible too.  Like going to the store, or learning to drive, or going to the school or whatever else is important for them to push themselves out of the comfort zone and do it because they want it.  Want it more than anything but never knew they could.

I did not expect the flood of emotion that happened when we reached our goal.  The hugs and tears and introspection that overcame people is impossible to describe.  For me the joy of seeing my friend Tom McCurdy make it is what this is all about.  Tom and I spent many hours planning and asking the questions if this were possible.  We trained together prior to leaving, we dreamed together and shared a tent for the past 21 days and now to be here together and hug and share a tear is more that I ever expected.  I am so proud of Tom and everyone else.

The lesson I learned from this trip came from Ike Gayfield.  When I was 13 years old I did a 3 day winter camp trip with Ike.  As a young person growing up in Pocatello, Ike was a person I looked up to.  Watching Ike ski at Pebble Creek and reading the crazy things he and his friends were doing was an inspiration to me.  I had not seen Ike in many years, more than 25, and now to be able to do this trip with him made it more that special.  I learned from Ike the power of being a good listener and to gather all the available information before making a decision.  When the group would have discussions about an issue Ike was always the last to talk and after hearing everybody he would then and only then express his opinion.  He never got caught up in the emotion, he was always cool.  Ike has many attributes that I admire and I hope that I can take some of what I learned from him and incorporate them into my life.


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