I’m up after sleepless night, for the last time. I’m stiff and sore; Nicole hasn’t slept at all. Over breakfast, we share the admission we’re looking forward to being done soon; it propels us out the door all the faster.
Our last descent to the Dudh Khola goes fast; the skies are the usual gray, the leaves around us the striking green. We bullshit casually about Canadian healthcare systems and cabins on the beach as we stumble stiffly down the steps.
By nine, we’ve bottomed out near the river. The monsoon mud continues, and there’s a mile to climb. It’s heavy drizzle and fog on the way up, and turns into the second wettest climb (the wettest was my one-day run of the Devil’s Path, where the skies cracked open on the three of us, five hours into the 19 hour day). Sweat streams from filthy pants into week-old socks, the harness prints dirt into my shirt, and the keffiyeh is long out of fresh clean corners.
Half a mile up, proper rain starts, and I barge into someone’s living room for lunch. Steam pours off my back for the last time as I wait by the fire. There’s no menu, and Nepali is loud on the radio. No matter, food is fuel here; another kilo of rice should get me home.
I look up past the door, and Nicole is there. Somehow we’ve passed in town. I try to muster a brave face for a second, then look at hers. Fuck it – it’s just as burnt as mine, and the climb is just as hard. We smile; she pushes onward, in search of a place for the night.
I laze about while I dry off. Crap pop is on the radio; it’s uplifting. I step out with a smile; ten minutes later, I realize I’ve left the keffiyeh hanging on a peg. I scramble downhill though the mud for half a mile; the gift is from a near and dear, and it’s worth fighting for.
The last climb is a microcosm of the last two weeks. It’s hard and wet and rugged, and the ground don’t yield an inch and you’re fighting all the way, and you’re smiling with each breath and groaning with each footfall.
At half-past three, I pass the Taksindu La, and pass into the sunshine. Overjoyed, I eat two overpriced Mars bars, and know I’ll make town tonight.
I fly down the trail, on my way to Salleri. The rocks and mud give way to groomed brown hardpack; it’s easy to fly down it without looking at your feet, and move all the faster. An unloaded porter, on his way home after a three-month Everest season, drones on about women’s asses; I watch blue-winged butterflies flit around at dusk. We’re both ecstatic. There’s some pushing to do after dark; the headlamp comes out for the last time. After 13 hours out, I march into Phaplu – Nicole flies down some stone stairs to meet me.
In half a breath, it’s over.
I change into smelly dinner finery for the last time. The power is out; the dining room is simultaneous cozy and cavernous as headlamps dance with candlelight. The daal bhaat seems the best I’ve ever had. Nicole slurps tea, and brushes her hair out of her face. I maneuver my fork around two months of beard.
Nobody gives a damn; the walking is over.