A Quick Trip to Another Place in Time

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The other day, two co-workers, my mom, and I drove down to Sarasota, Florida. We didn’t go for the beaches or museums that usually draw people to Sarasota. Instead, we headed to an area known for its Amish community. As we entered the community, modern buildings offered a nice juxtaposition next to the traditional bike riding Amish.

Our first stop was Yoder’s, a restaurant touting old-style Amish cooking. Now, I’m not a chef. I couldn’t begin to tell you the difference between all the different styles of cooking, but I can tell you whether or not the food is good. The options were plentiful…meatloaf, fried fish, turkey and dressing, stuffed chicken, and more. After a good 10 minutes examining the menu, Alma (a red-headed woman that reminded us all of Lucille Ball in her “I Love Lucy” days) took our order and gave us fresh baked bread. I limited myself to just one piece. The food didn’t take too long to arrive after we ordered. When it did arrive, it was hard to see any of the table’s surface through the plates. Heck, it difficult to just see the plates with the mounds of food on them. Elaine ordered pulled pork with warm apples and mashed potatoes. Anne was happy with her plate of turkey (which I’m pretty sure it was a whole turkey on her plate), stuffing, and warm apples. Mom got Yoder’s famous fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, and fried okra. I dined on country fried steak, potato cakes, and fried okra. The food was good, but not one of our stomachs could finish off our plates. Take-out containers were a must! Now, the most important part to any meal, in my opinion at least, is the dessert portion. Yoder’s is well known for their pies and they have tons of pies to choose from. Each of us selected a different pie to try, with the knowledge that we could sample anyone’s if we wanted. I went with the strawberry cream pie. I was in heaven! It was delicious. Mom got some coconut cream pie (she had been talking about this pie ever since we made plans to visit Yoder’s the week before). Anne ate the blueberry pie—it was so warm and had a pinch of cinnamon in the crumble on top. Elaine was so excited about ordering the peanut butter pie, however, it did not live up to her expectations. Alma offered her another pie, allowing us to sample the “let-down” pie if we so chose. I did chose—it was good, but I can see how a huge fan of peanut butter pie could be disappointed since it needed more peanut butter in the actual filling. Elaine’s second option was a toffee or butterscotch pie; she was satisfied with this one. Will full bellies, and I’ll admit with some moaning at having to move such a stuffed stomach, we waddled out to hit up the gift store next door.

Our meal before we dived in.

Our meal before we dived in.


Elaine, Anne, and mom are stuffed, surrounded by doggie bags.

Elaine, Anne, and mom are stuffed, surrounded by doggie bags.

After a quick shopping trip at the gift store, we walked down to the market, full of brightly colored fruit and vegetables. Mom and I went directly to the plump, red strawberries, but not before I picked up two tomatoes…which I think may be on steroids because of their size. Jams, jellies, peanut butters, popcorn also filled the shelves. Amish women filled the stands and offered help if we needed it. The only question we had, though, was about the honey bell…apparently it is a Florida citrus.

The Market at Yoder's

The Market at Yoder’s

While the three girls decided to peruse the deli, I chose to visit the creamery, just across the street. I can’t resist good ice cream, especially if it is from a place that isn’t part of a chain. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a small soft-serve cone from Dairy Queen once in a while, but there is just something special about a place you can’t find anywhere else. I walked into the creamery and was greeted by a young girl in a traditional Amish dress and bonnet. I was still pretty stuffed from lunch, but I didn’t allow that to hold me back. I asked for the smallest possible serving of vanilla ice cream. I whipped out my credit card just in time to see the sign at the register that says “Cash Only”. The young woman said there was an ATM at the back of the store, but luckily I had enough cash on me. The ice cream was awesome! It reminded me of the days when my grandfather would have all of us cousins over to his house for homemade ice cream. It was smooth and creamy. Perfect. Now, in all honesty, I had not planned on eating the entire scoop but I did. It was just so good!

Great ice cream is served here!

Great ice cream is served here!


Big Olaf Creamery

Big Olaf Creamery

Our next stop was a quilt shop that was about a mile down the road. Inside the shop were wonderfully beautiful quilts that hung on the walls. There was also a work space where some ladies were working on quilts. I asked one older woman if I could sit for a few minutes and watch her work. She was making small stitches. She was quiet but soon she started to explain a little about the quilt. She had been working on it for about a week now and she was currently sewing through four layers of fabric. Though the stitch she was doing looked simple, it wasn’t because it had to be spaced at a particular measurement. I would have liked to have spent more time with the woman learning the history of the quilts, but the day was growing late and we needed to get back on the road to head home.
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It was nice to spend a day in another part of Florida rooted with history from another culture, especially with great friends. If you have a couple of hours, I would definitely check out Yoder’s and the surrounding Amish community. I know it is a place I will be going back to…especially for the pie and ice cream!!!
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Reflections of an EBC trekker

Thank you, gang, for an amazing time.

Thank you, gang, for an amazing time.

It’s been about two months since coming home from Nepal. I can hardly believe it’s been that long, but then again, when I think about it, two months isn’t all that long.

Every day, I think about the trip. It was such an amazing opportunity—one that I am so grateful for being able to experience.

Upon returning home, I returned to work immediately. The kids were excited to see me and I them. I felt like I was sort of in a daze the whole day…actually, I felt that way for quite some time after the trip. The trip was just so magical, it’s hard to convey how special it was with words.

I did see a doctor about my knee and she agreed with the doctor in Nepal: a sprained knee. It has started to pop a bit and will seize up on occasion, but I’m sure with some time and careful attention, the knee will be as good as new soon.

I still have the red threads that I received from the two Lamas, but I had to take the one from the high ranking lama off because it was way too twisted. However, I still wear the one from Lama Geshe. I find myself fingering it throughout the day. For some crazy reason, it brings me calmness and a sense of relief. The prayer flags I purchased at the Sherpa Museum are hung up outside my window. And even though my mother compares them to a line of drying clothes, I smile when they flit and flutter in the wind. My Thangka painting will soon be framed and hung on my wall so I can see it daily. I have two kata scarves on my door.

Emails between the group members come through weekly. I can always hear their voices through the typed words. In fact, I’ve read one or two while in class and my students gave me the “she’s-being-weird” look when I laughed out loud. Thanksgiving wishes, Christmas wishes, New Year’s Eve wishes, and birthday wishes have all passed through. A week ago, I met Thomas and Alain in Orlando (not too far from where I live). We ended up at a restaurant in the Sheraton. The food was wonderful, but the company even better. We talked and reminisced for hours. At the end of the evening, I think we were each sad to say goodbye, aware that we didn’t know when we’ll meet again.

EBC Mini Reunion Alain, Thomas, and Me

EBC Mini Reunion
Alain, Thomas, and Me

I miss my fellow trekking members. It is sort of like mourning a loss. You spend a short amount of time with these people, but they are the only ones that can truly understand where you have been. No one at home will ever understand what you have gone through or experienced. Each one added value to my life in some way. Alain—always smiling and exuberant, no matter what he stepped in. Tomas—he was the most into the trip, with his head in the game no matter what. Dave—with his positive attitude and kind soul. Matt—the most prepared person to ever walk across the Himalayas. Thomas—one who always spoke his mind. Erik—always trying to make me feel better for being last. Pops—surpassed us all on the trail and was an inspiration. Christopher—the true definition of a gentleman. Yakman—a kid that wanted to be part of it all. Francois—a quiet strength on the trek. Eisha—a young woman full of grace and joy. Tanya—a motherly figure that took care of us, always wanting to make sure we were okay. Ann-Marie—an intelligent person, friends with everyone. Tiffany—someone still searching for her own happiness, but will get there eventually if she just lets go. And then there are all the Sherpas who taught me patience and that it is okay to go slower. I just need to accept this.

Of course there is Amy and Mingma. Words cannot fully express the gratefulness I feel towards these two extraordinary souls. When I think about the trip and all they did for me, my heart clenches and my eyes get a little misty. I pray we see each other again.

As far as my next trip? I don’t know. I’ve thought about going for the fourth Tusker patch and signing up for Bhutan in 2015 (it’ll take a few years for the wallet to bounce back). Maybe Antarctica? Iceland? I am not sure at this point, but I’m open to suggestions!

The Final Chapter…Goodbye, Nepal

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All is Right with the World…Together Again!
11/17

It’s been pretty quiet around here without the rest of the group. I’m not 100% I enjoy the solitude. They really are a special group. I almost with I had been able to keep up with them so I could have gotten to know each of them a bit better. Oh well, what will be will be, right?

I woke up at 8:30am which is really sleeping in around these parts. Danu did knock on my door right at 8:30 with some hot water to drink and he even managed to get some water for a quick wash up. I ordered my breakfast and he said he’d be back to pick me up (nor sure if he thought I was going to get lost or what), but I walked down there myself. I saw him a few minutes later rush through the gathering room in a panic. I think he thought he lost me! I finally caught his eye and I’m pretty sure he gave a sigh of relief.

After breakfast, we set off on another hike. He told me it would be good for my knee—likely story. We walked up a hill, up behind the lodge, and towards the new hospital. Then we came back to the lodge and kept on walking. We walked around the entire airport. It really is a short runway! I can’t believe we’ve landed on that thing and lived to tell about it. During our hike, Danu carried my water bottle for me (such a gentleman). I was also able to get some video of a plane landing and taking off on that miniscule landing strip. My knee was acceptable during most of the walk but afterwards it was pretty sore.

My "exercise" hike with Danu

My “exercise” hike with Danu

As we walked, I asked Danu about his family. Come to find out, he is in his mid-thirties (around my age), married, and father to two kids (a 7 year old and a baby). He has two sisters—he’s in the middle. When we got back to the courtyard of the lodge, I showed him some pictures on my phone of my family, dogs, and trips to Mongolia and Africa. He then showed me pictures on his phone from a trek to Mansulu (another trek in Nepal that he works on). When we were done with sharing, he gave me a menu for me to order some lunch. I ordered and he gave me a weird look before asking, “Are you sure?” The food was good so I’m not sure why the look.

I took a short nap after lunch. When the clock hit 2:45, I went downstairs with my journal so I could be there when the group arrived. I wasn’t there for 10 minutes soaking up the sun before I heard the clinging and clanging of the yak bells. It was a welcomed sound (I love the bells except for when I’m on a horse!). Cami showed up and walked right by. Then they came in…the group! It felt right being back with them. I can’t explain it, but the trek was much more fun because of the variety of personalities on it.

Mingma, Amy, and Erik hiking from Monjo to Lukla to join me

Mingma, Amy, and Erik hiking from Monjo to Lukla to join me


The group, of course, was loud but looked pretty beat. The trek was mostly uphill for them and I could tell they were happy to be at the lodge finally. The boys—Yakman, Alain, and Thomas—got some beers for everyone. It was appropriately named Everest. I took a few sips just to say I had some, but I’m not really a beer drinker so the taste was lost on me.
Alain and Yakman toasting with Everest beer.

Alain and Yakman toasting with Everest beer.

We did the “Circle” tonight where we got in a circle with all of the Tusker workers. We each had an envelope or two to hand out. Before commencing with the “Tip Handing Ceremony”, Thomas gave a wonderful speech, thanking each member of the Sherpa team. After all, had it not been for the dedication and hard work of each member, none of us would have had the experience we did. Eisha then sang a beautiful rendition of “Lean on Me”. As far as tips, I had Danu—I requested him because he had been such a good babysitter and companion, it was the least I could do.

A Fond Farewell
11/18

We made it to the hotel today. But again, it was a long day. We woke up early for the first flight out, but that didn’t mean an early flight! At breakfast, Mingma and our Sherpas offered us katas (my third!). We were allowed to stay at the lodge while we waited for the word that would tell us our plane would soon be arriving in Lukla.

I was quiet this morning. I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure how I feel about all of it. Maybe by the time I get back to “reality” or home, I’ll be able to put some of this into words.

Finally the call came and we were ushered across the cobblestone path to the airport. I was called to place my yellow duffel onto the table for Security to search it. Well, it wasn’t really a search. I unzipped the stupid bag so the women officer would have easier access for searching, but she just asked me questions. After a couple of minutes, I was free to zip it back up and the bag was tossed behind them. Next came the security checkpoint I had to get through in order to move onto the “lounge”. This security checkpoint was interesting. I placed my daypack onto the table in front of the man. He asked me one question. I guess I passed the test because I was asked to go through the metal detector. Once I was through, he gave me my bag back. We waited for maybe a half hour to forty-five minutes. We watched a couple of planes land, commenting on the faces getting off them…faces full of excitement for what they would encounter over the next couple of weeks. It was hard to believe that two and a half weeks prior, those faces were ours.

The flight was easy, far less scary than when we were headed to Lukla. Upon landing in Kathmandu, we were quickly returned to our hotel, Shangri-La. I was excited about having an actual hot shower and getting a haircut at the hotel’s salon—I promised mom I’d have it chopped off after this trip and I thought this would be a nice surprise for her. Other members of the team were booking massages and treatments at the spa. We only had a couple of hours before our ride arrived to carry us to the celebration dinner. Before I could do anything, though, I had to go the local clinic to have the knee checked out.

Erik and Mingma were the chosen ones to escort me to the local clinic. It was about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. A British woman sat behind the desk and she seemed a bit scattered brain to me. A few people were waiting to be seen…travelers passing through the city, hikers, and me. As I waited, I tried reading however I was easily distracted by the comings and goings of the place. I saw two men—hikers I’m thinking—leaving with huge bandages wrapped around their hands and toes. I’m assuming some kind of frostbite? Mingma fell asleep, his head nodding down (no snoring). Erik read every magazine they had in the waiting room. Finally, a doctor called me back. The diagnosis? Just a sprained knee. He wanted me to come back in a couple of days, but my flight leaves tomorrow so I convinced him to just give me a letter for the insurance company and that I would go see a doctor once I got home. After waiting at the clinic for over an hour, we were free to go. Once on the main drag, Mingma pointed Erik and I in the right direction to the hotel and said he would see us later that night for dinner.

At the hotel, I immediately jumped in the shower and scrubbed the dirt off me. God, it felt so refreshing to clean up and put on clean clothes that didn’t smell of sweat and grime. Afterwards, I went to the salon. I had eight inches cut off. It felt great! Thomas was also in their having his hair taken care of…he had the women in there cracking up!

Our celebration dinner at Chez Caroline.

Our celebration dinner at Chez Caroline.


Dinner tonight was at a French restaurant. We sat outside at a large rectangular table with two space heaters near us (the temperature was in the 50’s—comfortable after the temps we had just come from). I sat next to Dave (one of the most polite men on the trip) and Ann-Marie. After ordering and having glasses of wine poured, Amy handed out Tusker patches to each of us. I already have the Tusker patches for Kilimanjaro and Mongolia, but now I can have the EBC patch sewn onto my “expedition” jacket…there’s just one more Tusker patch I need to acquire (Bhutan) and it’s a little early to be thinking about the next trip. Then Mingma handed out yak herding hats to the men and beautiful earrings to the ladies. I love my earrings and I will always cherish them. Several toasts were given throughout dinner and soon we were taken back to the hotel for our last night at Shangri-La.
The earrings from Mingma.

The earrings from Mingma.

Tomorrow, most of us leave (Ann-Marie and Tanya will be staying on in Kathmandu for a few more days). Pops, Yakman, and Eisha will be the first to leave at 10am…I’ll be next at around 3pm. Around 8pm, the rest of the team will depart for the airport. It is Election Day in Nepal tomorrow and that comes with some consequences. No vehicles will be allowed on the roads except for military vehicles and buses shuttling tourists back and forth to the airport. Shops will also be closed.

I don’t want tomorrow to come. I want this feeling of contentment to last forever. I want to stay with most of these people. I will miss this…

Fly Away Home
11/19

I left Kathmandu today. No. I really don’t want to talk about it.

This morning, for the last time, we all met downstairs for breakfast. Afterwards, a couple of members went on to the spa while the rest of us hung out downstairs for the first group to be picked up. The van soon pulled up to take Pops, Yakman, and Eisha to the airport. Those of us that remained in the lobby to say goodbye, offered hugs and waved the van away. My heart fluttered as it knew that I would be the next one off.

To kill some time, I walked to the small shop on the hotel grounds. I wanted to pick up some additional gifts for people and the shop offered all sort of wonderful goodies. I purchased a beautiful purse (it maybe costs $20) and some pouches. I walked upstairs, with a lady following me, to view what they had. Along the staircase, an elaborate Thangka painting hung. Thangka is a traditional Nepalese scroll painting. It can take months or years to finish the intricate detail on one. I asked about the price of that particular one but it was way out of my budget so I asked if there was one with a lower price tag. The lady took me to a place upstairs with numerous Thangkas. She took one and showed me, quoting a price of $150US. It was breathtaking…with purples and gold.

The Thangka I purchased in Kathmandu.

The Thangka I purchased in Kathmandu.


My Thangka

My Thangka

I was starting to get hungry but I didn’t want to risk crossing the street to the Vietnamese restaurant and missing my 2pm ride to the airport (Mingma informed me the time had changed) since it was already 12:30pm. I didn’t know when I’d be able to eat again so I turned to the hotel restaurant; Tiffany and Francois joined me. I wasn’t there for twenty minutes (I had already ordered too!) when Mingma showed up telling me my shuttle was already there. It was like a punch in the gut! I hugged Tiffany and Francois goodbye, assuring Tiffany we would stay in touch.

Mingma walked me down the hall to the lobby, where, sure enough, the shuttle waited. Everyone else was across the street eating so no one was able to see me off. It was probably a good thing because I could feel myself getting a little emotional. I hugged Mingma tight and climbed into the van, sitting in the far back, feeling my eyes water. Mingma called Amy (who was at the spa) to let her know I was leaving. She came quickly to say bye. She asked me if I was sad. I wasn’t sad, but I told her that leaving this trip has made me quite emotional, more than I thought it would. I’m never emotional. Sure, I can be sensitive, but I can usually keep my emotions in check. Not over this. Last night, she told me my experience on this trip had been different than others…including Karyn’s experience (I met Karyn in Mongolia and she had been to EBC the year previously). My chest hurt from leaving. Tears were rolling down my cheeks as I thanked her for everything. I kept telling myself to suck it up and stop crying, but like usual, I didn’t listen. The door to the van closed and I gave one last wave, unsure if I would see either again.

And that was that. The end of EBC.

A hop, skip, and helicopter ride and I’m in Lukla!

Early morning in Namche

Early morning in Namche


Lukla
11/16/13

So, I took my first helicopter ride today. And, unlike the Himalaya horse ride, I wouldn’t mind riding in another one. The ride cost $1,000US. This trip is starting to cost more than I anticipated, but thankfully I have wonderful parents who fronted the money to me to help me out. Hopefully the insurance company will reimburse me and I’ll be able to pay my parents back.
Before starting the helicopter ride, though, I had to eat breakfast. The guys out did themselves this morning! Each plate was given to us already prepared so the guys didn’t serve us as was the norm. Once we got our plates, we knew why protocol was changed: our breakfast was served in the shape of a smiley face! Well, it certainly brought a smile to my face!

A Happy Breakfast!

A Happy Breakfast!

After we had our fill, the majority of the group took off for some morning shopping. They wouldn’t be heading to Monjo until after lunch. I, however, would not be shopping. Instead, I waited at the lodge until we were given word my helicopter would be coming soon. Before he left, however, Jagdeep (or Pops as we all call him now) came over to assure me all would be well and I was making the right decision. We joked about him joining me since he came down with a cold of some sort yesterday. But Pops is a beast and would outlast any of us if he had too. He said they’d all see me in Lukla.

Picture of Pops~Always a gentleman

Picture of Pops~Always a gentleman


Tiffany, my roommate, clearly missed me.

Tiffany, my roommate, clearly missed me.

Amy and I also a few minutes to talk before she took off for the shops. She told me how proud she was of me, and though I am sure she says that to a lot of her clients, it meant a lot to me that she would say it. She meets so many people on these trips and in her everyday life, I find it hard for me to stand out in any certain way…other than the chick with the autoimmune disease that needs extra attention and help on the trail…oh, and needs a horse and helicopter for a ride to Lukla! Anyway, she says she could tell I was getting stronger every day; and, she truly believes that one day I’ll go to the doctor and he’ll tell me that he sees no signs of this stupid disease (okay, I added the adjective!), Sjogren’s. It was a beautiful moment with Amy and one I’ll treasure for a long time.

We finally got a call from the helicopter company. It was time for me to hike to the pad. Now, days ago when we were here the first time, I took a picture of the heli pad without knowing I’d be using it. I guess I didn’t realize at the moment that I would have to hike up to it. Takar took my yellow Tusker duffel with all my gear while Danu took his own stuff and my daypack. Mingma helped me up the incline.

Well, like all things in Nepal, the helicopter company ran on their own time and we had to wait at the stone pad. Mingma took a picture of me on the heli pad (I didn’t mind capturing this memory on film, unlike riding the devil horse) and then we sat and waited. Takar went back to the lodge while Danu waited with us. He would be accompanying me on the ride, I learned. The plan is for him to stay with me in Lukla while we wait for the team to join us. I’m glad I won’t be by myself! Mingma and I also shared a few laughs. And like Alain had told me a couple of days ago in Tengboche after I arrived, Mingma also told me he wasn’t sure if I’d make it to base camp after the first day or so since I struggled so much. He went onto tell me how proud he was of me. I guess I surprised everyone by making it to Everest Base Camp, including myself!

Waiting for my ride

Waiting for my ride


The helicopter finally swooped down onto the pad, I was ushered in as our bags were stowed next to me on the back seat. Danu squeezed in and we were off. It wasn’t his first time on a heli and I told him just be prepared because it was my first time and I may have to hold his hand (I didn’t). He pointed out Monjo from the sky and even showed me the red roof of the lodge the gang would be sleeping in for the night. I could feel the wind toss the heli a bit, but overall I felt safe. It was pretty cool flying between the ridges of the mountains, I’ll confess.
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After 20 minutes in the air, we landed in Lukla and were met by the station manager wearing a Tusker cap. He grabbed my yellow duffel as Danu took the daypack and his own gear. We walked up and up and up, around the airport (I got a great view of the entire runway), down a little, and into the lodge we ate lunch at the first day we began the trek. I opted to sit in the sunny courtyard as Danu got us settled in. I met a couple of Australians that had just finished a month-long hike through some gnarly conditions (snow galore). We got talking and they offered me a biscuit from the bakery at the lodge. I kindly accepted and we began talking about the trip I took in June to Mongolia. It was a nice conversation and made me feel like a real explorer and adventurer. Soon, Danu showed me into the dining hall and I had some lunch before he decided I needed to take an afternoon hike. Yes. I was sent to Lukla by heli because I hurt my knee and now I was to take a hike. I’ve learned that when a Sherpa says a “simple” hike that he still means the hike will be up and then down, and up and down, and up and down. I was looking forward to it (please read the previous sentence with a hint of sarcasm). I ran up to my room (it had a gorgeous view of some mountains) and grabbed a water bottle, camera, and my shopping list; I was hoping I could convince Danu to help me get my shopping done and check off everyone on my list. We walked through town, passing tons of mules, chickens, and locals. We made it to the edge of town and he wanted to continue down a hill. Again, what goes down must come back up so I politely declined and whipped out my shopping list. Danu cringed but agreed to help. He would point out a shop to try and we’d go in. I’d pick something out or ask him to find out the price of something for me. He would then bargain for me, getting me a great deal. He even carried my bags for me. When we got back to the lodge, Danu told me he would pick me back up at 6:30 for dinner. Right at 6:30, I heard a knock on my door and he escorted me to the dining hall and directed me to an empty seat since the lodge was packed!

Tomorrow, I have a wake-up call (sans hot cocoa and hot washing water) at 8:30—originally, Danu went for an earlier time, however I was able to convince him (with my awesome skills) to let us sleep in. For now, I’m sitting in my quiet room, about to turn off the lights and call it a night. It’s weird to be sleeping by myself in this room after having a roommate for more than a week. I miss the shenanigans of the group, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some of the peace of being solo.

It just wasn't the same without me....Right, fellas?  (Thomas, please note that you are in this photo.)

It just wasn’t the same without me….Right, fellas? (Thomas, please note that you are in this photo.)


Alain and Thomas on the trail that I flew over. (Again, Thomas, you're in this photo, too.)

Alain and Thomas on the trail that I flew over. (Again, Thomas, you’re in this photo, too.)