Nepal earthquake: Guerrilla style relief ops keep hope alive by Trivik Verma

A small bed-and-breakfast delivers aid to remote regions, a small non-for-profit uses open source mapping to create precise maps of the rugged terrain, an adventure gear company manufactures tarps and other relief material. Apart from the government and big agencies doing their bit, it is the small enterprising outfits helping Nepal back up on its feet after the earthquake.

 Victims of the quake trying to find shelter in Shikharpur village, Sindhupalchowk distric

Victims of the quake trying to find shelter in Shikharpur village, Sindhupalchowk distric

Houses along the Tikucha River in the North-East corner of Kathmandu valley are traditional in construction, where clay mortar is used to bridge the gap between thick inner and outer wall structures made of baked bricks. They are supposed to be earthquake resistant. Now, all that remains along the river is a pile of rubble. Durbar Square is one of the three royal palace squares in the valley and a popular tourist attraction. It is now home to dilapidated temples, all of which are UNESCO world heritage sites.

Recently, a major earthquake (7.8 M) – the first one in a series of two – claimed over 8000 lives and injured more than 19,000 across various districts of Nepal. Tens of thousands of people are still in need of shelter, food and clean water.

 Food for Relief team allotting relief materials for people affected at Mulabari, Kalleri VDC, Dhading under the coordination of the Armed Police Force at their camp.

Food for Relief team allotting relief materials for people affected at Mulabari, Kalleri VDC, Dhading under the coordination of the Armed Police Force at their camp.

While the government's rescue missions are focussed on Kathmandu and was earlier directed toward Everest, they are reportedly inactive in many regions. "Mountain villages are cut off from almost everything, landslides block the roads and no significant aid is on the way," CNN reported from the ground. Survivors have no access to potable water and landslides and rock falls have disrupted the chances of any potential aid.

Mountaineering expedition teams from around the world, who contribute to a major part of Nepal’s economy, have returned home. On a normal day, mountaineers would meet at the Rum Doodle café in Thamel district of Kathmandu. That too is partly wrecked in the devastating series of earthquakes. A few groups have stayed back to help aid services on the ground.

Merely fifteen minutes from, an unassuming bed and breakfast called the Yellow House is running a guerrilla style relief and rescue operation, emerging as one of the many ad-hoc relief services. After a day of organically establishing itself under the leadership of Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati, the group sent a truck filled with bread and first-aid kits to six towns in the Lalitpur district of Kathmandu. When one of her volunteers – a British nurse – came across injured people in an inaccessible village close to Sindhupalchowk, Gurung Kakshapati arranged for a private medevac for them. Abe Streep has documented their efforts in a comprehensive article for Wired Magazine, directly from Nepal.

Even May is a cold month here and erratic rains in the pre-monsoon season have hastened the need for tarps throughout the wrecked rural parts of the country. While international aid is sitting at the airport in Kathmandu, Sherpa Adventure Gear, a gear outfit based in Nepal is manufacturing and delivering relevant aid to the rural parts. “The company turned Sherpa's headquarters in Kathmandu into a mini relief centre and they quickly turned to manufacturing and distributing 700 blankets, 300 simple tents, and 500 tarps,” Tsedo Sherpa, vice president of the company, intimated to The Outdoor Journal. “Additionally they sourced another 1000 tarps from India via family connections.”

The middle hills region – as the locals refer to it – is wedged between flatlands in the south and high mountains in the north. Villages in this area are surrounded by steep and inaccessible hills. A local non-profit called 'Kathmandu Living Labs' run by Nama Budhathoki launched the site quakemaps.org for reporting real time earthquake response information. This has helped various relief groups in creation of maps for understanding the rugged terrain of a country where navigation is otherwise an onerous task.

Another, more amateur, organization found itself using the quakemaps site. Food for Relief, started as an effort with a group of friends trying to help the grieving villagers of Nepal. Two days after the first quake, Mridula Saria reached out to the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce (FNCCI). “My immediate instinct was to go to the relief camp and see how I could help. But looking at the politics going on within the organization, I was demotivated,” Mridula told The Outdoor Journal.

 Distribution of relief material in a village in Dhading distric.

Distribution of relief material in a village in Dhading distric.

Disappointed with the bureaucracy, a handful of them gathered 100,000 Nepalese Rupees to procure rice, lentils and biscuits and left for villages in the Harisiddhi area of Lalitpur district. Food for Relief has an active Facebook page and was started from a broken house in Kathmandu. They are neither registered under any official name, nor licensed to provide aid in disaster-stricken areas. But Mridula and her friends are getting the job done.

The lack of a common platform led different relief groups to reach Sindhupalchowk (the quake epicentre) separately where many villagers leapt at the volunteers to snatch food and other supplies. “It seemed that a lot of other groups had gotten together the same way, to help the quake victims, but none of us coordinated with each other, because of which all nearby villages were receiving supplies repeatedly by two or more groups, and there were other villages that were receiving no supplies,“ says Mridula. Amid such confusion, quakemaps was rather simple to use; you register your group name and mark the areas you are helping on a map. Their relief efforts have sped up over the past few weeks.

In light of such damage and local heroic uprisings, the broken infrastructure of Nepal has found worldwide attention. Aid through government organizations and established international NGOs hasn’t reached villages. Instead, after every aftershock, these local aid groups are sending out trucks with supplies trying to cover as much ground as possible, even if it means hiking uphill for two hours.

 TLC Project Update - Khare Dhunga Ward 6, Dhading on 9th May 2015.

TLC Project Update - Khare Dhunga Ward 6, Dhading on 9th May 2015.

The economic losses post the Nepal earthquake are estimated to be around $10bn by a United States geological survey, which is close to half of their economy. One of the poorest nations in Asia, it is landlocked by two rapidly growing economic superpowers. The villagers near the epicentre of both quakes are unaware of this lapse in infrastructure and are waiting for substantial help to rebuild their lives.

Exports are badly hit too. Nepal’s tea which normally finds itself in high-end cafes of Europe has no means of leaving the country. Tea plantations and other livestock are buried below the cracked earth. The villages that were least affected are also going through a period of turmoil due to lack of basic resources.

Food for Relief is also setting up temporary schools for the children of demolished villages. Mridula describes, “The one thing that most villagers in Dhading district complained about was the schools and houses. They had no roof over their head and had nowhere to leave their children while they went to work. So we got in touch with UNICEF and an architect friend who helped us design a Temporary Learning Center (TLC), with minimalistic materials.”

 A completed TLC at Khare Dhunga, Dhading.

A completed TLC at Khare Dhunga, Dhading.

Nepal has a deep rooted connection to westerners. Its rebuilding is not just an effort from within the local community but is also proving to be a worldwide collaboration of sorts. Adventurers of all kinds who are drawn to the mountains of Nepal have volunteered to bring relief to the people. An Indian photographer informed The Outdoor Journal of his efforts to bring extremely effective and simple water filters to the victims of the quake and asked to remain anonymous. The Nepalese government is under scrutiny for its broken aid system. Mridula and her friends do not care about this vilification. They only want to get food and tarps to people, many of whom are still sleeping under the open skies, hungry and cold.

Image courtesy : Food for Relief

Feature Image: Kids collecting relief material from a Food for Relief volunteer at Khare Dhunga, Dhading

(As published @ The Outdoor Journal)

Snowboarding for dummies by Trivik Verma

 Forest Reider showing me how it is done before I could even grasp the full depth of what I was getting into. 

Forest Reider showing me how it is done before I could even grasp the full depth of what I was getting into. 

There is nothing like learning a new and dangerous sport, all by yourself.

Couloirs. The word carries a certain element of mystery. The natural feature itself evokes fear, divides beautifully serrated cliffs into powdered columns of gut-wrenching fun and is certainly the backyard of mountain lovers.

I looked down and could only see a winding path coming out of nowhere. There must be a drop of about a hundred meters. I involuntarily started descending forward as if the path was calling out to me. It was no couloir but given my introduction to this sport materialized not more than two months ago, I was way in over my head.

Let us backtrack. Many people advise you to try a sport before you actually go ahead and pursue it. Snowboarding should be one of them. I beg to differ. It began with a movie called The Art of Flight that my friend Amulya introduced me to. It was also the age of maddening YouTube videos. What followed was an online crash course in snowboarding and cogs of dreams were set in motion.

Last winter I moved to Switzerland because flat was not enough. A year has passed and I can call myself an amateur, a snowboarder nonetheless. The first ten months were about waiting for snow and the next two, well, about doing what needed to be done. Before starting out I watched merely two hours of YouTube lessons, which were undeniably a great learning experience. I have always believed that a good theoretical foundation helps. Besides that, Forest advised me to embrace speed.

 Jonas getting ready for the plunge. He taught me all day, by doing, and not enforcing any rules on going down the slopes. 

Jonas getting ready for the plunge. He taught me all day, by doing, and not enforcing any rules on going down the slopes. 

Forest has spent a decade growing up in Boulder, CO. The thing about Boulder is, or at least something I believe to be true, that it is home to the happiest population on the planet. These people are the world’s most fearless and best mountain athletes or just remarkable souls calling outdoors their home. I had no choice but to believe him.

Snowboarding has an eerie feeling to it. Not many pursue it and even fewer continue. If I had to guess right, the ratio of skiers to boarders must be about 70/30. The board restricts your freedom on one hand but gives you less to deal to with - if things go wrong - on the other. Figure out if you love such an unconventional sport. If you do, buy yourself everything. Commitment is the only way to ride these mountains. Also, the one thing standing between you and unforeseeable brain damage is a helmet. A black ear-padded helmet. Bicycle helmets are for, well, bicycles.

I have snowboarded through a season full of falls that probably resonated through mountains across the world; at least it felt like that to my numb ears after falling in ways I had never anticipated. The last one piggybacked on a humbling experience. I picked up speed on my toe edge racing towards a sunset with all the exuberance I could muster up. That ended with three side flips, none of which I recollect at this moment. I managed to stand up and mid-way through a proud cheer, dropped down again.

This is snowboarding for dummies, by a dummy. Every time I strapped my legs onto my board, I got better at it. The learning curve is beautiful. You get to a point where you actually believe that with couple of good winters you will be off becoming the next Jeremy Jones – who practically designed all the different paradigms of the sport through his sheer desire for exploring big mountains. Maybe, who knows?

With every unidirectional sport, one needs to know which side is the natural one. After trying out numerous techniques to decide how to proceed (as each one seemed more contrived than the last), I let my body do the math. I am a goofy snowboarder by the book, but a regular one in reality. The worst thing is to let yourself believe that you are a particular type in lieu of going with the natural flair of your body. Since I am not in the minority, I am envious of the goofy kind. That is just how my neurons fire up efficiently.

Snowboarding has its unconventional fun but also caters for odd falls: till you get used to them. There are generally two ways one can easily trip, flip or fly in any of the 244 degrees of freedom human body can long for. I have experienced both and loved the aftermath. The first one was during my initial perfect run down a long and winding blue slope (European norms dictate blue as the easiest slope). The thing about being a beginner is, when you have a good run you start thinking that you should stop because something must go wrong very soon. Conveniently enough, my back leg possessed this syndrome.

As I glided through some unevenly flat terrain and tried going on my toes, my front leg did a great job. My back leg acted stubbornly, perhaps, not believing its luck so far. The board deviated to the front without giving me a heads-up. Imagine, you are running really fast and suddenly trip right before the trail encounters a drop. I did that on the board, at over thirty kilometers per hour without being able to move my legs in any direction. My life did not flash in front of me. It was a horrible fall and I had to count to ten before moving any limb. I secretly patted myself on the back for having all the right insurances. Just then a little British girl glided past me bragging, “Mr. I think you need skiing poles”.

Limbs intact. Get some rest. Try again tomorrow.

 At the end of a powder filled fall day. All limbs were intact but hurting.

At the end of a powder filled fall day. All limbs were intact but hurting.

In that moment though I had an honest realization. I came to terms with “shit happens” and figured out a sport all by myself. I did not sign up for lessons and it brought me back to the day I learnt how to drive. It was just by looking at my father drive all those years. That was one complete circle of understanding how I function in life.

The second time I tripped on a black slope (again, European norms mark blackfor experienced riders). You read it right. With Forest, you need to challenge yourself. This run was at the end of the day and I was already hurting from the semi-pro turning and some strange and uncontrolled flying-like powder experience. We reached a flat but winding narrow gully. A girl was being attended by a medic. It seemed serious and I drifted out of my focus on the slope. While cruising at a high speed, I looked back. Mistake number (insert personalized number here). I regained my senses and encountered a drop I was in no way ready for. Falling was the only option in comparison to flying off of a cliff without the right training and gear. So I tripped myself the best way I could. This time on my back. Now imagine running backwards, really fast, and tripping. I got up, moved my limbs to check for any damage and finished the slope down to the last bit. It was scary and I toppled all the way down with moments of anger and pride puppets fighting each other for space in my head.

I believed I was ready to take on new mountains and gave Abhishek a call. We booked tickets and flew out to the most convenient mountain range. Andorra is a great place to be in the mountains. It is cheap, high enough and full of small village resorts interlinked like a water park would be. Seeing him was a great start to the trip. Adventure sports have captivated Abhishek for long and I am glad he took this one up before I did. It was like reinventing our already strong friendship in ways I had never imagined.

Snowboarding for four days in a row, I recognized that turning is not as important as speed is. When we turn too much we destroy the piste for other skiers and boarders. Speed must be feared, but like any other fear it helps us control our emotions and lets us slide into the right frame of mind, most commonly associated with flow. I am sure you do not need me telling you about neurobiology and the sort of thing adventure sports athletes tap into.

 First powder runs of the season. Resorts are fully booked with kids learning how to ski and snowboard on slopes and off piste. 

First powder runs of the season. Resorts are fully booked with kids learning how to ski and snowboard on slopes and off piste. 

So we learnt how to carve. Not only were we looking down an awfully long and vertical slope, we were startlingly stoic about the outcome. One. Two. Three. Drop. We literally dropped all the way down like a stone that has no brain of its own. We went up again and repeated our actions, each time getting more stoked about every carving sequence that we managed to muster up from our exhausted bodies and brains.

Carving gives us an infinite realm of possibilities. A fundamental thing about snowboarding, that nobody told me, is consistency. That comes from being able to carve, not turn. Red slopes are meant to test the courage and skill of a snowboarder. If we know how to carve, and have befriended speed, red would be the color of limitless fun, if nothing else. Before you move on to big mountains and white wilderness, at least go find yourself a black board with a golden monastery and a half moon that reflects hope and unimaginable fun.

Tears of Joy is a real thing.

(As published @ The Outdoor Journal)

Half-Marathon by Trivik Verma

The streets were empty. I remember running along a canal that did not seem to end until a bridge appeared. I crossed the bridge to the other side and ran back the same way I came. The city of Rotterdam was lit as usual, somewhere after midnight. I neither knew the time nor the distance.

I have been running since I was in high school, in between other sports life has thrown at me. The only way for me to stay in control of my own body is to let it move. In the early days of my childhood, an Indian self-proclaimed holy being - as I refer to them - told my mother that I would follow the course of a flowing river, untamable and free. I believe him and the only thing any godly personality would ever have to say about me. I believe him because it is the truth.

I run more than thirty kilometres a week. These unabated and unconditional units of distance come at a rather debilitating cost. I run because I don’t like people. I don’t like crowds gathered together to prove a point or to celebrate and compete. These kilometres come at a cost of social anarchy that revels in my being as I run to change everything this society stands for.

So it came as a surprise to me when I found myself on the starting line of the Lausanne Half-Marathon minutes away from the gun shot that would, as I were to find out, dramatically not change anything about my life. Ryuta, my Japanese friend, finished the marathon minutes before I was about to start mine. He urged me to come here and I signed up because well you know everyone runs. So what the hell.

Barefoot shoes, check. Heart rate monitor, check. GPS active, check. The first few kilometres were fun. I was striving to maintain my speed while not tripping over slow and coagulated hordes of runners one of whom just smoked a Marlboro light merely twenty minutes before the race began. Not to judge anyone but hey, when you run, don’t run with your tobacco deodorant in my face. Anyway, he was long gone as I sped up to 11.4 kilometres an hour.

There is a strange sense of abandonment in running. Your head clears out as if the momentum of the body is much faster than the brain and the thoughts don’t have enough time to catch up. Sometimes I get out-of-body glimpses of myself where I imagine my strides perfectly touching the ground one after the other.

Lausanne was stunning. It was a clear grey sky, thanks to the sun doing its magic over the lake. The clouds acted as a perfect spread between the sandwich of mountaintops and a crystal clear lake. Every time I felt exhausted and not in control of my pace, I looked left glancing over the shadows of vineyards to see sailboats and windsurfs moving steadily in an ocean of water that looked like a painting straight out of MOMA (Museum of modern art). I just like the sound – moma.

Running is beautiful, except of course when you outrun your joy. Some famous runner must have said that somewhere and it stuck with me. I always make sure never to outrun my joy. Running amidst a crowd of eclectic runners not only confused my thoughts but also my strides. When I run, the only thing that matters to me is to feel in control of my body and let go of my emotions. There is a beautiful space in my head that gets developed every time I let go. But running with so many people made it look pointless. At kilometre nine I normally realise a brush of burn on my inner thighs and run past it, but it started to feel drab and pointless at this time and the burn became a constant badgering thought in my head. I looked left failing miserably to grab any ounce of motivation from the sandwiched clouds or the quiet blue lake. The lean and lanky fellow next to me was quite focused, running with a gait unmatched by anything I have seen before. He didn’t have a watch, a cap, and sunglasses or for that matter any music either. He was apparently running for the beauty of running in plain simple clothes and shoes that looked straight out of the eighties.

A lot of running is now industry driven where people (including me) frequently buy new gadgets. Some make it to marathons; some get washed away by lack of a strong will to keep the ground moving beneath their feet. Some never care. They run for running. Heart rates don’t matter. Water seems to appear when they need it. Sun is a boon not a bane. There are some people who just… run.

This guy jolted my soul to fade the nonsense and keep running. I picked on it and maintained a steady pace for the next three or four kilometres. He was obviously here to do what he did best and in a timely manner went past many in front of me. He even crossed the pacemaker that I intended to cross.

I am not a competitor, and I couldn’t give a fuck about winning (winning against what?). But this race brought out the worst in me. It made me want to finish, but finish better than the person running in front of me, every time I crossed one. Given that my performance was average, this would be a never ending task. I felt appalled with the lack of joy I was experiencing. The innocent smiles of children throwing their hands at the athletes in unreserved joy were the only thing that kept me going.

The race did give me a dose in reality. I am much more aware of my body limitations and the hacks to overcome them. I was never a runner who ran because running was so awesome. I ran for the aftermath, the cold and desperate thought of feeling your internal organs breathe against your skin. There was a moment when I became aware of my existence as a micro individual in lieu of being a soldier in an army of some ultimate being wallowing in the misery of a questionable routine.

Now, living through a mild ankle injury, I look over my cold and dark city. I see a meandering trail longing for every step of this lonely road. But I promised someone that I would wait till I fixed my ankle.

Ironman Zurich, 2014 - The almighty human beings of our time by Trivik Verma

 Boris Stein, from Germany, won the Ironman Zurich 2014 under nine hours. Seen here moments before collapsing on the side.

Boris Stein, from Germany, won the Ironman Zurich 2014 under nine hours. Seen here moments before collapsing on the side.

A vivid account of the race, and undying admiration for the ‘indestructible’ spirit of the Ironman triathlete.

I am not a 4 AM person. The only people outside at that time are either inebriated strangers or the ones who build your city. There were more than five thousand enthusiastic people walking haphazardly in all directions. If you are an early riser, there is much to learn from these athletes and their loved ones.

 The swimming leg of the race.

The swimming leg of the race.

Zurich was hosting an Ironman. Thanks to a methodical city, beautifully arranged around a crystal clear lake, one can swim, bike and run (in that order) at the same time. I was determined to catch the start and headed straight to Safa Island, a small piece of land connected by a narrow bridge, where more than 2400 fluorescent green caps, who traveled from different parts of the globe, were waiting in the cold and captivating waters of Zurich ready to destroy their bodies over the next sixteen hours. I was confused about what was to be gained, mostly by doing it for an audience.

The whistle blew, crowds cheered and the water level of Zurisee rose by a small margin. This 3.8km swim features a unique Australian exit over the Safa Island. I have swum many times in the Zurisee but never at 545 in the morning and never with world-class athletes from around the world. The energy here was incredible, owing to the love and devotion from the families of these unstoppable machines. There are only a few people in the world who run, bike or swim with all the energy they have got. Doing all three together in one day was evident enough of what a human body could achieve.

Racing through one of the biggest financial capitals of the world, Zurich has a remarkable view of snow-capped mountains and lush green fields. Just twenty kilometers out of the city, athletes find themselves in rolling green farmlands and loud cheers of spectators lined up on either side of the track. For many of them it was their first Ironman race and quite a tough one that. Two laps that include two climbs, “The Beast” and “Heartbreak Hill”, can get to one’s nerves after a cold-water swim in not so sunny conditions.

Racers found themselves in the company of many nationalities bustling with so much vigor and cadence that it was hard to differentiate between their ages. I spent some time lingering around the transition zone talking to a few organizers. Manuel was busy making this event a solid hit but had a minute to say, “This is my fourth race and the energy of this crowd makes up for my lack of sleep. At the end of the day, when I see them crying and laughing while limping away from the finish line, my job is justified.”

On the sidelines, a stranger was walking into the water alone. He asked me to oversee his belongings. When he came out, I asked him why he was not taking part in the race. He replied by saying that he wanted to come check out the city and the circuit. He bought a Speedo wetsuit and wanted to try it out in the cold waters of Zurisee. He said I would find him on the starting line next year.

The dedication of Ironman athletes is beyond recognition. Naturally, we practice one sport, train for it and attune our bodies to every bit of reaction the sport demands. An Ironman race, seemed to me, took a lot of shifting in mental attitudes towards sports that are all endurance oriented in nature but have very different regimens for training. I was in awe of the entire show and started feeling an itch to experience the inexplicable joy that I saw on their faces.

All the racers were in a zone of their own and many did not even acknowledge cheers and hi-fives from their own families from the sidelines. There were many women amongst many men in the race; not only upholding a good fight but also surpassing many of the bare chested, six-pack infested muscle men.

 Daniela Ryf, Swiss champion, women's section, running through her first lap of the marathon.

Daniela Ryf, Swiss champion, women's section, running through her first lap of the marathon.

Daniela Ryf, the champion of the women’s section, came out of the transition zone after the biking part ended. I remember how the noise in the environment grew to a different scale at her appearance. She was running like there is no tomorrow and not an ounce of worry on her face. I followed her graceful steps for about a kilometer from the side just to figure out if my own running stride was getting better with time or not. Above all, I was having fun.

The transition zone was bang in the middle of the race and had commentators, both in Swiss German for this vast and animated audience and in English for the International community that was visiting. Hotels and hostels in Zurich were completely booked.

The final part of the race is a marathon; four laps around the lake in a U-shaped circuit that passes through the city and some of its parks. I noticed the ingenious ways in which the runners had stacked chocolate bars and some kind of juice in their body tight skins. By the third lap, many were just strolling past and stopping for a kiss or two from their partners. Many were still running, with a strong pace and totally zoned out, just looking at their fancy GPS watches every now and then, perhaps hoping for this grueling event to end.

At this point I rushed to a small bridge from where one can spot bikers and runners, at different paces, going alongside each other. In my opinion, these bikers are the heroes of the day, struggling for more than fourteen hours as they see runners heading towards the finish line and the constant commentary of how some German beat his own record. They still had a marathon to begin.

At this stage I spotted Nikhil Kapur, running his second lap. Nikhil, from Pune, Maharashtra (as intimated by TOJ), is a businessman and was running his first Ironman. Unfortunately, I could not get down from the crowded bridge in time to get to him and cheer him through that part. But at this point it felt really incredible to find an Indian going through this international event and doing really great at it.

 Cycling through the cheering crowds. 

Cycling through the cheering crowds. 

Next stop was the VIP photographer’s lounge. I had to pull some strings but I got a media pass to enter this zone. I had previously only seen the inside of such a place on television. Luckily, I had a camera to justify my presence there.

The atmosphere was getting tense and the crowd, louder. The commentators had already made it clear who was going to win, unless some unknown forces play their part at the last minute. Of course, the German television crew was there to welcome their star athlete and winner of Ironman Zurich 2014, Boris Stein.

Stein came to a halt just before the finish line, shed tears and pulled the finish tape seconds before collapsing on the ground. He must have been physically destroyed and mentally elevated at the same time. He got up again, gracefully accepting his medal, to hop along the final row of his fans and thanked everyone with teary eyes and an unbelievable expression of accomplishment. Moments later, Stein fell on the grass outside of the winning arena and was wrapped in a silver blanket by his partner.

The electricity that ran through this crowd uplifted my spirits and I saluted to the two thousand odd athletes that were still running and biking for their indestructible spirits. Though I swim well, my fear of open waters keeps me from thinking about being on the other side of an Ironman someday.

(As published @ The Outdoor Journal)

Q & A with US climber and BASE jumper Steph Davis by Trivik Verma

Someone who blindly followed her ambition
as a teen, this 40-year old American today knows the course towards her dreams.

Steph Davis is an American rock climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer based in Moab, Utah. The daughter of an aerospace executive, she started climbing since the age of 18 at the popular Carderock crags, in Maryland, near Washington DC, US. Today, she's the author of two books: the first one on climbing - 'High Infatuation: A Climber's Guide to Love and Gravity'; and the latest- 'Learning to Fly'- a rare and riveting journey of self-discovery and liberation, Steph and Mario Richard (her late husband and also a BASE jumper) have set up their own company- Moab BASE Adventures.

Here's a one-on-one interview of Steph on ‘Learning to Fly’ and how she got there.

# What do you do for a living?

- I’m a professional climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot. My husband, Mario, and I also own a company in Moab called Moab Base Adventures. We do tandem BASE jumps, BASE guiding, climbing clinics and stunts.
# What do your parents think about your lifestyle and how do they cope with it?

- They are proud that I’ve created my own path and a way to make a living doing what I love. And they love Mario.

# Doing something every day for 15 years of your life is a big investment. Do you still get time to play the piano?

- Hardly, but I have one in my house.

# Kevin Reese introduced you to rock climbing. I am sorry to learn that he passed away. Would you like to share a memory with us?

- I always remember meeting him for the first time in Maryland and thought he seemed like a character out of a book- so impressive and fascinating! He was one of the toughest and friendliest people I’ve ever met.

# Did you ever think of writing ‘Learning to Fly’ (or for that matter, any other second book) or it just happened after you lived through a great part of actually learning how to fly.

- ‘High Infatuation’ (my first book) was a learning-by-doing effort. But I was intimidated by the idea of writing a manuscript from start to finish, because it was a collection of stories. I knew it was something I aspired to do, but did not have a specific plan. Learning to fly just popped up—I wanted to write it. I had an ACL surgery in 2009, and thought I could get started on the project with my downtime. But I hadn’t even finished the book’s proposal by the time my knee was better.

# How were you convinced that ‘sky-diving’, something you absolutely did not want to pursue and even disliked at some point, was the only refuge when everything else went tumbling down in your life?

- Usually with big decisions or directions in my life, I just know deeply that 'this is what I should do', and it was the same with jumping.

# Did you have a target audience when you started writing ‘Learning to Fly’?

- I was hoping to write a book that was authentic and meaningful to my core community (climbers, jumpers, al fresco people) but that was also accessible and meaningful to people who don’t do those sports.

# You have pursued a minimalistic approach to climbing. Base Jumping, in some sense, is similar to free-soloing. One slip-up and you’re dead or fatally injured. In what way do you think you have evolved from ‘High Infatuation’ to ‘Learning to Fly’?

- ‘High Infatuation’ was mostly written during my twenties and early thirties, and I think the title says it all—the infatuation towards the world of climbing and high places, wanting to go everywhere and experience everything! ‘Learning to Fly’ is the beginning of where I am now.

# Many rock climbers look up to you. Comparatively, you are new to the BASE jumping community. Do you differentiate between the two in any way? For example, climbing has also been a source of income. How do you look at BASE jumping compared to that?

- I have been climbing for twenty two years and jumping for six years. I make my living from both climbing and jumping now—it’s about an equal divide between my climbing-related work and the jumping work for Moab Base Adventures. And the lines are blurred, because my climbing sponsors are now supporting my BASE jumping as well.

# Do you have a BASE number? If so, what is it?

- I don’t have a BASE number. I do not count jumps (or climbs).

# Like you mention in your book, it is a huge gear shift to jump off cliffs when all your life you tried not to think about it. Such a complete reversal of mental attitude cannot be easy, especially when you climb and jump off cliffs in succession. How do you handle it?

- It is really interesting and I think one reason I enjoy it so much is that climbing is very drawn out, while jumping is more about concentrated moments of intensity.

# If not for Fletch, would you have managed to stay on the road being a dirt-bag climber for that long?

- That’s a neat question. I never imagined meeting Fletch to begin with, and after that I never imagined being without her.

# Living out of a truck in your early twenties and travelling the world to climb can get very isolating /lonely. How did you manage?

- Maybe, but I never thought of it that way. I enjoy peace and solitude, and I seek out opportunities for reflection and time alone, as much as I enjoy good company.

# What is your favorite jumping spot in the world?

- Moab and the Alps.

# Do you have some advice for youngsters who are trying to pursue Base Jumping? It is a rather expensive hobby/passion and one of the most extreme sports in the world.

- I see a lot more people getting into BASE jumping in the last three years. There’s a noticeable difference between jumpers who love the act of jumping and jumpers who love the idea of ‘being a BASE jumper’. I would encourage people to pursue the sport because they love it and respect it.

# Switzerland is a paradise for BASE jumping. I was at High-Ultimate and Flower-Box exits last week and happened to run into many base jumpers. I also met a few residents in Stechelberg village down in the valley. They didn’t look pleased about the whole scenario of jumping due to the risks involved. This has led them to protest against even less risky sports like paragliding and technically safe bungee-jumping. How do you feel about their attitude towards BASE jumpers?

- I have not personally experienced any negativity towards jumpers in the Swiss valley, and I know the tandem paragliding is big business there. Personally, I love the European attitude towards BASE jumping, where jumpers are accepted and treated like other mountain athletes.

# Lastly, what was your experience while writing this book? How did it feel to reflect on all that happened after having lived through it for where you are today?

- I had an overwhelming desire to write ‘Learning to Fly’, and a lot of it was harder to write than I expected. It was great to relive the time when I met my husband Mario, and all the excitement of being a new jumper.

(As published @ The Outdoor Journal)