By Brianna Fujan
OXFORD, Ohio - Most people think of summer as a time to relax. It’s the chance to hang out by the pool, catch some sun and ultimately, do anything you want; as long as it’s not work. However, for Miami Soccer’s Madison Ryan and Allison Norenberg, they did anything but relax. Ryan and Norenberg set out for a trek in Nepal, half way across the world, where they would walk a total of 117.5 miles and reach an elevation of 15,000 feet. The Life at Altitude study abroad program, led by Miami kinesiology and health professor Mark Walsh, included a 23-day program in Nepal. Sixteen days would be spent trekking through the Upper Mustang region with their main destination being Lo Manthang; the last forbidden kingdom.
Hearing about the trip through former teammates Brooke Livingston, Rachel Byron, and Jessica Byron, the Life at Altitude trek was something Norenberg had wanted to do since freshman year.
“They talked about it all the time during preseason. After seeing all the pictures, I was sold. Ever since then, I knew this trip was something I wanted to do,” Norenberg said.
Ryan also heard about the Life at Altitude program coming in as a freshman at Miami.
“I heard about the trip on my tour of the school before I even decided to go to Miami,” Ryan explained. “After I committed to play soccer, my coach Bobby Kramig told me about the three seniors that went on the trip that summer. They all spoke very highly of the trip and explained how it was a once in a lifetime experience.”
While Norenberg took the program as a Capstone credit, Ryan decided to take the program as a research credit through the Summer Scholars program. While there, she performed research and studied the effects of altitude on human cognition, reaction time and coordination.
On May 16, the RedHawk duo departed the United States along with nine other Miami students. Stopping in Hong Kong for a quick visit before their flight to Kathmandu, Nepal, the group was able to get to know one another and discuss their excitement and anxieties regarding the trip.
“I was really nervous about the physiological aspect of the trip. I even had nightmares about all of the walking” Norenberg said. “But once I talked to everyone else in the group and knew they felt the same way, it was nice knowing I wasn’t alone.”
“I didn’t really do too much research on Nepal going into the trip, so I didn’t know what to expect. Everything was going to be new to me, which made me excited and anxious,” Ryan said. “ Not knowing anyone else going into the trip, I wouldn’t have had it any other way then to go on the trip with someone I knew, especially my teammate Allison.”
After arriving in Kathmandu, the group had a day tour. They were even able to attend a cremation ceremony. However, the air within Kathmandu was something the group had never experienced. There was so much dust and pollution in the air that it looked smoggy. There was trash buildup along the side of the roads, and the city itself had no infrastructure. The group was very surprised at how dirty the city of Kathmandu was.
“Many Nepalese people walked around the streets wearing masks to cover their noses and mouths,” explained Norenberg. “ I would have my mouth open from talking to someone and when I closed my mouth, I could feel the dirt on my teeth.”
“It was definitely a shock coming from the United States,” added Ryan.
Before beginning the actual hiking portion of the program, the group had to take two short flights. These planes had to land on a short landing strip of about 150 yards, meaning if the plane did not stop in time; it would crash into the mountain.
“I remember sitting next to Mark, a professor from the University of Akron who tagged along for the trip,” recalled Norenberg. “He didn’t hesitate to inform me of the flight, that just a week ago, had crashed into the side of a mountain. The crash killed all of the passengers inside. If we hadn’t just left the ground, I might have run off the plane.”
Once they returned home from their trip, they found out that a plane had crashed just a few days after they left Nepal as well, killing 17 British people and one American.
After landing the aircraft safely, the group would begin their vigorous hike up Kala Patthar Mountain, which reaches 18,600 feet as part of the Himalaya Mountain Range. Their average day of trekking included waking up with some tea from the Sherpas, packing up camp, eating breakfast, trekking for three hours and stopping at a nearby village. They would then eat lunch, continue to trek for a few more hours, settle in a new camp, have tea time, talk and journal till dinner time, and then head to bed. The group was in bed by 8:30 p.m. practically every night.
The walking was both tiring and physically demanding, especially because the higher one goes in altitude, the less oxygen one has in their blood. As part of the class, the group tested and recorded the difference in oxygen levels in their body every day. Luckily, the elevation didn’t really get to Ryan.
“I felt a little tired and lethargic a couple days on the trip,” Ryan explained. “The major symptoms I had were headache and just not wanting to do anything. After that, I didn’t feel too terrible. Nobody on the trip got sick to the point where they weren’t able to go further, which was good.”
Not only did the group need to adjust to the elevation levels, but they also had to adjust to the food, water, and bathing availability throughout their journey.
“It felt really disgusting not being able to shower,” said Norenberg. “Our group wasn’t able to shower for about 16 days.”
Having water available after it was boiled and contained iodine tablets, the Sherpa’s made sure the group drank three-to-four liters a day to prevent sickness. They also had three Sherpa cooks that carried all of the food and made their lunches and meals on the go. Their food intake included a lot of spam, hot dogs, bread, rice, beans, cauliflower, and occasionally chicken. The food choices became noticeably limited, however, the higher in elevation they went.
“It was amazing that the cooks did what they did,” explained Ryan. “They would make our meals and then pack it all up with these huge baskets, wrapping a strap over their foreheads to attach it to their backs, and then kept trekking. They often trekked faster then all of us too!”
After days of hiking and stopping at small villages, the group reached their main destination, Lo Manthang. Lo Manthang is said to be the “last remaining Tibetan kingdom” because its culture is still intact and hasn’t had any modern influences. While there, the group was fortunate enough to meet Jhigme Prabal Bista, the very last King of Mustang. During their trek in Lo Manthang, they were surrounded by the Himalayan mountain range.
“The scenery was absolutely breathtaking,” Norenberg said. “People told me to take lots of pictures, and I did; but the pictures do not do it justice.”
“My favorite part of the trip was making so many new friends and being able to experience the trek together,” explained Ryan. “It was also neat to see a totally new culture and see the way people still live in these remote villages, basically living off the land. It was cool to compare the different lifestyles between the Nepalis and Americans. I met friends on this trip that I will have for a lifetime.”
Norenberg also enjoyed meeting the new people on their trip.
“Going on a trip knowing just one person and then getting so close with other people makes for such good memories,” agreed Norenberg. “Getting to experience the breathtaking views with them was something I will never forget. It was nice to be apart of something at Miami that wasn’t completely soccer related; it allowed me to meet different people with different interests outside of athletics.”
Norenberg and Ryan will come back to Miami this fall, excited to share stories and pictures with their teammates as they prepare for the 2013 soccer season.
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