30 days to go...expedition day 21

On exactly the 30th day from today, I shall be airborne, the aircraft leading me up north towards a new world of endless possibilities, discoveries and a different life.

There is such a storm in my mind, I cannot decide what to write about first. I can go all mushy about the great big adventure this is going to be, I can write about how I have been preparing, I can certainly mention all the support I've had from people in town..instead what I think I am going to do is to attempt a 'pre'-construction of a typical day during our long expedition and compare later when I am actually in the thick of it. Right now it is all there in my head, as a part of my imagination of how it'll unfold. My experience from the Himalayan expeditions speaks in a little voice about what I can anticipate. Having it all written down will help me understand several things - did the whole thing live up to my expectation, did I live up to my expectations, is this what I had prepared for, did I prepare enough, did I under/overestimate the difficulty? And maybe some more things in retrospect...

Time: About 5.30 am - The wake-up call sounds. I can hear the camels getting restless as I lie and check my nite watch for the time. We had a visit from a pack of curious wolves last night and they had to be scared away with fire. The camels are eager to move on from this site of territorial confrontation. I have kept my morning things ready by my sleeping bag. Brushing my teeth is the first thing to do right after I've go the stove alight and put the water on to boil. My head lamp on, I walk some distance away from camp to pee and brush, maybe in that order, maybe not. Back at camp, my tent partner to adding tea leaves and sugar to the water. We will add in the milk powder later, per our taste. Next she will mix the oatmeal and the chopped dry fruits together and measure the milk powder in a vessel to boil it all in. I am in charge of loading the camel today so I go to check on our beast of burden. Oliver seems bright and active, he is already stomping his feet. I say soothing words and, give him a good rub on his neck. I can tell he likes it. I make sure that his breakfast is laid for him and head back to the tent. The tea is done and the oatmeal will now be cooked. It is day 13 since the last clothes change and I decide a fresh set needs to be broken into. I take about 15 min to clean and change. Another 10 to pack and shut my travel sack. All this while I have my sweet un-milked tea. I take both of our hydration packs and fill them with water from the team supply. The oatmeal is done and it's time to eat. Yum!

As I wash and clean the vessels, and clear trash, my partner uses the time to get ready and pack up. It's 6.30 am and we now have to collapse the tents and load the camels. Everything comes out of the tent before we dismantle it. Items that need charging will be packed with their connections sticking out so that they can be connected to the gorilla power chargers.

Oliver sits down on my command and patiently waits as I load the tent and our travel sacks on his back. We have achieved this comfort with each other after several days. Oliver was always the brat of the pack. He know I have forgiven him for spitting and snorting at me right after we were introduced. He continued doing that for all of the first week we spent together. It is fair--he has forgiven me for not giving him enough pats and attention during the same time.

We are all loaded, it is about 7.15 am now. Ripley briefs the team about the day ahead, halt times, and targets. The sun is still bleak and on the horizon, but we can see around clearly. The gadgets are connected to the chargers, which are on top of all gear on the camels' back. We check our day packs for anything missing. Emmanuel checks his equipment and makes notes of his shooting schedule for the day. The working lunch rations are loaded within easy reach on another camel. And we are off...

The landscape remains the same, for mile after mile, day after day. Crusty brown earth under a superior blue sky. Clouds are rare and so is shade. The grass beneath our feet is stunted in its growth for lack of sustenance. A strong wind blows at all times, blowing dust over everything, except into our eyes. They have bloc protection. Far away into the horizon, I can make out the shapes of a caravan heading the other way. Towards the right, at some distance lie the foothills of the Altai mountains.

Asha is crooning one of her early numbers in my ears. I am lucky to be able to hear her today, over the sound of the wind. I take my chance to chit chat with Oliver as we walk, least he feel neglected. I have my camera handy, every now and then I make a quick stop for a shot, a new angle, a new perspective of the landscape that seems to have hardly changed since the day we started walking. Or maybe it has changed a whole lot, I failed to notice.

At about 9.30 am we take our first break to check the camels, their load and most importantly our route. We are doing alright and after a few adjustments to the load, a few shoes lace tightenings, we are off once more.

Around 10.30 am, we stop for retrieving some snacks from our day packs and carry on as we eat. Lunch will be around 1.00 pm and will be consumed the same way. Pee stops are made at frequent intervals as required.

A little towards lunch time our speed drops as the heat takes its toll. The sun is out in full strength and our bodies are lulled by the monotony of the walk. Everyone is keeping to themselves and waiting for the time to eat. There is some excitement around the time lunch is retrieved and distributed. But it is short lived -- energy dips as the afternoon progresses. By 3.30 - 4.00 pm it has picked up again and we are making good speed. Time for a snack, and perhaps some tea. I choose to mount and ride Oliver for the last bit of the day.

By 5.30 pm the sun is low over the horizon, and we need to set up camp before it is to dark. We have arrived a little short of the day's targeted distance and Ripley needs to choose a new place to camp. Once decided, we unload the camels first. I can’t wait to get the boots off my feet. The tents positions are decided and the tents are laid out for assembling. Sacks are unloaded, gadgets and wires are pulled free. We have an hour to ourselves before dinner.

I use that time to stretch and unpack. I have my daily diary to write as well and some photo notes to make.

Dinner is a little more elaborate and we have some vegetables we bought from a herders’ family we passed yesterday. Those and the meat are chopped up for stewing. Bread is available to consume it with. A hot meal is a good way to relax with friends around a fire. The temperate has dropped considerably since the hot afternoon. The wind is now chilly and harsh-- the dust continues to blow. The light windcheaters and thick socks have come out now. We chitchat, catch up on each ones observations, and personal challenges for the day. We also encourage and motivate each other continually. It is the way we are set up as a team..to look out for each other and provide all support & encouragement.

One conversation leads to another and before long we are all drowsy. Dreamland beckons. I am done with my daily notes. I pull out some family pictures to look at, they will take me through another day. The final notes of the song play in my head, but I am too deep in my sleep to hear them close.
One more night, 41 days to go.


Zebra question said…
I like it. I wish it ir more or less the same when we go and no major surprises. ... well not sure.. i am all set for the surprises too! We are going to have a great time dear! This post got me goosebums....
Sucheta K said…
good piece

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