Mustang Trail Race

Running across a bridge in Mustang – Richard Bull photo

“Every place distills an atmosphere–a state of mind–that can more easily be felt than described, a something that overshadows all activities and bathes all events in a peculiar light. Some places have a feeling of sleepiness, others one of loneliness and desolation. But every place in Mustang was, I felt, characterized by dynamism and an enthusiasm that infected the entire population.” – Michel Peissel, “Mustang”

“A rocky cave in the wilderness was the home of your spiritual Father. A deserted and solitary place is a divine abode.” – Marpa the Translator, from “The Life of Milarepa”

The wall of Lo Manthang on a fresh morning after snowfall – Richard Bull photo

The idea of visiting the forbidden kingdom of Mustang first entered my mind as I descended from the summit of the Thorung La pass on the Annapurna Circuit last year. The Thorung La is the highest point on the famous circuit and from it’s 17,000+ ft. summit the views in every direction are expansive to say the least. Technically, as one descends into the town of Muktinath far below you are entering the Nepali district of Mustang, but the heart of the kingdom, the area which the country restricts access to – Upper Mustang – remains mostly invisible behind 4,000 meter passes and peaks to the north. As Paulo and I walked slowly down from the culmination of our Annapurna trek, I peered restlessly off into that dry and desolate land hidden from view, feeling as if I could perhaps stand a little higher on my tippy toes and see what lay beyond the barren dirt hills, catch a glimpse of a magical land which had no reality to me but was only a concept. I don’t know why I was drawn to look yearningly in that direction in the first place, except perhaps for the mystique the area generated amongst the other Annapurna trekkers. The high cost for a permit and the low number of trekkers allowed in by the government of Nepal turned it into a fable around evening dinner tables in guesthouses from Chame to Manang. Everyone seemed to agree on one thing about Mustang: while very few had visited it, they all had heard that it was amazing. But our trail bent off in another direction, which we eagerly pursued in search of more adventure and growth, and Mustang was filed away into the very large mental bin titled, “places I would like to go one day.”

Flash forward almost exactly one year and I was poised to enter Upper Mustang from the town of Kagbeni, a green farming oasis on the edge of the wide stony Kali Gandhaki river gorge. The water carves its way through the hills and mountains blocking the way into Upper Mustang, yet still bends out of sight just above town so that the mystery of what lies to the north prevails. The circumstances which led to me being there were so bizarre and seemingly disconnected that I can only percieve them as a long tangled thread perfectly described as, “what is meant to be.” If I had set out with a firm intention to visit Mustang within a year it seems likely that other plans, obligations, new decisions – Life – would have inevitably intervened, as it always seems to do. But instead Life decided that my path needed an adventure through Mustang in order to develop the way that it is supposed to, and so the many random ocurances and decisions that could only be seen as related after the fact worked their magic, and I stood alone in Kagbeni awaiting the group with which I would venture into Mustang.

A happy group of runners above Kongcholing Cave on stage 4. L to R -> Mira Rai, Matt Moroz, Upendra Sunewar, PhuDorjee Lama Sherpa, Nicola Bassi, Marco Baretta, Andy Wellman – Richard Bull photo

The reason for me going to Mustang was an event which was right up my alley – the Mustang Trail Race. This second year race winds its way through the highlights of the land in eight running stages spread out over the course of nine days and covers roughly 200km of rocky desert on very runnable trails mostly at elevations of around 4000 meters. As the culmination of a seven week long “Nepal spring training running camp” of my own design, it was the perfect chance to inject a significant amount of volume into my training (the most running I had ever done in one week) as well as some intensity and speed – and I would get to explore Mustang! Buzzing with anticipation would be how I would describe myself at that moment.

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The Dream is to be Healthy and Balanced so that I can Run

Pumori, Khumbu, Nepal

“The first step of the dream-change process…is to define what we want, to make certain that it is a dream, not a fantasy… An essential next step is to give the dream energy. Constantly bring your dream out into the light of day. Think about it, meditate and journey on it. Talk about it with everyone you meet. Shout it out. Share it with the Earth, the sky, the clouds, the sun and moon, and with all the plants, animals, and minerals of the Earth. Give it voice and song!” – the shaman Manco, from The World is as You Dream It, by John Perkins
“The energy created by our dreaming is like air. It travels everywhere. Your ability to use this energy is limited only by your dream of its power. Your faith. Our dreams can affect everyone and everything else–if we energize them with enough power.” – the shaman Manco 

There was a specific moment which occurred this past year while trekking in Nepal when I truly came to realize what running means to me. My brother Paulo and I walked downhill in the morning sun along the main trail through the Khumbu region, the trail leading away from Everest Base Camp, which we had left that morning. As we strolled along we talked–musing, dreaming, contemplating–as we usually did. We were essentially ‘homeward bound’ as we were now headed out of the mountains on our final trek of the long three-month trip, so our thoughts naturally journeyed forward to what we would do next and where we were going. Within a few short weeks we would split and continue on following our own individual paths. Both of us intended to keep on traveling for many months. I had an entire itinerary planned for the next many months: the beaches of Thailand, then the northern mountains, on to the Indian Himalaya, Sri Lanka, then New Zealand… It was a dream trip that anyone would be envious of, but instead of looking forward to all the amazing sights and places I would see, I was instead pre-occupied with a dream of heading home and spending the summer in the mountains of Colorado, simply running.

Paulo walking down the trail where this story takes place, between the towns of Gorak Shep and Chhukung in the Khumbu

It didn’t make much sense, and I voiced my confusion to my brother in what I thought was a rhetorical question. “Why can I only think about running when I have so many amazing travels to partake in?”

By his immediate and pointed response, it seemed that he knew exactly why: “You need running to be who you are.” Continue reading

The Mobius Strip

“The Möbius strip … can easily be created by taking a paper strip and giving it a half-twist, and then joining the ends of the strip together to form a loop. The Möbius strip has several curious properties. A line drawn starting from the seam down the middle will meet back at the seam but at the “other side”. If continued the line will meet the starting point and will be double the length of the original strip.” Wikipedia

Arrow Peak reflected in the surface of a pond along the Colorado Trail.

Meditations, visions, yearnings, intuitions – all conspired to draw me here to Silverton, Colorado. Forces pulled me here from the other side of the world in a series of events that made no logical sense and ended up costing me almost all of the money I had saved for traveling. And yet, in my moments of greatest clarity I realized that logic has nothing to do with making the decisions that really matter, or it shouldn’t anyway. Lists of pros and cons, factors weighed against each other in some mathematical formula which will somehow lead to the “correct” decision should be discarded completely. This is the old way of thinking about what we are doing, where we are going, or what we should do – the new way needs none of these things, and is not bound or contained by any meticulousness or “reason.” The new way knows what needs to happen, where needs to happen, who needs to be met, and the only true action that needs to be taken is to be sure to stay in the current, not to get dragged off into a swirling, stagnating eddy. Bumping down the river, rock to rock, being mindful to pay attention to where the current bends and twists so as to keep moving forward, progressing, learning. An open heart is the guide…This is the new way, my new way…

Vestal Peak and the Wham Ridge bathed in sunlight.

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Soul Rebel – Trekking the Khumbu

“If you’re not living good, I beg you to travel wide, travel wide.” – Bob Marley, Soul Rebel

“Feel them Spirit…I rule my Destiny.” – Bob Marley, Put It On 

As Paulo and I walked out of Namche Bazaar on a stunningly clear morning towards the west and our eventual destination for the day of Thame, we looked up at the mountains surrounding us, very short by Khumbu standards, but wonderfully adorned with a fresh snow from the previous evening’s storm. I asked Paulo, “what do you think the frame is for this trek, what is the general theme?” We had been in Nepal adventuring about for over two months at that point, and to us it had felt like each thing we had done and place we had visited had been imbued with a special purpose as it related to our own journey. By the time we had walked out from Annapurna Base Camp we understood the meaning of our pilgrimage there, and had left the past up there in the snow, in the past, where it belonged. As we followed the long circuit around the Annapurna Massif we spun the wheel of our lives back into action from the stagnant, stalled state which they had degenerated into. Upon our return to Pokhara we felt like we had a purpose again, there was a path in front of us that we understood and could follow, life had motion. A week of intensive practice at Sadhana Yoga Center had taught us some methods by which to implement our quest for self-betterment, and had more importantly intoxicated us with a fresh breathe of progress. So in a way, as we embarked on another 20 days of wandering around the mountains, something we were getting fairly proficient at, I wondered if perhaps this mission would merely entail sightseeing, if perhaps the mountains had given us all that they could for this go-around, and hoped that as we walked we wouldn’t fall into some form of spiritual holding pattern, a bardo.

The path we walked in the early morning sunshine traversed along a south-facing slope through pine and rhododendron forests. The rhododendrons were in full bloom at this particular altitude, which was incredible because it seems that everywhere we have walked in this mountainous country, for three months, the rhododendrons have been blooming. Instead of the ubiquitous pink and sometimes dark, rose-like red, this day we experienced a pale off-white interspersed with yellow, a color grouping we had not yet seen. Trampling the carpet of fallen blossoms below his feet and strolling beneath the canopy of still hanging blossoms above him, Paulo replied something like, “I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been waiting for it to hit me, what this trek is supposed to be all about, what we are supposed to learn. But we didn’t know at the beginning of the other trips either.” Patience: ponder it and walk on, through meadows, under rocky peaks, across clear brooks, past monasteries, and through our minds…

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Surrender

“I see whatever exists as good, death is to me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness, everything has to be as it is, everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever harm me. ” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

At the end of the second hour long mediation session of the day at Sadhana Yoga Retreat, I lay back on my yoga mat, eyes closed, and had the sudden Inspiration to write a blog about “Surrender.” The meditation session had gone very well. Besides feeling like I spent the entire time in the present moment, which can be quite a challenge while meditating, I had managed to spend the entire session with my legs crossed in the Sukhasana position, without having my feet go to sleep or having to spend most of the session trying to detach from the incredible pain. The Sukhasana position involves bending the right leg so that the foot sits on the floor right up next to the crotch and then bending the left leg so that the left foot lays on top of the right foot. Four days into our retreat, I was making progress!

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Spinning the Wheel

“…More than just going with the flow, joe; conscious living means remembering the flow goes always through you, and your healthy needs and wishes, creativity, imagination, aspiration and dreams are also a part of it.” – Lama Surya Das

A long rock wall, stacked by hand and held together only by belief, adorned and sheltered from the weather by a slate stone roof split the trail leading out of town. Prayer flags – yellow, white, red, green, blue – attached together by a long string dangle from wooden pole parapets. Some ends are tied to nearby trees or rocks, other ends of flags blow loosely in the wind, frayed, discolored, old. Inset into the wall at head height for an average Tibetan, or perhaps low chest level for an american male, is a seemingly endless bank of prayer wheels – hollow circular copper drums about 1 foot tall, stuffed with prayer flags, attached with a spindle on the center above and below so they spin, and stenciled on the outside with the ubiquitous prayer: Om Mane Padme Hum. According to Buddhist tradition you pass these prayer wheels on the left, so that with your right hand you spin each wheel as you walk by in the clockwise direction. It is said that spinning the wheel one revolution releases the prayers inscribed upon it and contained within to the wind, liberating them for the good of yourself and all the world. So I walk down the row, spinning each wheel as I walk by, leaving them clattering and praying behind me. Paulo follows, liberating more divine prayers for our benefit. We stroll out of town along the worn path in front of us, continuing our circular walk around the giant powerful mountain, rarely and fittingly even visible to us, like the meaning of life. We set each small wheel spinning as our footsteps around this mountain set our internal wheels spinning as well. Spinning, changing, growing…

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Annapurna!

Whatever this man is–wanderer or evil monk, or saint or sorcerer–he seems touched by what Tibetans call the “crazy wisdom”: he is free. – Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard


Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere – in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that…leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight. – Lama Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds, taken from The Snow Leopard

On day four of our trek up to Annapurna Base Camp, I pondered the point of a pilgrimage. I knew that Paulo, my brother, and I were on a pilgrimage to see this magnificent place referred to by all on the trail as “ABC,” but I did not know what we would find when we got there. It sort of bothered me; after all, why go on a pilgrimage if you do not understand the point of your journey. I looked into the eyes of the weary travelers coming towards us on the trail, the ones who had already made the journey to the high altitudes and snows of ABC, and wondered what they were thinking. In most of their eyes I saw nothing but weariness, exhaustion, and perhaps exasperation: exasperation with the distance they now had to travel back to civilization. It seemed to me that on many of their faces was painted the knowledge of how far they had yet to travel, and the intense desire that they were already there, and did not have to make the effort to walk these long and hot miles back to the nearest road. To me these people seemed unaffected by what they had seen, and I wondered if they were on a pilgrimage like I was, or if they were merely fulfilling the itinerary set out for them when they planned a trip to Nepal: when in Nepal you go trekking, and the most popular trek is to ABC.

But perhaps I am just being judgmental. Perhaps these people were just really tired. But there was a distinct counter-point to these blank and tired faces – there were those souls walking towards us who glowed with radiance, who were powered by an inner energy, despite the days of hard walking and fatigue. These people were affected, they had found what they were seeking and more in the hall of the mountain kings that we walked towards, but what was it they had found?

As I slowly plodded upwards to my own mantra-chanting rhythm, step by step up yet another interminable himalayan stone staircase, I wondered what my pilgrimage was all about. What was the point of this journey? I had flown half way around the world over the course of five days to land in Nepal. I had then traveled eight hours on a mini-bus to reach a village near the start of this walk, and had packed a backpack, written emails, withdrawn money, and scoured maps in preparation for this five day march to a place which is defined as being merely the base camp for expeditions wishing to tackle the real challenge – the famous and menacing mountain Annapurna which rises above. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily do all these things and much more just to enjoy a fine walk in the mountains, but this one was about much more than just seeing the sights. I could feel the hidden significance within myself, but it bothered me that I couldn’t put my finger on that internal meaning, the reason for sharing this march with all these countless fellow souls from every country in the world where people have enough income to travel to Nepal, as well as with my brother. And so I marched onwards, wondering…

what is Paulo looking for?

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Imagine

Chisapani sunrise… Everything they said it would be!

“Imagine all the people living for today… Imagine all the people living life in peace” – John Lennon, Imagine

Everyone knows the experience of having a song, melody, or beautifully sung lyrics inextricably linked to a moment in time within their brain, such that whenever they hear that song sweet memories of the past, pictures playing to a soundtrack in the consciousness, a warm-fuzzy feeling, well up from within to infuse the present. After a two-day trek and overnight stay in the small ridge-top village of Chisapani (“cool water” in Nepali) with my brother Paulo and our five new Nepali companions, the song Imagine, by John Lennon will be added to my memory’s soundtrack forever.

The boys, ranging in age from 18 to 23, had been showing us around their home of Kathmandu for the past two days, and inspired by the Nepali custom that they, “treat their visitors like gods,” were eager to please and protect us as they introduced us to their country and culture the best way that they could. They continually asked us what we wanted to do, and knowing nothing about our surroundings, we continually deferred, not wanting to try to control the experience. They knew that we were here to wander in the mountains, and so they planned for us this trek through the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park to the idyllic little hamlet where they said we would be able to watch the sunrise over the himalayas and drink Nepali rice wine, or chyang. Some of the boys had been there before, but the other ones conceded that this eight mile journey was the farthest they had ever walked in their entire lives. It made for a fantastic combination of giddy “leaders” excited to show us their favorite place and local “tourists,” as out of their element as we were, although in an entirely different way.

L -> R: Aakash, Binnay, Mukash, Sujan, Sajal.

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Serendipity

Serendipity, besides being one of the sweetest-sounding words in the English language, is a sign of well-being, an endorsement of the path of choice. – Alberto Villoldo, “The Four Winds”


If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living… You begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and… doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. – Joseph Campbell

My brother Paulo and I have absolutely no doubt that we are on the Path.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that I was on the Path, or rather decided to get on the Path, but it probably happened a couple of weeks ago now. I guess that I would say that the moment came about somewhat organically, but has only gained momentum as things continue to conspire to show me that I am correctly following the signs. Its genesis was the melting within my brain of all sorts of “crazy” ideas gleaned from an equally eclectic group of sources. But I know that I am on the path because the serendipity and synchronicity of things tells me that it is so.

To sum it up, the path is letting go and willingly conspiring with the one love consciousness to manifest your own ideal destiny. It is not limiting yourself by any sort of beliefs, especially not negative. In fact, it involves never having a negative thought of any kind. It involves spinning anything around on its head to see only the potential positive, to empower yourself and your actions. It is realizing that you are not in any way in control, and being totally ok with that fact, accepting of it. It is being aware of the subtle nudges one way or another, and not judging them based upon pre-conceived notions or expectations. Somebody on the path will never close a door on an opportunity, lest that opportunity be lost forever just by saying no. It is holding in your mind your intentions of what you want and where you want to end up, or even just your intention of how you want to be and live, and then having faith that with simple belief you will dream it into being. It is choosing to see what the best possible outcome in any situation is, and then refusing to believe that anything else is what will actually transpire. It is knowing that you create your own reality. Your world is literally created by the way that you perceive the people, places, things, and events which take place around you. You have the ability to write your own story, and when you are on the path, you are writing that story, and the universe will help you along the way.

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