How to be an NFL wide receiver

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My team

What you’ll need: a fast 40-yard dash time, a good touchdown dance

Songlist: Outkast’s The Whole World (I catch a beat runnin’ like Randy Moss), Prince’s ode to the Vikings Purple and Gold

Further Reading: The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer

1998: Year of the Tiger, year of Titanic’s titanic 11 Oscar haul, year that Bill Clinton denied he had sexual relations with that woman. Year that Nagano, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics and year that two Standford PhD candidates founded Google, Inc. 1998, year that a tall, skinny kid out of West Virginia was drafted by the Minnesota’s football team and forever changed my life.

Until Randy Moss’s rookie year with the Vikings, I didn’t understand why my dad and brother would sit around watching football for hours on end. On Thanksgivings, I gladly stayed in the kitchen making cranberry sauce instead of watching large men run into each other. For that’s all that it looked like to me: a human collision course. In seventh grade, though, my homework load increased and I left it for Sundays to finish in front of the TV. Watching Randy Moss in 1998 made me realize the true nature of football: it is stunningly beautiful. Or, as a New Yorker article this week referred to it, it is contact ballet. And thus I became a Vikings fan.

Carter, Moss, Culpepper

The Vikings went 15-1 in that 1998 season, a feat not achieved often or as gracefully. They scored a record 556 points on offense (a record since broken), never fewer than 24 points per game. Randy Moss caught 17 touchdowns, a rookie record; his jaw-dropping hail-Mary catches were balanced by the precision of veteran wide receiver Cris Carter, a man who would sooner break a bone than step out of bounds or drop a ball. Naturally, in my hero-worship state, I wished I could be as talented as those men; I wanted to be an NFL wide receiver who was paid millions to show how elegant a tough sport could be. While being a short female somewhat precludes me from an NFL on-the-field career, I wanted to live a life with as much epic drama every week as these men were showcasing.

Besides the incredible Randall Cunningham passes that spanned the length of the football field to end up firmly in the hands of Moss or Carter, we had another asset on offense: field goal kicker Gary Anderson. Hitting a perfect 35 for 35 attempts in the regular season, he seemed more trustworthy even than Carter (yes, this is where, if you remember what happened, your stomach drops). The Vikings rolled into the playoffs as the heavy favorites to win the NFC championship. They beat the Cardinals easily, then welcomed the Falcons to Minnesota’s Metrodome for the championship game.

I’ll never forget the moment when Gary Anderson missed the field goal attempt that would have put the Vikings into the Superbowl. My heart broke, my brother punched the table and left the room, and those of us left behind sat in stunned silence. It wasn’t just our brilliant season that ended in that moment, but my belief that my idols could do no wrong. I realized I could never have a job on which the hopes and dreams of thousands lay upon one single moment. It was too much pressure.

Our story turned out to be a tragedy (as all the great ones are), and I told myself I would never care as much again. But then a hero with a story so improbable as to be legendary joined the Vikings in 2009, and once again I started to believe. But Brett Favre threw an interception in the NFC championship game just over a year ago, the Saints advanced to the Superbowl and became America’s heroes, and my heart is still as broken as it was in 1999, still broken.

DIY: Design a house like Frank Lloyd Wright

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Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

No childhood as the offspring of an American architect is complete without a visit to Fallingwater, Taliesen, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Yes, our family road trips often veered off course to pay homage to one of the greatest architects of all time: Frank Lloyd Wright.

While researching FLW, I came across this design website, which gives you a few facts about Wright and some basic tips and information about the business of architecture. Then you get to do it yourself: choose a client from a group of about twenty, pick a location, and start designing! Create a floor plan, add walls, windows, and openings, and finally tour your house in 3D. If you find that you’re more of a pro than you realized, you can even submit your design for others to view and critique. I know what I’ll be doing all weekend…

 

Looking up in the Guggenheim museum

Dartmouth architecture

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Sanborn: a good place for a secret society to gather

The most interesting lecture I’ve ever attended was one on the history of Dartmouth College’s architecture. Seated with fellow members of my secret society (yeah, yeah, it’s not a secret anymore) in ornate Sanborn Hall on a dim winter night, the talk had an aura of mystery around it even before Professor Marlene Heck began to speak.

College is a strange institution in the United States for many reasons, not least of which is its inherent long-term memory loss. We arrive one year assuming things have always been a certain way and leave four short years later, assuming they will always stay the same. Of course that is not the case. But when an architectural project intrudes upon those four years, it feels as though the very earth is shifting beneath our feet.

Professor Heck’s talk illuminated all the ways in which Dartmouth has changed over the centuries of its existence. The green, now so sacred as an open space it would be unthinkable to have a building there, once hosted the president’s house. A plan for the river once included a huge outdoor amphitheater. She also talked about plans that were in the budget in 2007, ones that have since shifted social foci and destroyed things that seemed permanent, ones that have already made “my Dartmouth” a thing of the past.

My favorite story of the evening was about a former natural history museum that housed dinosaur bones and taxidermied animals. At some point, the college decided the building was no longer necessary, and the fossils were shipped out to other locations. The museum was prime real estate on campus, and what was really needed was a library, an axis mundi that would recognize the importance of books in such a community. The library would go where the museum had stood. But what to do with this large, existing building? The solution: a construction crew dug a huge hole right in front of the museum and, after emptying it of all its treasures, pushed the building into the hole. When maintenance crews were called in a few years ago to work on Baker Library’s plumbing, they dug in front of the library only to find an archaeological site just a half-century old.

It’s strange to think how quickly we become history.

The bones of another building are buried in front of Baker tower

Oh my Gaudí

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Inside the Sagrada Familia

The great thing about visiting any new place with my dad, the architect, is that his perspective is so different from my own. Check out that mansard roof! he exclaims. Is that really faience glazed clay tile? Thus, with him, I notice the architectural detail in new cities much more often than I would on my own.

Visiting Barcelona once in spring of 2009 and again in July of 2010, I was sorry he was not with me. The city is a phantasmagoria of architectural innovation; every block, it seems, holds some fantastic creation. In fact, one gets so accustomed to buildings that curve, bulge, ripple, flash, that something like this looks commonplace:

Yeah? So your exterior looks like waves. So what?

Of course, when you talk about architecture and you talk about Barcelona, there is one man so important that he overshadows everyone else: Antoni Gaudí (literally–the Sagrada Familia bristles out of a relatively flat skyline). In fact, it’s hard to think of another architect who has as completely reconfigured the nature of a city, or another city that lures tourists with the treasures of just that one architect. Without Gaudí, Barcelona would be just another European city with a nice old cathedral and street vendors willing to sell you individual beers from six-packs they store in the sewer system (don’t tell me you can’t find that in Munich).

In fact, I was skeptical about Gaudí’s style before I visited Barcelona. It just seemed so, well, gaudy. Up close, though, his work is so utterly intricate and it so perfectly combines elegance with whimsy that it’s nearly impossible to resist. I found myself gaping in awe at the heights of the Sagrada Familia, a structure that attempts to define the word “exaltation” through stone. And then there’s Parc Güell, which feels like a multi-layered underwater Disney creation.

Gaudí is one of those architects who did not base what could be done on what had been done. In his building designs, Gaudí used shapes common in nature seemingly irreconcilable with the rigid materials necessary for the buildings to stand. Yet his pillars mimic trees perfectly, his tiles take on the form of tropical fruits with ease. Balconies settle like sand dunes. I can only imagine what more my dad would point out if he were there.

How to be an architect

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What you’ll need: A good understanding of geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and design; an eraser

Songlist: Master of the House from Les Mis, House of the Rising Sun by the Animals

Further Reading: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Masterworks

Keep that eraser handy!

Just over a quarter century ago, a recent college grad like me was wondering what the #$%& he should do with his life. Instead of starting a blog (which would have been quite the innovation at the time and surely would have made him a million times richer than the profession he chose), he opened the University of Minnesota’s graduate programs catalog. Starting at “A” he ran his finger down the list. Accountant? No. Agricultural Engineer? No. OH! Architect! Why not? And so this man became an architect.

For a few years, I told this story as though it were my dad with the alphabetical impulsivity until he gently informed me that it was a friend he’d met at the U of M’s architecture program, and not him. Architecture was a more obvious fit for my dad, a person who is both extremely creative and mathematically precise. He’s also quite adept at writing in all capitals–architects’ script–and not look like he’s shouting on paper.

Since my dad is an architect, the profession always seemed normal to me, yet whenever I told friends or teachers their eyes would light up with respect and interest. Thus, I began designing houses as well. Dad would bring home graph paper and I would create mansions with swimming pools, movie theaters, indoor dog parks. Sometimes I would accompany him to his office in Minneapolis and look at the drawings that he and his colleagues were producing (though usually I was more interested in hanging out at the children’s bookstore below his office, the Wild Rumpus, that features real animals in and around the shop).

I hadn’t given much more thought to be an architect myself until about two months ago, when I was lying awake at night trying to figure out my future. To get my mind off this quarter-life-crisis stress, I turned on my light. I’ll just design a Mexican hacienda, I thought to myself. So I got out my sketch book, and began to dream up some key elements of this house: a courtyard with a fountain in the middle, a library with views out into the jungle beyond. But I ran up against the problem I always had as a kid: I wanted the house to be big, but I didn’t know what to do with all the space. That is, I had plenty of ideas about how to fill in this box of a Mexican hacienda, but no sense of how the rooms would flow from one to the next. There was no function in my form.

Yeah, that's pretty much how I designed it

Last week I was talking to my dad about his day at the office. He was excited because he at his favorite stage in a project: he was figuring out all the dimensions to add to the final drawings for an addition. This, he said, is like a very intricate puzzle in which he must keep hundreds of numbers in his head at once to put it all together.

I had recently dealt with a similar puzzle, though on a much smaller scale. For Christmas, I decided to create a cover for my brother’s new Kindle out of leather; my least favorite part was all those measurements I had to keep in mind–how large the chipboard needed to be, how much leather to cut, where to sew on the elastic (actually, my least favorite part was how many times I stabbed myself with the sewing needle, or perhaps the night I lay moaning on the carpet about how this *&#%-ing Kindle cover was unsalvageable). Seeing how excited my dad was about measurements, and remembering my despair when the leather I’d cut didn’t quite fit, I realized that the kind of puzzles one needs to solve in architecture are just not for me. Function is not my forte.

On a final note, my Kindle cover did end up fitting and, as they say, if the Kindle cover fits, use it. At least, that is, until the decorative elements fall off and you realize they were only there to cover mistakes, or the elastic snaps off when riding the subway and your Kindle slips into the abyss of slush-covered designer boots.

How did Hillary do it?

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If you’ve been following over the past week you know I’m not referring to the USA’s current Secretary of State, but this guy ↓

Sir Edmund Hillary, dashing as always

I’m even more amazed by his feat now, especially after reading the website I referred to yesterday which catalogues all of the advanced mountaineering gear a person needs, as well as detailed maps and plans for how to summit and survive. NPR sums up my feelings best:

The immensity of what Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did that bright blue day in 1953 is nearly impossible to imagine, even for the most seasoned climber. There were no fixed ropes and aluminum ladders, no polar fleece, no GPS for guidance. Just two men, tied together, hacking steps in the ice to climb more than 29,000 feet.”

Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did use oxygen, but it was a primitive system by today’s standards. There were several reconnaissance missions beforehand, but it was not until these two men came to what is now known as the Hillary step that they first learned of this last, almost unsurmountable, obstacle.

In 2002, Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay summited Mount Everest together, to mark the 50-year anniversary of their fathers’ successful ascent (along with them was Brent Bishop, son of one of the first Americans to reach the top). Peter commented on the difficulties their fathers faced, and how the climb has changed:

We came to the Hillary stair dad and Tenzing climbed 50 years ago,

The Hillary step--almost there!

this 40-foot, very steep rock and ice step just before the summit, and these guys came across it, you can imagine their anxiety, ‘Can we do it? Do we have the skills to get up this thing? We’ve only got an hour before we’ve got to start turning back or we’re going to start losing our oxygen.’ All these sort of issues — well, we came along there and of course three or four of our Sherpas had already pulled the fixed rope … It’s a totally different situation.”

Apparently, once he and Tenzing Norgay summited Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary assumed that no one would want to try it again. Of course, we know that’s not true. Hundreds of people attempt a summit annually, a desire that is complicated by the fact that there are only a handful of days each year when the summit can be successfully and safely navigated. Thus, on any one of those days you might be contending for your 15 minutes on top of the world with seventy other people. Clearly, this is dangerous for everyone involved, especially on the Hillary Step and the knife ridge, where there’s no room for a passing lane.

In his blog for Frontline’s story, “Storm Over Everest,” Doug Pierson describes difficulties avoiding traffic jams and freeloaders. He talks about the mounds of trash left behind–food wrappers at Base Camp, empty oxygen canisters at Camp 4 (also known as “The Deathzone,” which lies at an altitude above which your body starts to self-destroy). Indeed, there are even bodies abandoned on the trail that will remain frozen and foreboding.

I imagine this would be a disappointing sight to those who choose to climb this tallest of mountains in order to surround themselves with unblemished beauty, those who wish to feel that they’ve been where no (few) men have been before. Though he doesn’t specifically mention Everest, Andrew Hyde wrote an interesting piece about what he calls “the tragedy of Nepal,” namely the congestion and pollution that he witnessed while touring the country. Perhaps this is the fine line we now walk as adventurers, the balance between appreciating the natural beauty of nature and destroying it by flocking to the few places on earth still relatively untouched. Perhaps it seems unfair to some that no place remains undiscovered, that our world is fully google-mapped and tread upon. But perhaps if the reason you climb a mountain is to conquer what seems unconquerable, you have the wrong attitude altogether. Jamling Tenzing Norgay writes,

We believe strongly that when you climb this mountain you have to climb this mountain as if a child crawling up to its mother’s lap. You don’t conquer Mount Everest. We believe climbing with pride, arrogance and disrespect can lead to trouble, and that’s sort of what happened in the last couple of years, where people are climbing for the wrong reason and people are climbing who should not be there at all.”

As for me, this week has only reinforced all the reasons I don’t want to climb Mount Everest. I’m happy to look out my kitchen window and see the moon turn the midnight snow purple, while sipping from a steaming cup of hot chocolate. I don’t need to be on top of the world to recognize that beauty.

DIY: Climb Everest

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Everest affects. It’s a graceful, gentle mountain, even though it occasionally keeps some of us forever. In return, Everest offers the lucky rest of us a tremendous insight in ourselves and the human kind; as we and our  fellow climbers  are tried in brutally exposing situations. Everest also reveals the true soul of nature, in all it’s beauty, temper and might.

Finally, Everest shows you the grace of great dreams, fears overcome and, sometimes, triumph following the most desperate of outlooks.”

While researching Everest for this week’s theme, I came across this website, written by people who have climbed the mountain several times; it’s filled with all the insider information they wish they’d had before climbing. Summiting Everest is an extremely difficult goal to attain, yet this website lays out the steps (ha!) to completing it in a straightforward and clear manner. I’m not planning on making the climb, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

Climbing Everest will cost you $25,000 or so. $10,000 of that is just for a permit from the Nepali government. You’ll need a letter of recommendation from your country’s Climbing Association.

Pack your gear in North Face soft packs or plastic barrels, keeping in mind that your luggage will be transported on yaks. As for food, “Potato chips should be Pringles, if not for the taste then for the hard case.” Garlic is excellent for altitude adaptation, as it thins the blood (forget about how your breath smells–you’re on Everest). Expect to lose 10-20 pounds even if you stuff yourself.

Bring at least 12 oxygen bottles, 20 if you make more than one summit attempt. Beware of buying used bottles refilled in India; buy straight from the company. If you end up having extra, save another climber’s life. This will make you feel good.

Beware of the sun’s reflection off the snow. Your nostrils can get sunburnt. The roof of your mouth can burn, making it nearly impossible to eat. Always wear goggles to protect yourself from going blind. Beware of avalanches, of bad ropes, of euphoria and psychosis, of bad leaders and bad weather, of letting the “no-rules” society formed on the mountain reveal a darker part of yourself you didn’t know existed. Beware of your own expectations.

“Everest is not about summiting, adding to your image, the conquest of nature or of other humans. If that’s what you’ve come for, you will miss out on the true treasure. You will become a prisoner of other people’s judgment in your desire of proving self-worth. You will climb blinded and feel an immense failure if not summiting. Or if successful – go home, celebrate your triumph and fame, and when the lights eventually are turned towards someone else, end up empty, again chasing new ways to get brief acknowledgments.”

On the mountain, drink plenty of water. Water will cure most problems. Turn back if necessary; it’s better to fail than to die.

Lastly, I think this quote is pertinent to all of our dreams, whether or not they include Everest.

It is truly marvelous to accomplish awesome, remarkable things and explore the unknown. Yet, your dreams should be pursued because they are sprung out of your own curiosity, not just a desire to impress. Be sure to climb Everest for yourself. Take great care to live free.

Take the experience back home with you. Forever remember that there are all kinds of remarkable things in this world to experience, a beauty and drama beyond our wildest imagination. All we have to do is to let our minds run towards our dreams, face our fears and try to accomplish the worthwhile. We might succeed or not, that’s not important.

The summit is such a small piece of the mountain. Most of the beauty and wonders are experienced during the climb.”

*All information, quotes, and pictures are from mounteverest.net

On top of the world

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This is what it looks like to summit Everest:

Everest silences you

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One of the most beautiful accounts I have read of climbing Everest comes from a man who has certainly never climbed it.  In his book “The Satanic Verses,” Salman Rushdie describes the experience from the perspective of Alleluia Cone, a flat-footed woman who dreams of making a solo ascent after a successful climb with a group of sherpas.  In this first excerpt, she’s telling a classroom full of girls about her first ascent.

Do you know how it feels, she wanted to ask them, to have the whole of your life concentrated into one moment, a few hours long?  Do you know what it’s like when the only direction is down?

‘I was in the second pair with Sherpa Pemba,’ she said.   ‘The weather was perfect, perfect.  So clear you felt you could look right through the sky into whatever lay beyond.  The first pair must have reached the summit by now, I said to Pemba.  Conditions are holding and we can go. Pemba grew very serious, quite a change, because he was one of the expedition clowns.  He had never been to the summit before, either.  At that stage I had no plans to go without oxygen, but when I saw that Pemba intended it, I thought, okay, me too.  It was a stupid whim, unprofessional, really, but I suddenly wanted to be a woman sitting on top of that bastard mountain, a human being, not a breathing machine.  Pemba said, Allie Bibi, don’t do, but I just started up.

In a while we passed the others coming down and I could see the wonderful thing in their eyes.  They were so high, possessed of such an exaltation, that they didn’t even notice I wasn’t wearing the oxygen equipment.  Be careful, they shouted over to us, Look out for the angels.  Pemba had fallen into a good breathing pattern and I fell into step with it, breathing in with his in, out with his out.  I could feel something lifting off the top of my head and I was grinning, just grinning from ear to ear, and when Pemba looked my way I could see he was doing the same.  It looked like a grimace, like pain, but it was just foolish joy.

‘At that moment,’ she told the girls, who were climbing beside her every step of the way, ‘I believed it all: that the universe has a sound, that you can lift a veil and see the face of God, everything.  I saw the Himalayas stretching below me and that was God’s face, too.  Pemba must have seen something in my expression that bothered him because he called across, Look out, Allie Bibi, the height.  I recall sort of floating over the last overhang and up to the top, and then we were there, with the ground falling away on every side.  Such light; the universe purified into light.  I wanted to tear off my clothes and let it soak into my skin.’ (204)

Back home in London, Allie shows her boyfriend Gibreel a wooden sculpture of Mount Everest that Sherpa Pemba gave her.

‘Look,’ she said, stretching out a hand without leaving the bed and picking up, from her bedside table, her newest acquisition, a simple Everest in weathered pine.   ‘A gift from the sherpas of Namche Bazar.’ Gibreel took it, turned it in his hands.  Pemba had offered it to her shyly when they said goodbye, insisting it was from all the sherpas as a group, although it was evident that he’d whittled it himself.  It was a detailed model, complete with the ice fall and the Hillary Step that is the last great obstacle on the way to the top, and the route they had taken to the summit was scored deeply into the wood.  When Gibreel turned it upside down he found a message, scratched into the base in painstaking English.   “To Ali Bibi.  We were luck.  Not to try again.”

What Allie did not tell Gibreel was that the sherpa’s prohibition had scared her, convincing her that if she ever set her foot again upon the goddess-mountain, she would surely die, because it is not permitted to mortals to look more than once upon the face of the divine… ‘The Himalayas,’ she told Gibreel so as not to say what was really on her mind, ‘are emotional peaks as well as physical ones: like opera.  That’s what makes them so awesome.  Nothing but the giddiest heights.’ (313)

Allie describes the difficulty of living post-Everest, knowing that nothing in daily life will compete with the grandeur of such an experience.

‘Everest silences you,’ she confessed to Gibreel Farishta in a bed above which parachute silk formed a canopy of hollow Himalayas.   ‘When you come down, nothing seems worth saying, nothing at all.  You find the nothingness wrapping you up, like a sound.  Non-being.  You can’t keep it up, of course.  The world rushes in soon enough.  What shuts you up is, I think, the sight you’ve had of perfection: why speak if you can’t manage perfect thoughts, perfect sentences?  it feels like a betrayal of what you’ve been through.  But it fades; you accept that certain compromises, closures, are required if you’re to continue.’  (306)

There are a few times in my life when I’ve had a similar feeling: something I’ve experienced is so magnificent, so beautiful, it’s difficult afterward to reconcile such an experience with the mundaneness of “normal” life.  No doubt Everest would have such an effect.

How to be a sherpa

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What you’ll need: a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes, including unique hemoglobin-binding enzymes, doubled nitric oxide production, hearts that can utilize glucose, and lungs with an increased sensitivity to low oxygen*; rope

Songlist:  Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ by Nancy Sinatra

Further Reading: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, View from the Summit by Edmund Hillary

See? It's easy, just follow the yellow line!

Everyone’s favorite fact last week: 49 of 50 states boasted snow on the ground, including Hawaii.  Excluding, of course, Florida, the state that once captivated the country for months by not having its act together (if that’s all it takes, I’ll be famous in no time).

As a northerner, I scoffed at the south’s inability to handle its five inches of precipitation.  We Minnesotans are the type to store shovels in the trunks of our cars in case we get stuck, and provisions to last a week if the shovels don’t work.  In my winter-related arrogance, I conveniently overlooked the unprecedented three days of school cancelled in the Twin Cities due to a blizzard last month.  We’ve also gone well over the three “Snow Emergencies” budgeted for 2010-2011, aka the days the city plows every street, aka the days it’s good to have a garage.

In some places of the world, however, snow does not constitute an emergency but a way of life.  Take the Himalayas.  It is unfathomable to imagine a mountain range as majestic as that one sans snow–where would the beauty be?  I may never have the training or the courage to climb a Himalayan mountain (and I certainly don’t have the touch of madness that compels people to climb Everest), but I envy those who do.  I especially admire sherpas, some of whom have climbed Mt. Everest a dozen or more times, all while carrying another person’s burden.  It is their job, yes, but I find it altruistic nonetheless.

A sherpa and his pack

Technically, “Sherpa” refers to an ethnic group of people from Nepal, or those hired to guide mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas.  Thus, most of us cannot hope to become sherpas (though sherpa is sometimes used as a proprietary eponym for those who haul the belongings of others or invoked to imply knowledge of cold weather conditions).  Yet the allure is great–sherpa guides are people, mostly men, who don’t just climb mountains; they were born to climb mountains.  They are physically disposed for this act more than anyone else.  It makes me consider the question: what was I born to do?  What am I physically, mentally, or emotionally equipped for that 99% of the earth’s population is not?  So far, I’ve come up short on answers to that.

*According to wikipedia

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