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Sneak Peek: Prologue

Girl on the Roof of the World

“If I’m not back in thirty minutes, come find me.”

I rolled onto my back in my sub-zero rated sleeping bag, slowly unfurling from the warmth of the fetal position, and watched as Paul, my boyfriend of less than a year, painfully made his way out of our four-season, two-person tent.  He was sick with a stomach virus, which under normal circumstances is difficult enough, but at fifteen thousand feet of altitude and over seven thousand miles from home is downright excruciating.  There was no clean bathroom with running water to stumble to, nor a warm, soft bed to crawl into—there was only the cold, damp air and partially frozen ground of dawn on the Tibetan plateau.  He was a seasoned world traveler and outdoorsman extraordinaire, but in this moment he was just my partner and he was suffering.

I watched him go, noticing the clammy feeling of my water bottles—which had been filled to the brim with boiling-hot water the evening before—against my gooseflesh covered thighs.  My fleece beanie was askew on my head, my greasy, tangled hair tucked up underneath, and I rubbed at it with chilled fingers, trying not to let too much warmth escape my cozy cocoon.  I checked my watch: it was just about six.  I sighed, a frosty puff of air finding its way out of the small opening that contained my rosy-cheeked face, and hoped Paul would be able to handle the situation on his own.  It was eight weeks into our fourteen-week adventure, and I was not enthused about having to haul his 6’ 1” frame across the bumpy ground, back to the relative comfort of our tent.  I rolled back over and nestled down into the dwindling warmth of my bag, and thought about what I wanted to accomplish that day—the miles I wanted to cover with my banged up boots, the rocks I wanted to collect for analyses back in Los Angeles, and the scientific discoveries waiting to be made.

The minutes ticked by, and I was starting to worry.  I sat up, still wrapped in my bag, unzipped the tent fly and poked my head out into the early morning chill.  My eyes scanned the distant landscape that had become so familiar to me, searching for signs of Paul.  I caught sight of him about twenty-five yards away, crouched down with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, clearly struggling for balance.  I really should go and help him, I thought, and started the process of getting my fleece-covered feet into my cold, hard boots—boots with a metal shank in the foot bed and two months of wear and tear on the treads.  As I glanced up to check on him, I saw him start to waver.  My heart sank as his body went limp and he fell onto his side, curled up like a child in the dirt with his pants bunched around his ankles.

My big, strong mountain man, the guy who had been there for me through this crazy adventure, was lying still like a dead centipede on the ground in the middle of nowhere on the Tibetan plateau.  It was a scene I had never imagined in my head.

Eight weeks before I had emerged onto the tarmac at the airport outside of Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, a frightened novice unsure of her place in this expedition. I was traveling with a man I had been dating for less than a year.  We would be together 24/7 for more than one hundred days, and I didn’t know what our relationship would look like by the end of it.  I was terrified that I would need him desperately, as my caretaker and support system. It scared me because I wasn’t very comfortable with making my needs known, laying my vulnerabilities bare.  For the last seventeen years I had gotten really good at suppressing my feelings and walking the straight and narrow.  I had lived my life as the good girl who never rocked the boat.  But my even-keeled boat was dangerously full with things I was tired of quietly accepting: the divorce of my parents; a drunk stepfather; a stepsister I couldn’t relate to; the death of my father; resentment towards my mother; the many relationships with men where I put my own needs second; the years of doing safe and predictable things.  When I said yes to this expedition to Tibet I was responding to something visceral, something inside me that was just starting to wake up.  Saying yes to Tibet, upon closer examination, might have seemed crazy, but my gut said yes and I was almost powerless against it.  Saying yes to Tibet—against all logic and reason, my better judgment, and the urging of my mother to think twice—felt like rocking the boat.  I was desperate to rock that boat.