Losing It

14232489_10208956828370825_7740601966627015887_nRain cascaded off of the hood of my slicker suit, past the eye cup of my camera, and dropped into the shin-deep water under my tripod. I barely noticed the reporter blinking behind water-speckled eyeglasses. It was the boat motoring down what, 12 hours earlier, had been a neighborhood street that had my attention.

An elderly man in a plastic, yellow coat wrapped his arm around a gray-haired woman shivering under an umbrella as they drifted toward me. On the deck, a garbage bag that I assumed held the couple’s only worldly possessions not soon to be underwater. At the aft, a middle-aged man wiped rain from his face as he steered.

I’m actually surprised I remember so much detail; my mind was not on my job. I was thinking about my wife.

I had left her just thirty minuets earlier. I had snugged the blankets around her as I kissed her forehead and left for work. Before leaving, I had checked the neighborhood. The weatherman had said water was on the way. Our neighborhood had survived the great flood of 1983, then the flood of ’91, and Tropical Storm Allison which had put so many others underwater. We would be safe. But how close would the water get?

The Amite River meanders through the dense woods between our neighborhood and the city of Denham Springs, a mile-and-a-half east of our home as the crow flies. At 6:30 that Saturday morning, it was just 80 yards from our back door.

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It was 7AM when I got the text. “The water is at the door. Paul and Eileen are helping me leave.” I told my wife I was on my way. She told me, “Why? There is nothing you can do. It’s coming too fast.”

Before she left, she took one picture, “I saved the important stuff.” A joke, something to lift my spirits while pushed down my emotions to focus on my job — getting information to a bewildered, waterlogged, and lost community.

Over the next two days, the Amite’s muddy water seeped past our locked doors and made itself at home. It left its mark at five feet, just above the light switches. I shot images of homes
with water to their roofs, newly homeless wading on flooded high ground with garbage bag luggage, reporters interviewing shell-shocked evacuees. I filed reports solo via cell phone. I sat at the anchor desk chatting with viewers about what I had seen. img_4674About what we had lost.

It was an on-air question by my friend, our main anchor Greg Meriweather, that did it. “How can you sit here and be so upbeat and calm when you just saw your house with water almost to the roof, and you realize that, like so many of our viewers, you just lost everything?”

For two days, I had answered anyone who asked, “We are lucky.” It wasn’t a cliche. We were.

My wife, son, and I were safe. Wonderful friends had taken us in and offered us their home for as long as we need it. We got out with two duffle bags of clothes when many had only the clothes on their backs. We were not in a shelter. Our employers had not been flooded. We would not miss a paycheck.

I don’t know where the answer I gave Greg came from that evening, but I talked not about the flood, or our luck, or our community. I talked about my childhood.

About a blue collar neighborhood where people don’t sit around complaining about work that needs to be done. They go out and do it. About faith. Not the kind we practice in church on Sundays, but the example of service lived by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart who ran my high school. I talked about lessons. Not not lessons taught in class, but those absorbed growing up in a small town filled with selfless people, that there is always someone more important than me. And lessons yet to be learned, like accepting God’s grace in the form of helping hands from friends and strangers.

I told Greg that what had humbled us most over those two days had not been the scope of the waters or the power of nature. More humbling for my wife and I were the number of people who launched their boats off the interstate to help. They were not marshaled by the police, or requested by the government. The Cajun Navy showed up on its own.
img_4830Boatmen like the middle-aged man in my lens two days earlier had come to help. They did not ask about race, religion, sexual identity. They just put people in their boats and brought them to safety.

Most humbling was the number of friends, family, and total strangers who offered prayers for our safety, our future, and our strength.

One week after the flood waters left our home, my wife, son, and I stood drenched in sweat inside the shell of our home. We looked around at the army of friends and family working pulling sheetrock, ripping out cabinets, and hauling debris to the curb. Greg’s question rolled through my head. “How can you be so upbeat and calm, when you’ve just lost everything.”

This time, a different answer came to mind. We may have lost everything we owned. But we have not lost everything.

 

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Flood

So many people have been asking about how we are doing here in Baton Rouge since the flood. I’m sure I’ll sit down soon and reflect, but right now, there is just no time. It’s easier to update everyone this way, so here it is.

We are doing swimmingly!

I got to my house yesterday. (Been out since Friday.) I was at work. Gail got out about 7:30AM with her car and two duffle bags of clothes. Brock’s car was too low to drive through the water. It went from dry street, yard and neighborhood when I left, to two feet in the streets that fast. We had a little more than 5 feet of water inside. Everything else is gone.

Life is amazing. The number of people praying for us is the most humbling thing Gail and I have ever experienced. Everyone we know, and many people we don’t know have and are offering any help they can give. The best are just the silent hugs when words fail. We are safe, dry, and well-fed. Some friends have taken us in and offered us the 2nd floor of their home for as long as we need it. We have a roof, soft bed, and hot shower. We may never leave.
We got back into our house yesterday. Outside, it looks like God sifted a giant can of Chocolate Quik powder over the entire neighborhood. River silt everywhere. Brock’s car is no longer black. It’s chocolate. We’ve got this heavy-ass, 12-foot bench made with laminated beams. It takes 3 men to move it. Well, it walked across the back yard for a better view of the flowerbeds.
Inside, smells awful. Hell, you can actually smell it from outside. It looks like our living room furniture decided it was hungry and migrated to the kitchen for a snack. Everything is covered in the same slimy silt. All of the sheetrock will have to come down. The wood floors will have to go. All of the furniture, appliances, cabinets — hell, everything will have to go. But that’s no big deal, we were going to remodel our bathroom anyway.
We haven’t totally decided on the clothes yet, but we’re pretty sure after 3 days in that crap, the smell will never come out.
Before Gail left, she threw a bunch of pictures and sentimental crap on the top shelf of our bedroom closet. All of that is safe. We are so thankful for that.
We visited the house late yesterday after work. We haven’t begun the moving out party yet.
Thankfully, we are insured. The adjuster will be here Thursday or Friday. Gail and I will take that day off to begin the clean out. I can’t call it clean up because there aint much to clean.
My youngest son, Nick’s, home was also flooded. He is with us now. Thankfully, Brock is in North Carolina at Marine Combat Training. He has no electronic device of any kind and is blissfully unaware of all of this.
We are the lucky ones. We are alive. And we are in a home surrounded by friends instead of a shelter somewhere. The flood has not taken our jobs from us. We will not miss a paycheck. So many don’t even have work to occupy their minds for a few hours a day, and have only what’s not there to think about.
People can’t believe that Gail and I are so at peace with all this, but really, there is not much to be upset about. It is beyond our control, and our faith tells us that God is in control. The most upsetting part of this is that we are usually The Helpers. We are the ones cleaning out someone else’s home, cooking dinner for a family that has worked all day, or helping out at a shelter. This isn’t supposed to happen to The Helpers. But again, it is a chance for us to learn about God’s grace. To learn to be on the receiving end.
People ask constantly what we need. We are not at the point where we even know that much yet. What we need most are prayers. With everyone’s prayers, we will get through this. Hell, we have no choice, we have to find out what happens to Ethan Lovett.
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Crossfitter’s Psalm

I told you I joined a cult. And every cult needs a good Psalm. Something to offer up to the gods in praise and thanksgiving. Something to encourage it’s minions to press on through tough times. Something to reflect upon when times are good.

With that in mind, I give you The Crossfitter’s Psalm.

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The MURPH is my shepherd; I shall not quit.

He makes me lie down and do burpees: he leads me in muscle ups.

He rows for my soul: he leads me in paths of handstand walks for his name sake.

Yea as I walk through the valley of the Rogue Plates I shall fear no WOD for MURPH is with me; thy chalk and thy timer challenge me.

Thou prepare a Paleo table before me in the presence of all fad diets; and I will dwell in the box of the MURPH all the days of my life.

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I Joined A Cult

DCIM103GOPROI’ve joined a cult.

I hate to admit it, but it was inevitable, really.

My wife alls it my mid-life crisis. Last year, I ran my first obstacle course race. Okay, I ran my first seven OCRs.

I ran my first one mostly as a way to get me off of my ass and back into the gym. At 51 years and counting, working out wasn’t what it used to be. That was inevitable too, I guess. I’ve been in and out of gyms (mostly in) since I was 14 years old.

IArnold-Schwarzenegger-18t’s considerably different admiring the tight, toned muscles of a 20-something in the mirror after a good pump than it is the bulging, hairy stomach of a sweaty, heaving old fart.

It had become patently obvious that my inner Arnold Schwarzenegger  would never break free from my outer Louie Anderson. I was tired, listless, and when I stepped on the scale, it yelled, “Y’all get off!”

I knew that the only way I would stick to a training program was with a goal that was not weight,- or body-realted.

12191384_10206746163385582_8037757501077508401_oI started training on my own, and why not, I had 30+ years in the gym. When that didn’t work, I looked to Baton Rouge Bootcamp guru Jessie Lipoma to kick my ass and push me when I felt like calling in fat.

I pumped. I conditioned. I tabatta-ed. I ran through mud. Scaled walls. Climbed ropes. Threw spears. Toted sandbags. Jumped fire. Earned T-shirts. And was called a beast by my friends and family. I finished that year in the best shape of my life.

But it wasn’t enough.

I had been bitten by the OCR bug, and nothing short of a mud track and a mountain to climb would suffice.

But how could I reach the next level? I had already maxed out the possibilities at bootcamp. There are only so many burpees, stot-squats, and gorilla ropes a guy can do.

2014CFInvitational_rotatorSo, I joined a cult.

I started Crossfit this week. From now on, I will speak in AMRAPs, and Murphs. My gym is now a Box. My diet is now a caveman. Chalk is my best friend. Jerks are more difficult than raging assholes. A snatch is not just something in my porn. And rips are not just the enemy of my pants, but my palms as well.

My next OCR is just 5 months away. Stay tuned, and Hare Krishna.

 

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Death On The Car Lot

I pounded on the door with my fist, then waited. No answer.

It looked like this was going to take a while. I shuffled around in the dark, careful not to trip on mound of wires coiled at my feet, then had a seat.

It was my own fault I was here. In too much of a hurry.

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Sweat dripped off the tip of my nose as I waved off the thought of choking to death on exhaust fumes. You see, though the inside of a satellite truck is climate controlled and constantly monitored for lethal carbon monoxide, there are no such luxuries in the rack compartment in the back.

I waited for my eyes to adjust to the inky light that enveloped me. I could not see them, but I knew there were two 500-foot reels of tri-strand audio/dual video cables at my knees. Great if I were stranded 1000 feet up a mountain in my dish-topped hooptie. No help at all if I’m sitting at five feet above sea level.

Another tangle of electrical extension cords, various co-ax lines, and a pile of spaghettied audio cables sat atop the generator compartment. None of them had a handle that would open the back door and free me from my own stupidity. So I sat there and sweat.

The assignment had started simply enough. Take the dual purpose satellite/microwave van to a local car dealership to broadcast the grand prize drawing for 5 shiny new Lexus cars.

That’s when the trouble started. Little did I know, the great big patch panel that feeds the video signal from my camera to the microwave transmitter decided it would be a good day call it quits. It’s not a huge problem; I just had to climb in the back, disassemble the rack system, dig through 17 miles of spaghetti, and plug my camera directly into the transmitter.

And THAT is how I have come to be locked in the dark, slowly suffocating, in the back of my satellite truck — trapped by an evil gust of wind which saw opportunity in my poorly-timed excursion to disconnect my video line.

At my feet, I can hear the hiss of air exiting the compressor reservoir as the aluminum tubes of the microwave mast collapse above me. A small crease of light begins to appear in the seam between the two locked doors. And in the seam, I see it.

A door latch. I give it a yank. But alas, it belongs to the inside door. The wind has slammed the locking door on top of it. I am still, as Pookie might say, “stuck like Chuck.”

As I begin to grapple with the thought of death by dehydration, I scan the darkness for something, anything to open the doors of my dungeon and set me free. That’s when I remember the phone in my back pocket.

One quick text to my reporter outside, and I will be free!

If my reporter hasn’t left yet.

Which he has.

But just beyond my doors there is a dealership full of salesmen, and finance guys, and sales managers, and dejected contestants who did not win a car. Surely, one phone call there will free me.

No answer.

Sweat is pooling around my feet. I hope the person who finds my body puddled amongst the reels and wires and dust bunnies back here will know that I fought the good fight.

26587108814_52c9641e26_oMaybe I’ll take a selfie to commemorate my struggle.

It’s kinda dark. Better use the flash.

That’s when I remember. My phone doubles as a flashlight. Which I employed to find the correct door latch and free myself.

Self-made crisis averted.

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Devine Humor

They say be careful what you pray for, that God has a sense of humor.

As parents we pray. We pray even before we have kids. We pray to simply conceive. Then, one day, we see that faint blue line in that little window. We pray our pregnancy will be normal, that we can actually do this. We pray the morning sickness will pass.We pray for ten fingers and ten toes. We pray for health. And at 8 months, in the dead of summer, we pray this will hurry the hell up.

brock gail sleepWhen our first child was born, my wife and I prayed like all new parents do: for knowledge,  for happiness, for strength, and for sleep.

But it’s the little things most people never pray for: just for a normal kid. Or first son lived the first two years of his life with a big purple bruise in the center of his forehead. He just liked to bang his head on things. The floor, the wall, the table, the concrete driveway. Anything!

He clung to his mother. She was the only one who could feed him, take him for a walk, or put him to bed. He refused to let his grandparents (or pretty much anyone else) hold him.

“It’s a phase,” they said. “He’ll grow out of it.”

He didn’t. It got worse.

If we went grocery shopping, he worried that we would get locked in the store, or that we would not be able to find the car when we left. He worried we would get lost any time we drove anywhere. If there was a white cloud in the sky, it was going to rain, and we were all going to drown.

Through it all, we prayed. We prayed for a normal kid, one who could run and laugh and play with the other kids, a care-free kid who leave the house without looking at the sky. But we could see the fear on his face every time we dropped him at school or at a friend’s house.

God heard our prayers. He gave him a younger brother who took care of him, who calmed his fears, and kept the family sane

A psychologist finally diagnosed him with social anxiety. Banging his head had been the only way a toddler could cope with the overwhelming fear he felt. “He’ll out grow it,” he said.

clownsFor nearly 12 years, we prayed for something to free our son from the prison in his mind. Medication helped, but that brought on other side-effects. A fearless younger brother pushed him. Gymnastics gave him confidence in his body, but his mind still held him hostage. And we prayed. We didn’t want anything special for him, just a normal life.

The doctors were eventually right. By high school, he was a normal kid. He could finally hang with his friends without panicking. He could play in the rain. He could talk to anyone. When he walked into a room, he owned it. It didn’t matter who was there, jocks, geeks, emos, preppies, teachers, parents; they all loved the him.

DSC_0259Our prayers had finally been answered. We had our normal kid.

By the time college rolled around, he was the life of the party. And that first year of college was a party. We prayed our normal kid could balance everything. He could not.

When he dropped out, we prayed he could finally buckle down, find a job, and be responsible. It took us kicking him out for that to happen. As a parent, it was the hardest decision we had ever had to make.

Just because your kid leaves, doesn’t mean you stop praying. You pray more.

You pray he can make the rent, that he uses a designated driver when he goes out, that he doesn’t fall in with the wrong friends, that he doesn’t come home with a kid of his own, that he gets his act together, that he’s happy. And when your kid lived with crippling anxiety, you pray he stays strong, that he stays brave.

This week, we send that scared kid with the perpetual bruise on his forehead into the Marine Corps. Proud of the man he has become, and nervous for what lies ahead.

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And we pray. We pray for his safety, for our country, our leaders, and all those men and women serving with him. We already know God hears prayers. He’s given us the kid we’ve always prayed for.

DSC_0139And if there was any doubt, He sent him off with a party in the middle of one of worst thunderstorms ever to hit our house. Good one, Big Guy.

 

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Want Fries With That?

“Hope you enjoy it.”

Those were the four words the dude in the paper hat uttered as he handed me a logoed paper bag speckled with grease blotches.

“You bet.” was all I could think to answer him.
jolieBut really, when was the last time anyone enjoyed a McDonald’s hamburger?

If I had wanted to enjoy my lunch, I could have stopped at Jolie Pearl and dined on exquisite Louisiana oysters char-grilled to perfection served with a cold beer in a frosty mug.

stroubeIf I had wanted a lunch to remember, I could have stepped across the street to Stroube’s for asparagus wrapped in prime rib, shrimp and tasso pasta, and a double shot of Woodford Reserve. I could have shared the joy with a fledgling reporter who would have graciously picked up the tab in exchange for my expertise and effort turning the meeting we just slept through into Must-See TV.

rufIf I had wanted lunch to be an experience, I could have made reservations at Ruffino’s for a pork belly appetizer and a pineapple martini. I could have followed that up with two bone-in, grilled pork cops and Bananas Foster. And the lobbist in the short skirt would have plied me with liquor in hopes of a fluff piece on her Save the Slugs legislation.

But I’m a photog. I don’t get to enjoy lunch.

On the news beat, lunch is something you swallow fast to keep the lining of your stomach from rubbing against itself. It’s something you chase with half a roll of Tums to keep from belching in your afternoon interview’s face.

Lunch is something you wield single-handed behind the wheel while trying to keep the mayo from splattering on your “good” logowear. It’s a necessity, like charged batteries, lens paper, or formatted SD cards. Lunch is something you slurp from your cup holder, remnants you pluck from your lap, debris you eat off the car seat.

FullSizeRenderLunch is something you hide from the Assignment Desk, lest you be sent chasing happenstance before you order hits the take-out window. It is something you gorge secretly. Shamefully. For no one should ever have to eat the garbage a newsie must swallow on the fly.

So, no. I will not enjoy my Big Mac. I will shove it down my neck without tasting it, and wash it down with a watery soda just as the News Gods intended!

But I gotta say, the plastic Mario figurine will look great on my dashboard.

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Jennifer the Damned — Damned Good

31cdfeaa564824bfc812e1f4a25e9ad0I don’t read stuff like this. The truth is, I would have never have picked up Jennifer the Damned if someone from my church had not asked me to check it out. Holy Crap! Am I glad I did.

Forget what you know about old-school Dracula and those sparkly, sex-crazed teenage vampires of late. First-time author Karen Ullo is about to set the vampire world on it’s head. Jennifer Carshaw is a sixteen-year-old who has gone to Catholic school all her life. In fact, for the last five years, she’s been raised by nuns in a convent. She’s also been hiding a secret.

She’s a vampire. And when she feels the urge to make her first kill (during math class no less) her world spins out of control.

Caught between the nuns who have raised her and loved her like her vampire mother never could, and her thirst for life-giving blood, Jennifer is thrust into a world of her mother’s choosing. But don’t be fooled. This is no Young Adult read. This, my friends, is literature, rich with vampire lore and intertwined with Catholic doctrine.

Jennifer battles her own demons as she struggles with her need to kill and her yearning for a soul.

Ullo is at her best in Jen’s kill scenes. Dark, horrifying, and at the same time beautiful. She give us reason to be repulsed, while reflecting on our own morality and the savagery that can be part of our world. She walks a fine line without ever becoming preachy.

Jennifer the Damned is a rich story with a lesson about love and forgiveness that even the most blood-thirsty can learn from. If I could give it six stars, I would.

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There Will Be Mud

DCIM105GOPROFrom the euphoria of conquering Everest to the muck in the bowels of the mud pit, one thing the Tough Mudder course never does is let up. My intrepid team of Mudder’s had barely set our feet on solid ground when the trek to the next challenge began.

My son and I ran point. My sister and cousin trod in our footprints, a half-mile up a gentle incline. But nothing about the Mudder is gentle. This slope was covered in soft, dry sand. Better to muscle through and rest at the top than to break our pace and breathe easy.

DCIM105GOPROAnother mile and three more obstacles down the winding trail, we saw it. The Mudder’s namesake. The Mud Mile. All this time we had been gradually ascending. Now the Mudder would throw us into a pit of Hell. Down another winding trail with no place to stand but loose, red dirt.

We kept our feet moving. To rest was to tumble through the legs of the Mudders ahead of us. Up one pile of freshly dug dirt, and down another until we reached the canyon floor.

DCIM106GOPROIf the Mud Mile were simply mud, what would be the challenge? Water, thick as pancake batter met us first. First to our ankles, then above our knees, but that is for kids. The batter reached our chests as our legs sank past our knees in soft, squishy muck. Then it was over slick clay walls nearly as tall as we were. Not one, but three per mud pit.

Then out of the pit and across more loose dirt and sand. It clung to our clothes and caked inside our shoes. We repeated this ritual for a mile, maybe more with nothing but belly-crawls through loose sand as an interlude.

DCIM106GOPROWhen it came to an end, we had to leave the pit, but not on the same winding trail we had entered. No, Mudders climb out, on ropes. We scaled the walls, many pounds heavier than when we entered the pit thanks to the red clay, mud, and sand in our shoes, shorts, and hair.

We had survived the toughest, nastiest obstacles the Mudder could throw at us. We simply had a mile sprint to the finish. Our months of training paid off. DSC_0307While other teams gasped for air, we trotted past them grinning ear to ear. The finish line lay just ahead, and so did the bright orange headbands that would crown us as official Tough Mudders.

We’ve had a month to bask in the glow of our accomplishments. Now, it is on to The Spartan Trifecta.

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Conquering Everest

DCIM103GOPROThe crisp morning air crackled with anticipation. We had watched the forecast for two weeks and prayed the storms forecast for the morning of our ascent would pass us by. Now, under the mid-morning sun, my team chatted with nearly 200 other hopefuls waiting to begin our journey from base camp up the face of Everest.

The only thing standing in our way, an eight-foot wall of lumber painted black and emblazoned with the Tough Mudder logo. Everest is one of the Mudder’s signature obstacles — a twenty-foot quarter pipe sheathed in aluminum and coated with water and glycol just to keep things interesting.

But the monster lay in wait more than five miles down the course. race_702_photo_15314523Before we would get a chance to even view her, we would have to maneuver our team across and over obstacles designed to test our strength, stamina, agility, comraderie, and grit.

The Tough Mudder eats other obstacle courses for breakfast and barely burps. My son, cousin, baby sister, and I had trained for four months with our only goal to survive obstacles with names like Funky Monkey, Cry Baby, Pole Dancer, Beached Whale, and Arctic Enema.

Between each obstacle, a grueling tromp through soft sand, up hills, and across lakes of water and mud. The plan was simple. My son and I would set the pace for the run, and we would work together with our team and others to make it past anything else the Mudder would throw at us.

DCIM103GOPROThe Funky Monkey, Pole Dancer, and Beached Whale tested our strength. We blasted the Arctic Enema (imagine the The Ice Bucket Challenge on crack) by sheer will-power. Then we saw her, the orange and white megalith we had come to conquer. Amped on adrenaline, my son was the first to test Everest. A running start, a leap of faith, and the flying grip of the Mudder before him helped land Brock safely on the summit.

DSC_0195Then it was my turn. Stamina was no problem. My training had served me well. My legs felt fresh as they churned up the slope. One fourth. One third. One half the way up. Then, when if felt like I was losing steam, one giant leap. I was airborne. Time seemed to stand still as I soared above mere mortal sherpas. (It felt more graceful than it actually was.) I was going to conquer Everest.

Then, reality set in. My chest crashed on Everest’s peak. Air drained from my lungs, and gravity began to snatch my victory.DSC_0249 A hand clenched my elbow. My feet kicked and scrambled for grip on the slick surface. Two great heaves later, I stood atop my nemisis with no time to reflect. We still had two team members to help over the top.

Once we were all safe atop the peak, we paused for one triumphant moment, the sun smiling on our accomplishment. Then, like all who scale Everest, we headed back down. We were only half-way through our trek and still had a Mile of Mud to vanquish.

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