nepal-storyboard-kowalchuk-kingwillIllustration by Mark Kowalchuk

A true life story by Rob Kingwill, as told to Nate Deschenes

When Warren Miller calls and asks if you want to go snowboarding in Nepal, as Hunter S. Thompson said, “Buy the ticket and take the ride.”

What was supposed to take 48 hours of travel from Jackson Hole to Kathmandu, Nepal, took a bit longer than anticipated due to a perfect series of compounding events. One of the biggest snowstorms to ever hit the East Coast wreaked havoc on the Newark Airport, causing delays and cancellations. Yet, I made it there just before the brunt of the destruction and was en route to my connecting flight to Mumbai, India, when I got the call from Seth Wescott. His flight was cancelled entirely and right away I had a choice — either get on this flight and start making my way to Nepal alone, or wait for my friend. I immediately knew this was a journey meant to be shared, so I didn’t board the plane. Consequently, we spent three more days just trying to get out of New Jersey as winter storm Thor’s recovery efforts got underway. Then we were told that there was a plane crash at the Kathmandu airport. That didn’t expedite our itinerary at all.

It was madness like I had never experienced in my life.

We were going to the Himalayas to have this epic snowboarding trip, but Seth and I soon realized that it was only going to be partly about snowboarding. Thankfully, we have both spent enough time traveling to know that getting worked up over circumstances beyond your control is pointless. We entered this flow state where we let the tides takes us where they would — it was all we could do because this was a travel clusterfuck of epic proportions. Eventually we made it to Nepal — that is after eight days of travel, changed tickets, route transfers and a layover in Dubai, where we went snowboarding for a few hours. Sadly, when we did get there it looked like a zombie apocalypse hit the airport. It had been closed for at least six days, and there were piles of baggage higher than I was tall. People were camped out and there was garbage everywhere. Naturally, when we went to get our snowboard bags, they were lost.

The culture shock of getting thrown into Kathmandu was enough to keep us occupied. You are not in Western society anymore and there are no rules. Riding in a taxi for the first time, I was sure that we would die before we even made it to the hotel. There were no stop signs or traffic lights, and millions of people were trying to get from one place to another — it was madness like I had never experienced in my life. But after a little while, I got it. It is as if everyone is in a collective mindset that somehow allows the traffic system to work and what at first seemed chaotic, revealed itself to be ultimately beautiful.

Without a clue as to when our boards would show up, we decided to ride everything else in Nepal. We rode trains, ultralights, boats, bikes and elephants. We went to temples and saw villages where people were 100 percent off the grid and had always been that way. These experiences were meant to be and opened my eyes in a way that wouldn’t have happened if our bags had made it on time. At this point, we were truly cruising through the trip and letting it happen rather than trying to make it happen.

We had to change our approach to the conditions time and again, almost to an absurd level. To me, it is a similar concept to freeriding. You initially have a plan, but more times than not, the plan changes. You have to adapt as soon as you drop in, because the snow isn’t what you thought, the terrain is different than you perceived or you encounter an unforeseen obstacle. This is one thing snowboarding has taught me no matter the situation I’m in — to flow.

Read also: Weathering the Storm: A true life story from Bryan Iguchi