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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Travel

Mar 04, 2019

A Passport To Freedom; Following Domestic Violence, a Publicized Divorce & Cancer.

Embracing a complete change of lifestyle and travel in the face of adversity, Janice Lintz shares her story, along with a challenge, to visit every country in the world.

WRITTEN BY

Janice Lintz

At the end of January 2019, The Outdoor Journal’s Sean Verity attended The New York Times Travel Show and reported on an industry event that left him shocked at “expert” panels bereft of expertise. During the panel, an audience member stood up to ask a question about social media followers – but was told that her story was perhaps “not good enough”. We subsequently spoke to Janice Lintz and invited her to contribute to The Outdoor Journal. This is her story.

I knew that leaving a physically and verbally abusive marriage was going to be difficult, but I had no idea that it would take eleven and a half years. I’ve still not completed my escape. The process of “uncoupling” was physical, mentally, and financially exhausting. Travel became my respite to detox from a judicial process that enabled a wealthy spouse to do what he could no longer do with his hands.

The Divorce

Despite being an attorney, the court was terrifying. The judge routinely, blatantly ignored New York State’s laws and even the court’s own orders. Having worked to change the world for people with hearing loss, I thought that I could quickly correct the legal issues. But testifying, meeting with politicians and writing letters accomplished nothing, as I explained in the Huffington Post. I came to the conclusion that the discussion about domestic violence was conjecture for ordinary women. Did I need to be well-known to matter?

United State of Women Accreditation

The more I spoke out, the more the judge used coercive tactics meant to silence and terrorize me. This included placing me in handcuffs and threatening to send me to prison on Riker’s Island. On one occasion the judge threatened to send me to the jail for 21 days when I demanded that she enforce my support order. Rather than address my ex-husband’s non-payment of my court-ordered maintenance, she chose to punish me for speaking out of turn. On the final occasion that she tried to punish me, I used my one phone call to call Vice President Joe Biden’s office. Thankfully, at The United State of Women Conference, where I was a nominated Changemaker, I sat next to Jaimie Woo who headed Biden’s Domestic Violence Taskforce. Miraculously, ten minutes after my phone call, the judge decided to release me.

The trauma of that day didn’t end when the handcuffs came off. I don’t even remember how I made my way home, whether it was a taxi or the subway, but the moment I had finished my journey, I wanted to flee. I felt like an escaped convict seeking freedom. I didn’t care where I went, I just wanted to get away from the toxic environment that treated me as if I was an entitled woman with no rights.

My Former Townhouse

Advocacy for People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The judge in my divorce treated me as if I was an entitled lady who “lunched”. I was lucky in many ways, but in reality, during our marriage, I worked for free to change the world for people with hearing loss on behalf of our daughter and others like her.  Our daughter was 2 1/2 years old when we learned she was hard of hearing. After advising me of her diagnosis, the doctor told me there were “special schools” for her. My idea of “special” was the Ivy League University that she would later attend. At the time, I didn’t like someone limiting her opportunities before she had even started.

Rather than accept the crumbs offered to her, I set out to change the world, since it was easier to change the world than my own standards. As explained in Forbes magazine, I used New York City as a model to design, create and implement best practice standards before going international, to include Greece, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, Korea, and soon Ecuador. You can find out more about hearing access here.

Further to this, in the United States, I helped to develop captioning standards that were the basis for the Federal Communication Commission’s captioning rules. When I approached Senator Warren about the hearing aid monopoly, she then introduced and passed an Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid bill with Senator Grassley. Hearing access in museums and theaters in New York City became the model for access around the country including locations such as Graceland in Tennessee, The Getty in California and Mill City Museum in Minnesota.  Airlines subsequently added captions to in-flight entertainment after I worked with Virgin and Delta Airlines. Delta also added induction loops in airports starting with Atlanta, GA, and Detroit, MI.

The National Park Service created Guidelines for Accessibility after I testified before the National Park Service Subcommittee.

Finally, I also ensured that cell phones maintained the telecoil, which provides hearing compatibility rather than proprietary technology.

During my marriage, I always worked without pay. Equally, I never accepted anything in substitute of pay, to ensure that no one questioned my motives. Suddenly, this judge treated me like a freeloader who mooched off her husband, rather than a team who worked together for the benefit of their family.

Restarting Life.

Fortunately, having returned home from court, I could lean on a stash of frequent flier points from my divorce settlement, and from sign-up bonuses that I earned from opening 70+ credit cards in order to pay off my attorneys. My passport, coupled with my priceless “slush fund” of about three million miles, provided me with the freedom that I needed from the insanity of life.

First up? I had decided to use a sign-up bonus of three complimentary nights at a Ritz-Carlton property to visit Aruba to celebrate my upcoming birthday. A quick scan of flights revealed some availability, so I booked a trip to leave the next morning.

The trip was glorious. While the judge had used the divorce proceedings to treat me as if I didn’t matter, the manner of those working at the hotel thought otherwise. My birthday was celebrated, and being taken care of, and made to feel like I mattered was just what I needed to restore my spirits.

However, these positive feelings that my vacation had offered were brief. I returned to find a broken pipe in my house’s basement. I had no water, which meant I had no basic amenities. My ex-husband and the judge ignored the order and requests to have my ex-husband make household repairs. Thankfully, the insurance company wielded their power.

For four months, I was “stranded” at The Surrey Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side which became a luxurious prison. My ex-husband knew that I couldn’t travel if the insurance company was paying for a hotel, so in my opinion, he delayed the process to stop me from flying.

The insurance company advised me to eat my meals at the hotel restaurant, which happened to have a Michelin star. Either that or equivalent restaurants around the city. I was terrified to spend, given how I was treated in court. I only ate one meal out and ate yogurt for breakfast and lunch to not gain weight. As I told the insurance agent, free is not free if it’s on my hips.

Still, given the opportunity, I decided to cross-reference the Michelin list, Eater 38, Eater Heatmap, Zagat, World’s Best List, and any friends’ recommendations to develop a dining list. Four months in a single room can be tough unless you are dining at New York City’s finest. I turned my time at the hotel into a “steakation” and developed my own hashtag, #IAteManhattan. Never one to waste a crisis, I ended up visiting every New York City’s Michelin star restaurant, except for sushi (I’m not a fan).

Steakcation with Jean George, at Jean George

It was around this time that my friends and I noticed that I hadn’t put on the weight that I should have, given the amount of food that I had been eating. I hadn’t suddenly developed a miracle metabolism. Doctors couldn’t find anything that was wrong with me, but there was a concern, so I was monitored.

When I finally returned to the townhouse, the temperature was 94 degrees, and of course, the home’s air-conditioning didn’t work. My ex-husband had refused to fix it, and this time the insurance company couldn’t help me. Rather than melt, I tapped into those air miles again and fled to the Caucuses, Lebanon, and Italy. I suspected that I was sick, but I also knew that I needed a trip before the medical ordeal started.

The C Words

I returned home to find out I had incorrectly diaried my COBRA (COBRA is a federal law that requires employers with 20 or more employees to offer continuing coverage to individuals who would otherwise lose their health benefits) expiration date. All of a sudden, I had a month to visit all my doctors, and importantly, find a new insurance plan. I raced around New York, visiting many medical providers, until I learnt that I had thyroid cancer, and potentially breast and blood cancer as well.

Over the next two weeks, I had six medical procedures and surgeries. The final surgery took place on the final day of my COBRA coverage. It’s a strange thing to say, but thankfully, I only had thyroid cancer and it was caught early. Over the coming months, the doctors monitored many other issues including a potential lung cancer diagnosis. The cherry on top, caused by was thyroid surgery, was an immobile vocal cord. I could barely speak for four months. I was deflated.

My voice was my power, and once again I had been silenced. The upside was that this gave me a lot of time to reflect on my life, a life that had changed for many reasons, including children that had now grown up. Over the years, on behalf of my daughter, I had accomplished so much for hearing advocacy, it was now time to take care of me.

The Dream

My biggest dream had always been exactly that, a dream, and had I always expected that it would stay that way: To travel to every single country in the world. Like many of us, I had already made significant inroads into my quest through vacations. However, should I wish to actually achieve my dream, then I needed to focus on the endeavour. I also wanted to experience each country, rather than just race around the world.

Without a conscious motive, I “Marie Kondo’ed” my life. I sold my five-story Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse (I know that I was lucky to be able to do so) and downsized to a 650 square foot (60 square meters) one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Leaving Manhattan, where I lived for the last thirty years, and reducing my space was going to be difficult but living on my own for the first time in my life was exhilarating.

Anything I didn’t love or wasn’t the color blue was sold, given away or donated, including my car and televisions. I cut the cable, landline and fax cords and every expense was examined. I viewed every object as a potential hotel night or tour guide.

The shackles had been removed, I was finally free to move and realize my dream. However, as I had a weak voice, I decided to leave on a test run, to see if I could physically handle travelling. Determined to cross another destination off my list, I flew to El Salvador. This trip kickstarted my passion for travelling again, it renewed my energy which had been zapped after losing half my thyroid. My medication still wasn’t being regulated, but I knew that after hiking up Santa Ana Volcano and seeing the fantastic milky green crater that I could handle an extended trip.

El Salvador. El Tuncojpeg

Slowly but surely, my dream had started to become a reality. I organized my new life and started to plan trip after trip. My initial goal was to travel for four weeks, come home for the next four to undergo medical tests, and then depart again with this sabbatical from life continuing for two years. Life rarely works out as planned, so it’s been a hodgepodge of planning, often whilst on the road.

The never-ending legal drama taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable, so I can easily pivot when I need to change plans while on the road. My visiting museums around the world dedicated to genocide, slavery, racism, and the Holocaust helps remind me to persevere even in the most trying of times. My issues are annoyances rather than a crisis.

Where to go? I decided to make a list of the things that would hurt most to miss out on, should I die tomorrow. Gorillas and polar bears were at the top of that list, but I also added unicorns so that I always had an excuse to never finish travelling.

My first trip had a simple objective, to see the gorillas in Rwanda. However, when the planning started, it soon took on epic proportions, as every country seemed to be “in the neighborhood”. Before I knew it, I had planned a seven-week adventure, with strategic rest stops along the way to ensure I periodically rested. My doctors thought going away was a terrific idea to rejuvenate me, but I am not sure they realized what I meant by “going away.”

The journey was unforgettable. A witch doctor in Côte d’Ivoire, dining among hippos in Burundi, eating at a restaurant on a rock in Zanzibar, chimpanzees in Uganda, the Dinkas in South Sudan, swimming in the waters around Comoros, climbing the Tsingy in Madagascar, snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of Mozambique and riding on a quad bike in Malawi. Of course, the main objective was also achieved – I met the gorillas in Rwanda.

Hanging out with the Gorillas in Rwanda

For seven weeks, I was in heaven. I didn’t think I could top this trip, but each adventure has been just as amazing. Over the coming years, I will continue to pursue my dream, and I hope that you will join me on every adventure.

The Outdoor Journal will be with Janice throughout her adventures. In the meantime, you can find out more about Janice here, and follow her on Instagram here.

Cover Photo: Above Victoria Falls.

All Photos belong to and are courtesy of Janice S. Lintz.

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Expeditions

May 21, 2019

Field Notes: Solo Ultra-Running the High Himalaya

Peter Van Geit, wilderness explorer, ultra-runner, Founder of the Chennai Trekking Club, shares the field notes from his 1500 km alpine-style run across 40 high altitude passes the Himalaya.

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WRITTEN BY

Peter Van Geit

During the summer of 2018, I completed a three-month journey across 40 high altitude passes in Spiti, Pangi, Chamba, Kinnaur, Shimla and Kangra districts of Himachal, in the Himalaya. As always, I ran alpine style, which means self-navigated and with minimal gear through forests, alpine meadows, moraines, glaciers, snow and wild streams. Although I did meet up with a few friends for portions of the journey, my mostly solo exploration took me to many lesser known passes only used by shepherds including Chobia, Chaini, Kugti, Pratap Jot, Thamsar, Kaliheni, Lar La, Padang La and Buran to name a few.

In the following collection of photos and captions, I jumped districts and valleys across the Pir Panjal, Dauladhar and Baspa ranges traversing through the picturesque valleys of Pangi, Saichu, Sural, Miyar, Hudan, Chandra, Tsarap, Zanskar, Lingthi, Lugnak, Lug, Barot, Ravi, Pin, Parbati, Baspa, Chenab, Buddhil Nai, Pabbar, Chamba and Spiti.

The journey was one of stunning natural beauty, hospitality beyond words and overwhelming vastness of remote out-of-this-world landscapes.

Several weeks went into planning the route, analyzing maps including OSM (Open Street Maps), SOI (Survey of India), Google Earth, Olizane and various reference blogs. Credit goes to Sathya Narayanan who inspired me through his solo trekking explorations and wonderful blog before he went missing last August. Also thanks to my close friend Maniraj who identified many trails. Navigation (and photography) was done with my OnePlus 6 mobile and offline OpenTopoMaps. A total elevation gain of 200,000 meters with seven passes above 5,000 meters and 21 passes above 4,000 meters. Being an ultra runner and minimalist, carrying only 6kg luggage, most of the pass crossings were done in just one to two days after initial acclimatization, covering 30-40 km every day. The remaining time I traveled on HPRTC buses in between sections. The journey went across colorful alpine meadows, high altitude desert, vast glaciers, wild stream crossings, huge moraines, steep landslide-prone valley slopes, a few technical climbs and wilderness navigation near a few unused trails.

On many nights, I overnight camped in the tent I carried with me, but many times I stayed in shelters with shepherds and mountain tribes and in many welcoming homes at remote, hospitable villages. My food packing was kept basic with no cooking tools to reduce weight. No technical gear was carried except for a pair of hiking poles to assist in crossing streams, ice slopes, and landslides. The journey was one of stunning natural beauty, hospitality beyond words and overwhelming vastness of remote out-of-this-world landscapes. I indulged in lip-smacking local cuisine, encountered hikers and wildlife in the remotest corners of the Himalaya, and listened to beautiful music on local instruments. More details on passes, route, preparation, photos, and videos of my journey can be found at ultrajourneys.org.

Saichu Valley Apline Meadow, Pangi

Traversing beautiful alpine meadows dotted with pink and yellow flowers in the remote Saichu Valley in Pangi beyond the last village of Tuan. These higher altitude meadows of Saichu are grazed by many herds of the shepherds who migrate each summer from Chamba valley through one of the many passes across the Pir Panjal range. Here on the way to explore an unknown jot (5,260 m) trying to cross over from Saichu to Miyar valley.

Shepherd descending from the Kugti pass (5,040 m)

Descending from the Kugti pass (5,040 m) with a shepherd guiding his 500 sheep into the beautiful cloud indulged Chamba valley below. Kugti is one of the several passes across the Pir Panjal range used by shepherds for their annual migration to graze the high altitude meadows. Here we are crossing over from Rapay village along the Chenab river in Lahaul to the picturesque Kugti village in Bharmour, Chamba. The Kugti pass requires traversing of moraines and landslide-prone slopes on either side of the pass.

High altitude meadows of the Miyar valley

Bright red alpine flowers in the high altitude meadows (4200m) of the Miyar valley while descending the Pratap Jot (5,100 m) pass onto the moraines of the Kang La glacier. Pratap Jot is one of the several passes across the Pir Panjal range separating the Miyar and Saichu valleys. Around 10 shepherds and their 3000+ sheep graze the beautiful meadows of Saichu valley every year crossing one of these passes. The 25km long Kang La glacier seen here connects Lahual/Pangi with Zanskar, Ladakh – walking across this vast moraines landscape of huge boulders and rocks on top of melting ice is quite challenging.

Best friends in the mountains

“The warmest hospitality can be found in the most remote corners of our planet.”

Your best friends in the mountains – the gaddi’s! Here preparing hot chai, fluffy roti and yummy aloo gravy for two starved (and half frozen) travelers after an icy crossing of the Rupin pass with heavy snowfall and hazel during mid-September 2018. The shepherds leave home at the start of summer in May and cross several high altitude passes to graze their large herds of 300 to 600 sheep and goats in the remotest corners of the Himalaya returning only six months later in Sep-Oct. Every few weeks they descend to the nearest village to resupply rice, atta and other food items. They use home woven blankets and clothing to stay warm in their temporary shelters in the alpine meadows between 3,000 to 4,000 meters altitude. The warmest hospitality can be found in the most remote corners of our planet.

Chobia pass glacier

A heavily crevassed glacier as seen from the top of the Chobia pass (4,966 m), shepherd gateway across the Pir Panjal range separating the valleys of Lahaul/Pangi and Chamba. As per shepherds, the Chobia pass is the second most treacherous pass (after Kalicho) to cross the Pir Panjal range leaving around 20 out of 500 sheep dead during the annual crossing of this pass. From the Pangi side at Arat village along the Chenab river, one has to traverse steep landslide-prone valley slopes, a vast section of moraines and negotiate deep crevasses in the glacier (following a trail of sheep poop) before ascending a final steep rock to reach the narrow pass. On the Chamba side on the way to Seri Kao village, all bridges were washed away during flash floods in August 2018 requiring scaling steep trail-less slopes on one side of the valley unable to cross the forceful stream currents.

Fresh glacial snow near the Pin Parbati pass (5,300 m)

Fresh snow on top of the glacier near the Pin Parbati pass (5,300 m) in September 2018. The pass was first crossed in 1884 by Sir Louis Dane in search for an alternate route to the Spiti valley. The pass connects the fertile and lush green Parbati valley on the Kullu side with the barren high altitude desert of Spiti near Mud village. At the Parbati valley side, one encounters many shepherds and hikers on the way to the Mantalai lake and one can indulge in the scenic hot springs of Keerghanga. On the Pin valley side, the eye gets treated by the mesmerizing color shades of the valley slopes of the Spiti rock desert.

Tso Mesik ghost town

“Was survival of the harsh life in this barren high altitude desert too tough?”

Tso Mesik, one of the many ghost towns one encounters along the remote Tsarap river valley while hiking from the Gata loops (Manali-Leh highway) in Lahaul towards Phuktal gompa in Zanskar, Ladakh. What appears to be once thriving settlements with beautifully constructed homes, surrounded by fertile farming fields have been abandoned for many years. Residents seem to have left in a hurry leaving everything behind. Was survival of the harsh life in this barren high altitude desert too tough, did a natural calamity (2014 floods) force them to leave, did the comforts of the city life tempt them to migrate or did their lifelines (water streams) dry up due to global warming and melting glaciers?

Ibex skull found on the Lar La pass (4,670 m)

An ibex skull on the Lar La pass (4,670 m) deep inside the Zanskarian mountains in Ladakh on the way from Phuktal to Zangla. The entire journey involves crossing two other passes including Rotang La (4,900 m) and Padang La (5,170 m). On the way one passes through Shade village, one of the most remote settlements in Zanskar, being two days away from the nearest road head. Between Lar La and Padang La, I encountered yak herders grazing remote alpine meadows in this barren desert, producing 100 liters of milk from as many domesticated yaks every day, also producing butter and cheese. The same is transported using donkeys, horses and yaks to Shade village to survive the six months of total isolation during winter. All animals are carefully kept in enclosures at night, safe from nocturnal attacks by the elusive snow leopard.

Beneath the milky way at the base of the Phirtse La pass (5,560 m)

Dreaming beneath the milky way at the base of the Phirtse La pass (5,560 m), the highest of the 40 passes crossed in this trans-Himalayan journey, the Phirtse La connects Tangze village in Zanskar with Sarchu in Lahaul. The starlit skies were captured on my OnePlus 6 phone with 30 seconds exposure trying hard not to freeze off my butt in that very cold night at 4,700 m. The pass connects the Southern most section of the Zanskar valley which is dotted with many beautiful small settlements like Testa, Kuru, Tangze, Kargyak, small fertile patches in the barren desert of Ladakh. On the other side, one descends into the beautiful Lingthi valley encountering shepherds and wild yaks on the way to Sarchu where it joins the Tsarap river.

Menthosa peak, 6,443 meters

Menthosa peak, at 6,443 m, the second highest peak in Lahaul and Spiti, as seen from an unknown pass (5,300 m) while crossing over the Pir Panjal range from Saichu to Miyar valley in Pangi. Menthosa is situated in the Urgos Nallah, a tributary of the exceptionally beautiful Miyar Nallah. Here climbing up steeply from the beautiful alpine meadows of the Saichu Nallah beyond the last settlement of Tuan across vast stretches of moraines towards Great Himalayan Range to enter Miyar valley.

Trapped in a fog whiteout

“I got trapped in a sudden dense fog whiteout in the late afternoon at 4,100 meters and lost the trail.”

One of the most intense experiences during my journey. While descending from the Chobia pass, the most dangerous in the 40 crossed, I got trapped in a sudden dense fog whiteout in the late afternoon at 4,100 meters and lost the trail used by shepherds. Further descent was impossible being blocked by steep rock faces on all sides. Having lost my tent the previous day in the beautiful Miyar valley, I spend that night wrapped up beneath a small tarpaulin sheet braving the cold rains, while trying not to slide down from the inclined slope. Next morning the sunrise cleared up the fog and I was treated to a stunning view of the green Chamba valley below. One hour later and 500 meters lower I was enjoying a hot cup of chai and alloo roti in the first shepherd shelter on my way out.

Award-winning documentary

Upon returning, I shared all of the footage from my journey that I took with my OnePlus 6 and shared it with my friend Neil D’Souza, who compiled it into a short film which won the Best Mountain Exploration Film Award at the IMF Mountain film festival.

For more information on Peter’s journeys, visit ultrajourneys.org.

Instagram: @petervangeit
Facebook: @PeterVanGeit

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