By Terri Schneider
(Excerpt from Dirty Inspirations: Lessons From the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports)
In the fall of 2011, I led a human powered journey crossing the Himalayan country of Bhutan, (www.expeditionbhutan.com), trekking and mountain biking. With in-country support from the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) and their president, His Royal Highness, Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, my over-arching vision for the project was to ultimately share Bhutan and their concept of Gross National Happiness, through a documentary film of our adventure.
January 27, 2017, that dream—bringing Bhutan to Santa Cruz—will come true via a community showing of Crossing Bhutan at the Santa Cruz High Theatre. Here’s a brief recap on how this journey led the iconic Buddhist ‘Shangri la’ of Bhutan, to Santa Cruz.
The 13-months of planning leading into Expedition Bhutan involved; defining our route through the country (with no detailed maps available) and all logistics woven into executing the route; finding and then creating a relationship with a film team who would shoot a documentary film of our journey; and inviting nine people to join us on our first nine-day trek in order to help fund our film and journey; all while developing a close-knit relationship with the BOC, our host while in the country. In exchange for supporting the Expedition, the BOC was interested in me helping them create events in Bhutan to aid the country in not only promoting tourism through sport, but developing sport for youth.
After formulating and organizing this enormous production while solidifying our relationship with the BOC, we came to Bhutan for two months in the fall of 2011 and covered 500 miles, including 121,000 feet of elevation gain while trekking, and mountain biking from the far west to the far east, all while in a cultural emersion—pondering the concept of “what matters” to the Bhutanese.
What we did not know prior to our arrival is that His Royal Highness would roll out the red carpet for our group, offering support staff, logistical guidance, and gear for our journey—all on a handshake deal.
When we touched down in Paro for the first time, I felt like I was home. I had first fallen in love with Bhutan after reading the Lonely Planet Bhutan guidebook cover to cover. But as tears streamed down my face while standing on the airport tarmac, I felt that same visceral connection that I always have when arriving at an event that not only holds a dear place in my heart, but for which I had toiled for months in preparation.
Bhutan is spiritual, unusual, remote and traditional. The country’s initial governmental change-ups, including giving more power back to the people via democracy, were fully implemented when the fourth King abdicated the throne to his son in 2008. Though fraught with growing pains, the changes were refreshing in a world packed full of political greed and power-hungry leaders. With the inception of the Internet and television in 1999, the Bhutanese have started gradually incorporating outside influences, but in part because of their severe geography—Bhutan is mostly high mountains and deep valleys—most of the country remains a blend of remote, spiritual, and unique. Their ongoing challenge is to sustain their traditional culture amid outside influence, and each time I return I feel the strain of that pressing task.
The first nine-day mountainous trek of our expedition landed us in the country’s capital, Thimphu. There, we and support staff hosted the first TEDx in the country before continuing eastward on bike and foot, riding a couple of sections with one of the top mountain bikers in Bhutan, as well as the current Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay. Through the additional trekkers who had joined our initial nine-day trek, the Expedition Team had fundraised to bring on a film team led by Ben Henretig, who shadowed our journey while shooting the documentary film, Crossing Bhutan.
Since the Expedition I have returned to Bhutan eight times and will head back again this coming February. I have lived and volunteered in the country for almost a year working with the BOC—consulting on internal projects, offering training clinics, and co-producing the Bhutan International Marathon and Half Marathon (BIM) (www.bhutaninternationalmarathon.com). This event is a rare opportunity for the Bhutanese to race alongside athletes from around the world on their own turf, as well as a medium to inspire and develop sport and wellness in Bhutan.
For the most part, life is pared down and simple in Bhutan. Villagers have most of the same problems inherent in any civilized culture, but on a smaller scale. Their culture is a testament to the fact that the Internet may give us access to more information and greater productivity, but it doesn’t necessarily optimize interpersonal connections. Traditional Bhutanese family/village bonds and Buddhist practice revolve around one-on-one and group connection; to truly know Bhutan is to develop an up-close relationship with its people and culture, and this happens slowly, over time.
You’ll get a taste of that intimate culture in Crossing Bhutan, which will air on January 27th at 7:00 PM at the Santa Cruz High Theatre. Proceeds from this evening will go back to the Santa Cruz High Cross Country Team as well as Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (baowe.org). Tickets can be purchased on BrownPaperTickets.com. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terri Schneider is an endurance athlete, speaker, coach, sport psychology consultant and author—in 2016 she released her third book, Dirty Inspirations: Lessons From the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sport. She is co-founder with the Bhutan Olympic Committee of the Bhutan International Marathon and has been doing volunteer work in Bhutan since Expedition Bhutan in 2011, from which the film, Crossing Bhutan, was created. For more info go to www.terrischneider.net and www.facebook.com/CrossingBhutanCommunityShowings