The world is full of dreamers, but not many can stay motivated while fighting to turn their dreams into reality. Sometimes the fight involves moving away from everyday routines in order to spark change, to give up everything in search of your best self. It can be a daunting challenge to reinvent your life, but it can lead to a better you as well as improve the lives of others.
Mountaineer Tony Michaels knows a thing or two about reinventing oneself. He grew up outside of Seattle on Mercer Island and after four years of toiling at an office job after graduation, he decided to make a drastic change. “I uprooted my life,” Michaels recalls. “I sold my car and moved to Melbourne, Australia. It was terrifying because I didn’t have a job lined up or any plans. All I had was a one-way ticket.”
When he touched ground, Michaels struggled to find his footing and a decent job. “It took a lot of determination but one day I found a place to live and the next day I found a job,” he recalls. “It was a shitty job. I worked as a door-to-door salesman for two months. I knocked on 100 doors [with] 90-something people telling me no and slamming the door in my face, but I knew I was doing it for a reason. I wanted to save and keep traveling, so I put my head down and really grinded that out. It was not glamorous. It was in the rain with a lot of really shitty days, but I think that hardship paid off because I saved up and didn’t have to work for the next 6 months. I think that hardship really breeds good things.”
Michaels’ most recent trip took him and his best friend across the globe to Nepal and the Himalayas. The month-long excursion included an 18-day trek to the base camp at Mount Everest and a daring climb on Island Peak (Imja Tse), a mountain that scrapes the sky at a whopping 20,305 feet above sea level. Michaels utilized crampons, an ice-axe and rope to reach the summit. This is a hike which some would struggle to tackle because of the high elevation. “[Altitude] doesn’t care what color or nationality you are. If your VO2* max isn’t high enough, you can’t do it.”
During the trip, Michaels lost 16 pounds and pushed himself past exhaustion, but it remains one of the best experiences of his life. He now describes his trekking adventure in Nepal with one word: bliss. “There were so many rules,” he recalls. “You can’t eat meat. You have to drink four liters of water per day. There are so many things that go into it, but at the summit this weight is lifted off you as soon as you reach your goal. And when you’re sitting on a mountain at over 20,000 feet and looking at the view, it all pays off in that moment. It’s addicting, absolutely addicting.” The mountaineer also credits the esteemed character and vibrancy of Nepal’s citizens. “[Nepal] is very authentic,” he explains. “The people are very warm and actually care about you and want to engage in conversation. The hospitality out there is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. They’re so welcoming. ‘Come into my home, eat my food and sleep in my bed,’ that type of thing. The people of Nepal define the country.”
Michaels recommends a challenging regimen for anyone training for a multi-day expedition with continuous hiking. “Cardio-wise, you want to work out six to seven times per week,” he advises. “You have to be proficient in walking over 12 miles a day with a heavy pack. Many people suffer from high-altitude sickness once they reach higher elevations [but] there is no way to test for that. You just have to go see if your genetic makeup is willing to put up with it really. Train hard. Do weekend hikes that are long and testing. I would climb a couple of mountains before doing something like that. Maybe Mount Rainier (at 14,416 feet) or Mount St. Helens (at 8,366 feet).”
Despite all the hard physical work, Michaels never tires of exploring. What most fuels his inspiration? “The natural beauty I would say,” he responds. “But also the isolation from the world that we know and we grew up in and feel comfortable in. I feel completely as ease [while hiking] with no worries at all. Sometimes I question myself before a hike or climb asking, ‘What am I doing this for?’ But every time I go out, I get this overwhelming sensation of this is where I belong, out here.” Michaels is also inspired by the humility of the locals in each region.
“I admire the people who have nothing, the people who make $60 per month and live in rags,” he explains. “Yet what distinguishes them is that they’re happier than anyone I know in the States. It’s a constant reminder that you don’t need a lot to be happy. From this I really simplified my life. At the moment everything I own fits in two backpacks. The shackles are off.”
When it comes to worthwhile advice, Michaels looks to his father. “The best life advice would definitely be something my dad taught me, and that’s to control your environment,” he says. “I think that could mean different things to different people, but for me it’s just a reminder to not let things or situations get out of my control. I definitely prefer to be a driver and not a passenger of my life, and it can always be difficult, of course. I always try to control my environment more than it controls me. In the end, you control your destiny and nobody else.”
In 2017, Michaels plans to climb Baruntse, a peak in the Everest region of the Nepalese Himalayas. At 23,460 feet, the mountain sits less than 6,000 feet below Mount Everest, which is the tallest point on Earth. For 33 days, Michaels will climb without supplemental oxygen to plant a Nepalese flag on the high-altitude summit to bring attention to the suffering of Nepal’s citizens. Michaels has created a GoFund Me page to raise funds for the expedition and donations to Global Giving to aid the people of Nepal. (For more information, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/theclimbforrelief .)
For now, Michaels is gearing up for a year-long trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico as a freelance photographer, and he hopes to climb Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica at 16,050 feet, in the near future because watching the sun rise over Antarctica would be “phenomenal.” He also continues to train hard and live his life to the fullest while squeezing in time to catch “Game of Thrones.”
Follow Tony Michaels on Instagram @tony_michaels_photography
*VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min).