On the well-worn dirt of Barr Trail, Dave "Cursor Cowboy" Hughes prepares his infantry legs, if not his Buddha belly, for the steeper trails and thinner air of Nepal.
While most of America was still enthralled with eight-track tapes, Hughes was toying with a primordial Radio Shack PC and a glacial speed modem. This was 1979, the Paleolithic pre-Internet of computer bulletin boards.
Twenty-four years later, Hughes is still on the cutting edge of high tech, using unlicensed radios to bring wireless connectivity to remote communities.
And you don't get much more remote than the village of Namche Bazaar, elevation 11,300 feet.
At 75, Hughes, a former Fort Carson colonel, is as garrulous as he is accomplished. He says his upcoming trip to help bring Internet access to the village is not about him, and that he's merely serving the vision of Tsering Gyaltsen (grandson of legendary Sherpa Tensing who first scaled Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953).
With its 36 lodges, Namche is a resting place for trekkers who typically stay a few nights to acclimate to the altitude before heading higher into the Himalayas.
Like most of Nepal's high country, Namche's economy is dependent on tourism.
"Kids drop out (of school) when they're 13 and then they make a living carrying big loads for $5 a day till they're too damn old to do it," Hughes explains. "That's their life."
Gyalsten plans on using the Internet to help stem the "brain drain" from losing his fellow Sherpas who leave for educational opportunities and don't return.
Gyalsten aims to use voice over the Internet technology for English-language classes at Namche's Hillary School.
For now, Hughes says his biggest concern is shaping up for the trek, the last day of which will find him ascending 2,000 feet in four miles.
But he doesn't have to prove anything.
"I have a Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, the Green Cross Award, 14 air medals -- I don't have to go to goddamn [Everest] base camp to show that I'm a toughie."
-- John Dicker
photo by Bruce Elliott
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