Monday, April 14, 2014

Sign Me Up

I often think of those that came before me. The ones who paved the way, making a path for me to follow. I saw a photo of the ever adventurous Liz (pictured below) with this rustic wooden sign decorated with stickers on it. Unaware of what it required to get to that sign, I convinced myself that I too would get there someday soon. A few players from my old soccer team had similar photos as well, with stories to match about this incredible trek, adding more of an incentive to make it to Uhuru Peak.

Fast forward five or so years later and I finally arrived to Tanzania. No, it didn't technically take me five years to get there but in the scheme of things, it did. As we made our way to the summit, now, well over 19,000 feet above sea level, I began to question our route as that rugged, well-worn sign had been replaced by a shiny green one. F*CK. Had I hiked all this way up the wrong mountain? Delirious at that altitude, this actually was a thought of mine. 

The funny thing is just when I thought I had made it to the top, there was still more to go. Stella Point isn't the tippy top and people will point to another shiny green sign in the "near distance" that I could reach in five minutes if I were at sea level. "You're almost there" was a common phrase tossed around between footsteps, tears and gasps for air.

When we finally made it to the Uhuru Peak sign, a good forty minutes after reaching the Stella Point sign, it didn't matter what color it was. Together, we had made it.

Stay bitten ;)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

If You Get Bored...

How do you hike for eight days without getting bored during the day? I know when I was training for a half marathon, it would get a little monotonous and that was for two hours, not eight days.

On the Lemosho Route of Kilimanjaro, I spent a lot of time looking down, watching my footing as to not trip on a rock. Every now and then, Jackie would stop our group and say "Guys, look at the view." If it were a drinking game for every time she said this, we would be reliving the glory days of college, downright wasted. Thanks to her constant interruptions, we were reminded to take in our surroundings. Oh that view

Here are some other tips that kept us occupied and happy:
1. Play with perspectiveSo you're hiking the highest free-standing mountain in the world? No big deal. Or at the very least, that's what I tried to convince myself in any moments of doubt. Take time

2. Have fun and play some gamesEach person would name a country, state or city starting with the last letter of the preceding destination. It went a little bit like, Tanzania; Jackie, Arkansas; Sam, Sydney; Tanya, Yemen and so on. When we ran out of destinations we thought of songs with the word "baby" in it. Followed by love, rain, mountain. You name it. We kept our ourselves preoccupied and our guides entertained.

3. Take a jumping shot. Wherever, whenever, just increase your altitude every stop along the way. For me, it never gets old no matter what my level of oxygen intake is.

4. Learn something new. When you find out the Australian personal trainer in your group is also a boxer, have her teach you how to box like Mike Tyson in the middle of a plateau in the middle of nowhere, Africa.

Stay bitten ;)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Closer to Fine

Before we left for Africa, we had read online that people bring certain mementos with them for when they summit Kilimanjaro. They hold their country flag or a photograph of a loved one. We rattled our brains on what to carry, struggling to come up with a creative idea. What would fit in our daypack that wouldn't bend, freeze, break or take up too much space? Jackie and I were stumped. As we hiked the trail to the top, I discussed stuff that I could have taken care of beforehand. I should have TBB business cards. Better yet, I should have stickers to pass out and plaster. The higher up we got, the less of a concern this played in my mind. For me, I just wanted to make it to the sign without quitting.

As the trek to the summit became more physically (and mentally) demanding, the thought of having something to show for at the top had escaped my thoughts. With a dizzy head and shortness of breath, I managed to take in my surroundings and savor that experience with Jackie and our porters. Overcome with emotions, filled with pride for our accomplishment, for the people around me who achieved what was once an unattainable dream and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the support of others. This "bucket list" challenge had become my reality! I was living out something I had envisioned for myself for a large part of my twenties. 

We had climbed far above the cloud line and were just steps away from heaven. In that moment, after hugging (in tears) the new friends we met along the way and taking my signature jumping shot, it hit me. I took off my bracelet and tied it to the sign at Uhuru Peak, officially the highest point of Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. I felt close to Abby and with her bracelet on me, I felt she was with me the entire way, always pushing me forward. As I double knotted my "Orange for Abby" bracelet to the new sign, coincidentally with orange type, I began to let it all go, to smile through the pain. To quote a summer camp favorite from Abby's beloved Indigo Girls, "the best thing you've ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all." 

I felt an even greater appreciation for my life, the experiences that shape me and above all, the people I share it with. I was ready to come back down from the mountain and return to my life back home, with a renewed perspective and another story to one day tell my kids.

Stay bitten ;)
It's exactly a year since Abby left us but I still carry her with me every step of the way.

That Time I Climbed Kili with Dave Matthews

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with Dave Matthews Band?
100% yes I did. I probably couldn't have done it without him. And if you ask Jackie, we can both agree that he helped me regain strength, two steps at a time.

My appetite was minimal. I can't say the same went for the rest of my group as Jackie and Sam would take on my portion of meat and Tanya, well, she treated every meal as if it were her last. This is by no means an exaggeration as one night at our campsite, we hid the soup under the fold-up table and Tanya, within seconds of entering the tent, took notice and instead of briefing us an update from our guide, she yelled "Where's my f*cking soup?" As for my appetite, we can blame the nausea for that combined with my fear of eating six day old meat. Despite the adrenaline and excitement to reach the top of Africa, my energy level was at a low and it definitely began to take a toll as we made our way from base camp to the top.

I'm a Taurus, stubborn by nature and proved to be even more so, when I'm in the great outdoors. My camera battery had failed me earlier on in the journey. It froze sometime during the fifth day as the temperatures decreased as the altitude increased. Going forward, I had to rely on Jackie to take photos with her lightweight digital camera. I wouldn't let the same thing happen to my beloved iPod shuffle, with the battery life indicative of its' price tag. I slept with it at night, with the hopes that the warmth from my body would keep it functional for summit night.

Allan woke us up sometime after midnight. I put on just about every layer I packed, clean or dirty, well at this point, everything was dirty. Regardless, I was wearing it to the top. The darkness was impenetrable. I could not see what was one foot ahead of me. I walked with my head down and my headlamp lighting the way, unsure of where we were heading, only knowing that it was all uphill from here.

We were ants marching with our headlamps flickering like fireflies in the night. It was hard to visualize the path ahead of us and without the sun as my clock, my sense of timing was all off.

"Jackie, are we half way yet?" I asked her. I don't know why I thought she would know our progress on the trail and some high-tech gadget to track our pace. 

She had been listening to her iPod nano from the start and could see that I was struggling. I told myself at the halfway point to the tippy top, I would turn my shuffle on. I would conserve the battery until it was time. So Jackie did what any good friend would do... she lied, convincing me to just add some music to the deafening silence that permeated the air. I pressed play and the song #41 came on. It was as if a power switch turned on inside me and just like that, Dave got me going. 

Stay bitten ;)
If I look miserable in the photos, it's because I truly was. 
That is, until, Dave came on.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

When You Hit A Wall

There are points along the route when you'll hit a wall and have to motivate yourself to "pole, pole" (slowly, slowly) keep moving forward. And then there's a point where a couple of the various routes coming in from the west literally and physically all hit a wall, the much talked about Baranco Wall. 

It's a bit of a scramble to get to the top (as seen below) but once you get over that hurdle, the view is out of this world. I felt like I was sitting on top of the world and to celebrate we took a few jumping shots while the crazy but inspiring personal trainers in our group did pushups. Hey, to each her own.

Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wanderlust Wednesday: Utah

In my head, this is what a fifth date looks like. That is, if I lived out west because I'm told in Denver it's standard to go hiking on the weekends. How did I end up in a city with boys who brunch and watch baseball indoors?

Today I'm wanderlusting a trip out west to Arches National Park. Inspired by Jennie (pictured below) and her recent weekend jaunt to the jaw dropping landscape of Moab, Utah.

Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How I Met My Husband

He was (and is married). And I had a boyfriend. But at the time, I referred to him as my husband because he doted on me and cared for me like a great husband should.

It's months later now and every time my doorbell rings, the thought enters my mind. What if it's him? I picture the sequel to Coming to America but instead of Eddie Murphy, it's our trek guide, the one and only Allan. I know you're probably wondering why Allan would show up at my New York City apartment but somewhere above 19,000 feet I made some lofty promises.

With each passing step, I found it harder and harder to breathe. Meanwhile Allan played the harmonica. I thought to myself, he must think we Americans are downright crazy. Here I am professing my admiration for him as the tears streaming down my face were actively racing the snot dripping out of my nose. Ignoring my headache, having the nausea of a pregnant woman and trying so desperately to regain feeling in my fingers and toes, the best I could do was chose to ignore these thoughts. And here he was breathing into a harmonica playing a live performance for a brunette who was close to losing their mind.

I asked Allan questions to keep my mind off of my list of complaints. How many kids did he have? How did he meet his wife? Where in Tanzania did he grow up? How many times has he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Apparently in my delirious state, I told him that when he comes to visit us in New York, I would make him King. 

Stay bitten ;)
pictured post trek with my Oscar acceptance speech, a much needed Coke and my "husband" in the red hat

It Won't Kili You

"You're not gonna die, ok?" Tania, a personal trainer of Chinese decent, living in Ghana, said to our trekking group time and time again.

Every year, roughly 15,000 people attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Every year, over 2 million people visit the second tallest point in New York City, the Empire State Building. And they usually take the elevator straight up. There's no elevator or chair lift to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Instead, 15,000 people attempt to make it to the top. Nearly 40% are successful. This year, add one more to the count, me.

Well, what happens to that other 60%? I'm not sure but as I made my way each day one thing became very clear- if there were any signs that I wanted to quit, I would have. Excuses ran thru my head as a porter swiftly ran by me, seamlessly carrying camping gear on the top of his head without losing his balance. I would not let these brief moments of weakness win. We started off with six in our group and by the end of day four, we were four. We made a pact then and there that we would take this on together, eliminating the word quit from our vocabulary. 

Our safari guide's advise took on meaning. Feel the mountain, don't think the mountain. At the time, he sounded like he was the voice of reason and/or Morgan Freeman. But he was every bit right. Montezuma's revenge was rampant. Altitude sickness circulated the campsite like the flu in winter. Without truly putting my my safety at risk, I powered through the weak moments, challenging my strength and spirit. The mountain will try to take over- rather than give in, embrace it, be mindful of your motivators and move forward. It won't Kili you, it will only make you stronger.

Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pole, Pole

Before we set foot on the Lemosho route, we were instructed to pace ourselves. Our Tanzanian guide, later to be referred to as my husband, would remind us every step of the way to slow it down. "Pole, pole" in Swahili means "slowly, slowly" and with the increasing altitude, it is the recommended way to summit Mount Kilimanjaro successfully.

They say the altitude makes you a little delirious and I can think of many of instances where this was true. It was hard to decipher what was the effect of reaching new heights or what was just two old childhood friends goofing around in the middle of a plateau without an audience for miles.

It has been six months or so since I climbed the tallest peak in Africa. While I'm looking back on it and thinking how long ago it was, I can recall it as if it were yesterday. And some days, it feels like it was yesterday as every day, well, every moment, of the trek is so vivid. It is hands down, or in this case, hands up, poles up, the most incredible, challenging and humbling adventures thus far.

Stay bitten ;)
Like the ceiling can't hold us...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Two Truths and a Lie

I have a travel blog.
I was on the show Survivor.
I killed a bear chicken with my hands.

Two truths and a lie is a game I love to play with strangers. It's a great icebreaker. When I play with friends, I have to get creative as they usually know what actually happened and what's a figment of my imagination. But with strangers, or new friends in this case, it was easy to pull from the archives.

Oddly, I must have given a different impression as it was an immediate and general consensus. Everyone was almost too quick to respond with "No, you' don't have a travel blog." Jackie sat in the tent tight lipped, trying not to reveal anything. After I cleared up that I meant to say my bare hands and not a bear chicken (whatever that may be), the group was still adamant that I didn't have a travel blog. Interesting...

"Now I know where I recognize you from. You were on Survivor." 

The rest of the tent began to chime in and agree, spending the next couple of minutes struggling to figure out what season I was on. Having been a fan of the show for almost thirty seasons, known to sport Survivor swag from t-shirts to buffs, I joked that this confusion was my high of the day, or maybe the trek. Again, joking. 

Stay bitten ;)
Day two of the Lemosho route in a round of two truths and a lie