There’s been a gap in my posting here because I misplaced my Kilimanjaro journal! Also, the gap in writing is a bit symbolic because there was also a gap in my journaling at this time at the trip. After suffering heat exhaustion on Day One, I almost passed out on the trail 20 minutes in to the hike on Day Three.
Presumably, more training at altitude could have helped me cope more easily. Also a colleague on the trip used a training mask to prepare for the climb, and if I was going to do something like this again, I would definitely use that.
So, because my memory of this point of the trip is a little sketchy, I’ll take this opportunity to share with you some “lessons learned” with you.
1. I should have brought body spray. The prep books I read all suggested this, but I thought it seemed so silly to bring body spray on an 8-day camping trip. I’ve rarely been so wrong. In addition to covering up the fact I hadn’t had a proper shower in over a week, it also has the added benefits of masking the smell from the longdrops (or latrines). BRING THE BODY SPRAY.
2. Tissue and body wipes. I brought a sufficient amount of these items, but it probably would not have hurt to bring a slightly more ample amount.
3. Take your altitude medicine. I brought it. I didn’t take it. I probably should have.
4. Air mattress. My tentmate brought a thin inflatable mattress. Don’t forget you’re sleeping on a mountain side created from volcanic explosions. Rocks are prevalent – you’ll want a thicker mat than the tour leaders provide.
5. Candy for the guides and porters. I didn’t bring the huge bag of candy I intended to bring because I was afraid it would melt in the rainforest. But I was sorry that I didn’t have it to give later in the trip.
6. Comforts of home. Some folks on my trip brought hot sauce and other small containers of seasonings. That was clutch because you’re pretty much eating the same fare day after day.
3 Feb 2015: Day Two
That wasn’t easy. Today we climbed something like 800 to 1,000 meters in elevation*, leaving the rainforest behind and entering more bushlands. Plants and shrubs were shorter, geology was more volcanic. I tried to stop frequently to take in the scenery and snap a few shots, as well as give my exhausted body a moment to recover.
Camp was bustling and bigger than the first night. The porters had a festive singing circle – where do they get their energy? I relished in my newfound energy – snapping pictures of Roxy (the miniature sock monkey mascot I carried on the trail), taking pictures and walking around camp a bit. Our jokes get dumber as the altitude gets higher.
*Editor’s note: in reviewing the trail maps after I wrote this journal, we climbed approximately 960 meters of elevation.
Our group was led by Darren Hunt, a British property investor who now leads Mountains in Mind full time. He’s an accomplished climber and outdoorsman – and he’s the exactly the guy you want to be sick on a mountain with. Our trail was the Machame Route, one of the more popular routes to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. As described by www.machame.com:
The Machame route is also known as the Whiskey route, given its reputation for being a tough climb, in contrast to the easier Marangu route, which is known as the Coca Cola route. Unlike the gradual incline and hut accommodations found on the Marangu Route, the climbers on Machame hike steeper trails, for longer distances, while sleeping in tents.
2 Feb 2015: Day One
It’s 6:39 a.m. on the first day of our climb.
I’ve been wide awake since 2 a.m.
No idea what woke me up originally but intermittent panics about what I may have forgotten, punctuated by a chorus of crickets, a pack of wild dogs howling in the distance and even a rooster that evidently conspired to keep me awake. It didn’t help that the only “light” reading I packed was a murder mystery.
Not sure how I will survive today. I’m sure I will fall apart later today. Let’s just pray that happens once we make it to camp.
I got sick. Really sick. As in, “I really don’t think I’m going to make it” sick.
Probably a combination of dehydration, lack of sleep, lack of caffeine, being completely off routine and a bumpy van ride to the base of the mountain contributed to it.
I was fine until lunch. When we stopped for our third break, I could tell I looked bad by everyone’s reaction to me. I was trying to drink as much water as possible, but it was hard to drink and breathe.
I’ve wanted to quit a lot of things before, but at this moment, I wanted to lay down on a log and die there.
Miraculously, with the steady help of my porters and the workout mantras from my awesome personal trainer Errick McAdams on repeat in my head, I made it to our camp.
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
“You got this. You’ve got guts in spades.”
I’ll save you from what happened next, but suffice it to say I became quite ill.
After the others had dinner, the porters and guides put on an amazing performance of traditional song and dance. It was a “call and repeat” interspersed with speeches from the climbers. Noah was the most eloquent; I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like:
“Today was a difficult day. But you motivated me to keep going, because I watched you carrying twice as much stuff. Watching you, I knew I could make it.”
Our lead guide “Whitey” appeared at the door of my tent. I was crying.
“Do you think I should quit?” I asked him, choking back tears.
“Absolutely not – you will finish this climb, Simba Dada,” Whitey replied. He told me he had seen climbers worse off than me complete the course. (Note: I have no idea whether this is true, but he had me convinced).
In the middle of the night, my sickness dissipated and I felt miraculously better. I was able to drink a thermos of ginger tea and eat some plain white bread.
I left my tent and found my friend Adam sleeping under the most glorious night sky, so full of stars.
I comfortably fell back to sleep, resolute to start again.
I hadn’t seen my friend Adam in weeks when I bumped into him at a barbecue. Adam is one of my most adventurous and outgoing of my friends; he always has a great story.
“I’m putting a group together to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – and we need one more person to join us,” Adam slyly suggested, knowing I have a Marty McFly-esque inability to not back down to a challenge.
Six months later, I was aboard a flight with Adam and his crew I met at the airport – bound for Mt. Kilimanjaro, the largest freestanding mountain in the world, and the highest peak on the continent of Africa.
I kept a diary during my journey, though at times I had to choose between prioritizing writing or sleeping. Kilimanjaro was the most challenging mental and physical challenge I’ve ever faced.
The subsequent blog posts will be taken from the personal journal I kept during our Kilimanjaro adventure.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on my blog about the 2012 AIDS Life Cycle Ride. In February 2012, I bought a new bicycle; in June, I pedaled it nearly 545 miles down the Californian coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles and raised over $3,000 in support of HIV/AIDS-related charities.
What do you fear?
For me, I know exactly: Heights Bridges Tunnels Riding downhill on a bike really fast And today I had to face those fears down. Biking down the Pacific Coast Highway, to my right was straight cliffs. We biked up the steepest hills I’ve ever endured – and then I had to do the return trip down. Other bicyclists and cars zoomed past me making me incredibly shaky and nervous. I had to bike over a couple of bridges, which just about made me hyper-ventilate. But as scared as I was, the experience of Day One was incredibly moving. There was one guy at a stoplight who held a photo in a frame. When we slowed down, he said “Thanks for riding. This is my brother Michael; he died of AIDS. I miss him every day.” It was powerful. Today was the longest ride I’ve ever been on in one day- 82 miles. Tomorrow we’re told it’s flat for 109 miles. The route opens at 6:15 am so I hope to be out there early. I’ve attached a picture I took at one of our rest stops. Beautiful is all I can say. 20120603-202542.jpg
“What do you do for fun?” my blind date asked.
I sat silently for a moment, realizing I couldn’t answer the question.
I was 32 years old, had just ended a serious, long-term relationship, and within an instant, a stranger had made me realize that there was a whole world I had yet to see. An Ohio native, I had traveled all over the United States, and visited Canada and Mexico with my family. But I didn’t have a single stamp in my passport.
That was the moment I decided to start exploring.
Since then, I’ve bicycled the coast of California, snorkeled in Hawaii, climbed the Harbor Bridge in Sydney, and summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’ve run the streets of London, Berlin, Paris and Tokyo. I’ve downed Guinness in Dublin and sangria in Spain. I’m lucky enough to have a job that involves extensive travel, and I’ve nearly perfect the art of the four-hour tourist – maximizing my little downtime to see the major sites in cities around the world.
None of these experiences happened by accident, but they were all serendipitous.
In less than three years, I’ve made 15 trips to 11 countries – and I’m just getting started.
I’d like you to join me on this adventure. For you, perhaps it’s tracing the steps of your ancestors through Eastern Europe, or camping in one of our amazing national parks. Or maybe it’s as simple as lacing up your running shoes for your first 5k or hiking a local nature trail.
On this blog, I’ll share my adventures (and occasional mishaps) with you. Most importantly, I want to hear back from you – your questions about packing, your restaurant suggestions, your idea of ideal tourist destinations.
Let’s explore together.