Thursday, October 4, 2012

From Ambien and Diamox to Giant Senecio

It would take days to write down my thoughts and process everything about our trip, so I’ve decided that I’ll do a sort of highlight reel, followed by a couple excerpts from each day’s journal entries.  So, to start you off, I present my Kilimanjaro Top Ten (in no particular order):
  • Sunrise on Summit Day- when you’re struggling to breathe somewhere in the vicinity of -10 degrees and 19,000 feet, about the only thing that can rapidly improve things is the sun peaking over the horizon (the “horizon” here being the clouds) to begin warming and brightening the day.  Before the sun came up, I was sure I would never be warm again, and I hadn’t completely ruled out fainting from nausea and lack of caloric intake.  Once the sun rose, all was going to be right with the world.

A most welcome sight
  •  Utah- we met the most fabulous people at the Amsterdam airport who just happened to be climbing our same route.  It was pretty easy to pick out the hikers at our gate.  You know, flying directly to JRO, hiking boots, internal frame backpack, etc = immediate conversation starter.  Mary, Steve, Peter and Michelle (who happened to go by Mitchell, I kid you not) were from Utah, brother and sister plus spouses, and they were one of the best things that could have happened to our trip.  After meeting at the airport and running into them again at Machame Gate, they took it upon themselves to come find us at campsites to decompress from the day, play cards, ask medication questions, and so on.  Even with the nausea, backaches, and exhaustion, they made every day more tolerable.  We even ran into them just below the summit on Day 6, and as sad as this may seem, that was the highlight of the morning.  Not reaching the top, not the sunrise, but hearing Mary near tears yelling, “You guys!!!” and joking about Mary’s (our Mary) George Washington hat.  Fabulous people, unexpected blessing.
L to R: our Mary, their Mitchell, Peter, Steve, their Mary, Laura
  •  Africa- ok, big duh, we did all of this halfway around the world on another continent.  But one of the coolest parts of the trip was getting to experience so much of Tanzania without ever leaving the mountain.  We got to learn some of the culture (thanks to Peter, our chauffeur to and from the airport), some of the language, some of the plant life, the climate zones, the economic state, and we even got to see monkeys!  I am grateful for this brief glimpse into a radically different way of life.
  • Family time- Until the last day, when exhaustion and me stepping on Mary’s trekking poles threatened the carefully maintained harmony, we actually had an entire trip of good family time.  When you are forced to share all your meals, your sleeping tents, your hiking time, your joys and especially your struggles (way too many conversations about bathroom topics), you will either be at each others’ throats or grow significantly closer.  I’m grateful that by and large, we seemed to do the latter.  
  • Successful summit- since the whole point of the trip was to obtain a picture of the four of us at the Uhuru Peak sign at the highest point in Africa, reaching this goal has to be a highlight.  It was not pretty, by any means, but we got it done.  There were many times along the way that I wasn’t sure we would all make it, including up to a couple hours before the summit when I was thinking, “how much do you have to not be able to breathe before you consider it a serious problem?”  Looking back, I consider success to be as much our safety and health as our summit.  Not having to make use of one of the emergency helipads on the mountain is a victory in my book.
On top of Africa, Zapapi FTW
  • Laughter- you guys, Mary was ON this trip.  Like, nailing-every-joke-opportunity on.  Between her snarky retorts and the joking of our guides and cake-eater comments from Utah, laughter was certainly abundant.  Which is good, because otherwise, tears might have been the emotional response of choice (I’m pretty sure I was the only Zapapi who cried; I don’t think my comments thus far would inspire anyone to do this).  
  • Prayer- mostly my intentions for this trip were our safety and success, but given the nature of each day, I had plenty of time for other prayers as well.  My daily rosary was offered up for a variety of friends and family, and there was plenty of suffering to offer up.  It’s been a while since daily prayer was a relevant part of my life, so getting back to that habit was very fruitful.
  • Kiliwarriors- it’s hard to put into words the sacrificial and generous nature of our team.  Twenty-six people serving us in so many ways, figuratively carrying us to the top.  Hosea, Shanta, Masta, Emmanuel, Julius and so many others, just giving of themselves.  They were joyful servants in every sense of the words, and we couldn’t have done it without them.
The amazing Kiliwarriors present us with our summit certificates
  • Toilet tent- I’m not going to go into detail here, but let’s just say that by day three, I would have given up and turned around if we didn’t have our own toilet tent.  Kiliwarriors was the first outfitter on the mountain to provide this service twenty years ago, and it’s become the norm for the higher-end companies.  If you are going to climb Kilimanjaro, do not do so unless your guide company has a toilet tent.  Between the Diamox and the havoc that new foods wreaked on my GI tract, it was a comfort that made the miserable a little more bearable.
  • Sleeping in my own bed- It’s kind of lame to end a top ten list of Kilimanjaro with the return home, but after 6 nights in a sleeping bag and another 40 or so hours of airplanes and airports, a full night’s sleep in my own bed felt glorious.

So, there you have it.  There were many other positives from the trip, and I’m sure you can gather from my commentary that there were many difficulties as well.  Sometime in the next couple days, I’ll look through my journal and write up a couple snapshots from the day-to-day adventures.  Until then, tutaonana!

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