The Departure Has Arrived

We’re here. The day has crept closer and closer and today she’s ready.

From announcing in my 2019 life review that I was going to climb Kilimanjaro in October 2020 (ah, EOY 2019, you calm before the storm) to fleshing out the reasons I was doing it (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) to getting the heart crushing news that it was delayed the day after I was told ‘it’s on!’ in January 2021 and dealing with the emotional fallout and re-training.

From the trip-specific gear gathering dust now safely tucked into my bags to the hometown mountain I was scared of but conquered in July, it has been a long season. And now…we do this.

In February I wrote:

It is 210 days until September 19th, 2021.

209 sunrises to go. 

209 beats of rest in whatever time signature this song is in. 

209 blank pages until book 3.”

Heart siren – it’s time to see the clouds beneath us and sing this song.

Capable, strong body – you’re ready, you’re prepared right, you can, you can you can.

Soul who told herself ‘no’ too often – you are more than enough, it’s time to ‘yes.’

Welcome to Book 3.

Radio Silence

“Wifi? Where we’re going we won’t need wifi.” – Doc Brown, 2021 (probably)

Since I’ll be AWOL on the internet for pretty much this whole trip I thought I’d give a rundown of where you could find me (why? for what reason? LET ME BE) on my Kilimanjaro sojourn and which day you can raise a glass to my likely summit! A lot of this was lifted from the Mountain Madness (my guide company) itinerary and is heckin’ useful.

Day 0 – Friday, 9/10

Depart home late afternoon and fly Chicago > Amsterdam (sadly, not leaving the airport; I’ll be back to explore another time, I promise), +7 hour on US Central and +9 on US Pacific Time.

Day 1 – Saturday, 9/11

Fly from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro (JRO) Airport, landing around 9pm. I’ll have a rapid COVID test and get my Tanzanian visa; a Mountain Madness rep will meet us and drive to their private compound. I’ll be +8/+10 hours ahead of CT/PT, respectively.

Day 2 – Sunday, 9/12

This is a bonus day – most people fly in/land this night – but it was $2100 cheaper to fly in a day early! So fingers crossed we do something fun local like visit a coffee farm, shop in Arusha or walk around a bit.

Day 3 – Monday, 9/13 – Ele­va­tion: 6,500 ft / 1981 m

Trans­fer to a pri­vate camp in Arusha Nation­al Park. Here, at about 6,500 feet / 1981 meters, we’ll begin to accli­mate; Chicago is about 597 feet above sea level. With only our climb­ing team (guides, porters, fellow climbers) here, we’ll ease into our adven­ture, enjoy some game view­ing, try to relax from trav­eling, and pre­pare for the climb.

Today our guide(s) will host a trip brief­ing and review our equip­ment. There may be time for a walk or game dri­ve, which will be tak­en out into the grass­lands for views of African game and Mount Kil­i­man­jaro, as giraffe, buf­fa­lo and ante­lope usu­al­ly seen in the area.

Day 4 – Tuesday, 9/14 – Ele­va­tion: 9,000 ft / 2743 m 

MON­TANE FOR­EST — LOMOSHO APPROACH – Hik­ing Time: 3 – 6 hours (3.2 miles / 5.2 km)

After a short dri­ve through the grass­lands and scat­tered Maa­sai vil­lages we’ll arrive at the for­est edge of Kilimanjaro Nation­al Park. From here we’ll walk a few hours through the undis­turbed lush jun­gle to our camp for the night. Our Tan­zan­ian guides will share their knowl­edge of the local ecol­o­gy as we walk through the fan­tas­tic plants and trees, hear birds, and see oth­er exot­ic wildlife. Y’all know I’mma be asking tons of questions here. With luck we’ll be able to see Colobus mon­keys and signs of ele­phants on the walk to camp. If I see an elephant I will attempt to hold in an excited squeal. ATTEMPT. Upon arriv­ing at camp, we’ll find our tents set up as well as hot tea and snacks wait­ing for us in the din­ing tent.

Day 5 – Wednesday, 9/15 – Ele­va­tion: 11,400 ft / 3474 m

SHI­RA PLATEAU — WEST SIDE – Hik­ing Time: 6 – 8 hours (4.8 miles / 7.7 km)

Our Tan­zan­ian guides will greet us at our tents with tea and hot water to wash with before enjoy­ing break­fast as I try to rouse my carcass and tame my inevitable hair tangles. We’ll take our time walk­ing through the for­est, which enables us to accli­ma­tize com­fort­ably and spot the plen­ti­ful game and bird life while enjoy­ing the views down canyon through breaks in the jun­gle. Today’s hike will take us through the Mon­tane For­est and the Hage­nia Zone. We will point out the unique envi­ron­men­tal dif­fer­ences that char­ac­ter­ize these sep­a­rate equa­to­r­i­al zones. Harlan Kredit would be proud (I think). I shall endeavor to ask as many kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species as possible and reward myself with a Jolly Rancher.

Day 6 – Thursday, 9/16 – Ele­va­tion: 13,500 ft / 4115 m

MOIR CAMP – Hik­ing Time: 3 – 6 hours (4 miles / 6.4 km)

It will take us rough­ly three hours to hike across the Shi­ra Plateau and then one hour up the west­ern slope of the Kibo Mas­sif. Our Camp will be in the upper Heath Zone. We pass the Fis­ch­er Camp, which has a plaque ded­i­cat­ed to Scott Fis­ch­er, friend and founder of Moun­tain Mad­ness. In the 1980’s, Wes Krause and Scott Fis­ch­er pio­neered the Shi­ra Plateau route on Kil­i­man­jaro, which we trav­el. The views of the moun­tain at sun­set and sun­rise are tru­ly spectacular – I’m attempting to make the instructors at Chicago Photography Classes proud (or at least not embarrassed!).

Day 7 – Friday, 9/17 – Ele­va­tion: 15,000 ft / 4572 m

LAVA TOW­ER – Hik­ing Time: 5 – 7 hours (3.6 miles / 5.8 km)

After break­fast, we’ll slow­ly hike to 14,850 feet / 4526 meters, just under the ​“Lava Tow­er.” This will be our first intro­duc­tion to the Alpine Zone where the only plant life is the hardi­est of grass­es and lichens. We will have a spec­tac­u­lar view of the final route of ascent up the West­ern Breach. There is an excit­ing option­al rock scram­ble (non-tech­ni­cal) to the top of this unusu­al lava tow­er – its gotta be easier than the Roman Headwall, right? The views from the lava tow­er sum­mit of Mt. Kil­i­man­jaro, Mt. Meru and the sur­round­ing val­leys are quite impressive – fingers crossed I capture them in their glory.

Day 8 – Saturday, 9/18 – Ele­va­tion: 16,000 ft / 4877 m

ARROW GLAC­I­ER – Hik­ing Time: 2 – 3 hours (1 mile / 1.6 km)

The West­ern Breach ascent route is now in full view. We spend a few hours climb­ing to the base of the route and make camp near the Arrow Glac­i­er at 16,000 feet / 4877 meters. To fur­ther our acclima­ti­za­tion, we take an after­noon hike up a spec­tac­u­lar ridge fur­ther up the route before relax­ing in camp. This camp is famous for the absolute­ly mag­nif­i­cent sun­sets, which illu­mi­nate the African sky.

Day 9 – Sunday, 9/19 – Ele­va­tion: 18,700 ft / 5700 m

SUM­MIT CRATER CAMP – Hik­ing Time: 7 – 10 hours (1.6 miles / 2.6 km)

A looooooong day but should make the next day easier. Today we climb up the West­ern Breach for about sev­en hours to the top of the crater rim. There will be time to explore the inner crater before mov­ing to our high camp on the crater floor. It is com­mon to find snow along this sec­tion of the route. Our high camp will be next to a spec­tac­u­lar glac­i­er and the sum­mit mere­ly a short hike away! The rest of the day will be spent drink­ing lots of liq­uids and enjoy­ing anoth­er fab­u­lous sun­set dinner (plz yes).

Around 8-9pmish for you Central folks and about 6-7pm for the Pacific ones – this is when I should be summiting (the next morning for me) – raise a glass at your dinner (or from your couch) and I betcha I feel it.

Day 10 – Monday, 9/20 – Ele­va­tion: 19,341 ft / 5895 m

SUMMIT DAY, Y’ALL – Hik­ing Time: 1 – 2 hours to summit

This is one of the big reasons I chose MM; I loved the idea of camping in the crater, close enough to touch the stars at 18,700 feet, and making the very hard summit day/night a little easier. After break­fast, we’ll leave camp and hike to the top of the crater rim. From there it is just a ten-minute hike to Uhu­ru Sum­mit, the high­est point in Africa at 19,341 feet / 5895 meters! We arrive at the sum­mit and are reward­ed with clear views before the mid-morn­ing clouds roll in. We will bask in the glo­ry of our accom­plish­ment, grab a bite to eat, enjoy the views and take lots of photographs. PLZ BATTERIES DO NOT FAIL ME NOW. I SURVIVED CHICAGO SNOWPOCALYPSE WITH AN iPHONE I GOT THIS.

Now we go down, down, down 9,000 feet and descend to Mwe­ka Camp – Ele­va­tion: 10,500 ft / 3200 m

Hik­ing Time: 8 – 10 hours to camp (6.8 miles / 11 km)

After sum­mit cel­e­bra­tions we will begin our descent past Bara­fu Hut and down to our camp near Mwe­ka Hut, where our porters will have pre­pared a spe­cial cel­e­bra­to­ry feast! We will have descend­ed almost 9,000 feet / 2743 meters today and will feel intox­i­cat­ed by the oxy­gen rich air. AIR DRUNK AIR GUITAR, GO GO GO. Will sleep a deeeeep sleep.

Summit day is ~10-12 hours and that’s a ‘shorter’ one compared to other companies. Although Baker took 16 hours so honestly, bring it, Kili.

Day 11 – Tuesday, 9/21 – to 4500 feet / 1372m, then drive

Hik­ing Time: 4 – 7 hours (5.2 miles / 8.4 km)

Hik­ing time will vary depend­ing on the trail con­di­tions while trav­el­ing through the lush veg­e­ta­tion at this ele­va­tion. Rain can occur any time of year at this loca­tion and can make the trail mud­dy requir­ing a slow­er pace. Once we have descend­ed the 4,500 feet / 1372 meters to the road head we will have our lunch and say good­bye to our moun­tain staff before head­ing off to safari with our same guide team. We’ll night at Ikitoni Private Camp (where we started) before transferring to safari the next day.

Day 12 – Wednesday, 9/22

LAKE MAN­YARA NATION­AL PARK AND NGORON­GORO PRI­VATE CAMP

Safaaaari szn, bbs! We con­tin­ue on our jour­ney with a vis­it to Lake Man­yara Nation­al Park, a park Ernest Hem­ming­way described as ​“the loveli­est I had ever seen.” Found amid the vari­ety of ani­mals is an abun­dance of bird life, includ­ing the pink flamin­gos that enjoy the water-based micro­cosm of the lake and its envi­rons, all of which add to the eco­log­i­cal diver­si­ty of your safari. After our vis­it we dri­ve to the high­lands of Ngoron­goro Crater Con­ser­va­tion Area. We stay for two nights at MM’s deluxe pri­vate camp at Ngoron­goro, near Olé Dorop’s, our Maa­sai friend and walk­ing safari guide.

Days 13-16 – Thursday, 9/23 – Sunday, 9/26

Continue exploring Ngorongoro and Serengeti, seeing animals, visiting villages and taking all the photos my heart can stand! Return to Arusha for our final night.

Day 17 – Monday, 9/27

Another ‘bonus’ day that saved me another $2100 on the flight – shop, connect, savor – and fly out at 9pm from JRO > Amsterdam.

Day 18 – Tuesday, 9/28

Fly Amsterdam to Minneapolis (there were no directs to Chicago, so odd); then MSP to Chicago, landing around 3pm local time. Customs, bags, Lyft, home. Greet my plants, eat whatever dry goods I’ve squirreled away in the cupboards and likely crash/sleep because my body will still be +8, soul stuck in Tanzania time.

So that’s the plan…

Gear, My Dear

A couple people have asked about my Kilimanjaro gear list – whether for the trip trip or just what I take for these long, 5.5 hour walks (which are scaled back since the trip delay) – so I’ve built out what’s currently working for me and some tips to how I got it!

The benefit of having a year+ to prep for this Kili hike is having had time to buy items off-season, to test them, sometimes to return them or upgrade, or wait for a sale I know is on the way. I genuinely, personally own everything on the list below, and I’ll link them all out even though I sometimes didn’t buy them the places they’re linked, they just came up first when I googled for this post.

My tips to (almost) never paying full price:

  • List, List, Baby – You can’t shop for what you don’t know you need/want. What do you need vs. what’s nice to have? Once you have your list of needs (knock off the things you already have that can do double duty, ie camping items like a sleeping bag or wool layers you already own because you live in Chicago aka Polar Vortex’s Fyre Fest), prioritize. What do you need to start training with ASAP? For me, I needed boots right away. There were a lot of ‘kilimanjaro packing list’ ‘women packing kili’ Google searches in the early days. If you’ve chosen a guide company for a trip make sure you check their custom list too. Sometimes they provide items you don’t need to buy or offer rentals so you don’t need to buy your own (like gaiters, sleeping bags or trekking poles).
  • Sale Away – If you know a sale is coming, try to hold out. I narrowed down pack options to the REI Traverse 35L for women, and then sat in wait for the Memorial Day Sale. It had been 50% off in May 2019; it was not that deeply discounted in 2020 but it was 30% off so I bought it then. Usually when a big outfitter does a sale, others do too because FOMO; Moosejaw almost always does a big sale when REI does theirs, Backcountry, etc.
  • Get Around – You don’t need to buy all the things from REI! I’m a massive fan of REI and did get a lot of my items there. One of their employees took 40 minutes to share her experience on a trip to Kili and recommendations. However, you can be thrifty and still REI. Support the co-op – also, pals – just buy the REI membership. It’s $20, one-time, it’s good for life, you can return items even if you used them for up to a year. I’m SERIOUS. Go do it. It’ll literally pay dividends and you get access to so much. INCLUDING my favorite: the Garage Sales. I have cleaned UP at REI from their Garage Sales, Outlet and Used sites. If you get a coupon on top of GS/Outlet/Used? Your wallet and you do a secret high five. You’ll know it when you see it.

    Other places I bought gear – Moosejaw, Eddie Bauer, Campsaver, Backcountry, MountainSteals (Moosejaw’s discount site), Sierra Trading Post (TJ Maxx/Marshalls/Homegoods gift cards work here!), Patagonia & North Face’s Renewed/Used & Repaired sites (most brands have some kind of outlet, used or renewed site, you just have to google it), Nordstrom Rack, Zappos, DSW, and yes, Amazon when needed, sigh. Check thrift stores – if you’re on the North Side of Chicago I stan my local ones like Play It Again Sports or Family Tree Resale on Lincoln – or digital thrift stores like GearTrade! Don’t overlook other sources like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace too. It’s summer and people been inside for 15 months – Summer Garage Sales are the SPOT in 2021!
  • Sell Yeah – Remember REI Used? Just did my first trade in with them – I have jackets I’ve grown/shrunk out of in the past year – and they sent me the mail in kit, etc. Just got an email that I have a $100+ gift card now to spend! YES! YOU DO NOT NEED ALL THOSE THINGS IN YA CLOSET, UNDER YA BED, STUFFED ABOVE THE HAMPER.
  • Don’t Marry an Idea – This is hard but – do you need the newest colors or features? Nah. It’s easier to find discounting on past-season colors and on clearance! Get something you can live with though; if you hate it it’s probably not worth it long term.
  • Let Yourself Be Blessed – This is a bit of a luck/hit and miss/no guarantee but I wanted to mention it. I messaged someone on FB Marketplace about a North Face Base Camp Duffel and when I showed up to buy it for $70 he asked where I was headed with it, when I said Kilimanjaro he gifted it to me. I almost cried. He said ‘have a wonderful trip and pay it forward someday.’ FOR REAL. A friend recently asked if there was anything I hadn’t bought myself and when I bashfully shared I had a ‘good enough’ fleece layer but there was one on my wish list they bought it for me. There are people who want to invest in your journey. Let them. That may be time, money, gear or emotional support. Allow them to be part of your story and success too.

The following is my ‘before trip’ list – and all has genuinely been tried out – but I’ll keep editing while I continue training and even after the trip (September 2021) so you know what was useful, what was overpacking, and what was just ridiculous.

Pack & Gear:

  • Hiking BackpackREI Traverse 35 – The golden color almost got me but a cranberry, green and blue combo?! Bails 101!
  • WaterPlatypus 3L Reservoir & Nalgene 32oz, plus a Katadyn UV Water Filter SteriPen and copious Nuun tabs/powders for taste & energy
  • Dry BagSea to Summit Ultra-Sil 13L – I plan on putting my camera gear in here and any other tech, battery pack, etc. It was on my wish list forever and I found it at an REI Garage Sale for $4 and change!
  • Trekking PolesBlack Diamond Trail Backs plus these rubber tips since I train/walk on the sidewalk/street in Chicago. I’ll pull the rubber tips off before I leave; I’ve taken them off when walking on icy sidewalks and they’ve saved my cute, round bacon multiple times.
  • Sleeping PadKlymit V Insulated Ultralight – make sure you check the R value for warmth if your trip needs it! Also – test it out and lay on it – make sure you can actually get comfortable on it, in your sleeping bag! Otherwise it’s a cold, miserable realization in ya tent.
  • PillowOutdoor Vitals Ultralight – not sure if I’ll take it or do the classic ‘clothes as pillow’ move but I got it for free so…?
  • Sleeping BagNorth Face 0/-18 Furnace Down Bag – do your research on the temp rating – there’s lots of variance in the ranges, how warm/cold you sleep, gender, etc. Some Kili routes stay in huts vs tents and that can flex what you need re: Sleeping Pad/Bag/Liner.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner Sea to Summit CoolMax – keeps your bag clean/less likely to need washing and another warm layer
  • DuffelNorth Face Base Camp Medium 71L – specifically for Kilimanjaro there are weight limits to your duffel to protect the porters, so the medium/71L was best for me as a chronic overpacker. This will carry everything I’m not wearing/carrying during the day, including my sleeping bag, add’l clothes, gear, med kit, etc. Also – petty – but I really loved the mountain color scheme on mine and knew it would help inspire me during training and be pretty unique from the other solid-color North Face Base Camp duffels on the side of the mountain.
  • Compression Stuff SackKelty Compression Stuff Sack – I have the XL but could have gotten a L (it was out of stock) to smoosh my sleeping bag smaller in the duffel.
  • Tent – if you’re like ‘wheres the tent Bails are you sleeping outdoors on a MOUNTAIN with CRITTERS’ – this item is provided by the guide company so while I personally own a tent (hi, 2-person Coleman Sundome I got for $25) I’m not taking it with me to Africa.

Feet:

  • BootsLowa Renegade GTX Mid – seriously, do go at least a 1/2 size up. This was super worth it to buy from REI and test out; I did end up returning to go up 1/2 a size. Your feet will swell and you likely will need more room if you’re doing multiple sock layers such as liner/hiking sock (which I do). A helpful test was to put on my intended socks, lace them and walk down a set of stairs to see if my toes touched the front or not.
  • Socks – Darn Tough Vermont (Micro Crew, Boot, Mountaineering) – I was a Smartwool lifer until I tried Darn Tough and I’m just mad it took me this long to find the greatest sock(s) of all time. NO CONTEST. Thanks Johnny B for the realization!
  • Sock LinerSilk REI liner, Icebreaker Wool Liner – didn’t start to need these until my walks got over 2, 2.5 hours and I was so glad to have them!
  • Foot Stick to avoid blisters – this thing is GOLDEN for my feet; I finally found a good blend is a little of this BodyGlide stick on my common blister spots, a sock liner, then the wool hiking sock *chef’s kiss*
  • Camp ShoeCrocs – sigh, yes. No one is stealing these ugly, insanely bright things. I waited until a triple-down on Zappos (sale, birthday coupon and points) so I at least could look myself in the eye for spending as little money as possible on these. Apparently they are the best shoe to put your swollen, end-of-day feet in and wear around camp; also v lightweight and easy to rinse off if muddy.

Basics:

  • UnderwearIcebreaker, Smartwool and Woolx
  • BraIcebreaker Longline and Smartwool – if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year that I’d tell you it’s the value in wool items for heat and cold, breathability and how rarely they smell/stink. Plus, nothing I own is as itchy as you think it might be since they’re blended w synthetics.

Bottoms:

  • Base LayersOdlo, Icebreaker, Patagonia – The Odlos are amazing; wide, soft waistband but don’t fall down after several wears. If you can snag them on sale they’re so worth it. I’ve been wearing them all winter in the house too! The Icebreakers are also great for warmth but that thin waistband does migrate/dig in.
  • Hiking Pants – Eddie Bauer (Guide Pro Pants ) – If you can snag these on a 50% off sale they’re awesome – also sign up for the EB Adventure Rewards because every other month they’re like ‘here’s $10 use however you want no minimum’ so hitting a 50% off sale + $10 off really is a sweet spot! I will say – I like the pants much better than the leggings, they may get voted off the (duffel) island.
  • Fleece PantsColumbia Exploration Pants – I’ve layered these with base layer and hiking pant this past week in the 0-10F degree range while walking and they’re perfect; also love me a zip pocket to keep all my secretsss.
  • Rain Pants/ShellREI Rainier Full-Zip Pants – used twice, stayed dry!
  • ShortsEddie Bauer’s Guide Pro Shorts – the pockets, the length, all perfect for long walks/hikes

Tops:

  • Sun ShirtMountain Hardwear Crater Lake Hoodie – I love these so, so much that I own three of them. As a pale goblin I need to hide myself from the Sun’s vengeance and these rock, hands down. SPF/UPF 50, a hood, thumb holes to cover hands, lil zip pocket for keys – plus – super thin so you stay cool! Note that these can smell t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e after one sweaty, sunny wear since they’re 100% synthetic. Wash ’em or learn to live with it.
  • Base LayersOdlo, Helly Hansen, Smartwool, Patagonia – I never got the hype about Helly Hansen before but she’s currently my fave with the 1/4 zip.
  • Fleece LayerWomen’s Monkey Fleece Hooded – I’m linking the Men’s one here because I can’t find the women’s (discontinued?) but this thing was my wish list item I was gifted and it’s phenomenal. Four functional pockets in a WOMENS CLOTHING ITEM?! RING A BELL!
  • Soft Shell JacketStormtech Performance – not sure I’m going to take this one, jury is still out (aka I’ll weigh the duffel and decide). My current layer system without it is good/solid. Officially soft shells are on a lot of lists but I am leaning towards ‘no’ for this item in my system since I run hot. I might sneak an extra thin fleece layer instead to sleep in – an Arcteryx Delta LT Women’s Jacket
  • Puffer LayerMarmot Quasar Down Hoodie – can fit under the hard shell since it’s thin!
  • Hard Shell GORE-TEX Jacket REI GTX at first because I was a size 16/18 and needed to fit all the above layers underneath; it came in a 2x. I found a screaming deal at Nordstrom Rack with a +25% off ‘Clear the Rack’ discount on this XL Mountain Hardwear Rain Shell I (and m’layers) now fit into. The big reason to upgrade? Pit zips. Do not discount these. Pit zips are so worth the upgrade to stay dry but not overheat.

Accessories:

  • GlovesMountain Hardwear Firefall GTX Mitten – What?! A MITTEN?! Yup. I tried out a GORE-TEX outer glove and it was too cold for me plus didn’t have good grip. I kind of figure if you’re not going to get good grip in a glove you might as well get warmth with a mitten. Another sell for me? Having a ‘leash’ to slip them off and use my camera with just the glove liners and not drop the mitten while doing it.
  • Glove LinerIcebreaker Quantum – good for a single layer when cool or warming up or to layer under the mittens. Plus since it’s a glove (not mitten) I get that finger dexterity back.
  • Sun HatAdidas Superlite UPF OR Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat – SO nerdy in the Sunday Afternoons hat but it does have an all around brim, which is good for Bails vs. Sun. But the Adidas has been my go-to in Chicago with my sun hoodie pulled up in the back. I need to choose…
  • Warm HatCarhartt Acrylic Hat OR Columbia Beanie – literally a vanity decision here too just need to make it *sing-song voice* but which color do I like betttttter
  • SunglassesEddie Bauer Preston Polarized have been my all around but I had to buy some Julbos (I got the Chameleon for Spectron 2-4 UV) for Mt. Baker (end of July) so I’ll probably take those unless they have some super rage-y issue
  • Various neck gaiters/buffs – Turtle Fur, Buff, etc.
  • GaitersOutdoor Research Rocky Mountain – got to try these for the first time in a verrrry deep snow in Chicago in Feb and they were poifect!
  • Camera/Gear – I’ve already owned my Canon T6i for a couple of years but some additional accessories were a clip from Peak Design, monster battery pack from RAVPower and an upgraded camera strap (Peak Design again)!
  • SheWee – OK, this was like, low on my list. They’re on most company lists but not many personal Kili lists. I didn’t think I’d get a FUD (female urination device). But then I had a glorious conversation with my OBGYN at my annual and found out – clad only in a paper gown – that she had climbed Kili in 2012! We chattered away happily while checking me for lumps, bumps and good health and she was like ‘you have to get one.’ I said, ‘really?’ and she says ‘it’s not just for privacy but honestly? Your legs are going to be so tired and shaky that you will struggle to keep your balance when you squat. And there’s not always somewhere out of the way/off the path that’s safe.’ Which hadn’t occurred to me – from both a muscle exertion and safety angle – and I trust her, so I got one. I’ve only used it once outdoors, with questionable success. I didn’t pee on myself but I like, couldn’t pee? Lifetime of don’t-pee-don’t-pee while standing up is hard to turn off. Apparently I need to practice in the shower, per the company – and I just ended up squatting in the trees on that aforementioned questionable success attempt!

There’s other small gear things to list out like items in my med kit, etc. that I don’t have links to but I’m taking – it’s a long list of ‘you might need so you should probably bring’ from Pepto Bismol to Diamox to WonderWoman bandaids. There’s also more of the typical items you’d think of taking – TP, bug spray, sunscreen, luggage tags, RFID passport wallet, etc. But this is 95% of my gear list and what I plan on using! Let me know if you have add’l ideas or tips or questions and I’ll update. Happy hunting!

Holding Pattern

I’m grown enough to know that bourbon and tacos aren’t a healthy coping strategy. But also, living alone during a pandemic and facing a large pile of disappointment? Yeah. It could be worse than bourbon and tacos.

Yesterday I texted my therapist, asking for a session to talk about the fact that in 30 days, I planned on leaving the US for my Kilimanjaro trip. I was struggling to reconcile being a good global citizen with pursuing this dream. We talked through the issues being 1) do I feel safe and more importantly 2) am I afraid of others’ perception of me traveling right now? And yes. Yes I was afraid of #2.

Today, I got a call that due to new US restrictions on international travelers entering the country, that my trip was cancelled, with the next dates available in June, 5 months away.

My guide company, who are phenomenal, awesome people – do not have access to guaranteed resources to get me COVID tested in Tanzania, 48 hour turn-around-time for results, take off to Amsterdam, layover 6 hours, then fly to the US within the 72-hour time frame. That’s 63+ hours if everything goes perfectly. And if you’ve ever traveled, you know that’s a big if. So they’ve made the difficult (and in my opinion, right) decision to cancel the trip rather than risk leaving me and my trip mates abandoned in airports flung across the globe.

It sucks, it sucks, it sucks it sucks it sucks. And yet I know there are a thousand things more important. The country is in the grips of civil unrest, there’s a damn pandemic still GAINING GROUND on us and here I am, sad no one will let me climb a big ole’ mountain. There are people without jobs, legitimately fearful of eviction, first responders beyond burned out and I’m soft drunk on my thrifted big red chair, crying that my trip is delayed (for the second time).

But if everyone’s Tad Hamilton to someone then by God, we all have got Kilimanjaro’s worth of disappointments from this past year. My Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro, but someone else has to cancel their wedding. Someone else’s new baby hasn’t met friends, coworkers or grandparents. People have lost their family members to COVID. Kids without classmates, triathlons delayed, reunions by the wayside, dream jobs abandoned, graduations deferred, one-in-a-lifetime experiences – gone.

I know I’m one of many. But it still hurts. And I feel, more than ever, so aware that I am alone in this apartment. That the only person who can soothe me is me. That the only way through it is through it.

Tomorrow can be for rallying. Tonight is for tacos, bourbon and sorrow.

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro (Part 2)

Today I got the unbelievable wonderful magical news that my Kilimanjaro trip is a go. It’s truly happening and it’s happening in February 2021, folks! 75 DAYS. With that glorious Monday info – here’s Part 2 (of 3) on why I’m doing this dang adventure. Check out Part 1 here!

There have been a few movies I’ve seen as an adult that so wholly resonate with me that they make me break down. Not the 3 Scariest Kids Movies Ever, which is a different list, but the emotions. The FEELS.

As the credits for “Ladybird” started to roll I stood, tight-voiced said ‘Ijustneedtopeesobad,” power walked like someone with food poisoning into the beautifully tiled bathrooms at The Davis Theater, put my whole pre-COVID unclean jacket sleeve in my mouth and flushed the toilet to cover a hard, 10-second sob that wracked my body. I peed zero times and flushed the toilet 8 times.

On a hot, lethargic July weekend day in 2019, I sat in front of my wheezy window AC unit, scrolling aimlessly through several video apps and saw ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ on Amazon Prime Video. I rolled the idea around in my mind: ‘ugh a feel good movie isn’t there a die hard sequel somewhere instead’ countering ‘ Well, I do love Jillian Bell,’ and after watching the trailer, decided ‘I’ll start it and of course, run back to Season 3 of Orphan Black if I don’t like it.’

But I did like it. And I kept watching.

‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ is based on a true story – there is a Brittany who did indeed run a marathon – and that true story does indeed range from her first faltering steps outside to triumphantly completing the New York City Marathon. But a story without life breathed into it is just a grocery list of facts, so here’s why the movie made me lose a full pint of tears.

Here’s the description from Wikipedia (with some of my thoughts):

“Brittany Forgler is a 28-year-old living in New York City with her roommate Gretchen, a teacher’s assistant dreaming of social media fame. Visiting a new doctor to score a prescription, she receives unwelcome news; she must get healthy and lose weight. Every doctor’s visit. My entire life. Even when I was a Krav Maga instructor at my lowest weight. Even dentist visits in Korea. I have always been told I was overweight. That losing weight would help the issue du jour – be it mental or physical or emotional.

She visits a nearby gym only to find even the cheapest fee is out of her reach. I cannot tell you how many gyms, how many personal trainers, how many smoothies and supplements and diets. How many times I’ve tried to learn ‘fit lingo,’ bought the clothes, the gear – and how many times I felt like a failure at this goal of fitness. A fraud, waiting to be found out, throwing dollars at my belly.

Despite her fear, she tries running for the first time, successfully running one block. She is invited to run in a group with her neighbor Catherine, whom Brittany detests for her seemingly perfect life. OK well running is the devil’s exercise and no one can convince me otherwise. And real talk: I fully admit struggling with other women based on my idea of their ‘perfect’ bodies, with must of course = perfect life, right? That’s social math (I have a comm arts major so the math is LITERALLY wrong on that).

Brittany gets within five pounds of her goal of losing 45 pounds. Brittany’s pride, and continued reluctance to let Catherine into her life, force her to turn down an offer of support, and she withdraws. She regains weight, forcing her to run even harder, until one of her shins becomes too painful to walk on. Five weeks from the marathon, her doctor informs her she has a stress fracture and will be unable to run for six to eight weeks. In May 2019 I got a new job, I started trying Crossfit, I quit teaching at the Krav gym. In September, I quit the CrossFit due to wallet bleed (WOW that sparse box is pricey), rejoined the LSAC gym, got a trainer, started training. In October I tried Keto for 30 days, in November I added weightlifting classes and by Thanksgiving last year I was in so much pain I didn’t even want to workout. Getting (and staying) fit has a monetary, physical, emotional and mental cost. Not everyone will have your back (or know how to support you) past the ‘YEW GO GURL’ vibes.

She ignores calls and texts from Catherine, Seth, and Jern, saddened to see Seth and Catherine with their marathon medals. That same day, she disrupts her brother-in-law’s birthday party by making cruel comments about an overweight female guest. It’s hard to celebrate with (and for) your friends when jealous little sandworms burrow inside your heart. Your soft heart tightens into glass and you know it’s breakable, so you swing your spiky sandworm tail at anyone close to disrupting your glass heart and seeing through it to your shame of failure (Yes, I recently watched Beetlejuice for the first time and I love sandworms now).

One year later, Brittany runs in the marathon. At this point I’m openly weeping wedged into some half-baked moldy croissant body shape on a red chair that I bought used for $50 when I moved to Arkansas. The iPad is bouncing on my knees as I drag and push air hand-over-hand in and out of my compressed diaphragm. Somewhere inside of me I know it’s a movie, I know it’s a story, but they cut the audio/music bed so you only hear her breathing and I’m right there. I’m with her. The cottony rasp of her tying her shoe laces. Pulling on her good sports bra, you know, the one for bounce. Not the WFH $5 Gap bralette. Clothing herself in the armor she knows is dependable on the battlefield – to challenge the chafing, the high school knee injury, the sturdy Scunci hair tie that will hold 26.2 miles of ponytail bounce. The quality headphones you spent too much on but that hold your sanity playlist, pumping energy through the right and left tracks.

At the 22-mile mark, she develops a cramp and has to pause. She rejects medical assistance, but accepts an assistant’s offer to help her up. While considering quitting, she finds Seth, his husband and sons, and Catherine in the crowd cheering her on. She also encounters Jern, who says he loves her. She then keeps going, finishing the marathon. I’ve paused the movie, scraping my hand over my eyes to hide the shame of whole body sobs from who? the iPad? Jillian Bell? One of the other technological masterpieces in my single-person apartment that probably has an always-on microphone translating my sobs into therapy $s? I regain control of my body and press the space bar to finish the last few happy, joyous moments of the film. I squeeze my shaky, dopamine smile muscles up as the credits roll, showing the real Brittany and photos from her real marathon run.

And I immediately wanted to find…something. Something bonkers – not running – that would be *shudder* horrifying. But an outlandish goal. Something I really wasn’t sure I could do but maybe, maybe I could.

And I’m not sure what led me to this. But it’s the same date. I messaged the only person I personally knew who had climbed Kili (and had also very recently summited the Everest). I don’t know where my brass lil stones came from – but I sent it – and the dream siren did a double take, whispering “soon?” and I whispered back “…maybe.”

…to be continued…

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro

It began with a massive crush on Justin Gingham, which is not his name, but I’m not here to somehow accidentally link a 10-year-old crush to someone’s professional life on LinkedIn via the technological witchcraft known as Google SEO. I am always down to clown on my life and tomfoolery but when it starts to involve others I AM A SOFT BOILED EGG. Also doesn’t Justin Gingham sound like a kind soul in a folksy parable? It fits.

Let’s talk about one of the factors that has contributed to me committing to climbing the truly bonkers number of 19,341 feet (5,985 meters for the rest of the sane, measuring world) in (probably) February 2021.

It begins with a crush–which birthed a mental image I’ve carried for over 10 years–which was naturally followed by a massive lie but we don’t have time to go into the lie and it’s unrelated. Y’all, I said we do not have time to go into the lie this is not the point of the story. OK sidebar for the lie since I can feel some of you salivating and I know you will not move onto the actual reason for this post; here’s the short(?) context for the lie: October 2009ish, senior year at ORU there is NO SHORT CONTEXT FOR THIS STORY I feel like this:

(Inhales deep breath) Justin Gingham was the…whatever the like, regional coordinator (that cannot be the right title) was for ORU Missions Trips, overseeing the trip I was going on to Morocco as an Assistant Team Leader. Oh, and he was my church small group leader and I had a massive crush on him. Those 3 things could not continue all being true. He asked me once directly about it? did he? someone important did. Maybe it was my team leader at the time? WHOEVER IT WAS someone with sway directly asked if I had a crush on him.*

I knew in my bones that:

1. The shame of telling the truth would be Great-Wave-off-Kanagawa levels of destruction in so many influential areas of my life: this mission trip, this church that was getting me through a very tough life season, my close-knit friend group and even my intramural job since we had a mutual boss. Our lives had so many similar/overlapping threads and it would truly be devastating to lose any of them.

2. ORU Missions had (has?) a no-fraternizing in the leadership hierarchy (Assistant Team Leader, Team Leader, Assistant to the Regional Manager, Houston Mission Control, This Mission Should You Choose To Accept It etc) policy. They would reassign me or him or both. Something public and difficult and it would be VERY AWKWARD because everyone would be like ‘oh why is Bailey and/or Justin Gingham reassigned’ and it would be irresistible ORU gossip catnip for @twapel

3. YOOHOO, HELLO, SHAME, AGAIN, THIS TIME JUST PERSONAL CRUSHING SHAME OF ‘WHAT IF HE DOESN’T LIKE ME BACK,’ DON’T FORGET!

And SO I lied and said, “NO, I DO NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON JUSTIN GINGHAM *scoffs*”

I remember immediately going to the always abandoned stairwell on the 7th floor of Claudius dorm (no one went there, we were all elevator folk THE SEVENTH FLOOR AND THE BASKETBALL TEAM WERE NOT STAIR PEASANTS) and wept. Genuinely wept. Heaving sobs. Sticky, wet shuddering heaves for a very-long-feeling but what probably amounted to 4ish minutes. Because I knew I’d have to sit in that lie for a long, uncomfortable time. And it sucked.

*Editor’s Note: We ran this blog draft past DB, who stated that actually, Justin Gingham asked him, to his face, ‘Does Bailey have a crush on me?’ and this absolutely platonic prince of my heart is the one who stone cold Steve Austin lied to JG’s face, saying “No, she does not.” DB and I are two sides to one coin (I’m heads and he’s CLEARLY tails, regardless of which currency we’re talking about) and so I somehow have internalized this story in my head canon to be me lying. As soon as DB told me this story though I remembered – he had called me on the phone as soon as it happened. I ran into the stairwell, panicked, my heart thumping some 5/4 trap rhythm. The most visceral memory of the story is that I cannot forget how searingly cold the stairwell landing was on the side of my face, which was hot and swollen from sobbing. Memories can be weird, pals.

Also, I don’t feel bad/weird/strange saying 1. I had a crush and 2. Lied about it because it’s 10+ years later. I’ve cycled through many a crush since then and since he’s been happily married for 7 years per some light Facebook creepage IT ALL WORKED OUT FINE FOR BOTH OF US *cackles, sips gin alone in Chicago apartment in a pandemic*

Flashback to Fall 2009 and JG the Crush (honestly, put that on a shirt) went to Clemson, SC to see a friend (Fun Fact for long-time listeners: that friend ended up being my actual replacement team leader on the Morocco trip in June 2010, an even longer story that has even less to do with Kilimanjaro) and they climbed some kind of mountain at sunrise.

Sidebar 2.0? 6.5?: I know the Appalachian Mountains exist because I watched “Last of the Mohicans” BUT I’m not going to expend the energy to google what mountain it was near Clemson because as we said, there is a pandemic, time is precious and democracy is at risk. Move on.

2009. Such a simple time when we used to upload whole albums of photos to Facebook. And if your crush is uploading an album – be honest – you’re going to look at all.the.photos. So here’s a few I went and screenshot (YES I DID GO BACK 11 YEARS AND FOUND THEM THEY ARE NECESSARY TO THIS MOMENT):

Breathe those in. Take a minute, pause here in on the internet. Scroll back up a scooch. You can taste that clean, crisp air. It makes the insides of your lungs feel like a Listerine strip. Sit and lazily watch the clouds roll past, forming puffy shapes and disintegrating into ethereal wisps. You’re in no rush. Watch the sun rise, showing off colors that are flamingo and fawn and plum. You probably hear a song faintly in the back of your mind; I hear Enya’s “May it Be” and I don’t feel bad about it.

And so, sitting in Tulsa, Oklahoma clicking deeper and deeper into a crush on my 2006 Dell Inspiron laptop, this little worm of an idea crawled its way between my ribs and took up shop in a nook of my heart: I want to stand on a mountain and look down at the clouds.

This wee dream started living rent-free in prime heart real estate, twiddling it’s thumbs, waiting for the moment. A brief look at Sagada in 2015 has the mental tornado sirens go off as I research day trips in the Philippines, but alas, it’s rainy season and no safe guide will go.

So I tuck the dream back into the garden apartment of my heart, mollifying it with ‘soons’ and ‘somedays’ as it grumbles and shakes its tiny wispy fist.

And there it hibernated for 4 more years.

And I started to dream about the clouds.

The dream began to rub the sharp lil sleep crusts out of its eyes and the siren let out a few shaky coughs. My browser search history started seeing ‘tanzania’ and ‘Kilimanjaro’ and ‘fitness level climb kili’ with regularity.

This image I fell in love with from a crush that I lied about, wept about, carried to North Africa and back and and tucked safely into the pockets of my soul started to align with something I was scared to even say out loud to another person: I was going to climb Kilimanjaro. I’m going to look down at the clouds. I can. I’m capable. It’s happening.

…to be continued…