On *Not* Letting The Cat Out Of The Bag

Hello from the West Coast! I was sitting here thinking the past few weeks “when am I gonna get time to write an update” and made myself go to my closest coffee shop because the time is now!

So…we made it to Washington state! Should I end it there?

It’s been a busy 6-7 weeks since our big travel push. So many of you asked ‘how was traveling with the cats?’ that I feel like this whole post could (might be?) about that (Editor’s note: it is).

August 29-30th was a wild, mildly traumatic ride for me and for B&Q. Wrapping up one’s entire 7 years of life in the city, cleaning everything out of an apartment without a car, without a partner/person, and leaving at 4am to go to the airport for your new life? 10/10 DO NOT RECOMMEND.

Thanks to great friends we got everything needed into the 8x8x7 POD on Saturday in pretty quick time. Bean decided that people coming over to help carry out our things was just a biiiiiit too far to tolerate and squeezed himself between the top of the fridge and the bottom of our cabinets. They’d done so well with all the moving things so far that to see him physically be so anxious was tough. He alternated between that nook and on top of the cabinets until the end (when I put him in his carrier on flight morning). Queen was delighted and asked for pets and treats non-stop from almost everyone.

Sweaty moving day face and Bean, above it all

Unlike most PODs users, I couldn’t get the unit dropped off in my driveway…because I had no driveway. We had to go to the warehouse as they can’t deliver to residential streets/apartment buildings and they didn’t go any further north than Everett on the delivery in Washington state, so warehouse to warehouse it was. Which saved me some money overall but did require more ‘legs’ of work to coordinate.

I rented a Penske truck from my local Home Depot and got there around 8am for pickup. For some reason it wasn’t until I was butt in seat that I realized how I might have to parallel park a 20ft truck by myself on a busy city street and started to panic.

I had been telling myself up to that day and the 3 that followed: We made a plan. We’ve prepared. We’re just executing the plan. So I put the truck in gear, checked the mirrors, and drove the 10 minutes back to my place, doing 2 laps before finding an ‘ok’ spot for the truck and paying the meter.

This ended up being a constant that last week in Chicago. Suddenly fear would pounce on my shoulder and whisper ‘seriously? you think you can do this *gestures* and do it alone?!’ That voice was…pretty insidious. I think she tucked away in a box and might still be hiding out in my storage unit to come out on darker days. I busied myself with something move-related, swatting the voice away, and just. kept. swimming.

Hey guess what? MOVING IS STILL THE WORST. Yeah. In case you thought that changed since we’re forgiving student loans and rolling back solid 50-year Supreme Court rulings, it hasn’t. Moving is emotionally and physically and mentally taxing as heck. If I said something wild to you over that last month I just…I might need a pass. I felt like sleep was a joke; the last 2.5 nights I slept on an inflatable camping pad with a travel blanket. My main goal was ‘hope the cats don’t pop the pad’ and my scary thoughts were about the TSA checkpoint w the cats. That was a recurring one.

Monday the 29th was spent coordinating final freebox pickups to neighbors, cleaning, taking stuff to friends/the post office to mail, and a final meal from First Slice Pie Cafe on top of a box. Forever we stan. Coffee-braised pork burrito, marry me. Toffee Coffee pie? Bear my firstborn. All the staff from every location deserve flowers and to pet baby animals.

I nervously watched the USPS tracker waiting for some calming drops from Jackson Galaxy, the Cat Daddy/cat whisperer, because I wasn’t convinced the gabapentin was going to be enough to drug the cats on flight day. I’d kicked in my address change to start that day, so I was scared the USPS dude wouldn’t actually leave it, you know? Successfully nabbing it felt almost as good as winning in the grocery checkout line wars. You know what I mean.

I had very little left in the apartment, so I just started/kept cleaning. I still had my router/modem so I kept playing episodes of Scrubs and podcasts, cleaning nonsensical stuff like the walls (where did all those marks come from?), dusting the top of cabinets (eons worth of skin cells), and trying to keep that scary voice at bay that 12 hours from now everything would change.

To be honest, writing about this day/night/day is making me emotional. I’m snug and safe in a sparsely-populated coffee shop and am anxious just recalling it. Tears feel close. Should I keep writing about this? Is there a catharsis in telling you how bad it was? Or is it self-pity to ‘complain’ about it on my blog? I’m working on a ‘my feelings are valid’ kick lately, so I’m going to keep going.

I’ll tell you what I told everyone who’s asked: I hope I never have to do this again. I don’t know what that means for my future Foreign Service career/application but it was traumatic. I feel like that’s the closest word. I’d asked a friend who’d moved last year to Seattle with a cat if they were glad they’d driven and she said in hindsight, it would be better to fly. It would be 1 bad day vs several not great days for the cats, if that makes sense. Turns out, 1 bad day is still…bad. Who knew?!

AND EVERYTHING WENT RELATIVELY WELL! Pretty much! TSA = great. I forgot the leftover gabapentin and calming drops in the fridge (after I had dosed them; it just would have been leftover/more for later), and one of my suitcases was 5lbs over, but otherwise honestly it went well/executed the plan. Which is why I think I’m confused about these feelings.


Maybe it’s just admitting how scared I was. How close I came to losing it but I couldn’t; who would have picked up the pieces? It had to get done, so I did it. But I did it so, so scared.


How I blustered and brave-faced my way through ‘am I doing the right thing’ and telling folks I’d loved for years goodbye for the last time, and sang my final silly RIFF songs, and confidently told people my plan and I’m full-on, honestly crying right now in ye olde Woods Coffee Shop and it was so hard. It was awful, y’all. There’s not many times I’ve been SO hyperaware of how single I am. Most of the time, it’s fine. I have great friends and family and a well-honed mental game of getting things done by myself. Traveling alone. Dinners out by myself. Going to theaters solo. But something about all of this, the planning and doing and carrying all the fears in a blue IKEA tote non stop and worrying around all the ‘what ifs’ was truly tapping the ceiling of my emotional capacity as just one person. The relief there would have been in sharing the emotional labor and load with another person would have been…everything. But there wasn’t. So I just handled it. But I’m starting to think sitting here that ‘just handling it’ wasn’t really ‘dealing with it,’ ya feel?

TSA was great; honestly. ORD TSA in Chicago did so great helping me with the cats. I realized laying in the dark the night before, not sleeping, on my sleeping pad that I had no way to ‘connect’ the cats to me/each other. I knew I’d have to take them out of the carrier and keep them with me as the carrier went through the xray. And what if they had a real freakout – a cartoon cloud of claws and fur and fangs – and I couldn’t get them back? Sure, they were both in harnesses and both had an air tag on them, but I’d packed their leashes in the pod. Call it resourceful or ratchet, but as I took their old scratching post out to the dumpster, I cut a length of sisal rope/twine from it about 18″ long and kept it in my pocket, to tie the D-ring on the harnesses together before removing them in the tiny TSA booth. Both TSA agents were incredibly kind to me. I had such…panic face. Anxiety was radiating off me in waves. I bet I smelled like desperation. The female agent complimented how cute the cats were as I choked out a thank you and how grateful I was as this was the part I was the most scared about and thanked them yet again.

Then Queen started to have…opinions. Bean was just doped up to heck. Full happy, dopey boy. They both got the same dose and we’d done 2 dry runs of drugs, but I don’t know if she just adrenaline’d through the meds or what. She was breathing hard, crawling all over Bean, crying. I put them back on my roller carry-on and walked back and forth, which helped a little. I felt so conspicuous. Several people kindly asked me about my cat (and they were delighted to hear there were two in there, one was just uh, loud) and talked nicely to her. I tried to put my face close to the mesh and whisper loving things to her and let her rub her snoot on my fingers but she was pushing her whole FACE against the mesh and breathing hard and crying and I didn’t know what to do. ORD has animal relief areas, but there weren’t any near me (I’d researched) indoors. And if you went out, you’d have to go through security again.

I began to worry ‘maybe her harness somehow twisted up and is choking her?’ so I carefully unzipped just enough of the side door to slide my hand in and she wanted out so bad. I mean, I would say YEARNING and LEANING that whole body toward the opening. I hated having to push her back in as I loosened and removed the harness (which wasn’t twisted). I realized that meant if she got out that she was sans harness, identifier, air tag, etc. Sure she was chipped, but she’d have to be caught. She was biting and scratching at the mesh (which wasn’t metal) and panting; I was scared she’d somehow get out during the flight.

I had no backup plan/additional carrier. I prayed fervently that we were all going to get through this. Mantras, little verbal rituals, phrases I softly whispered to myself and to them as some kind of lifeline that we were going to make it. We’d done this much. We’d made it this far. We’re almost there. We were through so many of the hard parts. Come on, Queen. Come on, me. We can. We can make it. Almost there. Just a litany of words to keep us all moving for one more minute. To not let the fear catch up.

We boarded and I was in the window seat. She continued crying. Bean…I was like, ‘is he ok? he’s so silent compared to her.’ (It’s drugs, Alyssa. Drugs.) Once we took off though…silence. I didn’t hear either of them again for the 4.5 hour flight. The fear voice tried to tell me she was Shawshanking her way out, chewing and clawing through the mesh; or she was so scared she’d fainted or asphyxiated, etc. I wanted to check but I didn’t want to wake them back up and also, honestly, there’s not a ton of wiggle room in a plane. So I dozed fitfully and counted down the hours until landing. Then we landed and taxiied. Waited to deplane (we were in the back). Started to tear up thinking how relieved I was going to be to have my mom there. To finally share the responsibility of the cats, of me, of all of this with another person.

Then, there she was. I didn’t cry; I just felt a bone-deep weariness settle over me. We’d made it. I made it. The worst bits were done. I hugged her and went into problem solving mode. Must. get. suitcases. because if I stayed I was going to weep and give up and collapse and just a little bit just a little longer to keep it together, come on, self. I went to the last baggage carousel (why is it always the last one?!) and got my 2 checked bags, leaving the cats & carry-on w her. We got in the car and still, no cat sounds. I peeked in to confirm they were both like, breathing, and buckled them in for the drive out of the city. We drove about an hour north to a Panera parking lot and stopped to feed me, and let the cats run around a bit in the car. I’d gotten a travel litterbox and pre-shipped some litter home that my Mom had brought and we opened the carrier to let the kids stretch their legs and take in new smells, sounds, snacks, etc. with all the doors closed/windows up and seats folded flat.

They both emerged, wooed by the smell of churu paste aka cat gogurt, dry food nibbles, and a little water. We left them ‘out’ as we drove the rest of the way home to my parents’ place and put them in the bathroom with the door closed for a bit. I then napped hard for almost 3 hours straight. Just pancaked on the couch outside the bathroom and zonked. We then shifted over to my sister’s place, our home base, and a new bathroom floor/closet to explore.

I honestly don’t remember anything from that night except sitting on the bathroom floor with the cats around 5pm-ish? I must have slept so, so hard. Them too, probably.

So how was moving with the cats? Hard. Really hard. Scary. Afraid something would go bad. So many ‘what ifs’ from if they soiled themselves in the carrier to if they were overweight and I didn’t have a backup plan for that. There was no safety net. And knowing that was part of the anxious responsibility that I was carrying too. There wasn’t a friend to stay with on zero notice, or a name I knew I could call to come get us, everything had to be executed on those last few days, there wasn’t wiggle room or do-over space. And if you’re a Chicago pal reading this thinking ‘oh, I would have come/let you,’ I believe you. But August me was…overwhelmed.

I’m glad it’s over. And I’m hoping I don’t ever have to do something like that alone again. I’d get married just to avoid it. Or buy a friend/family member a flight round trip to help me. Just another soul to like, watch them so I could go pee and peruse a Hudson newsstand alone (what is new with George Clooney, Entertainment Weekly?).

If you’re thinking of traveling 1 human : 2 cats let me tell you, you can do it. It’s not fun and makes for a really hard day, but it really is just 1 truly tough day. I have no kids, but maybe its a bit like childbirth. A really awful day, but then really big reward/relief. We all made it. We’re all ok. But do your research; there’s only 2 domestic airlines (Alaska & Southwest as of Aug. 2022) that will let you do 2 animals, same species/size in 1 carrier. And it’s all (carrier too) got to be under 20lbs and a specific dimension of soft/hard carrier too. Double & triple check. Train your cats to wear a harness; and prepare to clip/tie them together with something less basic than twine. Get medication from your vet that will help with anxiety and practice. Know how far in advance you need to give it and bake that time in. Having something like the Jackson Galaxy travel drops is also helpful to soothe and multi-layer your tools. Practice with the carrier and associate high-value treats/good things with it. Highly recommend Cat School training as a great build up of skills and to condition behavior.

We’ve settled in with Auntie B at her house and learning to live and thrive together. We’ve had some adventures in the last 7 weeks too; buying my first car in 10 years, lots of family dinners, helping with garage sales and catching up with folks. More to come (and less waiting, hopfully) re: everything from finding a new vet/ob/dr/dentist/hairstylist to buying said car to the Foreign Service stuff too.

Until then, here’s a snap of B&Q surveying their new kingdom on our first gorgeous morning in Washington – ūüźĪūüźĪūüíē

I Have Somehow Survived A Month With Cats

“Have you ever had to relinquish a pet?” I reread it.

The cursor pulsed at me, insistent.

I skipped over the question and filled out the rest of the application. Even though there was a red asterisk, I tried to submit without filling it out. Failed.

I went back up and took a deep breath and told them about Olive.


In mid-2012 my boyfriend adopted a puppy from the Arkansas Humane Society. A wildly sweet little lab mix puppy who became an even sweeter dog. I grew up with dogs, mostly labs. I loved dogs. And I thought, “I can do that.

But I lived in a 1-bedroom apartment and labs gotta lab (run) and I’d always loved the smushed nose and mini size of black pugs. So I scoured the internet and found a listing on Craigslist, out in the sticks. One look at this tiny beast, surrounded by the clear signs and eau de puppy mill, and there I was taking out $300 at a backwoods ATM and bringing her home. I’d rescued her (really though?) and named her Olive. An unfortunately prescient choice, because I do not like olives of any kind. My best friend? Loves ’em. Can eat straight from the can. If I have to pick them off pizza I’m miffed. I CAN STILL TASTE THEIR GHOSTS.

Olive and I struggled from the get go. I worked full time, and even with a large crate, that life was too small for her. Raising a puppy alone was not what I’d thought. While growing up I’d had the benefit of family around to share responsibility, a large yard, and always at least one other dog to entertain (and show the newbie the ropes). I had none of those things here. Labs are vacuum cleaners – if you drop it, it now belongs to them – and I was used to their garbage disposal bellies eating anything and being fine. In the first week I dropped one grape, Olive ate it, I thought nothing of it until she threw it up on my comforter that night. Small dogs had different things going on.

We became irritated at each other. She’d loudly yelp, making neighbors text me about her howling when I was gone all day. I’d take her out in the morning, she’d do her business, and then when we came in I’d jump in the shower and she would poop under my dining room. Did you know you have to express their anal glands because I did not.

All this to say, I made a childish choice. I didn’t think through the responsibilities of raising a pet in the environment I lived in. I didn’t adjust my life and schedule around her. When I went home for Christmas, friends volunteered to watch her with their equally-small dog. I’d never felt so relieved. When I came back, we did another difficult week together, and my friends sat me down for an incredibly kind talk. They’d been thinking about getting another small dog and if I ever needed them to keep Olive for short or long term, they were willing.

I felt ashamed. I couldn’t hack it. There I was, ‘grown’ at 25, having had dogs my entire life, and failing. I knew it too. I was failing Olive. I said ‘let’s try a month’ and brought all her gear over. It sucked, telling people about it. I mostly kept it quiet. A month or so later, I visited her at their place.

Was this the same dog?! Her coat was shiny, she tore around the house with their dog, she lovingly jumped all over me and I asked ‘did you switch her food or…?’ to try and explain the changes. ‘No, we’re still working through what you gave us.’

And I knew. The difference was that she was happy. She wasn’t lonely all day with another dog around now. She had multiple pairs of hands loving her. She was living a better life than the one I could give her.

10 years later, it was still the right choice. It’s sometimes still an emotional bruise, one that is occasionally pressed if someone asks ‘hey, didn’t you have a dog once?’ or when I see a black pug or when Facebook is like ‘hey, remember when you had this gorl around?’

Olive is doing well. Her owners sent me a picture of the lovely lady, sun-drenched and gray muzzled, this past Christmas. I haven’t been brave enough to ask to see her the last two times I’ve been in Little Rock. It’s a cowardly move, but one that seems best (or easiest). She’s living a happy life, and I’m so thankful for my friends, who saw two creatures suffering and offered us a better way.

I was free to move to Korea. She was free to be part of the right family for her. I’ve never doubted it was the right thing, even when it’s hurt.


So here I am, 1 month ago, adopting two cats. Kittens, really. And multiple times in the first two weeks I thought “did I even learn?!” as I googled ‘am i a bad person if i return cats.’

Fleck strolled up to me as I sat in the lounge at The Catcade, rubbing her face all over my KN95 mask and sitting on the open book in front of me, as if to say ‘let’s not pretend you came here to read a book. We are women of action. Lies do not become us.’ I laughed, knowing this cat saw through my clear ruse. Of course I was there for her.

Talking with one of the owners, Shelly, after, she mentioned that Fleck was just 4 months old and would need a hernia repair after her her spaying the week before. She’d also need a buddy to come home with since she was so young. I nodded, thinking ‘we are going from 0 cats to 2 cats and 1 of the cats has a medical thing I will have to monitor oh lord oh lord oh lord‘ and filled out the application that night (Saturday).

The adoption coordinator emailed me Monday, asking if I had a preference on Fleck’s ‘buddy.’ I didn’t, so they recommended a ‘reindeer kitten.’ I frantically googled with some weirdo results, to find out that Blitzen had been one of several kittens brought in in December, all with reindeer names (Like Comet and Prancen and Balthasar or whatevs). I’m sure reindeer kitten is a type of very cool Level 17 BJJ move though, and agreed that the 2.5 month-old Blitzen sounded good to come home too.

I had a hot/cold/hot/cold week leading up to the adoption/surgery date on Tuesday, 2/1. Which might be putting it nicely. Really: I cried, I railed about it, I was so scared, I wondered if I was having a panic attack, I messaged my friends “is this a mistake,” I placed my first Chewy order and sent out alerts on neighborhood Facebook groups for items needed to house these two rascals. I spent the weekend before picking up items and going to fancy pet stores to get grain-free food and writing follow up emails to the adoption coordinator and suddenly Tuesday was here.

I’d carefully gone inch by inch through the house prepping for their arrival, setting up litter boxes and sweeping dust, gathering toys and museum gel-ing down anything precious. I was as ready as I was going to get, and was technically taking them out on ‘medical foster’ until Fleck’s incision was healed and had a follow up with the vet.

I got off the train at Southport, walking the final 10 minutes carrying my newly-acquired free carrier from a neighbor. I cried most of the way there. Not a cute cry. I didn’t know if that was a good sign or a bad sign as I knew my life was about to change.

I thought it was maybe a bit like when I left working for Apple. I’d cried a lot, making and doing the decision, but it was the right thing for me. It was hard, but it was right. I was scared, but its worked out wildly well for me over the last 4 years.

I knocked softly on The Catcade door, and Emma let me in. “I’m nervous,” I blurted out, but she couldn’t have been nicer. She showed me syringes, and I balked, but they were just pain medicine suspended in gravy to squirt into Fleck’s mouth. I wrote everything down with shaky hands and she joyously chatted at the cats as she brought them out. She handed me both and we tried to take a ‘gotcha day’ picture but both cats acted like their bones were jello in a windstorm. We tucked them carefully into the carrier and I called a Lyft.

Gingerly I wrapped my arms around the carrier, lifting them from underneath, not trusting the plastic handle. I slide them into the backseat of a Hyundai and tucked my fingers into the metal grille to graze their soft noses and assure them. They couldn’t have been more chill. Two casual car veterans enjoying the city lights, didn’t even make a sound as they nuzzled my fingertips. I unlocked my front door and carefully set them down in the kitchen, filming their emergence into my place.

They strolled out like this was already their house and slowly explored. They sniffed and smelled and meandered as I followed them around like a realtor murmuring about the apartment having good bones. They used the litter box and ate heartily as I gave Fleck her gravy cocktail, careful not to let her jump and disturb her belly incision.

They got sleepy around 9 and I thought ‘sleep when they sleep,’ like I’d heard people should do with babies. I lifted them both up onto my bed in a soft blanket, and they easily curled up and slept. I thought ‘well that was easy’ and crashed, my emotions catching up to me. An hour later I felt the tiny shakes of paws walking and jolted awake. Trying to corral them, we resettled. And again. Again. We finally got out of bed around 6, when I couldn’t keep her still. I had given up and let him jump off the bed several times.

I fed them, grateful they were still for a bit as they wetly munched away. I glanced at the clock; 6am on a Wednesday. I don’t do 6am. You’re lucky if I roll out of bed at 8:15 to start working at 8:30. I love my late nights. I love my independence to go to bed when I want. I scrolled ze apps, made a massive jug of coffee, and watched the cats re-roam, carefully monitoring Fleck’s vertical game.

The found anything that wasn’t carefully tucked away. I thought my under-bed was well packed, but they found nooks. Crannies. Soft extra blankets I kept under the couch. I looked at everyone via webcam at work that day sleepily and said ‘its going fine,’ and ordered an extra strength cold brew around noon. The cats slept most of the day, which was good, right?

The second night was worse.

Having slept all day, they wanted to roam all night. In a weird architecture choice, my bedroom door…doesn’t exist. It’s an open doorway. Which, who cares, right? I live alone. No visitors of any kind have been here in a long time, its fine. But now…now it’s 11pm and I can’t take another sleepless night and don’t trust them in the rest of the apartment without me around.

I made ‘the mature choice’ and put them in the bathroom with a litter box, two beds and a blanket, rigorously triple checking that the toilet is shut and the shower curtain tucked up out of reach. I was choosing to give myself sleep and keep them in a small, confined (not that small, it’s not an Andersonville micro bathroom) space, and yet couldn’t sleep all night. I felt guilty, like I was robbing them of exploring or worried she’d jump off the counter, I heard Blitzen’s jingle-y little collar as he paced (she’d already got hers off 2x). I think this was the first night I googled ‘can I give cats back.’

I learned that in my mid-30s I can do one all-nighter, I can’t do two in a row.

At 6am I gave in and let them out to be fed, only to see that one of Blitzen’s eyes was swollen shut. You’d think he was winking and like our parents said ‘don’t do that your face will get stuck that way.’

My first thought: I broke the cat. I made a selfish choice and put them in the bathroom all night, and this is what I deserve.

Rationality tried to creep in and I thought ‘well maybe it’s sleep crusties and he’ll be fine in a few minutes.’ Reader, he was not. It cracked open a slit, but was clearly swollen. I paced my 500 square feet until the 7am online vet that Chewy gave me free access to came online and initiated a chat with pictures. He either had scratched his cornea or had conjunctivitis, aka pink eye. Goop was accumulating in the corner of his eye. As the day went on, it spread to the other eye too.

I cried all day Thursday. I’m serious. From 6am when they got up and cried to be fed, to I think all-but-one of my work Zoom meetings, and after work, I cried. Everyone who asked ‘how are the cats,’ I answered honestly that it sucked. They were cute and sweet but I was cracking under the pressure. I was not enough to keep two tiny creatures alive and healthy even 48 hours.

I thought I was getting 1 cat and got 2. I thought there was 1 medical issue and now there are 2. All I could think about was that I was wrong and broken and stupid and DO I NOT LEARN and that they would limit what I could do where I could go, the jobs I could get, the apartments I could live in, and more.

Was this all in the application to be serious and consider? Yes

Did I seriously read it and truly think I was ready? Yes

And yet. And yet.

On Thursday I rewalked the same route from Southport to The Catcade, crying, again, for different reasons. I wondered if I’d overrode my clear ‘no’ feelings to adopt the cats and should just give up, even though we were barely on Day 3. Emma met me to give me some eye medication and demo’d application on another cat. She asked me how F & B were, and I kept up my routine of bawling. “It is hard” she said, kindly. I felt my soul (and butt) unclench 2 degrees.

Messages from friends and acquaintances, people I went to high school with, my grandma, my parents, my co-workers and more were pouring in.

“A dog trainer told me my dog was a terror and untrainable and I shouldn’t have it around my kid 16 years ago. I was a single parent. I cried the first 3 months.”

“Puppies and kittens are the worst. Especially when you’re single.”

“I sometimes think I should have fostered first and would have known what it was like. I love my pet but I think I had no idea and may not have been in the best place to do it.”

“Don’t give up”

“It gets better”

“Don’t give up yet”


I’ll be honest. I googled ‘give back adopted pet’ ‘how soon is too soon to return cats’ ‘will animals be negatively affected if I return to shelter’ more than once. Or twice. More than twice.

I filled my 6am mornings with Youtube videos of The Cat Daddy, Jackson Galaxy, based on a friend’s recommendation who works in a vet office.

I overnight ordered his book, Cat Mojo, and devoured it.

I ordered more items on Chewy. We got into a semi-routine. The cats were cool from 11pm-6am in the bathroom.

Life still was hard. And sucked. I had improv shows and felt guilty leaving them in the bathroom. I felt like going to the gym or grocery store was stolen time. I reveled in it and felt horrified that I loved getting out of the house and chose to wear an N95 mask to surf the bread aisles vs hang with them. I didn’t cook because I was scared of them jumping on the counter and lighting their paws on fire or touching hot pans with my back turned.

And yet. Inch by inch. Every day. We’ve gotten a little better. Sweetly curling up on my lap. Lazily stretching or wide-jaw yawning. That moist monch monch as they devour wet food. The truly rank smell of cat turds. Spending my annual merit increase on a fancy litter box. The pure relief at the vet check-up with Fleck and her hernia being totally healed. An apartment maintenance visit where they willingly went in their crate.

We are better. We made it to 1 month. 32 days and 31 nights. I haven’t slept a continuous 8 hours since February 1. I changed the layout of my entire apartment to accommodate their huge (free) cat tree. They have only knocked over my monstera once so far.

I do love them, I think. I made myself start saying it at the end of that first week, when I didn’t feel like I loved them. I knew they were just bein’ babies, but I was so lost and frustrated and tired and they were everywhere.

Nuzzling their soft bellies or pressing kisses into the downy bit under their necks, crowing back at them and watching their Cirque du Soleil routines attacking a feather wand, it’s all softening me. It’s the glorious part. The part that offsets the hard things. The hard things aren’t less but they’re more expected and I feel semi-capable of keeping them alive. Me too, I guess.

I’m grateful for every single message and heart’d reaction, for the friend that came over and talked to me like a human person that first week and the video calls, the texts and articles and links sent. For the Cat Mojo book and Cat Daddy videos – which truly – turned the tide.

There’s still a type of panic that can rise up, sour in my throat, when I think about the future, and apartments or jobs or going back to the office this month 2-3 days a week, but I’m trying to take it more of a day, an hour, at a time. We are figuring each other out. This was a hard fought month, and I’m celebrating the progress.

Here’s our family photo Tuesday, at 1 month with me (L>R, figure it out), Fleck (6 mo) and Blitzen (4 mo).

And here’s a few more from the past month:

A Big Year in Review

This year has been absolutely bonkers for so many of us. I started the year thinking I’d been in Africa summiting Kili before Spring…and definitely got some surprises along the way. Some beautiful chapters came to their conclusion and new ones (some expected, some not) cropped up too ‚ú®

January

  • January 12th I got the call! KILI FEBRUARY IS A GO! Bought flight tickets!
  • THE NEXT MORNING get a call that it’s cancelled. As is their March trip, due to new US travel rules kicking in on 1/25 requiring a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival back into the US. With the long trip/transfer time in Amsterdam and very few resources in Tanzania…”there’s a chance you could get stuck mid-way and we don’t want that.” Honestly tho leave me stuck there, please?
  • The next date I could possibly go is June, but most likely (since I already have Baker in July), in September. I feel…lethargic. And don’t know why I should bother training, etc. It’s a perfect storm of cold and disappointment and loneliness post-holidays.
  • I drink some bourbon and eat a bunch of tacos and wallow. I try to rally and bootstrap, etc. to middling results. I write about it.

February

  • February is really hard. It’s cold, the weather is trash, I feel no drive to ‘try’ and my original departure date is coming. I have to remove all my OOO calendar dates from my work cal, disappointed.
  • I’m proud though, that I proactively realized the day would be hard and I take it off. I get my nails done, haircut and treat myself to my favorite bakery and a wander through my favorite used bookstore.
  • The day I ‘should’ be summitting is even harder and I didn’t realize how it would carve me up emotionally. My next possible summit date is 7 months away, which in COVID times feels like the same thing might happen again. How can I be hopeful when a new strain or issue might pop up then too?

March

  • Bought myself a ‘push present’ or just a rally gift of a necklace that says ‘Ad Astra Per Aspera’ aka ‘through hardships to the stars’ and it feels right.
  • Tried on my ‘big’ 65L backpack that I’ve had for like 4 years that still has the tag on! This 65L Osprey pack I got on a screaming deal at REI several years ago is gonna be my Baker bag.
  • VACCINATED! I qualified by being obese according to the BMI (the BMI is a trash measurement, check out this amazing podcast ep by Maintenance Phase) so I spent Friday refreshing the Cook County website until a spot popped up 1 hour away in Tinley Park. I snagged it then scrambled to apple and aquire a Zipcar membership – I do! I get a J&J shot and cry I’m so happy. It feels like finally we’re turning a corner on my loneliness/end of this thing.

April

May

  • Former neighbors Jason & Regan get married! First wedding I’ve been to since 2018! I mistimed/forgot that I’d lose an hour jumping ahead to ET (it was in Michigan) and changed into my jumpsuit in the 2-door rental car and put on makeup, all in 12min, walking in 2 mins before ceremony started.
  • Applied for Discovery Channel’s tv show ‘Who Wants to be an Astronaut?’ and well, they called! I know! I kept it on the DL for so long! I had a Zoom call/recorded conversation with producers twice; one the end of May and one the beginning of June. No calls since so my dreams of hugging Mike Massimino are squashed (for now). Seriously though if they call back? I WILL LEAVE YOU ALL AND GO TO SPACE or at least go to Houston and hang with Bekah and the dogs for a few weeks.
  • I go to Little Rock for Memorial Day weekend (I’m only one year late) and see my loves, eat my faves, stub my toe and I’m 94% sure I broke it.
  • Check out the altitude room at Well Fit for the first time – since Chicago is hella flat/sea level – Brian and I go to check out this tool to practice acclimatizing for Baker (and Kili).

June

  • Make my first ever mint julep! And from mint I grew!
  • Lots and lots of altitude gym; truly a weird flex to wheeze and start panting during the WARMUP
  • Long long walks; 5+ hours, we’ll taper in July to Baker
  • Tornado alert – the sirens go off so much in one day that I actually pack a bag and set shoes by my door to go to the basement
  • Start taking Photo I at Chicago Photo Classes

July

  • Go into the office for the first time in 14 months and see several of my faves – we’re hopeful and happy and yet – I don’t go back until post-Kili. I don’t want to risk getting sick pre-Baker nor in my 6 weeks to Kili window.
  • Made my first charcuterie board using a gorgeous board my dad made me from a maple on my parents’ property
  • I go home to climb my first mountain! With my sister Brianna, I summitted Mt. Baker (10,781ft/3286m), our ‘hometown mountain.’
  • Cast on Laugh out Loud’s comedy improv ensemble! I can still do make believe!

August

  • Longest walks of my life. I am running out of podcasts/music to listen to for 5+ hours on Sundays. My PR: 6H22M, aka 18.9 miles on 8/22
  • On 8/10 they call: THE TRIP IS A GO. It almost wasn’t though; they let me know one other guy signed up for September just a few days ago. So it’ll be the pair of us.
  • Hit some truly creepy O2/pulse ox numbers in the altitude room on the 14,000ft Saturdays; broke 55% one day.
  • Last piece of Kili gear acquired with the addition of a Kula cloth! Check out my full gear list (including what I actually used/was worth it)!

September

  • September 1-9 feels like a fever dream. PCR tests and check ins and packing over Labor Day weekend and delivering on some truly wild work things before my Friday, 9/10 flight.
  • KILIMANJARO BAYBEE! Summitted at dawn on Monday, 9/20/21
  • Safari, Serengeti, Ngorogoro, I left some chunks of my heart and soul in Tanzania
  • ^^ still writing about it!

October

  • Life feels weird – things are still happening but THINGS have happened to me (Kili) and I’m not over it. I feel a need to come up with a new driving focus; a reason to workout or be healthy or just give my life structure. I don’t know what to do with myself but answer everyone with ‘it was great.’
  • Go on my first adult ‘Girls Trip’ with a bunch of phenomenal female improvisers to a lake house in Michigan; visiting a distillery and laughing until we cried.
  • Take myself out on a date to see Dune at the Davis and dress up
  • Start my first ever modern dance class – at Old Town School of Music
  • Dress up like Lydia Deetz and crushed it out in the ‘burbs at Jason & Regan’s house

November

  • Met up with Marissa and Bhavini; we met through Well Fit (the altitude gym) but never met in person until now! Marissa went the month before me and Bhavini 2 weeks after me!
  • My coworker Matt goes and climbs Kili on the Marangu route (5 days) vs my 8 day Lemosho route. I feel homesick for a place I only was in for 2.5 weeks.
  • Got a homemade Thanksgiving dinner from a neighbor
  • BOOSTER BAYBEE! Get yer boosters when you’re eligible!

December

  • First ever trip to Florida for Robbie & Barry’s wedding! Kayaking and gowns and beaches and Japanese gardens and weird wonderful vintage stores.
  • My first Laugh Out Loud show! And first live improv show in over 630 days.
  • Home with the fam for 2 weeks, soaking in the love, having my birthday and a Christmas and a ton of snow.

It was a full year. Big dips, big wins, stood on top of multiple mountains, celebrated hard, long-fought joys and saw family 3x in one year. Crushed some huge work projects. Achieved a big dream for a big girl and I’m pretty damn proud. Onward and upward, pals.

The Great (Baboon) Train Robbery – Arusha National Park

Y’ALL I AM MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH THIS BABOON. There is nothing separating us. We are breathing the same air.

The baboon is in the car. “Whoa, whoa Bails, don’t you mean a different preposition? On, around, before, beneath-” NOPE, I do not, folks. THE BABOON IS *IN* THE CAR.

After the 3am arrival dinner (pre-breakfast?) I slept hard in my Itikoni Camp tent, halfway up the slopes of Mt. Meru, in the heart of Arusha National Park. I wake up around 8:30 and tug my earplugs out to the rumbling ‘whirrr’ of colobus monkeys and birdsong. Sleepily washing my face using the still very hot thermos of water from last night and fumbling, figured out the chemical toilet situation. I stepped outside to a whole new world.

After my first (two) mugs of strong Tanzanian coffee and a truly massive breakfast, Ben met us in the ‘lounge’ tent for a trip briefing, which included some of the deep history of Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, and cultural norms to be aware of.

  • Did ya know (bc I did not): Tanzania is the compound name of two countries – Tanganyika + Zanzibar = Tanzania – which merged in 1964
  • There are over 55 million people who live in the country and over 125 tribes
  • Most people are trilingual – speaking their tribal language, Kiswahili and an additional language like English, French, etc. and many speak additional languages – quadlingual? When does ‘multilingual’ kick in? Pentalingual? I feel like there is a ORU joke there but I’m just gonna leave it alone!
  • Swahili or Kiswahili Swahili is a ‘lingua franca’ aka a language that bridges the 125+ tribes in Tanzania (and the many outside of TZ) and spoken by over 100 million people in Tanzania, Kenya and surrounding nations. When speaking Swahili, the language is called Kiswahili – but when talked about in English it’s usually called Swahili.
  • The Kilimanjaro routes (there are several) are named for the village(s) located at the bottom of each trail – I took the Lemosho route but other popular ones are Machame, Marangu and Rongai (which starts in Kenya)
  • Ben’s been guiding on Kilimanjaro for 25 years this year – he’s seen it all – and always with Mountain Madness
  • The Chaga (sometimes written Chagga) tribe are the ones around Kilimanjaro; Ben is from the Chaga tribe and his extended family still lives in the Kilimanjaro area.
  • Arusha is both the name of the city and the region (and the national park we’re in) – think of it like a city and county/state name – and when people say “I’m from Arusha” it could mean either!

We plan to go on a short afternoon hike after a light(er) lunch (seriously – this whole trip – there is SO MUCH FOOD and it IS ALL DELICIOUS). Our park ranger, Tony, leads the way; casually wearing a bolt-action rifle on his shoulder.

It feels so good to stretch my legs a bit – my body has been training training training for so long that 2 days in transit has felt almost oppressively still – and the guides are subtly watching how we walk and breathe to gauge the level of support we’ll need on Kili. We stop often to note animals, plants and tracks; Ben, Geoffrey and Tony have eyes like hawks and can spot critters on a dime.

We return to camp, spotting our first giraffe through some trees, eat dinner and do a gear check – I have everything I need and it’s now got Ben’s official stamp of approval – I continue to make some cuts, asking myself “Is this need to have or nice to have?” and make a plan for tomorrow’s game drive. Since J and I both came a day early (remember how KLM was like ‘come on time and pay $2000 more or come a day early and…save $2000′ and so…I have chosen the better path? Yup. We’re going to continue exploring Arusha National Park and Momella Lakes (there’s 7!) with our bonus day.

Monday morning blooms bright and after a hearty breakfast – Robert makes omelettes an art – we tuck into the Land Cruiser and head out for a walking safari with Tony, Ben and Geoffrey. We stop in a massive open savannah and my eyes hungrily drink in this view.

It’s wild and magical and unbelievable how we just…walk…through this area. There’s so. many. animals that it’s like going to a zoo but there’s no walls. In just this one open area we see baboons, buffalos, giraffes, warthogs, bushbacks, ducks, and more just harmoniously living. It feels like we’re getting away with something secret and wonderful; we’re mostly hushed except for a soft word from a guide (or Tony) to keep (or stop) walking in certain spots. The water draws all the animals to this spot and they find an unspoken rhythm taking turns at the stream.

We drop off Tony at the ranger station (don’t worry, he’ll be back!) and head with Ben & Geoffrey to explore the Momella Lakes and eat some lunch. We drive up on these pals – aren’t they cute? THERES A BAYBEEEEEEE!

BUT y’all, that baby is Matt Damon and the adults are Brad Pitt & George Clooney because this isn’t ‘cute game drive’ this is now Oceans 11: Tanzania. After stopping in the Land Cruiser to photograph this troop (yes, a group of baboons is a troop) through the open roof (it pushes/pops up so we can stand and photograph from inside the car), we start to pull away and I have my head out the side of the car window snagging final shots. I look over my shoulder and spot a baboon running up beside the car, thinking ‘oh cute, it’s like a Dalmatian chasing a moving car or whatever.’

Me:”Geoffrey, there’s a baboon running next to us on our side.”

Geoffrey: “Oh, where?”

Me: *looks back over my shoulder* “Oh I don’t see – oh I think it just jumped on the back tire”

For context – this is our Land Cruiser – 2 spare tires on the back. The driver’s side is the RIGHT – as is the side of the road driven on. My de facto ‘spot’ this whole trip is the right (driver’s) side and J and I unspoken stick with those sides for the next 15 days.

Me: *looks up* “Oh my gosh, it’s on the [open] roof”

Like Y’ALL I AM MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH THIS BABOON. There is nothing separating us. We are breathing the same air.

And then the baboon is IN the car. He’s jumped inside.

SERIOUSLY in less than 10 seconds it’s:

  1. Baboon running beside us
  2. Baboon on tire
  3. Baboon on roof
  4. Baboon in CAR IN THE CAR IN THE CAR IN THE CARRRRRR

And I just need to say – have you ever seen someone’s face when they’re panicking a bit but trying not to look panicked so you don’t panic? When I say Geoffrey and Ben’s faces looking back at that baboon…that is the face they both made. The ‘don’t scare the clients’ face, throwing the car into park, both shouting in Swahili and Ben threw a water bottle at this baboon and all I can think is THERE IS NO WAY FOR THIS DUDE TO GET OUT EXCEPT GOING BACK OUT THE WAY HE CAME IN HE’S GOING TO NEED/WANT AN EXIT OH MY GOSH I AM GOING TO GET BIT AND GET RABIES BEFORE I EVEN CLIMB KILI

and pretty much treated this baboon like a weird person hollering on the train in Chicago – I turned my face/body into the corner of the door, hunching over my valuables (read: camera) and waited for the rant to be over. Rule 1: don’t make eye contact. I’m serious fam, I’m a Krav Maga certified instructor but like…the most important lesson is to know when you shouldn’t engage in a fight. And I was not here to get bit on DAY TWO! This was a jacked male baboon who had been doing Gym, Tan, Laundry and STEROIDS and I avoided this juiced up guido, who not only came in our car but ran up and CHECKED THE SEAT POCKETS. Seriously, he was right next to me and checked the pocked of the seat in front of me.

Between the baboon screeching and Ben/Geoffrey hollering in Swahili and me just hiding out in the door’s buttcrack, the baboon grabbed our lunchbox (think those big pink cardboard cake boxes) and jumped out of the car the same way he came in – through the open roof. Jokes on him though, that box is hinged, so our wax paper-wrapped lunch items fell out and dude left with an EMPTY cardboard box. Ben and Geoffrey jumped out, throwing stones and yelling as a ranger car spins up in a cloud of dust and two rangers jump out, berating the guides for getting out of their car in this area (a big, well-signed faux pas).

I turn to J, wide eyed, and say ‘did that really just happen?’

Ben and Geoffrey get back in, laughing with the rangers, who return the empty box that Danny Ocean had angrily discarded, explaining we were the third car hit that day. This was getting to be a common spot for this troop to prey on safari vehicles; and they’re so smart that they knew to jump in the open roof, check the pockets and where lunch is usually kept. In 25 years, Ben had never seen anything like it.

So…I learned the word for baboon is ‘nyani’ and we used it. A lot. I didn’t trust an open roof near a troop of baboons the rest of my time in Tanzania. Not afraid, just…wary. Y’all know they got a whisper network going on to talk about gullible tourists and I was not here to get got twice in one trip!

Something was in the baboon water today, I swear – Robert, our chef – had another baboon encounter with one coming in the open door to the camp kitchen. He had to shake a machete at it! Mercury rising or whatever; nyanis were making bold moves! We came back to camp to an absolute feast; Robert outdid himself with our ‘night before starting to climb Kili’ meal. Pork chops, purple yams, chicken, lamb kabobs, grilled veggies and a breathtaking lemon passion fruit cheesecake that I wanted to roll around in. Critical vocab was quickly learned and deployed – ‘tamu sana’ – very delicious.

They had to roll me outta that meal tent; Tony walked J and I to our tents, which he’d done each night. Honestly, I’d thought it was a bit overdone, something they probably do for tipsy clients or those too old/young that might get lost, etc. A bit of theater to keep clients feeling ‘safe.’

Well, serve me up a plate of crow, people.

,Following Tony we waddled quietly in a ‘I’m very full and sleepy’ pace to our tents, under a wide, almost full moon. I breathed deep that fresh, mountain air, thought ‘whew, smells like manure,’ and suddenly he just. stopped. and put a hand up.

We stopped too. After our safari walk earlier today, we knew – when Tony stops – you stop. But I didn’t see anything. Not taking a step, I raised up on tiptoe and craned my neck to look around the corner, where all of Tony’s focus was. He slowly shifted the rifle off his shoulder and held it, ready, in his arms.

You know it’s serious when the rifle comes off the park ranger’s shoulder. Their job is to protect you and the animals, in that order. They’ll always try a warning shot to scare an animal, but if needed, they’ll put it down to protect you. My eyes snagged on the swooping curve of a massive, male cape buffalo’s horns in shadow, just outside the floodlight’s reach. I knew now why I’d smelled manure. We’d been told about big, solitary ‘bachelor’ buffalos earlier today; they’re big and mean. And we were less than 20 feet away from one, with a bolt action rifle and some paltry bushes between us.

We waited, silent for probably 2 full minutes, in a standoff. Turning his head but not looking away from the buffalo, Tony spoke so quietly that we had to half-lip read: “Walk backwards. Very slow.” We took two steps and the buffalo bolted, thankfully away from us. We laughed, breathing shakily to expel the adrenaline. Unlike previous nights, Tony walked us all the way to the door of the tents and waited until the double zip was completely sealed.

“Usi Kumwema” he called.

“Lala salaama” I hollered back.

‚õįÔłŹ‚ú® We start up Kilimanjaro in the morning ‚õįÔłŹ‚ú®


Bailey’s Kiswahili Vocab for the Day(s): A Series Written Phonetically

(AKA how I thought it should be spelled, likely v wrong)

  • Jambo: Hello/Hi
  • Asante: Thank You
  • +Sana: Very/a lot
  • Mambo: What’s up
  • Habari: How are you
  • + Asabuhi: This morning
  • + Mchana: This afternoon
  • + Ageoni: This evening
  • Nzuri: Good
  • Sawa: OK
  • Poa: Cool
  • Lala Salaama: Sleep Well
  • Usi Kumwema: Good Night

Finally.

I stared at the ‘Out of Office’ banner splashed across the top of my work Gmail and gave a half-hearted cackle and fist pump – and then couldn’t stop – I stood up and suddenly it was way too hot. I whipped my shirt off and just stood in the middle of my living room having a Disney villain moment clad in a sports bra.

“It’s happening,” I muttered to myself in increasingly loud increments. I ran to the bathroom to look at my face and said it in the mirror like a mantra. “It’s HAPPENING. It’s hApPeNiNg.” I put on some music and couldn’t stop dancing maniacally. If you think this is a fever dream/memory – here’s proof:

Yeah, it’s a video, and yeah, I’m taking that one to the grave.

Everything to be done was done.

  • The packing – ‚úÖ
  • The PCR COVID test – ‚úÖ – and results were in: NEGATIVE
  • The OOO Gmail, Slack, etc. for work – ‚úÖ
  • Someone to water the plants & grab mail – ‚úÖ
  • The fridge food – eaten – ‚úÖ (and the next day’s breakfast & lunch set up ‚úÖ)
  • Downloads of podcasts, support videos (friends, parents, my trainer Brian), audiobooks, book books, etc. – ‚úÖ
  • House cleaned top to bottom – ‚úÖ
  • Travel outfit set out – ‚úÖ
  • Folder of critical travel documents, copy of passport, trip insurance, TZ address for on-the-ground Visa, etc. – ‚úÖ

All there was left to do was execute on the plan.

Day 0 – Friday, September 10

I remember thinking, ‘wow, what if I don’t sleep tonight? I’ll be so excited the adrenaline will probably keep me up.’ And promptly knocked out around 11. I set a 9am safety net alarm, but woke up around 7:30am – my flight not being until 4pm. I made a french press of coffee and sat quietly on the couch, drinking it slowly and looking at my bags. I had a checklist on the door of final things to confirm while going out (take out trash, triple check you locked the door), and a smaller one on the kitchen table for different final things like a gov’t form I had to complete w/in 24 hours of arrival in TZ and writing Katie a note about my plant children’s care, writing my rent check, etc.

I’d fortified myself – a weird word, but true – with emotional boosts, should I need them. My fresh journal has a ton of recently-installed stickers, phrases and quotes making me think of places or people or feelings that would help lift my moods on tough days/nights.

  • Mt. Baker, celebrating my first summit
  • A Bryce Canyon groundhog that makes me think of my sisters ‘ALAN! ALAN!’ joke in AZ & Zion
  • The fear litany poem from Dune
  • A beautifully terrifying Gritty masterpiece from Dana & Adam
  • A fortune cookie stating “Depend on your feet, you can climb the highest mountain’ I got about 5 years ago
  • 2 excerpts from Psalms (121 & 139)
  • Some manual camera settings for night photography (that I did not use)
  • 3 Instax polaroids of my friends/family
  • Korean sticker saying ŽĆÄŽįē – ‘awesome’
  • “The finish line is for the ego, the journey is for the soul” quote that’s followed me across this 2-year saga
  • A card tucked inside with a quote from St. Therese of Liseaux (also attributed to St. Therese of Avila and Minnie Louise Haskins 1908 book of poems, but still hits me): “Today may there be peace within, may you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”

I felt as prepared as prepared could be. The week before the trip everyone kept asking ‘do you feel ready?’ And I did. Body, mind and spirit – I was ready to go – there were no more muscles to build or last-minute-shove-this-in-the-bag epiphanies or frantic items to buy.

A friend came by and picked me up around 1:15pm to head to the airport and I finally breathed out – we were on the path – plan in motion. We missed our airport turnoff and laughed, looping around and finding a modified route back to Terminal 5, O’Hare’s international wing.

4 bags surrounded me: North Face 71L Base Camp mountain duffel, medium-size suitcase, 35L hiking pack on my back, and my Mountainsmith Tour bag on my shoulder with things I’d actually need during transit (travel folder, passport, all camera gear, phone, electronics, book, sunglasses, possible three hand sanitizers?). As I navigated the airport, I thought, ‘I don’t think I’ve had to do a full 4-bags airport dance since I moved back from Korea 6 years ago.’

In line for KLM, I found myself – shockingly – unaware of a form I needed. I felt my spine lock up until the rep said ‘just scan this QR code and you can fill it out online.’ Rapidly filling out a declaration form for the Netherlands (my stopover in Amsterdam for 4 hours needed it, I guess (tl;dr they never looked at it once)), I got to the front of the line and pulled out my travel folder. I glanced to my left, where another man stood with a duffel and a pack, answering the agent’s query ‘Headed to Tanzania.’ I was surprised to see another person in Chicago leaving on the same flight, also headed to the same place; I’d felt like I was on some grand unique hero’s journey and here this random dude was on a parallel track to my story!

Standing in the security line, I was a little bored, so I pulled out my phone and checked work – I KNOW – and someone I’d never met had messaged me, asking about putting a meeting on the calendar next week. I chuckled and typed, ‘I’m literally standing in the international departures TSA line at ORD headed to Africa; unless you want to wait 2.5 weeks, you’ll probably want to find someone else.’ Apparently the OOO notification wasn’t that noticeable…

Once in the terminal, I finally used my fancy credit card perk (getting a travel credit card in Oct 2019 was a stellar move, jk) and hung out in a lounge until boarding. I was reading Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds, and craving those last minute Kili-cramming moments. Do you know they give you free Diet Coke in there?! They doooooooooo.

Boarding call. Everyone was casually sitting and I was practically vibrating. I just wanted to shout ‘I AM GOING TO AFRICAAAA I AM DOING IT IT’S FINALLY HAPPPPPPENING’ but I was not here to get dragged into the Jack Bauer bowels of O’Hare 5ft from the finish line, y’all. We boarded, and I wound my way to my seat in the back of the plane. It was pretty empty – just how we like it! I tucked away my hiking daypack above and snugged my Mountainsmith under the seat in front of me, buckled my seatbelt and sat back, sighing in relief.

A feeling was overwhelming me. A peace that I’d done everything that could be done. Everything happened exactly as I’d planned, thought, worried and laid out for almost 2 years. Wheels in motion and there was truly no turning back now. I was so happy. Happy happy happy and incredulous. I couldn’t believe it was happening. Genuinely I had half-thought it could still be canceled, up until now. That I’d have to use that travel insurance at the last minute. Tears rolled down my face. I took a picture – it was not a good look – but I didn’t care. I realized there was one more thing I wanted to say before leaving US soil.

I’d never truly considered how dangerous this was. Things happen, you know? People still die on Kili; on average about 10 people per year (stats pre-2020 bc COVID) out of ~30,000 who attempt the climb. It was still a dang mountain, and a big one. Literally one of the Seven Summits. Sure, it wasn’t a technical climb like Baker. No abominable snowpits to be swallowed by or glacier ridge spines to tip over on. But it was a formidable mountain; altitude sickness can make your brain swell, or pulmonary edema can make your lungs explode (apologies for the science inaccuracy but I think that’s close) or you can just trip and hit your head on the wrong rock.

I don’t have a will (Will?). I think I’d googled it like 2-3 weeks before leaving, but you know, it was an insanely busy season with work and we were still doing all the final prep/workouts/I was big-time preoccupied. Seated in 43I, I wanted to have one more word to y’all on my trip and also, I don’t know, kinda ‘eulogize’ if something happened. If I didn’t make it over the ocean, or I didn’t make it up this mountain or if a zombified giraffe went to town on my spleen and I didn’t make it back…I wanted my people to know I was still glad I went.

This sounds hella morbid (and I am writing it on Halloweeeeeeen *ghost voice*) but I didn’t feel freaked out or strange doing it. If something happened I wanted y’all to know I was still going to be happy I did it. That I did a big, wild, I-am-not-sure-if-I-can-but-I’m-gonna-try kind of adventure. That I leaped when my landing spot was still cloudy, not fully clear. Big swing and not sure if it would be a home run or a whiff. I wasn’t going to regret this decision, no matter what. I typed and retyped several times, tears running down my face, thinking about what would bring peace (if needed) and be authentically my voice.

“I‚Äôm going to go do this thing – chasing something fun and unsure and wonderful – I‚Äôm in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. 

Hakuna Matata, bbs ūüŹĒūüźė‚ú®

The pilot came over the intercom in Dutch, then in English, and the flight attendants began striding up the aisles, checking for compliance. I looked left down the completely empty row 43 and put my head on the headrest, willing myself to stop crying because the snot inside my mask wasn’t helpful for ya know, breathing.

We pushed back from the gate. I sucked in one, happy sob and looked out at the tarmac and smiled so big that my cheeks lifted my glasses up.

Finally.

Tinker Tailor Writer Editor Catch Upper

I can feel that I’m putting off writing about the trip. Just a little bit. I will write about it. You know those first moments of a relationship – when you’re not telling people – and it’s private and special and just the two of you? That’s a little how it feels. That and I’ve only been back 10ish days, but it feels like forever and 5 minutes ago, teeth jostling loose on Ngorogoro Crater dirt roads in the Land Cruiser and waking up in my frost-coated orange tent halfway up the mountain.

I’m working on it – telling you about this jaw-dropping adventure – the highs, lows, critters, and the unforgettable men who kept me safe, made me laugh to the point of tears and saw through my brave front. I’ve edited down from ~3300 photos (2700 DSLR, 600 iPhone XR) to ~650 that represent the experiences and feelings, the smells and sounds, the dusty, wonderful moments in Tanzania.

Serengeti vistas

Life is also reminding me of all the things I set to the side while training (and doing) this journey.

  • Work – Still in a record-breaking hiring season for the vertical I support, and getting back up to speed on projects we’d already set in motion.
  • Comedy – I was cast into the ensemble of Laugh out Loud Theater in Schaumburg in late July, and I’m ramping up in new cast member rehearsals and attending shows to acclimate to their process. RIFF, the music improv show I’ve been a part of, is also getting a run at the Annoyance Theater this fall/winter!
  • Personal – Between the ‘Panini,’ busy summers and me training/working out every day but Mondays, I haven’t seen many people in the last year and a half. Those 6-hour Sunday walks didn’t leave much time! So I’ve been doing a looooooot of catching up! I went out FIVE TIMES this week – pre-panorama me scoffs – but it’s a big step up from pre-trip me. I may have overdone it a little but it’s a such a good thing to be reconnecting with so many folks. Have I done trip laundry no I have not buzz off to the next bullet, y’all *pushes down laundry hamper, sits on it*
  • Fitness – Um, noooooope. And it feels weird. This was such a massive chunk of each day/week. I don’t know what my next fitness step is. Do I rejoin my gym regularly? Do I just see Brian weekly? Do I go back to at-home workouts? What’s the new goal; I’m not great at consistency in this realm without a little fear-of-something in me like my Krav instructor cert date or climbing Kili.
  • Things I’ve been wanting to do: Take Photo II at Chicago Photography Classes, a dance class at Old Town School of Music in my neighborhood, some domestic travel to see friends, some LinkedIn Learnings on new topics, attend weddings, etc.!

Thank you thank you thank you to all of you have reached out by text, Instagram (or blog) comment/DM, Facebook post, via-a-family-member or friend – I am very excited to start knitting this story/pictures together and I’ll have the first post by the end of this month or I will not touch a Diet Coke for all of November.

THOSE ARE HIGH STAKES. Here’s an absolutely unbridled, child-like joy selfie as a reward from Day 1 in the Ngorogoro Crater! Look at her face! I remember thinking ‘there’s so many of them’ in total wonder. And then we saw hundreds more over the next 4 days; zebra babies and zebra bellies and zebra(s) crossing the road at. their. own. pace.

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 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 6,500 ft / 1981 m

Trans¬≠fer to a pri¬≠vate camp in Arusha Nation¬≠al Park. Here, at about 6,500 feet / 1981 meters, we’ll begin to accli¬≠mate; Chicago is about 597 feet above sea level. With only our climb¬≠ing team (guides, porters, fellow climbers) here, we’ll ease into our adven¬≠ture, enjoy some game view¬≠ing, try to relax from trav¬≠eling, and pre¬≠pare for the climb.

Today our guide(s) will host a trip brief¬≠ing and review our equip¬≠ment. There may be time for a walk or game dri¬≠ve, which will be tak¬≠en out into the grass¬≠lands for views of African game and Mount Kil¬≠i¬≠man¬≠jaro, as giraffe, buf¬≠fa¬≠lo and ante¬≠lope usu¬≠al¬≠ly seen in the area.

Day 4 – Tuesday, 9/14 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 9,000 ft / 2743 m 

MON¬≠TANE FOR¬≠EST‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČLOMOSHO APPROACH – Hik¬≠ing Time: 3‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ6 hours (3.2 miles / 5.2 km)

After a short dri¬≠ve through the grass¬≠lands and scat¬≠tered Maa¬≠sai vil¬≠lages we’ll arrive at the for¬≠est edge of Kilimanjaro Nation¬≠al Park. From here we’ll walk a few hours through the undis¬≠turbed lush jun¬≠gle to our camp for the night. Our Tan¬≠zan¬≠ian guides will share their knowl¬≠edge of the local ecol¬≠o¬≠gy as we walk through the fan¬≠tas¬≠tic plants and trees, hear birds, and see oth¬≠er exot¬≠ic wildlife. Y’all know I’mma be asking tons of questions here. With luck we’ll be able to see Colobus mon¬≠keys and signs of ele¬≠phants on the walk to camp. If I see an elephant I will attempt to hold in an excited squeal. ATTEMPT. Upon arriv¬≠ing at camp, we’ll find our tents set up as well as hot tea and snacks wait¬≠ing for us in the din¬≠ing tent.

Day 5 – Wednesday, 9/15 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 11,400 ft / 3474 m

SHI¬≠RA PLATEAU‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČWEST SIDE – Hik¬≠ing Time: 6‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ8 hours (4.8 miles / 7.7 km)

Our Tan¬≠zan¬≠ian guides will greet us at our tents with tea and hot water to wash with before enjoy¬≠ing break¬≠fast as I try to rouse my carcass and tame my inevitable hair tangles. We’ll take our time walk¬≠ing through the for¬≠est, which enables us to accli¬≠ma¬≠tize com¬≠fort¬≠ably and spot the plen¬≠ti¬≠ful game and bird life while enjoy¬≠ing the views down canyon through breaks in the jun¬≠gle. Today‚Äôs hike will take us through the Mon¬≠tane For¬≠est and the Hage¬≠nia Zone. We will point out the unique envi¬≠ron¬≠men¬≠tal dif¬≠fer¬≠ences that char¬≠ac¬≠ter¬≠ize these sep¬≠a¬≠rate equa¬≠to¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al 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 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 13,500 ft / 4115 m

MOIR CAMP – Hik¬≠ing Time: 3‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ6 hours (4 miles / 6.4 km)

It will take us rough¬≠ly three hours to hike across the Shi¬≠ra Plateau and then one hour up the west¬≠ern slope of the Kibo Mas¬≠sif. Our Camp will be in the upper Heath Zone. We pass the Fis¬≠ch¬≠er Camp, which has a plaque ded¬≠i¬≠cat¬≠ed to Scott Fis¬≠ch¬≠er, friend and founder of Moun¬≠tain Mad¬≠ness. In the 1980‚Äôs, Wes Krause and Scott Fis¬≠ch¬≠er pio¬≠neered the Shi¬≠ra Plateau route on Kil¬≠i¬≠man¬≠jaro, which we trav¬≠el. The views of the moun¬≠tain at sun¬≠set and sun¬≠rise are tru¬≠ly spectacular – I’m attempting to make the instructors at Chicago Photography Classes proud (or at least not embarrassed!).

Day 7 – Friday, 9/17 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 15,000 ft / 4572 m

LAVA TOW¬≠ER – Hik¬≠ing Time: 5‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ7 hours (3.6 miles / 5.8 km)

After break¬≠fast, we’ll slow¬≠ly hike to 14,850 feet / 4526 meters, just under the ‚Äč‚ÄúLava Tow¬≠er.‚ÄĚ This will be our first intro¬≠duc¬≠tion to the Alpine Zone where the only plant life is the hardi¬≠est of grass¬≠es and lichens. We will have a spec¬≠tac¬≠u¬≠lar view of the final route of ascent up the West¬≠ern Breach. There is an excit¬≠ing option¬≠al rock scram¬≠ble (non-tech¬≠ni¬≠cal) to the top of this unusu¬≠al lava tow¬≠er – its gotta be easier than the Roman Headwall, right? The views from the lava tow¬≠er sum¬≠mit of Mt. Kil¬≠i¬≠man¬≠jaro, Mt. Meru and the sur¬≠round¬≠ing val¬≠leys are quite impressive – fingers crossed I capture them in their glory.

Day 8 – Saturday, 9/18 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 16,000 ft / 4877 m

ARROW GLAC¬≠I¬≠ER – Hik¬≠ing Time: 2‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ3 hours (1 mile / 1.6 km)

The West¬≠ern Breach ascent route is now in full view. We spend a few hours climb¬≠ing to the base of the route and make camp near the Arrow Glac¬≠i¬≠er at 16,000 feet / 4877 meters. To fur¬≠ther our acclima¬≠ti¬≠za¬≠tion, we take an after¬≠noon hike up a spec¬≠tac¬≠u¬≠lar ridge fur¬≠ther up the route before relax¬≠ing in camp. This camp is famous for the absolute¬≠ly mag¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cent sun¬≠sets, which illu¬≠mi¬≠nate the African sky.

Day 9 – Sunday, 9/19 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 18,700 ft / 5700 m

SUM¬≠MIT CRATER CAMP – Hik¬≠ing Time: 7‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ10 hours (1.6 miles / 2.6 km)

A looooooong day but should make the next day easier. Today we climb up the West¬≠ern Breach for about sev¬≠en hours to the top of the crater rim. There will be time to explore the inner crater before mov¬≠ing to our high camp on the crater floor. It is com¬≠mon to find snow along this sec¬≠tion of the route. Our high camp will be next to a spec¬≠tac¬≠u¬≠lar glac¬≠i¬≠er and the sum¬≠mit mere¬≠ly a short hike away! The rest of the day will be spent drink¬≠ing lots of liq¬≠uids and enjoy¬≠ing anoth¬≠er fab¬≠u¬≠lous sun¬≠set 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 – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 19,341 ft / 5895 m

SUMMIT DAY, Y’ALL – Hik¬≠ing Time: 1‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ2 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 break¬≠fast, we’ll leave camp and hike to the top of the crater rim. From there it is just a ten-minute hike to Uhu¬≠ru Sum¬≠mit, the high¬≠est point in Africa at 19,341 feet / 5895 meters! We arrive at the sum¬≠mit and are reward¬≠ed with clear views before the mid-morn¬≠ing clouds roll in. We will bask in the glo¬≠ry of our accom¬≠plish¬≠ment, 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 Mwe¬≠ka Camp – Ele¬≠va¬≠tion: 10,500 ft / 3200 m

Hik¬≠ing Time: 8‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ10 hours to camp (6.8 miles / 11 km)

After sum¬≠mit cel¬≠e¬≠bra¬≠tions we will begin our descent past Bara¬≠fu Hut and down to our camp near Mwe¬≠ka Hut, where our porters will have pre¬≠pared a spe¬≠cial cel¬≠e¬≠bra¬≠to¬≠ry feast! We will have descend¬≠ed almost 9,000 feet / 2743 meters today and will feel intox¬≠i¬≠cat¬≠ed by the oxy¬≠gen 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

Hik¬≠ing Time: 4‚ÄČ‚Äď‚ÄČ7 hours (5.2 miles / 8.4 km)

Hik¬≠ing time will vary depend¬≠ing on the trail con¬≠di¬≠tions while trav¬≠el¬≠ing through the lush veg¬≠e¬≠ta¬≠tion at this ele¬≠va¬≠tion. Rain can occur any time of year at this loca¬≠tion and can make the trail mud¬≠dy requir¬≠ing a slow¬≠er pace. Once we have descend¬≠ed the 4,500 feet / 1372 meters to the road head we will have our lunch and say good¬≠bye to our moun¬≠tain staff before head¬≠ing 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 MAN¬≠YARA NATION¬≠AL PARK AND NGORON¬≠GORO PRI¬≠VATE CAMP

Safaaaari szn, bbs! We con¬≠tin¬≠ue on our jour¬≠ney with a vis¬≠it to Lake Man¬≠yara Nation¬≠al Park, a park Ernest Hem¬≠ming¬≠way described as ‚Äč‚Äúthe loveli¬≠est I had ever seen.‚ÄĚ Found amid the vari¬≠ety of ani¬≠mals is an abun¬≠dance of bird life, includ¬≠ing the pink flamin¬≠gos that enjoy the water-based micro¬≠cosm of the lake and its envi¬≠rons, all of which add to the eco¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal diver¬≠si¬≠ty of your safari. After our vis¬≠it we dri¬≠ve to the high¬≠lands of Ngoron¬≠goro Crater Con¬≠ser¬≠va¬≠tion Area. We stay for two nights at MM’s deluxe pri¬≠vate camp at Ngoron¬≠goro, near Ol√© Dorop‚Äôs, our Maa¬≠sai friend and walk¬≠ing 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…

The Pre-Game Mountain

By the numbers, I shouldn’t be more nervous climbing Mt. Baker this weekend than Mt. Kilimanjaro in September. A hunky looming beaut visible from my parents’ backyard, you can’t miss Baker if you live in Whatcom County (or the lower mainland of BC).

I took this
This one too (my mom hates this tree in the middle)
This is pure internet screenshot

Per Wikipedia “Mount Baker, also known as Koma Kulshan or simply Kulshan, is a 10,781 ft active glacier-covered andesitic stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc and the North Cascades of Washington in the United States. Mount Baker has the second-most thermally active crater in the Cascade Range after Mount St. Helens.” YEAH I’M CLIMBING A VOLCANO, FAM.

Our main girl Kilimanjaro is 19,341ft. Almost double the height of Baker. But Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb – which is a weird phrase to say considering it’s one of the Seven Summits – but it’s really just a long, hard hike at high altitude. It doesn’t require any true technical mountain climbing gear like Baker: helmet, harness, ropes, crampons (aka them shoe spikes), ice axe, there are crevasses to fall into, you carry all your gear (Kili has porters), etc.

Which…is pretty obvious from the photos above ^^ that thing looks technical as all hayllll

Kili just has a lil snow at the top/last day of your hike and is managed in boots/with trekking poles. I understand Kili. I feel like I know Kili. As much as possible without actually going (yet). I’ve been devouring content about it for almost 2 years – blogs and videos, my computer (and phone) wallpaper is Kili, a tapestry of Kili on my wall, following the #kilimanjaro tag on Instagram, reading books and packing (and repacking) lists, my OBGYN telling me at my annual last year about her trip in 2012 (you have not lived until you’ve talked about the right and wrong type of leg gaiters as a speculum is inside you, trust).

Climbing Baker entered my brain last summer when I half-joking asked my sister Brianna, ‘did you still want to climb Baker before you turn 30? Because I’ll climb it with you.” AND THEN SHE SAID YES.

…it scares me. I feel like I’ve been watching the date grow closer and closer out of the side of my eye. Like when you don’t look right at a spider because then it KNOWS and it might JUMP at you because you shouldn’t look them in the eye(s) and INVITE them into your PERSONAL SPACE. It’s like 8-legged smol bears. It’s bears you shouldn’t look in the eye, right?

Baker is my hometown mountain. I see it every time I go home because you literally cannot miss it. Its straight out the kitchen window. It’s driving right at it east on Badger Rd. It’s the end of the eyeline on (no joke) Bakerview Rd. in Bellingham. I know several people who have climbed it; people I went to high school with, people’s spouses that I went to high school with, and I’m sure a myriad of people I don’t know about but do know have climbed it. I’ve skied on it. Hiked around it. Randomly someone I work with at Le ‘hub climbed it 3 weeks ago and summited.

I’ve been training for almost 2 years to climb a mountain and I’m terrified of what it will mean for me if I can’t do it. I know there are a load of reasons why we may not summit – legitimately – bad weather, a fellow climber’s injury, a guide making a safety call, etc. But I just am so scared it’s going to be me. That I will be the weak link. Mentally or physically that something will go wrong in me and I’ll have to look at that mountain every Christmas and Raspberry Festival and family milestone and hold a little shame nugget in my heart.

2 years of sweat and tears and gear lists and telling people and another mountain in 6 weeks and if I can’t climb Baker, can I climb Kili? Its not great mental game/sports psychology to think about not making it, but I think I need to. I wrote down this quote I read awhile back “The finish line is for the ego. The journey is for the soul” on my whiteboard and I hate it.

I need it but I hate it. Because I recognize my ego creeping up.

I think some wonderful things have happened in my soul over the last 19 months of mountain prep.

  • Organically met several people that have climbed Kili – my aforementioned OBGYN, a REI employee helping me with packs, a fellow guest at Jason & Reagan’s wedding – the absolute joy at talking Kili with people is amazing. They have been changed by this trip. And not once did I think to ask any of them “did you summit?”
  • Made a true friend in my randomly-assigned-by-LSAC personal trainer, Brian – I’m sure I will write a wildly emotional post about how his partnership in this process has been crucial – and how I was doubtful the head of triathlons was my ‘person.’ But through injuries and my emotions and a pandemic and no gear (we were literally having me do kettlebell swings with a grocery tote and 5/7 Harry Potter books for awhile) his creativity and care has helped shape this journey and kindly nudge me back on course.
  • Had a north star to mentally and physically focus on when the world went to…absolutely uncertainty this past year+. Even though the Kili date has changed twice I always knew it was going to happen. And telling myself that each workout, each dumb PT stretch (I look so, so foolish doing them), every emotional breakdown as I still CANNOT DO A NON MODIFIED PUSH UP I just tried to look at this wall tapestry and whisper ‘keep going.’
(this is a stock photo not my apt)
  • I’ve actually learned about my body; what it is capable of, what it really has opinions on (hello hip flexors, my nemeses), how feeding it right during a long, multi-hour workout makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE and its taken me far, far too long to get here. I grew up playing sports. Lots of sports. How did I not know some of this?! But you know, better today than tomorrow. I’m better at listening to what hurts, dissecting it, knowing what’s ‘mind over matter’ and what’s worth slowing down on. ALSO did you guys know that quad means FOUR like FOUR MUSCLES IN YOUR THIGH I’m 33 how did no one tell me this until TWENTY TWENTY ONE you should have seen Brian’s face I’ve never seen someone so disappointed and trying to hide it as I truly howled with laughter.
  • Had A Wild Adventure to Plan; it’s been a long time since I felt like I was on a true new adventure. I moved to Chicago 6 years ago from Korea and while there have been several mini-adventures, there hasn’t been a truly wild one since. One of my favorite Kili books has been “Kilimanjaro Diaries,” by Eva Melusine Thieme. I spent several long walks around Chicago listening to the audiobook and at the end (or jump to it in the link above) she writes a list of ‘What the Mountain Taught Me.’ I highly recommend checking out the post above because it’s also excellent life lessons but these ones ring especially true in me:
    “- Wherever you are in life, it‚Äôs always a good idea to plan a new adventure. (But get yourself some good boots and take a few extra packs of wet wipes.)
    Everyone needs a mountain to scale in their lives. When you‚Äôre younger, life supplies many a mountain ‚Äď graduation from high school, going to college, landing a good job, getting married. But during the middle years of your life, things get awfully flat (though often rather bumpy). Climbing a real mountain almost certainly helps put things in perspective.
    Consequently, it’s okay to do what you want or must do, even if it sometimes means doing it alone, when others don’t want to come along for the ride.
    You can always take another small step. Pole pole. There is almost no limit to what you might accomplish in life if you just go about it pole pole, one step at a time. If you’re overwhelmed by the task (or mountain) ahead, concentrate on the feet in front of you. Or on the garden trowel, if you must.
    It‚Äôs always good to have a change in scenery. If your life seems drab at sea level, maybe you need to take it to high altitude. At least that‚Äôs how it worked for us. The higher we climbed, the thinner the air, the more we laughed.”

So I know there’s been a wonderful and good journey in my soul. But my lizard self; the dragon that guards my soft pink heart at the center of my hoard of gold coins, she wants a summit. I don’t know how she’s going to react if she doesn’t get it. She wants it bad, y’all. She wants to stand on the mountain and look down at those clouds and open her jaw and ROAR. That’s the heart siren at full volume. To scream that it was all worth it. And is it still worth it if she can’t roar? Logically I know the answer is yes. But she wouldn’t be satisfied.

In re-reading that paragraph I feel it’s vital I tell you I could not be more sober. I haven’t even had a Diet Coke today.

I guess that’s the ego then, the dragon. My scaly self that wants to summit. That wants to cross the finish line. That isn’t sure if its worth it (time, money, effort, etc.) unless I stand at the top. I need to sit and reckon with the dragon and the logic of knowing this has all been worth it even if I don’t summit. That I’m a changed person from this journey regardless of where my boots land.

So as I make my packing spreadsheet sitting among a nest of REI Garage Sale finds and prioritizing the fancy performance laundry that needs to air dry for 2 days before flying ORD > SEA this week – I want to tell you (me) something.

I am scared and I’m doing it anyways.

I’m fully packed and I’m convinced I forgot something.

I’m taking my ego, yes, and I know my soul holds a certainty that I’ve done all I could.

I haven’t come this far to give up before the race even starts. Also I’m mildly convinced my body will activate some latent Pacific Northwest super power upon landing and it’ll boost me up Easton Glacier and if one of you says it’s weed I will ban you I swear it by the power vested in me by the state of…the internet.

So if you’re into sending vibes or prayers send some over:

  • That Brianna and I won’t murder each other in our tent for 2 nights we are not known for smooth camping skills
  • That the THREE different types of bug repellent I have will keep the biting flies and mozzies away from my sweet juicy body
  • That Tom Hiddleston will quote Shakespearean sonnets to lull me to sleep by earbud or by presence (I’m not picky)
  • That I take at least one good picture of Baker to justify buying a fancy polarized filter and lugging a DSLR up there
  • That some raspberries will still be in season because the one thing I’ve asked my Mom for post-climb is a raspberry pie and we are at end-of-season barrel levels
  • That I don’t revert to my improviser default of MAKE THE PERSON LAUGH when trying to distract our guide from some physical thing about myself (likely trying to put on a harness right (why must there be SO MANY LOOPS))
  • That my body doesn’t do what handsome PT calls a ‘textbook inflammation response’ where my knee got BIG MAD in Zion in April but had never happened to me before in 33 years of sports life #themgoodknees
  • That no matter what happens on the side (or top) of the mountain I have grown up orienting my life around, my dragon and my soft pink heart will be satisfied by my effort and still hungry for the next one.

See you Sunday, pals.

Gettin’ Grown

Things that are not news to other people but was news to me: It is a fascinating perspective, watching someone go from newborn to adult. I can feel all the parents, grandparents, aunts, etc. side-eyeing me with a soft, ‘duh, Bails.’

But I’m not a parent (or grandparent), and while I am an aunt, I’m not talking about my nieces or nephew.

Less than 2 weeks ago, my youngest sister, Emmalee, graduated from Grand Canyon University’s Nursing School and I cried, y’all.

With my trip cancelled in January, I didn’t have another other adventuring on the books until Baker (sub-90 days now! It’s real! I had to pay the grown-ass invoice!). My parents invited me to come to AZ for Em’s graduation and some post-grad National Park work – and at this stage in the game anywhere with hikes/elevation is helpful to the game. Flat Chicago is my boo but also, she flat and the mountains I’m gonna climb are decidedly not.

My relationship with the 4th born gap bb as a 2nd-born-but-headstrong-1st-girl-vibes has always been strong one. I was a middle kid for a long time. 2.5 years after Z, and 3.5 years before B. Senior : Freshman to Senior : Freshman for the 3 of us in school.

I was in Mr. DeBoer’s 5th grade class, a month shy of 11 when Em was born in November of ’98. I remember laying next to B in the back room of Nana & Papa’s old house; we knew Mom was in labor, but you know, bedtime rules at Nana’s house wait for no baby. We were almost asleep when Nana came in and told us – Mom had had a girl.

What a girl. What a baby. Happy cheeks. Happy laugh. Happy smiles. We used to sneak in to wake her up from her naps because she was so cute (and also you were her favorite if you took her out of the crib). Good gawd, she was popular with my friends. Everyone loved her – she made my teen season easier with her easy smile – and so many of my friends’ siblings were past their baby years.

My college season in Oklahoma was punctuated with visits home – seeing the leaps in her experience, her height, her basketball skills – and the gut-wrenching difficult goodbyes, every time. She’d weep, clutching my neck and sob out, “Can’t you just go to Whatcom (Community College)? You make such good sandwiches; can’t you just work at Subway?”

1 – 1000% true. A direct quote. And also 2 – yeah – I do rock a great sandwich. Subway could never.

But the HEARTSTRINGS whew. I’ve spent my adult life leaving and re-leaving and those were some of the first leavings and they still make my emotions well up.

After college I still came home about twice a year; she was in her teen phase and sports, school, all of it. I did 2 years in Korea, moved to Chicago – she finished high school and started at GCU in Phoenix. Being with her were always some of the best moments – driving to get sandwiches, watch her games, her practices, belting out Ke$ha.

And yet. Despite me not living with her for over half her life…what a kid. What a woman. What a nurse.

I don’t need to live close to know to see the kind of woman she’s become. I see her influence in the community she’s knit around her. The Instagram comments, the adventures, the brilliant sound of her laugh among friends.

I don’t need to see her in a hospital to know how she touches every life she meets – body, mind and spirit. There’s a reason her fellow nursing students in her cohort gave her the Florence Nightingale Award.

I don’t need to live with her to know she’s the kind of person who asks if you want anything when she runs to town. She’ll tell you when there’s food in your teeth, too. I KNOW. Put that on your resume under ‘special skills,’ Em.

A coffee junkie, someone who doesn’t have a piece of clothing that looks bad on her (I’m serious, I’ve seen her wear a huge random Old Navy t-shirt of our Dad’s and it WORKS?! SOMEHOW?! It should be a crime), can double-french braid her own hair, can appreciate the hits of Cascada (truly great), a study NUT (you should see her notebooks), and now – a nurse. Still-to-take-the-NCLEX-but-still!

As B pinned Em, now the third nurse in the family (B and our sister-in-law Laura being 1 & 2), I stood there, hot as hell, in my thrifted jumpsuit, hiding my shiny tears behind my fancy camera and clicked away. Documenting this grown-ass adult shining. Proud. Happy.

I changed this person’s diapers (Sorry, not sorry, Em).

And now she’s holding a diploma with a her grad cap.

Spending the next few days eating her dust as we hiked (I plod, she billy goats), spending ~15 hours in a car, shouting ALAN ALAN down the Narrows with her and B – a gift. A gift to be friends with this fellow adult. To take our first spin class together. To belt One Direction. To tetris her belongings into a storage unit before she moves into her first apartment.

She’s got her human side, yeah, I promise. But today’s post is for celebrating her – she can have a pass – and maybe I’ll make her a sandwich. If she’s good.