Going too far: life and death in the mountains

Hiking Mt Olomana in Hawaii

Sorry I've been so quiet lately and infrequent with  my blog posts.  One reason is that I've been working on our Happy Birthday Tanzania campaign to help the country celebrate their 50 years of independence (please check it out and register to win cool Columbia gear).  But the other reason is that I've been on vacation in Hawaii, visiting family and enjoying some of the world's most beautiful beaches. One evening my father in-law and I were sitting on his front porch watching the sun set behind the Koolau Mountain Range.  He mentioned that a number of hikers have died climbing the nearby 3rd peak of Mt. Olomana.  While the trail to peaks 1 and 2 is relatively safe, peak 3 is much more dangerous.  To get to the 3rd peak you need to scramble up a very narrow ridge only two feet wide, with over a hundred foot drop on either side.  It was unclear if the climbers who died slipped or if the high winds pushed them off.  What was clear is that it was a dangerous climb…and I immediately wanted to explore it. So Saturday morning I got up at sunrise, drove to the trailhead and began my mini-trek.  The trail itself isn't really that long, only about 1.5 miles.  It started by gently climbing through thick rain forest and past massive Banyan  trees with long branches reaching back into the earth.  And then it got vertical.   The trail shot straight up the steep north ridge of the mountain.  I scrambled over Class 3 and 4 sections, gripping the hard lava rock and hoping it would hold as I pulled myself up each section. Eventually, my thighs wobbly from all the high-stepping, I reached the 1st peak and was rewarded with a spectacular view of the eastern side of the island of Oahu.  The cool trade winds blew as I soaked in the lush green rainforest below and the soft blue ocean in the distance.   I scanned the 360 degree view until my eye landed on the nearby trail where the hikers had fallen trying to reach the 3rd peak.  I thought about going on and testing myself (and my luck).  But I  had promised my father in-law that I wouldn't. Contemplating the risks I thought about free-solo climber Alex Honnold and his dangerous sport of climbing sheer faces without any ropes at all.  I sat there taking in the view and wondering how far was too far.   The thing about going too far is you frequently don't know its too far until you get there.  On Kilimanjaro I pushed myself to the point where I could barely stand or speak coherently.   When Alex free-solos Half Dome or I slip out onto a dangerous ridge "too far" can even be fatal.  I enjoy pushing myself and finding my own limits.  But things are different now then they were years ago on Kilimanjaro.  With two small children the risks are higher.  If something were to happen to me they suffer the results to an even greater extent than  I would.  I wanted to slide out on that thin, dangerous trail to visit the 3rd peak.  I used to love free climbing when we lived in California.  But these days I dream more about sharing Tanzania and Kilimanjaro with my two daughters and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors with them. Now I find other ways to push myself, like running the Chicago Marathon, with smaller risks.  I do miss some of the riskier pursuits.  But not nearly as much as I enjoy spending time with my family.
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Which Kilimanjaro Route is Most Popular? You might be surprised.

(Kilimanjaro statistics are very hard to come by and I've been unable to verify the ones below from Rubel.  Having said that, these are pretty consistent with what I've heard.  But without verification, please take them with a "grain of salt.") Author: Rubel Zaman The Kilimanjaro National Park Authorities (KINAPA) are renowned for not releasing information about the logistics of how many people climb Kilimanjaro each year but some figures do exist and show that Kilimanjaro is becoming busier and busier with each passing year. In 1939 a total of 58 people visited Kilimanjaro for the purpose of climbing or trekking. In 1965 the number of visitors had increased to just over 1000. The 2003/2004 season on Kilimanjaro saw a total of 28,417 people and for the 2006/2007 season this number had increased to 40, 701 people. As mountaineering becomes a global past time with the masses, Kilimanjaro is at the forefront of those wanting to experience high altitude trekking. The KINAPA figures give a breakdown of which nationalities are climbing Kilimanjaro. For the 2003/2004 season the Americans & Canadians had a total of 5073 people attempt to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. In second place were those from the British Isles with a total of 4965 visitors and in third place were the French with a total of 2050 visitors. By the 2006/2007 season the visitor pattern had changed slightly. The Americans & Canadians were still in first place with a total of 9961, this accounted for just fewer than 25% of the total visitors, the British were in second place again with 5427 and the Germans jumped into third place with 4217 visitors. Information relating to the routes used on Kilimanjaro was also made available by KINAPA for the 2006/2007 season. The most popular route on the mountain was the Machame Route with 15,879 visitors. The second busiest was the Marangu Route with 15,334 visitors. The Rongai Route had 5073 visitors, Shira/Lemosho had 3970 visitors and the Umbwe Route had a grand total of 156 visitors, me being one of them. The figures are not that surprising and anyone who has trekked on the Machame route during peak season will agree that the route is overcrowded. During the rainy season there seems to be a shift from the Machame route to the Marangu route. The main reason for this is that accommodation is in huts on the Marangu route instead of tents on the other routes. Anyone who has been caught in a Kilimanjaro rain storm will appreciate a solid roof instead of canvas over their head. Kilimanjaro is getting busier and one can only guess that the numbers attempting the mountain in the 2010/2011 season was well over 40,000. For those wishing to stay away from the crowds there are a few options. Attempting one of the camping routes during rainy season is one way to stay away from the crowds but it's a 50/50 chance of getting wet. The lesser used trekking routes on Kilimanjaro seem to be the Rongai and Umbwe routes and both of these are routes of outstanding beauty. For those with a bit of technical ability an option for escaping the crowds is to attempt one of Kilimajaro's technical routes. These include the Western Breach, Heim Glacier and Credner Glacier and all offer views of the mountain seldom seen by others and never by the masses. Article Source: About the Author If you want to Climb Kilimanjaro then please visit Climb Kilimanjaro for Charity for all your information.
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5 Lessons from Family Camping

The family that camps (and suffers) together, stays together

This long, Labor Day weekend we decided to try our hand at family camping again.  Our daughters are almost 4 and 6 years old and we've been aching to get outdoors more.  So off we went to Heuston Woods State Park for a little family adventure.  It was predicted to be 100 degrees on Saturday, making a day at the lake seem like the perfect idea.  But camping trips rarely end as expected and this one turned into quite an adventure.  In the end we had a blast, and learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the lessons I took away from our trip: 1.  Don't listen to the weather people - They said it would be almost 100 degrees on Saturday and they were right.  They said we might get thunderstorms late on Sunday evening and they were wrong.   Saturday evening the sky turned black just before sunset and the torrent came down right after I lit the fire for dinner.   At first the girls were terrified as the tent went white with flashes of lightning followed by booming thunder.  But after a while they got used to it and eventually even ignored it.  Thanks for the warning weather lady! 2.  Don't feed a 3yr old s'mores at 10pm - At first it seems like divine intervention when the rain paused a few hours later and the fire was still smoldering.  So we jumped out, roasted some marsh-mellows and licked our fingers free of gooey s'mores.   But by 11pm the rain was back and now our 3 yr old was bouncing off the tent walls as the rest of us tried to fall asleep between the thunder and lightning. 3.  Colemen doesn't seal side walls of their tent - The rain pelted the massive, 8-person family tent from all directions and by midnight Lisa announced it was raining in the tent.  A quick scan revealed small rivers flowing down the tent walls from every stitch.  It dripped from the ceiling, the walls and the windows.  So we pulled everyone together into a tight ball in the middle of the tent, away from the walls, to try to stay dry.  I guess I should have read up more on our new family tent before taking it out in the rain. 4.  You don't pick your neighbors - After a while we all managed to drift off in spite of all the natural distractions.  At one point I woke up in the middle of the night and could hear a nearby group chatting and laughing loudy; or at least loud enough to be annoying.  As I started to drift back off to sleep, focusing on the pitter-patter of the rain instead of their voices, I heard one say. "Wow, we've been talking until 4 in the morning."  At which point they continued talking.  In the larger national parks we'd never really had any trouble with loud campers after 10pm.  But this was a smaller state park with the clientele a bit more "rural" as Lisa put it. 5.  Even in a downpour camping is fun - It was the 3yr old who woke up first; announcing it was time to get up with: "I need to go potty."    The rain had stalled to a light mist and the sun was visible through the still-thick clouds.  In spite of what could have been a pretty rough night for the most seasoned campers, the girls woke up cheerful, even eager.  "We love camping" they exclaimed.   And I was one proud papa. They spent the night in a leaky tent, assaulted by thunder and lightning and annoyed by loud neighbors in between thunder claps.  And they woke with smiles on their faces and eager for more.  I can't wait for our next family camp trip!
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5 Ways Kilimanjaro Changed My Life

My journey to the top of Africa changed my life
Several years ago I flew off to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and try to impress a beautiful woman.  In the end I failed to reach the summit, but I did impress the woman enough for her to marry me.  It's been years since my first visit to Tanzania and I long ago reached Uhuru peak on my second visit.  But as I look back on my life since that amazing trip, I have realized that I'm a better man today than the one who stepped off that plane so nervous and excited all those years ago. It wasn't my final victory in reaching the top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world that really impacted me.  It was the people and culture of Tanzania.  The warmth, laughter and support of the Tanzanian people have left a lasting impression on me in many ways.  The ones that come to mind immediately are:
  1. I laugh more freely - One the first things that struck me about the people of Tanzania was how eager they were to laugh, to simply enjoy the moment.  As I climbed Kilimanjaro and porters passed me carrying heavy loads they always took a few moments to joke with me and share a laugh.  Even under the burden of 60-80 pound loads these men took the time to laugh and joke.
  2. I enjoy life more fully - Almost every person I met in Tanzania seemed to live life fully.  Yes, there was poverty and challenges beyond my ability to appreciate.  But that didn't stop people from sharing a laugh and enjoy the few things they did have access to.
  3. I welcome new friends more openly - At one point on our travels Lisa (the beautiful brunette) and I ended up traveling on a local bus across Tanzania.  We were the only white people on a bus packed to overflowing.  At first I have to admit, I felt a bit intimidated and out of place.  But as the bus cruised down the road we began to feel welcomed by these people; these strangers.  We were all on a journey together, so why not enjoy each other's company?  Smiles slowly emerged and we were welcomed as a fellow traveler, not a stranger or foreigner.
  4.  I try more new things - Traveling through Tanzania and up Kilimanjaro we got lost, were confronted by "strange" people, tasted new foods and even got sick on the top of the African continent.  But in the end, it all worked out.  We tried something new, something a lot bigger than Lisa and I had ever tried before.  And it was wonderful.  Thanks to the warmth and generosity of the Tanzanian people we got through all the tough times and had a life-changing experience.  We learned to be brave and try a few new things, even something as big as a mountain.
  5.  Appreciate things more - As an American watching the news, my view of East Africa was pretty bleak.  But my experience in Tanzania was quite different.  I know there is plenty of poverty and problems in Tanzania.  But I was struck by how much people appreciated the few things they did have, and how they appreciated each other more than anything.  These weren't a "poor" people waiting for people like me to give them a hand out.  They were proud, hopeful and lots of fun.  They were my teachers and I learned to appreciate all the little things I had and the people in my life.
Thank you Kilimanjaro!  I'm a better man today because of you.
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Help Tanzania Celebrate 50 Years of Independence

Tanzania turns 50 this year. Share your story with the people and President of Tanzania.

Thousands of people like you and I have visited Tanzania over the last 50 years.  We each have our own stories about climbing Kilimanjaro, wildlife safaris and experiencing this beautiful culture.  On Dec. 9th 2011 Tanzania will celebrate 50 years of independence, and we’d like to help them. Tanzania Tourism Board Celebrates 50 Years of IndependenceShare your story, photos or video about how the Tanzanian people, culture, wildlife or even Kilimanjaro touched your life. Invite your friends and family to share the experience and vote for their favorites. The stories with the most votes may be published in Tanzania and given to the president of Tanzania and the US ambassador.
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5 Training tips to climb Kilimanjaro

The road to the top of Kilimanjaro begins months before you get there

One of the most common questions I get is "What is the best way to train for Kilimanjaro?"  Having failed to reach the summit on my first climb, I spent a lot of time learning about what it takes to reach the top of a big mountain like Kilimanjaro. In addition to this great training program from the mountaineer bible, Freedom of the Hills 8th edition, I learned that you really need to do five key things to get ready for your Kilimanjaro climb:  Start Early If you're already in good shape and engage in aerobic activity 3+ times a week for more than 40 minutes, then you may only need 2-3 months of hard training.  If you're more inactive or older you should plan on 6+ months.  The goal is to have a training program that build gradually to slowly stress yourself and build your strength for hiking up to 10 miles a day (5 of them up hill) for 7 days straight.  Stay Consistent On my first attempt my training was very patchy.  I had rough weekend backpacking trips with lots of miles and then several days off without any activity to recover.  One rule I learned in marathon training is to never go more than 2 days without a workout.  Even if you can only walk or run for a few miles, make sure you're consistent with your training.  You'll be hiking every single day on the mountain with no real rest day.  Your body needs to be prepared for that daily grind, not short sprints with long breaks.  Walk…lots Let's face it, climbing Kilimanjaro is all about walking.  You'll spend 5-8 days walking up and down hill.  While Stairmasters and free-weights are good, there is just no substitute for repeatedly practicing the activity.  Sports players train by playing the sport, not just visiting the gym.  You need to do the same.  And since you'll be hiking 5-10 miles a day, you need to train by hiking 5-10 miles per days, several days a week.  Build Both Physical and Mental Strength Every book I've read and mountaineer I've spoken with says the same thing: "it's your mental strength that really gets you to the summit."  Think about that as a part of your training.  Try jogging or hiking without the iPod, try to push yourself past your perceived limitations and try something new that you might actually fail at.  You want to train yourself to never think of quitting, to push yourself farther than you think you can and overcome your fear of failure. Have fun! One of the best quotes I've ever heard was "enjoy your suffering, that's what alpinism is all about."   You're going to spend 3+ months training, several thousand dollars and likely 2+ weeks of vacation on this adventure.  Climbing Kilimanjaro is a wonderful and potentially life changing experience.  Try to enjoy it!  When I was training for the Chicago Marathon I met several people who wanted to run a marathon, but dreaded the training.  What they really wanted to do was FINISH running a marathon.  But you can't train for months and run 26.2 miles if you only enjoy the last mile.  You can't spend 7 days climbing a mountain if you only enjoy standing at the top.
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Seeing the Light of Kilimanjaro

In Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa I shared with readers the life-changing bus ride I took from Arusha to Moshi, Tanzania.   I ended up packed onto a local bus sitting next to a young boy who was going blind from Trachoma.   This simple bus ride effected me so deeply because just two weeks prior I had cleaned out my medicine cabinet and thrown out a small bottle of anti-bacterial eye drops.  Literally, my garbage could have saved that boys vision. The boy was suffering from Trachoma.  He had an eye infection from washing in putrid water.  It's a somewhat common affliction in the developing world and I left Tanzania with little hope for the young boy.  Since then we've sent eye drops to Moshi with Kilimanjaro climbers and partnered with the Children's Safe Drinking Water program to prevent others from going blind.   But all of this was too late for that boy on the bus and I held little hope for him…until recently. I just learned about the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust.  It's a partnership with the Perkins School for the Blind to help those already afflicted learn to live and thrive with their blindness.  In fact, in 2005, 8 blind climbers reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, demonstrating that the word "disability" is a relative term. For years I've been haunted by the thought of that young boy on the bus.  I was convinced that his life was over, all because of the water he had access to.  But as I learned on Kilimanjaro, life isn't defined by our limitations.  It's defined by what we do with the simple gifts and talents we have.  I'm thrilled to know there are people in Tanzania who could help that young boy achieve all of his potential, with our without sight. I encourage you to donate to the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust.  You can also follow Paul Polman as he runs the NYC Marathon to raise funds and awareness.  Paul's another ordinary person, doing simple and ordinary things to achieve extraordinary results like helping a blind boy live a happy and productive life.
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Travel lesson: Who are you?

Friday night I had quite an adventure trying to get home from a business trip.   And as I flew through the darkness I couldn't help but notice what my actions revealed about who I really am.  And to be honest, I was a bit surprised. I was trying to get home after a business trip to Florida.  After bad weather delayed my first flight I ended up missing my connection through Atlanta and stranded at the airport after midnight with thousands of other wayward travelers.  I was automatically booked on the next available flight, late the following day.    I now had plenty of time to myself. Standing there at a loss for what to do I noticed there were still a few flights leaving that night.  And while none of them would take me home, some would take me within a few hundred miles of home.  Without thinking I began to sprint through the airport, rushing from gate to gate looking for any empty seat headed in my direction.   The Delta gate agent loading a flight to Indianapolis was kind enough to give me a seat on the last flight out for the night, and I was on my way.  I called up my company's travel office to book a rental car for the 122 mile drive from the airport to my home.  When I began to tell her my situation she immediately offered to get me a hotel in Atlanta. Stay in Atlanta and just wait?  The thought hadn't even occurred to me.  As I stood there holding my ticket the idea circled my brain.  If I just relaxed in Atlanta I could get a good nights sleep, have plenty of time to relax in the morning and even write (I've started working on my next book).  By flying out now I would be traveling all night, first by plane and then driving, just to get home twelve hours earlier.   Boarding the flight I wondered why this option hadn't even occurred to me.  Why was I so focused on just getting home. I've always admired very focused people; artists, alpinists, writers, etc.; the kind of person who really "is" something, who does something simply because it's who he is.   After my Kilimanjaro adventure people asked me.  "Are you a mountaineer?"  I love to climb mountains.  But I knew I wasn't really a mountaineer; the kind of person who doesn't choose to climb mountains, but does it simply because it's who he is.  After published Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa I was asked. "Are you a writer?   I love to write, waking each morning hours before my family  just to get out a thousand words and explore a new story idea. Flying through the darkness I was sorry to realize, no, I'm not a writer.  I love to write and share stories, but it's not who I really am.  That thing that I am above all else is a father.  The idea of relaxing in a hotel room writing instead of rushing home to see my 3 and 5 year old daughters seemed unnatural to me.  I'm a father not because I choose to be, but because that's just what I am. As I type this during the short break while my daughters are supposed to be taking their naps upstairs, I can hear them secretly playing in their rooms, impatient to come out an play.  I'm impatient too, impatient to play with them again.  So I put my writing aside to go see them; not because I choose to, but because that's just who I am. Who are you?  Have you had an adventure (big or small) that taught you something about yourself?  If so, please share it.      
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The Amazing Kilimanjaro Porters

The porters of Kilimanjaro

These guys helped us climb Kilimanjaro

I was at work the other day and our leadership team was talking about how important it is that people feel empowered to make a difference.  One VP said we needed to see more "everyday champions."  He meant we needed to see more ordinary people who just did their jobs well and made the company better just by being there.  He asked if anyone knew any "everyday champions"  and my thoughts went immediately to the porters on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Every day on the mountain these men had the very ordinary, and rather tough job of carrying food and equipment up to the next camp.  On average porters carry between 60-80lbs.  Some will even do the climb twice as they bring two separate loads up to the next camp.  But it was how they did there job that was so impressive to me. I particularly remember my porter, Mik.  Mik (in yellow sweat pants in the picture) was responsible for carrying my backpack to the next camp each day.  After breakfast each morning I packed up my bag and strapped the tent onto the top of it.  When I was done the pack stood well over 5 feet high.   This is important because Mik was not much over 5 feet, and now shorter than my pack.  He would strap a few additional items onto the pack and then heft it on top of his head.  There he stood, like a giant "T" with my pack balanced on his skull. Mik would head up the trail with a smile and a wave.  From time to time I'd catch up with Mik and we'd exchange the few words he knew in English or I knew in Swahili.  "Pole pole" he'd remind me.  "Take it easy/go slowly" in English.  Later I learned the expression "haraka haraka haina baraka" which roughly means "there is no blessing for being first."  I'd test my new phrase on Mik as he rushed up the trail and he'd howl with laughter.  How ironic.  The Tanzanian, coming from a slow, relaxed culture is rushing up the mountain and telling the hurried foreigner to slow down.  Now, that same hurried foreigner is telling the Tanzanian to take it easy. I've never met a group of people so warm and friendly; so eager to laugh and connect with other people.   Mik was doing a very ordinary job, carrying heavy loads up a mountain.  But how he did it has had a long and lasting impression on me.  Looking back, Mik and his fellow porters taught me to laugh more freely, connect with others more easily and just enjoy the experience regardless of what it might be. BTW, 80lbs is too much for anyone to carry up a mountain.  The Kilimanjaro Porter's Assistance Project is working to help improve the working conditions of porters on the mountain.  And you can help.  Keep your pack weight under 30 lbs or ask for an additional porter if you'll bring more.  You can also donate warm clothes to the Project.  Porters can check out jackets and pants to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures as they ascend with you.
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Heart of Kilimanjaro

Babu climbs Kilimanjaro

Babu climbs Kilimanjaro with heart and resolve

In Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa I shared my one experience of climbing Kilimanjaro with my friend Mike and his 73-year old father.  In the end, the 73-year old not only beat me to the summit, he made such a positive impression on the guides and porters while we climbed that they took to calling him "babu," an endearing term for "grandfather."  Babu spent 6 months training for Kilimanjaro, hiking through the streets of Brooklyn with a backpack.  Every day he trekked through all the hustle and bustle of traffic, trains and commuters.  And after 6 days of climbing Kilimanjaro, he made it to the top of Africa. It's been a 7 years since that exciting adventure and babu recently turned 80 years old (however, he still like to count it as 70+10).  All that time he has remained active and physically fit, staying in amazing shape.  However, a few weeks ago he started to feel uncharacteristically weak.  A visit to the doctor revealed nothing but they decided to run a stress test on his heart just be sure.  The results were shocking.  Babu was only getting about 20% of the necessary blood flow to his heart.  We were amazed to learn that this pinnacle of health needed triple bi-pass surgery. They took him in for surgery as the family waited for hours to hear the results.  Time crept by as the surgery continued long after the expected duration.  When the doctor emerged several hours later he informed the family that when they got in there, they learned that babu actually needed a quadruple bi-pass, not the triple bi-pass they originally thought. The good news is that babu is expected to make a full recovery.  "If he wasn't in such good shape he would probably be dead from the blockage."  The doctor pointed out. When I do presentations about climbing Kilimanjaro I often meet climbers who wonder if they're too old for Kilimanjaro.  In babu's case, climbing Kilimanjaro actually helped him stay physically and mentally strong.  So maybe the questions isn't if your health will allow you to climb, but if you're health doesn't need you to climb.
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4 Dangerous Ways to Save Money on Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro Climb - Rongai Route

Kilimanjaro deals can be dangerous

At first I was thrilled to see  USA Today doing a piece on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  However, as I read the article about saving money while climbing Kilimanjaro, I was not only unimpressed, I was downright concerned.   Climbing Kilimanjaro isn't cheap.  But there is a fine line between saving money and risking your safety.  And, in my humble opinion, this article crossed the line. Spending a few thousand dollars just to get to Tanzania and then not making it to the summit because of penny pinching would be the biggest waste.  So here's a few thought on areas where you don't want to skimp as you plan your own Kilimanjaro climb. Do a 5 day climb via the Marangu Route - Bad idea!  A 5-day Machame climb has the lowest success rate of any route on the mountain.  So taking the fastest, cheapest route violates the initial point of spending thousands of dollars to get there and then failing to reach the summit. Rent sleeping bags and other gear from your outfitter - Kilimanjaro gets COLD.  The last thing you want to do at 12,000 feet above sea level is spend a long night shivering because your sleeping bag isn't warm enough.  If you can help it, never take any personal gear (clothing and sleeping equipment) that you haven't tested and are comfortable with.  If you want to save money, get a warm bag at Walmart.  It'll be too heavy for any real backpacking (by the way, make sure you got the waterproof daypack).   But the porters are carrying your gear for you.  So it won't inhibit your climbing in any way. Take the overnight bus from Dar es Salaam - Dangerous!  If you've read my book you know how much I love Tanzania.  But I think taking an overnight shuttle bus is a bit risky.  Aside from potential bandits, there is just the basic transportation risk.  Roads and drivers are notoriously bad in East Africa.  Taking the overland shuttle is a great way to see the country and save some money.  My trip from Nairobi to Moshi was amazing.  But don't do it at night.  It's more dangerous and you'll miss out on some amazing scenery. Wait and book your trip when you arrive - Maybe.  If you book in advance you can contact several local outfitters and negotiate a lower rate via e-mail (especially helpful if you're not comfortable negotiating face-to-face).  You can also schedule your trip to join a larger group and get an additional discount.  If you just show up you may climb alone and not get that big deal you were hoping for.  If you're comfortable with your negotiating skills do some research first on reputable companies and try to get a deal ahead of time.  If you're not satisfied with the discount, then book it when you arrive.  But at least now you have an idea of prices and a list of good companies to contact.
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Tanzania Culture Club

I have to be honest here.  I love Tanzania culture.  Every time I go I get this feeling of coming home after a long time away.  The warmth of the welcome, the breadth of the smiles I see on people faces always seems to amaze me.   Tanzanian culture combines the warmth you might expect from Hawaii, the family feeling of Italy and the sense of humor of Ireland all rolled up into one.  I've never met a group more open and welcoming to new members, more eager to laugh and more happy to see you. Now that I'm doing more talks about Kilimanjaro and Tanzania I thought I should study the culture in a bit more detail.  So I picked up Tanzania Culture Smart: the essential guide to customers & culture by Quintin Winks. The book outlines a number of big cultural ideas and customs and even explores how those customs have evolved over time and affected the country's history.  One aspect I found most fascinating is the cultural idea of undugu.  Wink points out that Undugu means "brotherhood,"  and includes the notion of extended family, generosity, consideration and compassion toward family and the community.   Most visitors to Tanzania can immediately feel this warm, community feeling and it has become one of the most treasured parts of any time spent in the country. But Winks goes on to explore how this idea of a community family also led to the creation of many socialist policies by Tanzania's first president after independence, Julius Nyerere.   Unfortunately,  the policies were a terrible failure and today Tanzania is still fighting to dig its way out of the hole it dug for itself in the 60s and 70s.  But the story isn't all bad.  In 1985 when it was clear his policies weren't working Nyerere voluntarily stepped down as president and peaceful elections were held (you don't see much coverage on TV for peaceful elections in Africa).  Also, Tanzania today is a relatively harmonious society with a mix of christians, muslims and others like the Maasai living together in relative peace. If you're planning to go to Tanzania I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Tanzania Culture Smart: the essential guide to customers & culture.  It's a relatively short book and can be read in chunks (I read it on the bus to work in the morning).  And now that I've read it I really want to see other parts of the country I missed while too focused on the mountain or safari.  He makes a great case for visiting Dar es Salaam as well as almost any smaller village you can.  Take a look.  You may find it altering your travel plans.
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Tough Decisions

Can you see the tent in this picture? Flattened by heavy snow

Last week I went to California to do a book tour of the Bay Area REI stores. But I couldn’t just go to northern California without stopping in at one of my favorite spots on the planet, Yosemite. So I flew in a few days early and my friend Stephen and I headed up to the Yosemite Valley for a few days of camping before my talk at REI on Monday evening. As we set up our tent the snow was falling in big, soft flakes obscuring the valley walls and making for a beautiful, almost mystical winter scene. However, sometime in the middle of the night the trees above our campsite reached their limit and couldn’t hold on to the piles of snow that had accumulated on their branches. The branches bowed, dropping a massive pile of snow on our tent and crushing about half of it. It was late and we were tired, so we just lived with it for the rest of the night. When we got up in the morning we realized the damp, heavy snow had actually ripped a big hole in the tent tarp and bent several poles. Bye-bye tent. Luckily Stephen had a spare, smaller tent stashed away in his car so we set that up and walked to Curry Village for breakfast. When we returned our tent was gone! As we approached the now empty campsite we realized the tent wasn’t gone, it had been crushed by the weight of the new-fallen snow and was now hidden under several inches of wet, white snowfall. During all of this Stephen and I were actually having a surprisingly good time. The big white flakes fluttered through the valley painting a glorious winter scene and we were captivated by it. In spite of losing two tents we wanted to stay. So we took a cabin at Curry Village and began to hike around the valley. As we entered the Yosemite Village Visitor Center we were informed that the park was closing. Route 120 and 41 were already closed down because of snow and RT 140 would close at 7pm because they needed to clear some rock-fall. If we didn’t leave the valley immediately we might not be able to get out in the morning. Stephen and I stood there in the splendor of Yosemite and debated the best course of action. Yosemite was beautiful and almost completely abandoned. The few folks we had met were cheerful and friendly, the kind you’d like to wait out a snow storm with. We had a warm room with a shower and the lounge was open with a roaring fire. On the other hand, there was no guarantee we’d be able to get out in time for me to get to REI for my talk on Monday evening. I wanted to stay, to enjoy the serenity of Yosemite, especially since I hadn’t been there in a few years. I wanted to stay, but it wasn’t the smart thing to do. It reminded me of my decision to turn back on Mt. Kilimanjaro only 1000 feet below the summit. As I suffered from hypothermia and altitude sickness it was prudent to turn back. But I didn’t want to. Sometimes, even when we know what the right choice is we don’t want to do it. Sometimes, having the discipline to follow the right course is the hardest course of all. Stephen and I both knew we had to leave even though we didn’t want to go. We drove out of the park with chains on our tires by 7pm on Sunday evening. The roads to the park didn’t open again until Thursday. The valley received over 3 feet of snow and even lost power. Had we stayed, not only would I have missed all 4 REI presentations we would have been stranded without power under one of the worst storms Yosemite has seen in many years. We made the right decision.
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Beyond Kilimanjaro

Last week I gave a motivational presentation to the employees of Woolrich, the outdoor clothing store.  Woolrich is located in the small, mill town of Woolrich, PA (surprise).  It's a lovely, tiny town in the middle of Pennsylvania.  We had the presentation right in one of the old mill rooms, with looms and cloth equipment sitting idle on the far side of the big space.  We set up chairs, ate pizza and talked about what it takes for ordinary people like us to do something extraordinary. Over the last year I've realized that climbing Kilimanjaro is no different from any other major challenge we want to overcome in our lives.  Whether we want to get a new product out the door, lose weight or mend a broken relationship we’re all climbing a mountain of sorts.  These experiences require us to be stronger than we think we are, endure more than we think we can, and become more than we dreamed possible. At Woolrich, I took attendees on a journey up Kilimanjaro with me and shared the lessons I'd learned in an inspirational, entertaining and sometimes humorous way.  To be honest, I was a bit nervous at first.  Woolrich is typical, small town USA and the attendees were a mix of mill workers and office staff.  My initial impression was that these people didn't want to climb a mountain (literal or figurative), they just wanted to do their job well and take care of their families.   But I was wrong.  The people of Woolrich want to do something extraordinary, just like the rest of us.  People were engaged and interested throughout.  Toward the end I talked about finding one's mantra and asked if anyone had already found theirs.  An older gentleman in the back rose his hand slowly.  After a bit of coaxing he shared it with us, a quote from Teddy Roosevelt: "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." That's what I love about Kilimanjaro.  I keep learning everyday, even thousands of miles off the mountain.
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Mountains of Motivation

Last week I got a surprise present from my brother Matt.  A t-shirt with a Latin phrase on the front:  Res Firma Mitescere Nescit.  He sent it to me as a gift after I had run the Chicago marathon in October but it had been back-ordered until now.  The phrase may not mean that much to you.  But to my brother and I it was a trip down memory lane.  In the 80's my brothers and I all took up bicycling and even entered a local race or two.  One of our favorite movies was American Flyers staring a very young Kevin Costner.  If you like cycling, you'll love the movie. Kevin plays a semi-pro cyclist and doctor at a athletic performance institute and at one point gives his brother a shirt from there with the institutes credo: Res Firma Mitescere Nescit.  In the movie they translate it.  "Once you've got it up, keep it up."  An apt message for me to keep in shape after spending so much time training for the Chicago marathon. But I looked it up online, and the actual translation is something completely different.  It means "A firm resolve knows not how to weaken."  Wow, that's deep! This translation immediately took me to the last 2 miles of the marathon itself, and not my post-marathon training.  It took me to the last 2 miles of my climb to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. It's been said repeatedly that the most important thing when climbing a mountain is your mental strength, your resolve.  Regardless of what mountains we climb it is our resolve that makes it possible to push past the hardest parts and continue.  It is our resolve that focuses every other strength we bring to the endeavor.  I wear the shirt a lot now and try to keep that impressive phrase in mind as much as possible.  A firm resolve knows not how to weaken!
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Kilimanjaro Culture Club

streets in the town of moshi

The streets of Moshi bustle with all kinds of merchants

The last time I visited Kilimanjaro and the people of Tanzania it felt like coming home after a very long absence. I felt their warm embrace and laughed with them as we caught up. But there has always been one part of the East African culture that has eluded me, the begging and solicitations. Tanzania and Kenya are still developing countries. So it should come as no shock to me to find myself surrounded by beggars or a group of men trying to sell me safari tours or t-shirts. But it still bugs me, and I find it hard to ignore as I walk down the street; a conspicuous tall, blond, white man. Last week I had an experience that opened my mind a little further to this one annoyance I've kept for East African culture. I was walking down one of the side streets of downtown Cincinnati, OH USA when an older gentleman leaned out the door of his old fashioned barber shop. "Excuse me sir. Do you need a hair-cut?" He asked. "No, but thank you." I replied. As I kept strolling down the street I thought to myself. 'What a wonderful, friendly place where nice barbers step right out to say hello and offer their services.' As the thought tumbled around in my head it reminded me of my experiences on the streets of Moshi, Tanzania where I was surrounded by young men barking out offers for taxi rides and safaris. What was really the difference between the two experiences? Not much really. Here in the US it's cute when Girl Scouts sell cookies on my front porch, professional when politicians stand on a street corner asking for my vote, and quaint when a shopkeeper steps out of his store to say hello. The difference between these people and the "beggars" of East Africa was really just the cultural context. Tanzania is a more personal, connected culture when people become great friends over a bus ride and then never see each other again. The same warmth and informality I loved in some situations I hated in others. I didn't get a haircut from the gentlemen in Cincinnati. But he did teach me an important lesson about culture and embracing all aspects of a foreign country when I visit, not just the fun parts. It's a lesson I look forward to testing on my next trip.
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Martina and the Mountain

Martina Navratilova attempts to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Last week  Martina Navratilova talked about her attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and the challenges that forced her to turn back.  She had decided to climb the mountain in an attempt to raise funds and awareness for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.  But after months of training, and even a hike up the Bank of America Tower in NYC, she was forced to turn back before the summit. What makes this story so inspirational is not that Martina failed.  But that she had the courage to stop and go down when it was wise to do so.  Anyone familiar with Martina’s past tennis record knows that she clearly has two of the three necessary assets to climb a mountain, mental and physical strength.  She was an aggressive competitor and one who clearly didn’t know the meaning of quitting.  And even before the climb started Martina commented that she would be mortified if, for some reason, she had to turn back. So why would this physically and mentally strong competitor choose to “quit?”  Because it was the right decision.  Martina was suffering from an advanced and potentially deadly form of altitude sickness called High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).  Aside from the usual headaches, nausea, exhaustion and dizziness, Martina’s lungs were filling with fluid making it even harder to breath than normal.  If a climber continues to ascend into thinner air the risk of death grows with each step up the mountain. There are three important ingredients to climbing a mountain: physical strength, mental strength and your body’s natural ability to adjust to altitude.  And while Martina clearly has the first two, it appears that her body simply does not adjust well to altitude.  Given she was struck with HAPE as low as 14,000 feet above sea level it appears that her body was not built for high altitude, and no amount of training canovercome that. But to look on her climb as a failure is to miss the bigger picture.  She is close to reaching her goal of over $100,000 for the Mathare Youth Soccer Association and other programs in Africa.  And she succeeded in bringing awareness to not only their cause, but the risks of climbing major mountains.  Given what a fierce competitor she is its all the more amazing that she had the courage to turn back when it was prudent to do so.  Thank you Martina for setting another standard for others to follow!
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Blind Climbers Break World Record on Kilimanjaro

Guest post by Debra Bouwer of Nomadic Adventures

World Record Team of Blind Climbers on Kilimanjaro

Look no further! You’ve found the luckiest bloke in the world.”  These were the words of Wayne Sticher, proud participant of the High Sight Expedition to the highest mountain in Africa. Just three degrees south of the equator, lies Kilimanjaro reaching a height of 5895m. Towering over the surrounding plains, She can be seen by no less than 160km away, and it is here, that about 12 000 people from around the world, gather each year in an attempt to reach her mighty summit, Uhuru Peak. As one of the 7 summits, Kilimanjaro draws interest from would be climbers from around the globe, for not only is she the highest mountain in Africa, largest volcano and largest free standing mountain, but she is also one of the closest points in the world to the sun. Who would have thought that this majestic mountain would be the focus of an expedition spear headed  by Stephen Hilton-Barber in Australia, to break all world records by having the most number of blind climbers, to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. So it was that Stephen contacted his Dad in South Africa, Geoff Hilton-Barber, who lost his sight when he was about 21, with the idea of creating a joint expedition between South Africa and Australia. Amongst Geoff’s claims to fame, is that he is the only non-sighted person to have sailed single handedly, from Durban in South Africa, to Freemantle in Australia. Naturally, he rose to the challenge. High Sight Expedition 2009 was born. For the next 9 months, preparations were made and a team of climbers assembled. Two charities were chosen to benefit; Prevent Blindness Association in Australia and Horizon Farm Trust in South Africa. Nomadic Adventures came on board as tour operator and part sponsor, Westville Boys High School and Lions Club in South Africa, along with the High Sight Team in Australia doing everything from a ‘Bunnings Sausage Sizzle’ to a ‘Gold Coast Blind Trek.’ By the beginning of 2009, a team of 25 had formed. From Australia, the team headed up by Stephen Hilton-Barber, comprised of Janet Etchells who has been blind from birth, walking with sighted partner Janet Wilson; Brian Haupt, who started losing his sight at 26, partnered with Victor Lambros; non sighted Bryce Lindores who won the bronze medal in the men's individual pursuit in the Track Cycling event at the Beijing Olympics, was partnered with partially sighted Wayne Sticher, who almost lost his left eye from a fungus infection; Shane Falconer, who lost his sight in a car accident, partnered with Mitch Mackinnon; Sandra Patterson who climbed as sighted partner to Kelli Dore of New Zealand, who lost her sight through Retina Pigmentosa. On the South African side, the team was headed up by Geoff, along with his daughter Andrea (15yrs old), Rusty Zindela, who was born blind, teaming up with the Westville Boys, William Hayles, Richard Gardiner, Michael Smit, Yaseen Noon and Jonathan Martin, watched over by Peter Stevens, their maths teacher. Walking with Geoff was Bruce Maitre, who suffered a severe head injury resulting in double vision, along with Lions Club members Alec Collier and Adrian Barnes, and a Nomadic client Severine Renard from Belgium, who contracted cancer of both eyes at 1yr old and in recent years, bladder cancer. On the 13 March, this incredible team flew from Johannesburg to Tanzania to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, joining up with the logistics team of 15 guides, 2 cooks and 50 porters to ensure a smooth and successful climb. “When a position on the team to climb Kilimanjaro opened up, I was determined to join” said Richard, a 16yr old pupil from Westville Boys. “I had wanted to climb Africa's highest mountain my whole life and … when I realised we would be guiding blind people up the mountain it added a whole new dimension and just added to the challenge.” Challenge indeed! Kilimanjaro is a daunting climb for anyone who can see where they are going. For people who are blind, the dynamics of the climb change considerably. Each blind person, had trained to walk behind their sighted colleague who would “guide through the lush undergrowth, the alpine desert, from camp to camp until reaching the summit. Walking up through the Marangu forest on the first day, these challenges became even more apparent. Clusters of uneven spaced slippery moss-covered rocks posed as awkward hazards. Gullies dug across the path for water drainage proved to be major stumbling blocks. Yet through patience, perseverance and persistence, the team made it through the forest to emerge at Mundara Camp after 6 hours of trekking. “I had the privilege of leading Brian, one of the blind climbers from Australia for most of the day, said Michael, 17yrs old climber from Westville Boys. “I learnt of his life, when and how he lost his sight, how it affected his family life and what is he doing now. This made the journey seem shorter.” Having walked their blind colleagues across many obstacles on the first day, the team decided to feel for themselves what the experience is like and so the sighted climbers took turns to be blind folded and to be guided for 10 minutes each day. As one climber said, “I cannot believe how much we take our sight for granted and the incredible trust that you have to have in your sighted guide. To give yourself over completely to another, to be guided through rough terrain to the summit of the highest mountain in Africa is a greater challenge than the walk itself.” Over the next few days the team progressively made their way to Kibo Huts, the last nights stop on the Marangu route before reaching summit. By now the vegetation had changed and the team found themselves in an expansive alpine desert with the summit of Kibo crater, looming above them.  The Kilimanjaro mass comprises three volcanoes, Shira and Mawenzi which are extinct, and Kibo, which is dormant. It is the volcano of Kibo that forms the highest point in Africa, her last eruption being about 100 000 years ago resulting in the loss of 5 meters from her summit. From Kibo Huts, that summit was still another 1200m in altitude, away. By 10pm on the 17th of March, 25 people emerged from Kibo Huts, clad in several layers of thermal gear. A decision had been taken by the head guide to allow the Tanzanian guides to guide the blind climbers to the summit, accompanied by their sighted colleagues to describe the terrain and scenery as they went. By 11pm, they found themselves heading up the long slow, zig zag black shale path, climbing steadily and slowly to summit. In this deep volcanic shale, one step forward results in a slight slide back, which for a sighted climber is easily resolved with balance, but for a blind climber who can neither see where they are going, nor the terrain they are on, makes the going very hard. Small rocks or stones are kicked or tripped over and the only sensual feedback you receive is the sound of your feet on the shale, the wind at your back and the intermittent talking of those around you. Six hours later all 25 had reached Gilmans point and slowly began to make their way around the crater rim to the summit. “If you can make it to sunrise, you can make it to summit,” were the words uttered by Michael who had been told this by a friend. Sure enough, within 30minutes the sun began to rise, leaving the team encouraged and warm. Yet how do you describe the magnificence of a sunrise to someone who has never seen it, or a puffy white cloud that cannot be touched. How do you explain the enormity of the massive towering glaciers that line the route to summit, or the massive volcanic vent in the crater. So much beauty. “Kilimanjaro makes you realise your place in nature…” said Richard. "I will never complain about an uneven footpath ever again," said Janet Etchells. “The terrain on Kill was unrelenting and I felt for the sighted guys having to describe it to us, there are only so many ways you can say "rock" and "stick"! Likewise at summit them having to describe the view - given that most of them were in tears at this point!” As sighted climbers we have these magnificent feats of nature to distract us from the hardships of a high altitude climb. Non sighted climbers rely solely on their senses; the feel of the ground, the touch of the snow, the icy breathe that cuts into their lungs, the warmth of the sun on their faces and the sounds of the wind around them. Their senses, are their eyes. As said by Janet Wilson from the Australian team, “when t he lights go out we panick, but these people live in this world”. At 06h30 Tanzanian time on Wednesday morning, the team of High Sight Expedition stood on top of Mt Kilimanjaro, 24 of them reaching Uhuru Peak. In doing so, they broke a record of having the most blind climbers at the summit, proving to the world that great vision is not vested solely in the eyes of the sighted. When asked, “Why climb a mountain when you cannot see where you are going?” Kellie Dore of New Zealand replied, “We do not undertake challenges to see where we are going, we take them on for the spiritual mental and emotional challenges we get from them.” Just three degrees south of the equator, Kilimanjaro stands as a beacon in Africa, the great sought after adventure of people around the world. For the team of High Sight Expedition it served as a beacon of hope and encouragement. When joining the team in 2008, Wayne Sticher said, “being bestowed the honour of being part of this incredible expedition, I am beginning to think the only handicap in life is actually believing that something is unachievable.” For Stephen Hilton Barber, whose focus on putting this expedition together was for the sole purpose of breaking down barriers between sighted and vision impaired people, his dream has undoubtedly been achieved.
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Drugs on the Mountain, Do They Help?

Climber and Porter working to prep oxygen tank.

Mndeme, the guide, shows a climber how the oxygen bottle works

Recently the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) convened an expert panel to develop evidence-based guidelines for the prevention and treatment of acute mountain sickness (AMS), high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), and high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).  The goal was to once-and-for all cut through the myth, review the evidence and offer an expert opinion on how best to prevent and treat altitude sickness.  The research was pretty comprehensive and can be reviewed on the WMS Website.  Or you can check out a Washington Post article from a writer planning to climb Kilimanjaro and looking at the research for guidance. What is immediately clear from the research is that while Kilimanjaro may be the "everyman's Everest" it can offer a high degree of risk for AMS or worse.  For one thing, climbers ascend too quickly .  WMS recommends only 1000-1500 feet of elevation gain in a day, while climbers on Kilimanjaro frequently climb 2000-3000 in one day to reduce costs.  Also, groups tend to have a higher incidence rate of AMS than independent climbers.  This is likely because peer pressure causes climbers to push on even when they're not acclimated. Naturally, one of the biggest recommendations for adjusting to altitude is to take your time!  On Kilimanjaro you should at least sign up for a 7 day climb.  If you're thinking of attempting the Western Breach then you'll need at least 8 or 9 days to safely reach the summit and descend.  The research also found Diamox as a suitable drug to help you adjust to altitude.  Diamox, is also known by the non-brand name  acetazolamide.  They found Diamox was a safe drug with few dangerous side-effects.  It was originally developed to treat glaucoma.   But another side-effect is that it essentially tricks your body into thinking there is more CO2 in your system and as a result, you take in more oxygen, adjusting to altitude quicker. The two biggest side effects for Diamox are frequent urination and taste.  Many of the climbers I know who've taken it are up all night slinking in and out of the tent.   If you're going to take Diamox, start two days before the climb to give your body time to adjust.  The other issue is less critical, but maybe more annoying.  Diamox may change the taste of beer and other carbonated beverages, making it more metallic.  But don't worry, it's not permanent and usually goes away once you stop taking Diamox.
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Mountains and Marathons

Finally finishing the Chicago Marathon, 26.2 miles

Last Sunday I ran the Chicago Marathon; 26.2 miles through all the neighborhoods of downtown Chicago.   The second time I climbed Kilimanjaro I was joined by an amateur tri-athlete and her husband who ran 3 marathons to train for the climb.  Even he struggled on the summit portion of the mountain and it made me wonder.  If I could climb Kilimanjaro, could I run a marathon?   Well, now I know.  The marathon was an amazing experience and reminded me a lot of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. First was the training.  I’d never run 26 miles before and the most I’d ever walked in a single day was 18 miles on Kilimanjaro (from Kibo to the summit and back down to Horombu).  To complete this monumental achievement (at least for me) took months of consistent training with slow, purposeful progression.  Four days a week I ran varying distances.  On Saturdays we’d do our “long run” starting at 8 miles and peaking at 22 miles.  Just like Kilimanjaro, the key was consistency. The next great think about the marathon, like Kilimanjaro, was the people.  It was my wife, Lisa, who really motivated me to climb Kilimanjaro the first time and it was my brother‘s invitation to run with him that motivated me to finally try a marathon.  On Kilimanjaro, the porters, guides and fellow climbers were the best part of the climb.  In Chicago it was the 38,000 other people running and the 1.7 million cheering fans that made it so special.  Each neighborhood had its own distinct feel and rolled out the red carpet for us in different and meaningful ways.  In Chinatown we ran past dancing dragons, in the Latin area we were greeted by a mariachi band.  There was an Elvis impersonator, a men’s baton squad and even a runner dressed like Captain America. The other big similarity was what it took to complete the marathon and the mountain.  I still remember each aching step to the summit of Kilimanjaro 19,340 feet above sea level.  All I wanted to do was quit, but I dug deep and kept marching.  The last two miles of the marathon were brutal.  My legs were screaming to stop.  But I kept running.  I reminded myself of my success on Kilimanjaro and used it to motivate me through the toughest part of the race.

the Chicago Marathon

In the end, any experience that requires us to dig deep and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone is just like climbing a mountain.  It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to lose weight, fix a broken relationship, or run a marathon.  In the end, we’re all climbing our own mountains.  If you’re thinking of testing yourself and looking for a great way of connecting with inspirational people , a marathon or a mountain are both great ways to do it.
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