One Year Ago Today…

One year ago today…

I arrived in Tanzania, Africa for what was the greatest adventure of my life – a month of volunteering & teaching in the community, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, going on Safaris, and visiting Zanzibar. All of it completely changed my life. I’m in disbelief that it has been a year already. I miss Moshi and my experience EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I don’t think a day goes by that I haven’t thought about it in some capacity.

I’m so grateful for that experience.

I can’t believe all that has happened, come and gone in the past year and all that I’ve learned and discovered both about myself and others along the way. Nzuri sana.  It’s funny, I always catch myself first, but my instinct is still to say “Asante Sana” instead of “Thank you.”

In that month, I learned so much about myself, what it means to be a community, how privileged americans are and how much we take for granted. I learned so much about gratitude and appreciating what we have; that being wealthy has everything to do with how grateful and happy you are and nothing to do with how much money you have.  I learned to follow my heart; to express love and gratitude and to live passionately. I learned there is so much more to life than just the items we own or the cars we drive or the life we live. I realized how important it is to experience other cultures and to leave your first world expectations at home when you travel to a third world country.

Time and how we perceive it is an odd thing. I reflect and think about all that has happened in the past year since I first arrived in my host city and I am silenced.

When put in perspective that I’ve already lived in DC for 7.5 months, one year ago feels simultaneously both light years away and just few months ago.  It’s a teeter-totter of emotions and memories. It seems like it never happened; it seems like 6 months; it seems like decades ago and it seems like a year.

So much has happened since I landed in Tanzania. I look back on the impact the children had on me, and vice versa; the fact that I no longer have to dream about someday fulfilling a lifelong dream of volunteering and going on African Safari’s is exhilarating and saddening.  It’s crazy that I actually held residence in Africa. Not at a hotel, but a place I called home for a month. It’s hard to fathom that I climbed the largest freestanding mountain in the world and lived to tell the tale. I think about that accomplishment and it still blows my mind that I DID THAT.  At this point it feels like it is a figment of my imagination, just a dream I conjured up in my head, and I have to look at photos for proof I didn’t make it up. I am still in awe and incredibly proud of myself that I actually did it let alone successfully made it to the summit no less. I accomplished 7 things on my life list.

In the past year since returning, I flew 22 hours alone, my sister got married, I was unemployed for a while, I moved across country on a gut feeling and then I got a new job soon thereafter; one that I love because I know I get to impact lives everyday. I made a new home in that new city and made new friends. I’ve accomplished  2 more things on my life list.  I ran my first 5K. I played league sports and started my own Ladies Only fantasy NFL leagues with friends. I have spent an ENTIRE year eating only meat that was GMO/anti-biotic free.

Man, a lot has happened – and that’s just the start of it all.

From the moment I boarded the plane wondering what this adventure was going to be like – until now – the adventures haven’t stopped. When I woke up a year ago today, I never would have predicted just where my life would be today – all because of that one decision to go to Africa.

I miss Moshi and my students every day. This adventure and experience has become a part of who I am and I am proud of the person I have become. I am strong and brave; I am bold and adventurous. I have learned to be true to myself, to follow my gut and to surround myself with people who make me a better person. I am more positive and grateful. I know that I can accomplish big things; I know I can push myself; I can climb mountains and continually challenge myself. I’ve learned to honor who I am and to do what makes me happy.  I’ve grown more into the person I want to be. Asante Sana.

You can’t predict what the future holds but you do have to have faith that you are going in the right direction. Time is a funny thing. It never stops. And as we get older, it only goes faster. It blurs together and weeks become months and months become years. I still can’t believe an entire year has gone by.

What started as the greatest adventure of my life has evolved into my life being a giant adventure now. I am grateful for my experience and thankful I had the courage to follow my dreams and make it happen. I look forward experiencing (what is now) the upcoming year and reflecting on all that I will have done. Maybe a year from now I’ll be in a different city? Engaged? Single? Maybe I’ll be an Aunt? At a new job? Whatever will be this time next year, I look forward to all the adventures that lie ahead.

Hakuna Matata.

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summit

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The Best Klout Perk: Being VIP at an NFL game

You know how you have those weekends that blur into a foggy memory and you look back and wonder what in the world you did? This past weekend was not one of those occasions. It is one that I will remember and smile about for the rest of my life.

***

I’m one of those girls who can be a girlie-girl and get my nails done or hang with the guys and watch NFL on Sundays. I like sports. A lot. This year I started a March Madness league and NFL Fantasy Ladies ONLY league.  I like watching them on TV and going to games live. I have my teams from all sports (Go Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears) that I root for. Seeing games live is exhilarating and fun and the energy is fantastic (when the team is doing well, at least) but I’ll admit, I usually prefer NFL games on TV. Growing up in Chicago, I was not about to sit outside in the frigid cold and get frostbite when I could sit comfortably on my couch in my cozy house. I admit I prefer the replays and commentary from TV commentators but given the opportunity to go to a game, I just can’t refuse.

***

Klout perks have been sucking lately. If you are unfamiliar with Klout, it is  the Standard for Influence. If Klout thinks you are influential, it assigns you a score and rewards you with perks based on said score. The perks I’ve gotten lately have all been useless. For example, the last 5 I got were all for McDonalds and one for Norton Antivirus. Being that I eat mostly healthy and as unprocessed as possible, that didn’t work so much for me. However, on Thursday I got a perk thanks to Women of Washington (Washington Redskins Women’s Club) that invited me and a friend to go to a preseason Redskins vs Buffalo Bills game as free VIP. That alone was awesome but what ensued was more than I could have dreamed.

Being last minute, I asked around and not only were people already busy but apparently there aren’t many Skins fans in DC Proper (too many transient people, I guess). I ran to Target to get a shirt; they had the most pathetic selection so I tried a local sports store. I couldn’t go to this event without sporting team support! There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make this happen, even if I had to go alone.

It wasn’t until Thursday that I got the invite and then on Friday, the day before the game, that I found out I was going to get to go ON the field for player introductions! Because it was a WOW event, my date who came with me had to wait for me back in the seats. I felt bad for a hot second but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t going to miss it. I talk to everyone so I had made a friend while we waited. They brought us down onto the field and we stood alongside the cheerleaders to form the tunnel for the player introductions. It was absolutely wild and epic and totally thrilling to be on the field. Words can’t describe how exciting the whole thing was. Afterwards, we were quickly rushed off the field and ushered to our seats after the introductions were complete

I thought our seats were inside in the standing room only nose-bleed section. Turns out, not only did we have Exclusive Club Level access, we were seated 3rd row in the Dream Seats – the seats before the stands begin along the 20 yard line on the visitor side. Sitting so close to the game is the only way to go. I’m officially spoiled now. It was a beautiful hot day, the Redskins won and all of this was free. I am still in shock and overly excited that I got to experience this.

Everything exceeded any expectations I had when I claimed this perk from Klout.  This was my first Redskins NFL game and pretty sure that no other game will compare from here on out. Surely no perk will top this and I joked with my date that he’s screwed. How do you top this for a second date idea? I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking:

Women of Washington Redskins on the field

Thanks to Klout and Women of Washington for an experience of a lifetime. It was so much fun and absolutely something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

welcome field run from Caryn Levy on Vimeo.

Live Tweeting the State of the Union from the White House

I’ve lived in DC for only 12 days and already I’ve been inside the White House compound to be selected as part of an elite group of social media members to take part in The White House State of the Union Social.

I was selected as one of the 100 social media members to watch an enhanced screening of President Obama’s State of the Union Address live from the White House. Following the screening, we participated in a panel discussion with Administration policy advisors about the visions and policies presented during the speech. Really, is there a better “Welcome to DC” experience than hanging out with the executive branch in the White House compound?

Security was more disorganized than I expected but a lot less invasive, too. Thank goodness it was a beautiful winter night because they had us wait outside for 45 minutes. Security took our ID’s twice at separate gates while we waited for security clearance and to get our badge. Me, being the girl who makes friends and talks to everyone everywhere I go, met two girls while we waited outside. Turns out, one of the girls was likely in my recruitment group Freshman year at Indiana. It’s such a small world, isn’t it?

Once we got clearance, they directed us to the Eisenhower Executive Office. While we were waiting for President Obama to begin, I took a picture with the White House sign.

Sara and I just wanted a photo together with the White House sign but what we got was my favorite photo of the night. It was a complete coincidence and just good timing that this happened:

Oh you know, just the President looking down over us
Oh you know, just POTUS looking down on us

Once the State of the Union Address began, we all whipped out our devices and the tweeting and social media frenzy commenced. The Enhanced Broadcast was streamed live on the website but actually physically being in the room was an awesome experience. Despite the wifi being ridiculously slow, the energy in the room was exciting and electric and I felt like I was somebody to be. People reacted, laughed and clapped in unison. And together, we shared our experience with our followers. While on a bit of a delay for online viewers, the Enhanced Broadcast really made watching the SOTU so much more interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever watch on CNN again. (I hear they had split screens for the shooting?) They had infographics and factoids and all kinds of cool images. We were encouraged to take pictures and get our followers involved (obviously, that is why we were there.)

When discussing equality and equal pay, the Enhanced Broadcast showed the meme of the President and Mckayla Maroney doing the “Not Impressed” face together. Clearly they aren’t impressed by unequal opportunities and believe in equal rights for all. Between hosting the White House Social and the simple act of including the meme in the broadcast, it showed me that the administration is embracing change and social media and is accepting of the fact that things are evolving. It shows me progress. It shows me that our country isn’t rigid and stubborn and set in our pre-historic ways. It shows me that we will advance, not regress. It shows me that they are tuned into what is going on in the world outside of the political agenda.

Social media offers a way for everyday citizens to interact with the Administration and policy advisors, with The First Lady or POTUS, with celebrities and peers. It puts us all on even playing ground and gives the silent a voice. To be able to interact in this way is what makes social media so unique and impactful. This Administration is utilizing social media and giving citizens a way to be heard through things like State of the Union Social and an initiative called Citizens Respond. With Citizens Respond, you can go online to read the SOTU speech, dissect it line by line and discuss it with the President. This isn’t the first presidential address to the nation online as Clinton first did it back in June 2000. But it is just the beginning of social media playing a role in such monumental national and international events.

While delivering the SOTU, the President showed he is one of the greatest public speakers of our time. He showed that he is personable, playful and lighthearted. I like that even though the President was discussing very serious matters, he was able to make light of some situations by cracking a few witty jokes and smiling. His casualness through comments like, “Good job, Joe” or “Germans are job ready by HS graduation. Let’s do that.” or regarding climate change “send me that bill, Why would we be against that?” or even pushing fathers to be more than a sperm donor but to actually care to raise the child, really make me like him more. He showed his personality and as a citizen, I appreciate that about him.

Sotu13

The panel afterwards wasn’t so much of us participating as it was us asking questions and having the policy advisors answer them. There were too many questions (from in the room and online via Facebook, Google +, Twitter etc) and not enough time. I had a couple of questions prepared but never got the opportunity to ask them aloud.

It was such an amazing and unique experience to be a part of. So, for those that follow my personal Twitter account, I am sorry I’m not sorry for infiltrating your feeds with #SOTU #WHSocial tweets. I am so grateful that I was selected to be apart of this special group. I won’t share all of them here, but here are some of my favorite or most ReTweeted tweets from last night:

climate change

Chris Hardball tweetPOTUS is a funny man

minimum wageto be a dad - potusdeserve a voteScreen shot 2013-02-13 at 12.42.20 PMmarriage equality

Side notes or factoids that the Enhanced Broadcast shared or :

  • We saw 645k tweets last year and 1.1 million today during #SOTU Way to make history!
  • There were 24,000 tweets per minute during the #guncontrol portion of the #SOTU
  • I applaud the notion that President Obama wants to put our nation’s interests before the party agenda. This got the evenings first standing ovation.
  • I’m impressed that cyber security got a mention in the speech.

And I’m famous! But I sure hope that wasn’t my 15 minutes of fame. I was caught live on camera during the online Enhanced Broadcast #WHchat after the speech. It is proof I was paying attention and not picking my nose, incessantly tweeting or doing anything embarrassing. See me?! I guess my, “I’m paying attention” face makes me look very serious. I’ve got to work on that one…I'm famous at SOTU

I am honored that I got selected to be apart of this social media event. I can’t help but feel like my efforts as a community manager and social media member have been successful at making an impact on others. Being at this event made me so extremely proud that we reelected @barackobama. America, you like some weird stuff and I don’t always agree, but man, you got this one right! I am optimistic that the next four years will bring great progress and change. I think we are going to see tremendous outcry over controversial things, but I believe we are advancing and evolving as a nation, and  we are finally heading in the right direction.

 

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

After talking about it since May of last year, it has finally happened.

Ok. So that is a lie. I’ve actually been telling people that I wanted to live somewhere other than Chicago ever since I returned from living abroad in ’06. I used to joke that I’d live in Austin or Boston because well, it rhymed and I am corny like that, and also because I heard they were fun cities to live in. I love Chicago, it is such a wonderful, beautiful and friendly city. It is my home. I grew up there. A part of me will always belong in Chicago. I don’t think I’ll ever fully leave; it is likely that I’ll be back someday. But I’ve always felt this strong draw to get out, to experience living elsewhere and to challenge myself to live outside of my comfort zone. I need a change. I love growing and experiencing new things and staying in one place my whole life limits that.

So last year when everything changed and I started to reevaluate my life, I recognized that I wasn’t truly being the most authentic version of myself. While I am extremely grateful for my friends in Chicago who have come into my life recently, I still felt something was missing. I realized I was a dreamer and a talker but not really doing anything about said dreams. As part of The Year of CarynI immediately began to take action towards putting my plans in motion for figuring out what I needed to do to make myself truly happy. 2012 was the start of doing things now and just because it is 2013, a new year, that doesn’t mean the momentum from 2012 has to stop.

After I visited DC for the second time last year, a friend said, “You should just move here” and with that it hit me that there is no better time than now to fulfill that dream. This is the perfect time in my life to pick up and move to a new city. I don’t have a boyfriend or a husband or any children, and I don’t even have a full-time job for that matter right now. If there was ever a time to have a new beginning, this was it.

People ask why DC? The truth is I have friends here so that made the decision easier, but it was honestly just a gut feeling. So far my gut hasn’t steered me wrong and has led me to great adventures and tremendous growth. When I visited over New Years, I almost signed with two other apartments, but for reasons here and there I had reservations. I nearly gave up but then on whim I skyped with these two girls and that was it. Again, in my gut I instantly knew they were the right choice. I quickly signed the lease and had 13 days to sell all my furniture, sublet my apartment and pack everything up. The last two weeks have been a complete whirlwind. People say moving is super stressful but because I know in my heart that this is where I’m supposed to be now, I was calm and not stressed.

Turns out my life fit into only 16 boxes. What wasn’t sold or donated (which was an embarrassingly large amount of clothing and chotchkes) was brought back to my parent’s place. I decided to ship everything instead of renting a truck and driving it out myself. They came and got my boxes and it felt like you move for free without the hassle of the heavy lifting or the stress of driving it out there yourself. Plus, it was all trackable and insured.

boxes

My apartment was perfect; I’ll miss living on my own in such an affordable spacious place. Closing the door to my apartment was harder than I expected. It was truly symbolic of that chapter in my life coming to an end. I had managed to collect gift certificates to various local places and enough booze to last me a lifetime so it gave me great pleasure to share it with friends instead of throwing it out (once opened, you can’t ship it). I am grateful that I got to say goodbye to so many friends over dinner while also spending two days with my parents before leaving town.

Fast forward to Friday, February 1st. Timing couldn’t have worked out any better, even if I tried. I was able to hug and say goodbye to my parents at the airport gate because their flight (they left for a cruise the same day) was to leave only 10 minutes after mine. I was reminded just how much more personal and emotional it is to say goodbye at the gate like we commonly used to do pre-9/11, rather than being rushed away by curbside security. Looking after them as they walked toward their gate was very emotional. I was excited about this new adventure but saying goodbye not knowing when I will see my parents, my puppy, and friends again was difficult. It was horribly bittersweet. When I studied abroad or went to Tanzania, there was always a known return date in the near future. I know that I am only a 90-minute flight, a call or even FaceTime away, but this time I have no idea when or if I’ll return to Chicago. I’ve never lived (permanently) away from Chicago and am used to going home when I want. It will be hard to not be able to go home for the weekend on a whim, at least without having to buy a plane ticket first. I am blessed to have such a close, loving and supportive relationship with my parents and that makes it harder than all other goodbyes.

Whenever I go away for a big trip like studying abroad in Italy, volunteering in Africa, or even going away to over night camp as a kid, my mom always wrote a letter for me to read on the plane and this was no exception. After our hugs and tears and goodbyes at the gate, they sat on their plane and I on mine, at the same airport, texting in a group chat. It was utterly adorable and made me smile through my tears. I was totally that crazy girl on the plane with tears streaming down her face for no apparent reason.

As I was walking off the plane, feeling oddly stuck between two worlds, my new apartment building called to tell me all 16 of my packages had arrived a day early. It seemed to snap things back to reality and things were already off to a good start. I immediately began unpacking and making this place my new home.

I know that I am just beginning my new adventure and that I chose and needed this change in my life. Everything in the past year has led up to this. Although my family is extremely important to me and I will miss them tremendously, I am excited to begin this new journey and to be closer to so many wonderful friends.

I am proud of myself for taking an active role in making my dreams a reality. I am proud that I didn’t procrastinate this move. I know this is only the beginning and that it isn’t going to be easy at first. There will be a lot of adjustments and change and it will come with a large amount of challenges, struggles and compromises. I will need to be patient and open to new experiences. The thing about change is that it forces you outside of your comfort zone and disguises itself as something painful and uncomfortable. But once you accept it, you forget you were ever worried in the first place. It becomes the norm. You just have to trust the change.

As I was saying my goodbyes, I couldn’t help but get the lyrics to Semisonic’s Closing Time stuck in my head, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.This is my new beginning. Now it is time for me to embrace the change and challenges that may come and just enjoy this new adventure.

After talking about it for so many years, it has finally happened.

Source: gitamba.com via Caryn on Pinterest

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.*This post was supported by UMoveFree. All comments are my own.*

That time I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and lived to tell the tale…

I was on top of the world!! (Or at least on The Roof of Africa!)

Despite some (major) breathing struggles due to the high altitude and extremely thin air, I’m really happy to report that I made it all the way to Uhuru Peak! I climbed 19,341 feet on the World’s Highest Freestanding Mountain to The Roof of Africa. From being cold and dirty for seven days and only using wet wipes to bathe, to camping out in sleeping bags in the great outdoors and going to the bathroom behind rocks along the trail, to facing my fears of climbing a real rock wall (with no harness) and hiking up to 7 hours in a day, to even climbing 13 hours in extreme cold and dangerously low temps on summit night, I can honestly say that even though in the moment it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, I enjoyed every day and the adventure of it all.

My climbing group consisted of 3 other girls and I along with our 3 guides and 13 porters. We saw dads and sons, couples and groups of guys but we were the only group of all girls. Yup, we’re that badass.

We chose to do a 7 day hike on Machame, the route known as “The Whiskey Route” because it is more challenging and scenic than Marangu, the “Coca Cola Route.” The more days you spend climbing, the better your chances are of acclimatizing and successfully making it to the summit. I don’t know if I would have made it if we did a shorter trek. Climbing, much like in life, is a mental game. If you believe it is possible and tell yourself you can do it compared to if you are weak and give up, the choice is yours. You have to honey badger through that shit. The mental aspect of the climb was actually the easiest part for me. Apparently, when I want  something, I am a lot stronger mentally than I ever fully realized.

I used to wonder what it was like to touch a cloud. They look so fun and fluffy, right? Let me tell you right now – they aren’t. They are cold and damp and quite dreary! But even if you are standing in the clouds or above the clouds, when you’re on the mountain looking up at the snow-covered peak, you completely forget that you’re in Africa.

Every morning at 6am the porters woke us up with hot tea and a hot breakfast. We’d get dressed (we pretty much wore the same clothes everyday so this didn’t take too long), pack up our stuff and load our daypack with the stuff that we needed for the day. Having the right gear made the trek a thousand times easier. We had 3 hot meals a day and ate dinner around 6pm by candlelight. It got really cold at night and there wasn’t much to do in the dark except rely on our headlamps and candles to play cards, write in our journals or read so we’d stall best we could and then retire early for the night to rest up for the long day of hiking ahead.

Quick Kilimanjaro Facts:

  • The guides repeatedly tell you “pole pole” (pronounced polé) which means “slowly slowly”. The slower you go, the more likely you are to make it to the summit.
  • It’s the largest freestanding mountain in the world standing at 19,341 ft/ 5895 m.
  • Kilimanjaro supports 5 major eco-zones: rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and arctic tundra. Where else on Earth can you journey through 5 climates from the Equator/Amazon Rainforest to the North Pole in 45 miles? Truly incredible.
  • The biggest challenge and danger is the high altitude. Climbers die from improper acclimatization and altitude sickness rather than falls.
  • Approximately 25,000 people attempt to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro annually. Only about 2/3 are successful. (and I am one of them! Woo!)
  • The structure is composed of 3 volcanoes: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Kibo, where all the hikers are, is the highest and only peak that is dormant and could erupt again. The most recent activity was only 200 years ago! (Yea, so I climbed on a colossal volcano!)

So here is a day by day account of the life-changing climb:

October 14: DAY 1
Machame Gate to Machame Hut Camp
Elevation: 5,997 ft to 9,908 ft

Distance: 10.8 km
 (6.7 miles)
Time: 12N to 5:22PM
. 5 hours 22 minutes
Zone: Rainforest

It rained in the rainforest. Go figure. I saw some monkeys swinging in the trees, so that was entertaining. The air was already thinning and already becoming more difficult to breathe. I tried to focus on the climb rather than what could have been.  That night I stood mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty and astounding mass quantity of stars. Stars in Utah have nothing on this.

day 1 - kilimanjaro
 
October 15 DAY 2
Machame Hut to Shira Camp
Elevation: 12,621 ft

Distance: 5.2 km
 (3.2 miles)

Time: 8:30AM to 1PM
 - 4 hours 57 minutes
Vitals: 97 Oxygen level
Zone: Alpine Forest

Today was rough and very steep. We were already above the clouds and climbed over rocks, mud and boulders. At one point, we were on the edge of a cliff with only a 3-inch thick ledge!! (not exaggerating at all)

day 2- kilimanjaro
Thank goodness for walking sticks. No stepping stones are stairs, only boulders.
October 16 – DAY 3
Shira Camp to Barranco Hut (via Lava Tower)

Elevation: Lava Tower 15,092 ft / Barranco Hut 130,70ft

Distance: 
Shira to Lava 7.0 (4.3 miles)
Lava to Barranco 3.7 km (2.3 miles)

Time: 8:30AM to 4PM
 - 6 hours 27 minutes
Vitals: 94 Oxygen level
Zone: Moorland

The first 3 ½ hours were straight uphill and extremely cold.The cold temps only make breathing in the thin air that much more difficult. To help acclimate (climb high, sleep low) we descended after reaching Lava Tower which is the highest point along the route until the summit.

Grace and I at Lava Tower; crazy Tim Burton-esque trees; me standing in front of Kibo
October 17 – DAY 4
Barranco Hut to Karanga Hut

Elevation: 13,255 ft

Barranco Wall (843 ft)
Distance: 5.8 km (3.6 miles)
Time: 8:50AM to 1PM
 4 hours
Vitals: 90 Oxygen level
Zone: Alpine Desert

The air had gotten so thin that it took me 5 minutes to catch my breath. Even going from the tent to the toilet tent and back was an effort. We literally climbed a rock wall known as the High Breach Barranco Wall. We put away our walking poles and used our hands to pull ourselves up and over massive boulders. On our walk, I had an interesting chat with Vincent, my guide, about how Tanzanian’s main news source is the radio because TV’s cost too much, papers are hard to find and people have to go to Internet cafes to get Internet access. When he told me Obama did well in the 2nd debate and bombed the 1st I realized just how disconnected from the world I had become and how at peace I was in the complete and utter silence, the serenity and the calmness of the mountain.

Yoga above the clouds, Niki and I climbing up the Barranco Wall and the four of us eating
October 18- DAY 5
Karanga Hut to Barafu Hut
Elevation: 15,092 ft

Distance: 3.4 km
 (2.1 miles)

Time: 8:45AM to 12PM
 2 hours 44 minutes
Zone: Desert

Upon arrival at the camp, we were told to rest up for our big night. The guides woke us up for dinner and then again at 1130p to begin our summit attempt. This was where it hit me. Time had come to go big or go home; but really just to go big because going home wasn’t going to be an option for me.

day 5 - kilimanjaro

October 18th/ Morning of October 19th – NIGHT of DAY 5/ DAY 6 SUMMIT ATTEMPT!
Distances on Summit Day
Barafu Hut to Stella Point: 3.3 Km (2.05 miles) ~ 6 hours 
(Stop & think about that. Climbing 2 miles straight up a mountain.
That puppy is huge!)
Stella Point to Summit Uhuru Peak: 1.2 km (.75 miles)
Summit to Barafu: 4.5km (2.8 miles)
Elevation: Stella Point 18,871 ft / Uhuru Peak 19,341 ft
Vitals: None taken. Vincent didn’t want to psych us out if we made it
this far?
Time: 12:20AM-1:30PM Summit. 13 hours!
Zone: Arctic Tundra

As soon as we left base, I felt like we were on a death march with what should have had dramatic Star Wars music playing in the background. Saving my iPod battery up until this point just to listen to music as I attempted to summit made all the difference in the world. It helped pass the time so much easier. I was wearing almost every piece of clothing I brought and while I was comfortable, others were vomiting and fighting frostbite. After all, climbing (pre-sunrise) in the cold, dark night at -10C (14 F) for  about 6+ hours was damn near frigid. When it is pitch black out, all you see is the feet of the person in front of you lit up in the light of your headlamp. You can’t see that you are on the edge of a massive cliff and you’re less likely to get psyched out by how far you have left to climb.

Did you know that the brain does not function very intelligently and often hallucinates at this altitude? One climber-friend said she must have blacked out while continuing to walk because she doesn’t remember parts of the climb near Stella Point. Another said he saw hippos. That’s bad, there are no hippos anywhere on the mountain. Thankfully, I didn’t have any symptoms of AMS. When you reach Stella Point you think you’re done but you’re not.  It’s a big tease. You’ve already climbed about 7 hours and you think you’ve exhausted all your reserved energy and that you can’t go any further but oh wait. You can! There is still (only) 470 ft to go! Even though I was struggling to breathe, I told myself, “Who needs to breathe!? I’ve come 5 days and have just an hour and half left! I can do this!” Admittedly, I cried a few tears when I got to the sign. Standing just feet away from a real ice glacier in Africa was absolutely magical. It  is so sad to think that they are melting and will likely be gone in 10-20 years.

summit

October 19 Day 6:
Barafu Hut to Mweka Camp
Distance: 6.3km  (3.9 miles)
Time: 3 hours
Elevation: Mweka Camp 10,138 ft

Vitals: Oxygen 70. Uh oh.
Zone: Alpine Desert

TOTAL Climbed Summit Day - Total 15.3km  (9.5 miles)

I kept thinking, “What comes up must go down” because for me the scariest part of it all was going down the loose scree. Couldn’t they have a ski chair lift to take me down? 10 hours into climbing and still 3 hours left, I was tired!! I thought once I descended and reached camp, my breathing would return to normal. However, I was wheezing coughing so violently that I almost vomited so the porters put me on a stretcher and carried me 3/4 of the way to Mweka camp to get me to lower altitude as fast as possible. They then gave me oxygen to help stabilize me. As it turns out, I was actually lucky to have been given a ride because really, going down is a lot harder on your knees and body and after 13 straight hours, I don’t think I had the energy to keep going.

complete
Happy and Dirty and in need of a shower, but we did it!
October 20 Day 7:
Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate to the hotel! AKA finally a shower 
with soap & water, a real toilet and a real bed!
Elevation: 5,423 ft

Distance: 8.5 km
 (5.3 miles)
Time: 8:30 to 10:30AM hotel by 12:30PM – 2 hours 47 minutes
Zone: Rainforest

I was lucky, even though I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t suffer from any AMS symptoms. I never had a headache, never saw hippos nor did I vomit. I think taking Advil and Diamox every day helped tremendously. Before we knew it, we were at the finish line receiving our certificates of summit completion! I immediately showered, laid on the bed and called home to wake up my parents to tell them that I was indeed alive and that I had succeeded! That night we all went to celebrate our successful climbs (and newfound access to showers) at Glacier – a bar hangout in Moshi with tables in a treehouse.

TOTAL DISTANCE WALKED: over 45 miles in 7 days.

Cheers'ing to our successful climb and to finally having a shower again
All 7 of us successfully made it to the summit. 100% success rate! Celebrating our successful climb and to finally having a shower again
October 21
Zone: Hotel & Airport

Time for my 22 hour flight home. Funny story – Before Grace contacted me to join her, I had considered joining a group of 6 Australians so I didn’t have to climb alone. When I got in the van to go to the airport, I was chatting with my van-mates who happened to be Australian. I  instantly knew who they were and when I asked if they climbed Rongai, they gave me a look like “WTF, how’d you know?” Turns out it is a very small world after all and they were the ones I almost climbed with! Good thing I went with Grace because it was a group of men all in their 50’s! That sure would have been an awkward 7 days.

A good life lesson learned – just keep your focus on what is directly ahead of you. Don’t look up the mountain and get caught up in how far you have still to go, just take one step at a time. 

It was such an incredible feeling of immense satisfaction and such a sense of accomplishment to know that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro! I made to the top! I didn’t give up and yes, I did it! It was a very proud moment and in that moment, I felt untouchable, as if I could do anything. I felt on top of the world. While it truly was a once-in-a-life-time experience, it made me realize I am capable of so much more than I ever thought possible and am so much stronger (mentally) than I ever gave myself credit for. I am fierce, brave and independent. I enjoy adventures and camping and nature, too. I don’t need to wait for a man to come along for my life to begin. I  can accomplish dreams on my own. Looking back at pictures and memories, I am still impressed with myself that I was able to accomplish such a challenging feat. I am now apart of an elite club of people who can say that they made it to The Roof of Africa! I’m excited to see what my next adventure will be.

{Interested in climbing? Have questions about my experience or want to know more details on how climbing works, ask away in the comment section!}

** If you want to see more pictures check out my album.**