The Journey of Inspiration that led me to the highest point in Africa, and that in my life
Hello and Karibu…I invite you to join me on my adventures to a little place called Karatu, Tanzania!
In July 2007, I was a recent college grad and the transition from NYU senior to Special Events Coordinator at the American Cancer Society was, well, a special event. As I found myself behind a desk from 9-5pm Monday through Friday, I couldn’t help but miss adventure. As a marathoner, cyclist, and occasional flag football player, I would browse the New York Road Runners Website or http://www.active.com for upcoming events to satiate my adventurous ways. One day as I was checking our internal website, I came across an opportunity not to be missed: “Climb Mount Kilimanjaro for Cancer”.
As I quickly scanned the article, vaguely familiar with Mount Kili (yes, somehow I still managed to graduate from college, New York University no less. Mom and Dad, you did not waste your money!) I knew I had to sign up, for doing things that some find to be crazy is just a part of who I am as a delicate flower. Yes, you read that right. While I continued reading about the extreme fundraiser for ACS through a group called Journeys of Inspiration (http://www.journeysofinspiration.com), I opened a new email and composed a message to my soon-to-be-dear friend Matt up in Rochester explaining how cancer had affected my family and friends. Moreover what a touching tribute to them and honor for it would be to raise money for the American Cancer Society while climbing to Africa’s highest peak. Within days I was accepted into the group and received my trail assignment: a 6-day climb via Macheme. I was more than ecstatic to join the team and trade in my running shoes for some hiking boots!!
While I was ecstatic to join the team, I wondered one thing: where am I going to climb mountains in New York City?! The highest peak is maybe up at 102nd Street and Central Park West as you climb the hill. For some reason, that does not quite sound anything like 19,340 feet! I created my own training plan, two half marathons, a half dozen smaller road races, a flag football tournament, and many a day and night spent on the stair machine at the gym, to build up my endurance and strength. Six months later, as I boarded the plane at JFK, I hoped that training would prove powerful enough to get me to Uhuru Peak!
From the moment I landed at Kilimanjaro Airport, the adventure was already in full swing. As I stood at the conveyer belt awaiting my second bag, I watched fellow passengers hail taxis and sadly I realized there was no second bag. Apparently, JFK had decided I did not need my bag in Africa, perhaps it would be more fun without it! Ah, such special events.
I quickly forgot I had only one change of clothes with me as I lost my breath watching the beauty that in Tanzania’s landscape. It appeared as though trees and animals, even the Maasai warriors had been painted for the colors were more vibrant than anything I had ever seen. After what seemed like a short taxi ride, I arrived at Springlands Hotel in Moshi, into the arms of my new friends! Luckily they didn’t judge me by my day-old goodness…or at least not from what I could tell! Since we had been communicating via email for the previous six months, I began matching faces to names and stories as I met everyone for the first time. Though I had seen everyone’s photos and read about their lives, I was still surprised that I was one of the youngest on the trip, likewise that some climbers had children my age! Note: Most schooled me on the mountain, clearly weathered professionals at hiking!—Clearly, a journey of inspiration in every sense of the word.
Two days passed quickly and suddenly we were standing at the Macheme Gate at 9,000 feet, yikes! As the “Macheme 12” or “Regulators” as we deemed ourselves, began climbing single file through the Rain Forest, we were suddenly caught in a two-hour downpour. Obviously its name is most befitting. Meanwhile, I learned a hard lesson: my jacket was in fact NOT 100% waterproof as the tag had claimed. The manufacturer must have meant to put the zeros to the LEFT of the “1” rather than to the right, as printed. Had I been smart, I would have multi-tasked and removed my shampoo and soap from my pack to have a quick bathe, for I felt as though I was in the shower. As we climbed higher and higher to reach the first camp, I again experienced a special event: I realized I had never actually camped before! Welcome to nature my friends! Find your own tree…
We spent the next six days climbing through five different climate zones, up rock walls and through foggy valleys, up more rocks, and to heights that allowed us to look down on the clouds, in order to reach Uhuru Peak at 19,340 feet. After climbing through the night for seven hours, it was hard to catch my breath as I stared out over the glaciers at the gorgeous sunrise before me. We had done it! At that moment, I forgot the pain in my legs, my migraine, and the exhaustion of my body as I remembered all those for whom we had climbed, the many who we celebrated and honored, and all those to whom we paid a tribute. Tears, laughter, embraces—even dancing—could be seen and heard at Uhuru, a most appropriate word, which in Swahili means Freedom.
After about ten minutes, the team ventured back down to where the air is thick enough to allow one to change clothes without becoming winded. I thought I had had the best experience of my life. Oh ye of little faith!
On our last day in Tanzania, Rick (Journeys of Inspiration guru) took us for a visit to Shalom Orphanage Center in neighboring Karatu. (http://www.shalomorphanagekaratu.org) After listening to the laughter and songs of the 40+ orphans, I immediately knew I had to come back some day.
I returned to my new job at i.e. Design Events but could not forget the beautiful children and their huge smiles, or Mama Warra, the women who had started the orphanage in 2004 after finding abandoned children in Karatu. Their laughter echoed in my memory as I fought to not forget my last words to the orphanage staff, “See you soon,” as I had refused to say “Good bye.” In January 2009, with the help of my two amazing bosses, I edited Shalom’s donor brochure and in February, we sent over 200 crisp copies for prospective donors with the 2nd installment of the JOI Kilimanjaro Climbers.
After speaking with Rick and other Journeys of Solutions (http://www.journeysofsolutions.org// The sister organization of JOI) staff members, I purchased a roundtrip ticket to Africa…watch out Shalom; my promise is slowly becoming reality! Since Rick had just come back from Africa, he knew Shalom was in need of some serious help, for it had no consistent funding, yet more mouths to feed constantly.
In late May, I began fundraising for the “Roof Project” at Shalom and with that we are up to speed!