Last night, thanks to an invite from my friend Jeanie, I went to a trail running film festival. For two and a half hours, we watched short films on people who do off-road running. I’m very much a road runner because I like to know my feet will plant firmly in front of me, but a couple of years ago, I started doing some trail running in an effort to deal with a post-race slump I was experiencing. I’ve found it difficult at times but always super fun. This film festival showed me another side of trail running – a crazy and fun community of people who like to push their bodies to extremes in stunningly beautiful environments. Dare I say I might have to try one of the races featured in one of the films? Continue reading
I say this now because I won’t be writing for a while, not here anyway. I’m taking a couple of weeks off to go to Africa. It’ll be an entirely new experience for me – a new continent, a first mountain climb, a first effort in altitude, a first camping experience that will last more than one night, and a first time journeying entirely with people I’ve never met. I expect to learn a great deal about the world and myself while I’m away. Continue reading
In three months, I’ll be getting on a flight to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro climb and safari adventure. That feels so strange to say because Africa was never on my list of things to do. The idea just came to me one day in mid June as I was thinking about possible ways to spend new years, and I decided to follow my heart even though I thought my heart might be crazy.
The first thing I did was mention the idea to my friend Matt who has done the climb. This was Sunday, June 16, days before I was leaving to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene. My thought was to set up a lunch for when I got back, but Matt was so excited that he responded to my e-mail on Monday with, “You have lunch plans today?” I didn’t, so we had lunch, and his enthusiasm was so complete that I walked away from that lunch committed in my own mind about the effort. I got back to my office and immediately requested information from the outfitter that Matt had used. When I got back from Coeur d’Alene, I reviewed the information they sent me and, on June 29, I put down my deposit. Acting in 13 days is record time for me, as I am perhaps the slowest decision-maker on the planet. I suppose I could have walked away from the deposit, but on August 7, I bought my ticket. Then I was in for sure. On September 3, the outfitter charged my credit card for the balance of what I owed. Then I was in for damn sure.
Now I’m buying travel insurance, rescue insurance, and health insurance for the trip. I’m looking at immunization lists and gear lists. I’m trying to figure out what I have and what I need and what I want for this trip. How will I charge my phone and camera on the climb? What will I carry in my day pack? Will I take paper books or an e-reader? How much can I pack in the duffel bag that porters will carry for me? What do I need to buy and what can I borrow from friends?
My Grand Canyon trip has helped because I now have a day pack, sleeping bag, hat and gloves. Hood to Coast helped me because I now have a compact pillow and small travel towels. Matt has helped by loaning me his trekking poles, which have been up the mountain before. He assures me that they know the way! But I need to figure out the clothes, especially because most of what I own no longer fits me. I’ve lost almost 19 pounds since January, so I’m having to buy new pants all around. Even the pants I bought in July with Rey are getting loose. At some point, I’ll do a big REI trip to buy a bunch of clothes and gear. That will be a fun effort.
But logistics aside, it’s hitting me that I’m going to Africa, and I’m going alone. My first international trip (to Italy and Greece) was with a girlfriend and her family. My second (to Spain) was to meet my friend Erin, who was studying there for a semester. My third (England and Germany) was for an extended family reunion on my dad’s side. This will be only my fourth big trip, and I’m flying for over 24 hours alone to climb a mountain in Africa with five other people I’ve never met. The me of two years ago before I’d done any international travel would never have done this.
Who have I become?
I’m someone who is turning forty in less than three months and doesn’t want being forty and alone to feel like…well, the way I expect forty and alone to feel. I want to appreciate that I have a wonderful job that allows me travel. I want to take advantage of not having kids and not being responsible for anyone but myself. I want to enjoy being able to book a trip on a whim – or as close to a whim as I’ve ever come – and seeing it through. I love people and want someone by my side, but I also want to be completely okay with being just me.
Africa is about me doing something I never thought I would do. It’s about proving to myself that I can adapt to a different and challenging environment, that I can enter a foreign territory with no one holding my hand, and that I can battle my way up to any finish line I choose to face. It’s about me trying something new and having fun. Africa is about me enjoying being forty and being forty the best way I know how.
I’m excited. And a little scared. But mostly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to get on the plane. This experience will be all my own, and I have a feeling I will come back changed somehow. I don’t know how, but I suspect it’ll be for the better.
Africa, I have high hopes for you and for me. I can’t wait for us to meet.
In mid-June, I started thinking about a trip to Africa. Africa had never been on my list of places I wanted to go, but as I thought about turning 40 and doing so alone, I knew I wanted to do something grand for my birthday. I also knew that I did not want to spend New Years at home alone, so I started looking at REI’s website for adventure trips in late December. Almost immediately, I felt drawn to the thought of hiking up the highest mountain in Africa.
So what if it takes forever to travel to Africa and I’ll be travelling alone? So what if the foreignness of Africa scares me? So what if I’ve never been in altitude? So what if I have to get injections or take drugs to keep from getting sick? So what if I’m sleeping in a tent and not showering every day? I can do this. More than that, I need to do this. I need to know that I can put myself in any unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable situation and, not just survive, but enjoy it.
Someone recently told me that I’m not capable of change, and I cannot let that be true.
It’s true that I’ve lived in the same town for more than twenty years, that I’ve been in one line of work, mostly with one firm, the entire time, and that I’m a person who takes comfort in routine and familiarity. It’s also true that I hold tight to my family and friends. I have friends I’ve had since elementary school, middle school, and high school because I value people. Once I love them, I don’t let go easily. I email. I phone. I reach out regularly. If I cause hurt, I ask forgiveness, even when walking away would be easier. If I am hurt, I offer forgiveness where I think forgiveness is genuinely sought. I have a history of dedication and commitment to my work and the people I love. I think all of that is good and that to reframe all of that as a condemnation of me as unable to adapt is a mistake.
Then I worry. Is it true that I can’t change? I talked for three or four years about moving out of Austin proper into the country before I actually did it. It took years of thinking about writing before I made any externally visible efforts to actually write for magazines or other people. It takes me months to move myself mentally from the I’m-getting-to-know-you phase into the we’re-dating phase. I’m slow to make decisions, whether the decisions involve a major life change or buying a blender. I consider and debate and coax myself into action, big and little. And sometimes that means long periods of uncertainty and what appears to be inaction to the outside observer. Does my slowness mean I’m not moving towards change or that I’m incapable of it? I don’t think so.
So this Africa thing is about climbing Kilimanjaro about as much as my Ironman thing is about earning the M-dot status. It’s really about my life, who I want to be, and what I need to know is true about me.
I bought my plane ticket today. It took me almost two months, but I did it. I’m in. The plans are made, and the money is spent. I’m going to Africa.
I’ve been reading a book called The Ledge by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughn. In 1992, Davidson and his friend and climbing partner, Mike Price, were climbing Mt. Rainer when they fell into an 80-foot crevasse. Price died as a result of the fall. Davidson survived and returned to climbing and now is a professional speaker.
I read this book for one of my book clubs that is attended by what some might call excessively active women. We all run, ride, race or do something along those lines. I’m new to the club and thrilled to be a part of it because they are not a typical club. The vast majority of the club had read the book, which makes sense given we are all endurance athletes who share a distaste for the term DNF – did not finish. But they were also quite vocal and lively. I’m a bit of a wallflower, so time around vocal and lively women will do me some good.
Since I left the meeting, I’ve been thinking about one issue we discussed. Some of the women in the group were troubled by Davidson’s building a speaking career around his friend’s death. They were interested in the story, but did not appreciate the book’s shift from what happened to the portion that felt to them as though Davidson was saying, “I’ve since become a professional speaker, and let me tell you what I teach.” I understand their view, but I don’t share it. I see value in Davidson using this experience that left his friend dead to teach and speak.
I read memoir – and have for as long as I can remember – because I think we learn from each other. I will likely never go ice climbing, and I may never use the technical skills Davidson describes in this book, but I will remember and appreciate his discussion of how climbing brings out his best and how he had to peak in those initial moments down in the crevasse to save his own life. I do agree with the women in my club that the last portion of the book, in particular the epilogue, could have been written in a more subtle manner, but I believe the telling and re-telling of Davidson’s story – what happened, what he learned, and how he has been able to use that experience to learn about himself and to help others learn potentially life-saving skills, including coping skills – has value.
I’ve learned some useful things myself just reading the book. When faced with a challenge, I hope I will recognize whatever situation I am in as my crevasse of sorts. I hope I will recognize that my situation is not nearly so dire as what Davidson faced and take some comfort in that. I hope I will ask myself some questions. What are my skills? What are my tools? What is the right next step to take? I hope that I will act, not half-heartedly, but fully invested in whatever I’m doing. And I hope I will keep in my mind and on my heart the people I met along the way who helped me nurture the truest form of myself.
I recommend the book. And given the opportunity, I would eagerly go hear Davidson speak. I think I have more to learn from him.
I spent this weekend at the Grand Canyon. With three dear friends, I hiked from the South Rim down to the Colorado River, camped one night, and then hiked back up.
It’s going to take me more than a few days to process what we saw and did. For now, I offer this poem written by my wonderful and talented friend, Maria Rivera. It sums up the joy of this trip just beautifully. She calls it, “You’re Not a Monkey.”
You’re not a monkey.
finished all you have to do,
Words like “wheee” and “free” and “sway” and “play”
telling you it’s time
To find the nearest tree.
To pick out a branch
Around which to wrap your tail
like there’s no