Monday, September 19, 2016

Summer's End (and Bill Gates)

So I already blogged the start of my Summer of 2016. July 4th weekend, with Camp Day. Since then, I had a pretty full season, packed with lots of fun. I biked the Green River Trail with Omaha & his girly-friend. Last week, I connected the Puyallup River Trail, to the Sumner-Link Trail, to the S. Interurban Trail. (I'm planning a route from Lakewood to Gerald's Oasis). Added in a few more Zoo Hill rides, Vashon Is. rides, and several rides in Tacoma. The pic below is the finish line after a Labor Day weekend ride on Vashon Is. with Gerald. Thai food. 

So what do normal folks do on Labor Day? BBQ and watch college football. So what do BRS folks do on Labor Day? Wake-up early and bike up zoo hill. Here's a pic from the "cherry on top". Then, after biking, they go and play tennis. (the tennis was actually a lot of fun).

Here's the finish line after zoo hill and tennis. Finally the god damn bbq! Grilled everything. Bill Gates didn't have a better Labor Day lunch. I was calling it Thanksgiving in September. 

But I've got to say, my favorite rides this summer have been my short, weekly local rides. These range from 20min to 1hr. I've biked to Safeway for chocolate cake. To Tacoma for discounted Almond Roca. PLU to listen to the summer night jazz concerts and to play tennis. Wapato Lake and Puyallup to meet up with friends. 15 min rides to get tacos. The local HS track, to jog. Tacoma to just take in the waterfront. Below is Thea's Park.
 Pic of Mt. Rainier. Turn 180 degrees, then it's the waterfront.
So I've definitely started building up my biking legs again, slowly but surely. I've also started building up my cooking skills. Here is my very first pie. So what am I getting at? I'm hinting that sometime this Winter, February or March, dust off your backpacks and frying pans, and Army PT clothes, there's probably going to be a Davis Challenge 2017. (I'm not sure I did an actual sit-up in 2016? No, I'm not joking).
I will be closing out the summer with a trail run with Gerald. Also looking forward to the finish line meal. Then I will be kicking off Fall with another Vashon Is. ride with Gerald, and competitive tennis with First Class who will be in town for work. (Also, stay tuned, I've got the NMN categories narrowed down). Hope we all can meet-up and cook up a finish line dinner. If not, there's always Delfino's! Below is a pic of a bike ride out past Orting. We just stopped and picnicked on the Carbon river. Lots of guys pulling out huge salmon. My friend just jumped in the river and swam. I just enjoyed the finish line food. Bill Gates didn't have a better Saturday afternoon than me.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bucket Lists- Part I

Passport to Pain (Sept 10, 2016)

It’s been 6 months since my last post. I start looking at hundreds of photos and it always just ends in an empty bottle of wine, empty wrappers from something I ate, and a coma after more fruitless time on on candy crush, genies & gems, and wwf. When I think of things that I ticked off my bucket list (run the Great Wall, sky dive, get a tattoo) the post high low is so low I barely remember the high. Such is the life of the addict.

I feel myself getting exponentially older, slower every day. Looking at photos I cannot believe how cruel time is- it doesn’t stop yet it doesn’t pass fast enough. I have to live like it may end tomorrow, yet keep going when it doesn’t. Been there/ done that, on to the bigger/ better things, only your body can’t do what your mind thinks it can, so now what? I know just enough math to give up 90% of the things I thought I wanted to do before I even start. But apparently not enough sense to stop signing up for stuff that is too hard for me.

I generally don’t like when stories finish at the end then retrace how they got there, you’d never guess by how I’m always wikipedi’ing endings, but seeing the top of the hill is key, right?

To say P2P (Passport2Pain) has been on my bucket list would be a lie. I remember seeing a poster for it at some ferry terminal back when we used to do a lot more island/ peninsula riding, a guy in a white lab coat showing the elevation profile and likening it to V-Tach, and laughing my head off because there was no way in hell I’d ever sign up for a ride like that.


Billed as the “toughest ride in Puget Sound”, there are 3 options, the full “Idiot” (80 miles 10,000 ft of elevation gain, “the equivalent of the Alpe d’Huez, Col Du Aspin, and Col du Galibier combined!), the Weenie (30 miles, 3400 ft) to increase participation, and the Weasel (52 miles, 6500- well actually closer to 6900 ft) for those who knew they were not Idiots but didn’t want to be a Weenie. 

As a comparison, Chilly Hilly is 32 miles 2173 ft and Ramrod is 152 miles 10,000 ft. It’s a “fun ride not a race”, created in 2011 by the Vashon Island Rowing Club (VIRC) rowers who needed to find some other source of pain in the off-season and thought of stringing all their cycling hills together in one epic event. The only prize you get for getting there first is the “Hot Spatula Award”, meaning you get to flip brisket provided by Pete’s BBQ waiting for everyone else to arrive. You get a passport stamped at each of the checkpoints (7 for Weenie, 13 for Weasel, 18 for Idiot). No one checks it but you can post it on Facebook.

I had signed up for my 8th Bike MS150 but after a really rough week at work I just could not face anyone, even old friends at one of my favorite annual events. I knew P2P was that weekend because Ocean and I had ridden Vashon (Vashon is the new Whidbey) the weekend before, and I pseudo-lamented I could never ride P2P since it always fell on the day of Bike MS). The night before, in the cloud of now-familiar chest pain from anxiety, I immediately felt some relief as I pressed “enter” on my computer to do P2P (yes I signed up for the Idiot). Maybe it’s the gate control theory of pain at work.

The last time I did a century ride with no training (Skagit Classic 2014) I said, “never again”. Other than my first ride of the season 6 months ago when I did 100 miles over 2 days (Mercer Island), I maybe rode once/ month, longest was 35 miles, 2450 ft.

I was up at 4 am without an alarm, so decided to take the earlier ferry (6:05 am) from Fauntleroy. This was a wise choice since it was already starting to fill up with cyclists. They advise driving since the 10 mile ride to and from the ferry to Burton can feel really long after that ride. I asked another rider who assured me there was a lot of food on the course, so I only put 2 scoops of Tailwind and 2 packs of powergel cola gummies in my jersey, along with my cell phone, car keys/ advil/ eyedrops, P2P passport, CO2 gun and spare tube (I had another one in my saddle bag, but after 4 rear flats in 2 days the previous weekend, knowing there was no sag wagon, I had to be prepared).



It was a cool, perfect day for a ride. Looking around, there were virtually no women. It looked like 90% men, I think I counted all the women on 1 hand and they were all super skinny and fit (and some I wasn’t all that sure they were women). The first part of the course was now familiar to me, having scoped most of the Weenie course with Ocean on our previous rides there. Occasionally the checkpoints are at the top of hills, but mostly they put these checkpoints at the bottom of these long hills, then you get stamped and go back up (out and back). After a while you measure out your dread as you speed down these long slopes seeing the faster riders ahead of you churning back the the hill you’re about to descend, even more when you see riders walking their bikes.

At first it was all fun and games, gorgeous scenery, perfect weather, funny checkpoints (the “S&M – your pain is our pleasure” station featuring aid station workers dressed as dentists, or the green man, Blues Brothers, etc).

There was one with bananas sliced in quarters. I asked whether I could have a whole banana. She said they were trying to save some for other riders. I looked at the multiple full baskets of bananas they had and moved on. I should have just taken one because soon the lack of calories caught up to me, when I ran out of Tailwind. They don't carry gatorade out of respect that apparently cyclists each have their own favorite powder for their drinks.

Between checkpoints 7-8 there were winding steep hills with little transition, and I was unable to shift down fast enough, nearly fell off my bike getting up a hill. A guy breezed past me as I was grunting and said, “good thing we like hills… it only gets worse from here”. “Like” is a strong word; “need” might be more a propos.

Shortly after that I actually had to get out of my saddle, either that or fall off. I wish I had my old garmin to tell me how steep it was (my new one only gives an elevation total, not percent grade). I heard a story about a cyclist who actually flipped over backwards as they were pulling hard on their handle bars to go up, and more than once I heard people crashing behind me because they did not get out of their saddles in time before the slope got the best of them. 

The next checkpoint had no plateau so I had to start on an uphill, like at Ventoux. I ate all my gummies, felt better, but it was not enough (or not soon enough). I had to walk up the end of the next hill, and again when I hit “the wall”.
The hill with the devil chasing you is definitely not the worst one; it’s the one coming up from the checkpoint after that.

Then we hit the north end which oddly had everyone dressed in penguin suits (hä?) but they actually had real food. I think I ate 4 hard boiled eggs and an entire PB&J roll up. Luckily those aid station workers said nothing to me about saving food for others, since I had long run out of food. From then on there was good food at aid stations, and it was not as steep though more busy/ car roads which meant no switchbacks to climb. 

Still I hit the mile 50 checkpoint feeling much better than I had at mile 40, but since I was so slow, I only had less than 3 hours to do the last 30 miles before they would start pulling apart the checkpoints. There were plenty of other riders around me intent on doing the full 80 but I didn’t trust my legs to be able to climb another 3000 ft on Maury Island so I headed back. 

Almost immediately after “quitting”, my legs found strength and I passed a few people on my way back to to the park, where at 7 hours in not many people were back yet (I think >85% end up doing the full 80 miles). There were 2 beer kegs, BBQ with chicken, pulled pork, brisket (all 3? Yes, please!) and a stunning view of the water.




It was a different sort of tired than from running 50 miles. I realized the chest pain was gone (though it took about 30 miles of climbing to get rid of it). I knew I would be back next year for the Idiot.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New - BRS Bucket List

 
So I can proudly say that I have not watched the whole movie the Bucket List. Have seen a few scenes on cable, not the greatest work by Jack or Morgan, two of my favorite actors. However, what's important is that we create a bucket list of activities that people are interested in doing, and then reach out to others to train and knock it out. Turn fantasy into reality...

I've started a list Gerald & I discussed at Camp Day. Feel free to add any of your own. In my experience, it's easier to knock out big ambitious goals, with the help of others...

For example, last Sun thoroughly enjoyed hiking up Mailbox Peak with Omaha. It was probably the most strenuous activity I've done all year. It didn't help I biked up zoo hill the day before, but we climbed up the steep old trail going up. We kept a great battle buddy pace going up, taking only a few breaks. Here's a view from the top:
Coming down, we decided to explore, and take the new trail. It was called the Steiner-Davis expedition route. So many opinions were given on which path was the best to take, we decided to find out for ourselves. All in all a great hike. Now I'm resting up, getting ready to play in my very first golf scramble tomorrow. Sun, hike 3,800 ft elevation gain in 2.5 miles, and now play golf with only 3 clubs and get a free hamburger and coke. I'm finally learning some balance!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cya Yurt

Driving up I-5 North this morning, I noticed horrific highway construction and back-ups heading the other way. Makes sense. Last weekend, I hit horrific traffic on I-405 South, with lots of signs warning of the I-5 South construction/detour. Ok, why am I even on the freeways in the first place?
Because of Zoo Hill.

Gerald and I biked up Zoo Hill three weekends ago. Because of my attraction to pain and suffering I decided to go back for more. Week 1, I did not care whatsoever to bike up to the cherry on top of Zoo Hill with Gerald. Week 2, I cared a little for the cherry, but nearly (ok maybe a little) toppled over
at the top gasping for air. Week 3? I really wanted and enjoyed the cherry! Marie is at the cherry. I didn't get in the pic all the radio communication towers behind that big tank.

Week 4? Screw the weekend traffic, I'm going to recon Vashon Is., enjoy a serene ferry ride instead, and then for Week 5 bike Vashon Is. with Gerald.

So I'm currently spending the night at Gerald's place, and I realized the old yurt is just that. The original yurt. This place is something different. New. I'm calling it the Oasis. Last weekend I did a load of laundry. Today I did three loads. It felt so good, knowing after the hills I didn't have to hop back in my car and sit in traffic all afternoon. Instead, got back, showered, and ate watching Hulu & Apple TV. Very relaxing!

Even though I'm getting more comfortable with the hills, my legs really feel it. Gotta rest them up, early tomorrow morning Omaha & his girlfriend are picking me up to hike Mailbox Peak. Looking forward to catching up with Omaha, then really, REALLY looking forward to getting a Delfino's pizza. Spending a bonus night at the Oasis, going to meet up with friends Mon in W.Seattle, save me a return trip to Lakewood, but also gives me a chance to get in another possible run with Gerald Mon am. We ran Lake WA last Thursday morning! Best thing about the Oasis is that I'm really familiar with Gerald's kitchen stuff. Easy to fix great food. Now just gotta figure out a way to get her to get cable again...



Thursday, July 7, 2016

Camp Day - July 4, 2016

So last Thursday morning, what do I do while I'm currently unemployed at 0600? Wake up and check the classifieds? Nope. I head to Chambers Bay golf course, and play 18 holes. Good news it's NOT my first time on a golf course. It's my second. Anyways, had a great time. My caddy nearly fainted when I bogeyed the first hole, and the group hated me when I parred the 17th hole. Oh, I had my fair share of ugly golf, but being a beginner sure has it's advantages. I don't really give a shit...

So then on Saturday morning, my friend from Marysville comes down for a visit. We hit the Puyallup farmers market and have a great time, but then I have to jet, because I'm headed to a dinner at a friends house. Turns out that friend owns four horses, and when she discovered that I have never ridden a horse, I'm invited a couple hours before dinner to get that new experience as well. So I cram the night before by watching John Wayne in True Grit. Riding a horse is a lot different than a bike. The horse is alive, and very sensitive. And powerful. I had a great time, would do it again, as well as play golf...

So I'm listing these new activities that I've done, because when I figure out the google slides on my laptop, I'll be creating a BRS Activities Bucket List. New events, activities that people are interested in trying out.

So with all that excitement last week, I wake-up early Sunday morning, and head out for a bike ride from Puyallup to Orting. No planning, just called up a friend, and she was free, and voila 30 min later out on the bike. Got home a bit tired, took a nap, and woke up with First Class in my living room. He was in town working in Auburn over the weekend. We shoot the shit, and early Monday morning Gerald and I are starting the first annual BRS Camp Day!

Camp Day starts with food club. Gotta make a big breakfast. Eggs, bacon, potatoes, coffee, coffee w/whiskey, toast, fruit. Then off for a 2hr 15 min ride to Renton, and back around Mercer Is. Awesome, quiet roads. Next up (was my favorite) flute duets! That took the place of morning general swim, but we sounded half decent! Lunch was next. Lobster rolls, on toasted New England rolls and potato chips. Watched Far From Maddening Crowd for siesta time. Then it was 3rd period where we jogged up the hill to Jefferson Park. Great view. Jogged back down, and I gave the Vespers speech entitled "Me and TV". Dinner was awesome. Grilled king and sockeye salmon, bell peppers, bread, brussel sprouts, and sour cream and chive mashed potatoes. Delicious. I had some leftovers for lunch today, just awesome. After dinner, it was Taps. Great day.

Tuesday, First Class and I had the morning free. Got inspired by Wimbledon, and went to PLU courts to play tennis. I was fresh off a half-year calf injury, First Class was fresh off "off-court" issues, but the tennis was back on! I won 6-1. It was fun to win, but it's so much more fun to win against First Class! It's been that way ever since 1st grade. Probably will when we are in an old folks home too. So Wed, before First Class took off, we had our usual lunch at Vien Dong. So today, I crashed with a 2.5 hrs nap. I finally feel like I caught up on some rest with a full week of fun, but I look forward to even more fun to come. Summer has started out just right.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Yurt Therapy



Back in November when VVN met me at REI to help me shop for Killi gear, that day there was an auction for hut rental for the MTTA (Mt. Tahoma Trail Association). They have a system of 4 huts near Mt. Rainier, modeled after the hut system in the Alps, that people can rent for very cheap (about $15/ person). Basically you can spend a night of luxury in a roomy, heated tent with food prep capacity and outhouse with 5-13 of your closest friends, in the middle of nowhere with incredible mountain scenery. They are in such high demand that you have to buy $20 raffle tickets and sit around for hours hoping your name is called. I bought 2 tickets but didn’t win, but VVN won. She booked the Yurt for this past weekend and invited me to join her husband and 5 of her friends, who have been meeting once/ year at one of these huts every year for the last 10 years, I guess kind of like we used to have the DC in Manzanita.

The MTTA hut system has 4 backcountry huts, Copper Creek, High Hut, Snow Bowl, and the Yurt. The Yurt being the smallest and most remote, without a working oven is the least sought-after, but in my opinion, the best. It’s a real gd Yurt.

It’s been a rough week. Rough. Lost another claw and by the time I realized it had to go, part of my arm was lost too, but it had to be done, but I was a blubbering mess. My last hike around Rainier was pretty traumatic (future late entry?). Add on to that the recurring low back injury that had left me hobbling around stooped over and prevented me from running these past 2 weeks, the last thing I wanted to do put on a smile in front of strangers.

But VVN and my Canadian twin Susan convinced me I needed to get out. After some more steroids and an extremely helpful session of physical therapy with Erik Moen Bike PT, my back a million times better and I thought perhaps I could carry a light pack for 5 miles.

I have posted about Erik before, he really knows his stuff. I must pause for a tangent to introduce the newest member of the family “Billy” (steel is real!),
which rides much better after the bike fitting. Looking forward to hitting the road once my back and the weather improve…. But back to the Yurt.

The forecast was for rain rain rain. I met VVN at her house and we carpooled to the Cottage Café in Eatonville where her friends meet for the pre-hike goodies, in my case breakfast sandwich with bacon.
Then onward to the trailhead to put on our snowshoes (except Mike who wore skis).

It was an unexpectedly beautiful day, a bit warm/ wet but very therapeutic for my tortured soul.
We got glimpses of the high hut and Rainier before arriving at the Yurt.

A real live Yurt!
I still miss the Leschi Yurt, where we used to have BRS food club. I can’t believe that was July 2012.

The Yurt was huge, with light entering from the center cap. The table around the center pole was a new addition, and everyone joked that VVN couldn’t pole dance around it anymore. 

There was a bunk bed and 2 sofa beds and 2 mattresses; 2 people had brought tents to sleep outside because, rules were rules, the Yurt only sleeps 6. Though no one was going to check, 2 people were going to sleep outside in the wind/ rain because that was part of the adventure. There was a rack full of hangers to dry wet clothes, which could be raised up and away, and behind the stove, a pair of woolley slippers to borrow!

Water was basically melted snow melted on the stove. The filter was pretty slow, so we ended up boiling a bunch of water.

One of the guys had brought a box of wine and I did my best not to hog it all. We basically sat around eating hors’doevres (cheese, salami/ chorizo, chips, crackers) until it was time to eat some more. They laughed about how VVN, who had just completed the Orcas Island 100 miler a couple weeks prior, was dipping Cheetos in fondue cheese at their last dinner party. MMM Cheetos dipped in fondue…. I must find an excuse to earn this privilege….

Dinner was amazing, pulled pork with slaw, and all the fixins, lemon tart for desert. The Yurt had the obligatory copy of Neuromancer as well as Jenga and Trivial Pursuit, as well as the log book, but we did not need these as one of the folks had brought Farkle.

I was not in the mood to strain my brain but this was loads of fun, a dice game where you could slowly rack up points or risk losing it all. I broke the “beginner’s luck” rule by losing 2 games in a row, threw my royal flush away with a Farkel.

You have to reuse utensils and pack out all the trash, but Christel and Chris had the routine down. By then the rain was coming down hard, and Marie and Mike had to put up their tents. Why couldn’t they just sleep on the floor? Oh the rules say, only 6 in the Yurt. Plus it’s part of the adventure. So they actually put up tents in this rainstorm in the dark! I had to take a sleeper because I was so wired but it was a very comfortable sofa…

Next morning the winds/ rain had died down and it was snowing! We had pulled pork with scrambled eggs/ hash browns before cleaning up and packing out. It started out crisp and clear but as we descended the rain came and I took my snow shoes off on the rocks. Another hiker on a toboggan passed me, and some hikers were on their way up, including a local with sled dogs. I was grateful to be out on the peaceful snow.


Afterward we went to Brunos where I had an elk burger with fried jalapeno chips, sweet potato fries, washed down with Irish Death. All the Tabasco I could want.
Then back to Seattle and reality. Will def bid on a hut next year.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mt. Killimanjaro, Tanzania (Jan 22-Feb 3, 2016)

BTW, Ocean, I vote for Chimpanzee.

I think it was about July, shortly after Pat summited Denali that he started talking about us climbing Killi. “Climbing” is not really an accurate description, more like “hiking”. Though it is one of the 7 summits (at 19,341 ft or 5895 metres elevation, the 4th highest of the highest peaks on each continent and the world’s highest freestanding mountain), it is a non-technical, well-groomed trail that does not require any technical gear/ skills. It’s been summited by a 7 year old (though national park rules say you have to be at least 10 to summit), and an 85 year old, and the record summit was in 6 hours and 42 minutes. Guess Pat decided it’s a “girl’s mountain”, so may as well take the scenic route with a girl since he has to check it off the list anyway. Still, that kind of altitude is nothing to sneeze at; nearly 7000 ft higher than I’d ever been before. Though >20,000 people attempt it annually, only 2/3 make it to summit, and there were 25 deaths between 1996 and 2003.


Any mountaineer can tell you, not all routes are equal. We decided to take the Grand Traverse, 10 days/ 56 miles of trekking rather than 5-6 days of trek (with midnight summit) + safari afterward; I think I’d had enough sitting for hours in a jeep stalking leopards after Comrades. It was billed as “getting to see more of the mountain” and “less crowded”, which I learned was code for “more days acclimatizing = higher rate of success”. It starts higher up at the Londorossi gate on the western side at 9498 ft, and goes the long way around the northern side of the mountain which has less rain and traffic than the more popular southern Marangu (“coca-cola route”, or easy) or the Machame (“whiskey route”, more difficult) Routes.

Getting ready for this trip was onerous and stressful. We were allowed 33 lbs in our duffel bag (not counting the 15 lb day pack we were to carry daily), which had to include layers of clothes for temps ranging from 15F to 90F, including zero degree sleeping bag, toiletries (sunscreen, bug spray, toothpaste), hand warmers, toilet paper, extra batteries and headlamps, altitude meds, etc. I already hate braving the smug couples at REI but with that massive shopping list I nearly had a heart attack from anxiety. Luckily my friend VVN, an experienced hiker, told me what I really needed and didn’t need, loaned me goretex gaiters, mitts, balaclava, etc. My biggest anxiety was, how was I going to survive 10 days without washing my hair? Luckily they make no-rinse biodegradable shampoo! 


You think you want to exit the tent to pee at night until the temps go below freezing and it’s windy/ raining, so the first thing was getting the go-girl funnel and pee bottle, which you do not want to mistake for a water bottle. 

I spent >6 hours during one of my on-call days packing, then had to re-pack after reading in the booklet that one should carry essentials like rain gear, boots, 2 days of clothes in our backpacks in case luggage is lost (like that would ever happen)…. I had also taken some photography lessons leading up to this, though I probably would have been better off getting my old point-and-shoot fixed, the SLR was bulky and I was too slow.

Was happy to get through the work week to meet Pat at Seatac, only to find our flight was delayed. As the minutes ticked away, we debated what we would do when the inevitability of missing our connection or losing our luggage happened. We landed in Amsterdam less than 8 minutes before the takeoff of the once daily flight to Killimanjaro, sprinted to the gate, grateful to make the plane. Arrived in Killi at 10 pm after 19 hours of flying without our delayed bags, and boarded a jeep with our driver Ojukwu (“call me OJ”) and a 70-71 year old couple from Boston, Lou and Donna, who were the only other trekkers in our group. The driver gave us each a litre of bottled water which seemed like a good idea at the time, but 2 hours into our bumpy backroad drive to the Ndarakwai Ranch, my bladder, which would become my worst enemy on this trip, barely made it to the bathroom.

We were greeted with chilled fruity drinks and moist scented towels to clean our hands before dinner. I ordered a Killimanjaro beer and a double whiskey- it would be the last alcohol for 10 days so better fuel up.



Day 0
The next day was a rest day. Ndarakwai Ranch is an amazing place, completely self-sufficient / solar powered, the tents were like sleeping outdoors in luxury, blue monkeys and warthogs roaming freely. We did a nature walk and saw what might have been the largest antihill in Africa as well as various antelopes. We had another Killimanjaro beer in a treehouse overlooking the property, before another luxurious meal followed by night safari.




Day1
Next morning, my bag showed up but Pat’s didn’t. I expressed gladness that if one bag were to be lost, I was glad it was his not mine, a sentiment Pat didn’t share. He had to rent a sleeping bag but luckily had packed an incredible amount of gear in his carry-on backpack. We weighed our duffels and even with some of his gear, I made the 33 lb limit. 


On the drive to the trailhead we passed locals hiking long distances on dusty roads carrying ridiculous amounts of weight on their heads, pulling carrots or potatoes by hand from soil, children playing in muddy gutters, shanties with a disproportionate number of coca cola ads, 20 people crammed in tall vans. I regreted sitting in the back/ left of our van which left me little photo opportunity, but we were zooming pretty fast.


At Londorosi gate, it was a chaotic scene with dozens of porters, vans, and just a few pale people who were obviously the tourists. On arrival to the trailhead, we were served the first of many gourmet lunches on a table with Maasai fabric tablecloth and chairs with armrests, with a dozen condiments (including Tabasco!) and warm water with which to wash our hands. The hardboiled eggs had white yolks!

We had an easy 2 hour hike to the first campsite (Shira 1), a couple creek crossings and rock scrambles but a short day. I already felt the altitude, or maybe it was jetlag, or the strong sun, sleepy and fuzzy headed, I’d wake up a few steps beyond where I remembered stepping. We were greeted by song and dance by the 30 porters and 3 guides there solely for the enjoyment of us 4 hikers, but I was too slow to get my camera on in time to catch Pat dancing! It felt ridiculous, like we were colonialists. But I heard there were some treks with only 1 hiker, and others with as many as 13.

We got our first exposure to our amazing stand-up double layer tents with padding and cots that the porters would pack up after us and have ready at next camp each day. Each morning the head waiter Isaya woke us with hot coffee or tea delivered to our tents with a soft, "helloooo?", as well as warm, sterilized handwash water at the dining tent and evening wash basins at tea hour. Each night after supper they checked/ logged our pulse/ oxygen saturation and briefed us on the next day's trek.

5 star hotel in the mountains, indeed. The food was so good it was immediately apparent, that not only was I not going to lose 10 lbs as hoped, but actually gained weight. Mmmm banana stew, lasagna, fried chicken, vegetable fritters, spaghetti, eggs, sausage, porridge, fresh mangoes, vegetable soup.....This was compounded by pretty bad constipation….


Day2: Shira 1 to Moir camp (13,700 ft). We trekked across the Shira Plateau and got our first glimpse of the crazy plants of Killi.



There are 5 zones of Killimanjaro, zone 1 (cultivated zone 2600-6000 ft ), zone 2 (rain forest 6000-9500 ft), zone 3 (heather and moorlands, 9500-13,200 ft), zone 4 (alpine desert, 13,200-16,400 ft), and arctic (16,400+ ft). All are well below the level where people need oxygen (24,000 ft), but at the peak, the O2 level is 50% that of sea level (where Seattle is). Our trek started in zone 3, heather and moorlands.


We got to know our guides, our head guide Msafiri (“M.C.”) who knew every route and had summtted >200 times, and assistant guides Polite (of Chagga tribe) and Loshie (of Maasai Tribe), and Edison (“Eddy”) who carried the emergency medical gear.


There are 120 Tribes in Tanzania, though they are educated in Swahili and English from a young age, many tribes also speak their local language. They are also trained at carrying heavy loads on their heads (water) from age 10, and all the guides were once porters. 

They seemed to be teasing Loshie relentlessly about his being Maasai, and having 15 wives though in fact he only has one. In fact, he is the grandson of a chief, and was soon to become a chief in his clan. One evening he told us about Maasai culture, how they believe all cattle belong to them, and their diet almost completely derives from cattle (they eat raw beef, cow milk and cow blood). They have multiple wives, who used to have female circumcision until it was outlawed just 10 years ago, these wives lived in their own huts with their children and visit the husband on demand, who could loan out their wives to another man of the same age. Oh, and they wear these Shukas without underwear, except of course when they are guiding tourists up to Uhuru peak, then they wear CIM marathon shirts and goretex raingear. He was affectionately called "Kit Kat"

or “Buddha” for his belly but make no mistake, he was super fit like the other guides/ porters. We even saw a female porter! It never got old seeing these porters schlepping 42 lbs of stuff on their heads, packing up behind us, passing us on the trail without poles, and having camp all set up for our arrival each day.

I learned this was their first trek of the season, there is a high season in Aug- Oct and a mini season Jan-Feb, and the rest of the year it is rainy and they just hang out in town. It seems they would all rather be on the mountain than security guards, though some trips would take them away from their families up to 10 days at a time

They talked about celebrities they had taken up to the summit, including Jessica Biel who had not one but 2 personal porters, as well as Martha Stewart who apparently trained only for 2 weeks on stairmaster.


We quickly learned common Swahili phrases,
Jambo (hello)
Mambo (how’s it going)
Poa poa (OK)
Pole pole (slowly, slowly)
Asante sana (thank you very much)
Karibu (you’re welcome)
Maji (water)- they tell us to drink 4 L of water a day but that seemed outrageous, especially when it is so difficult to pee
Bibi (grandma) i.e. Donna
Babu (grandpa) i.e. Lou

I got to practice the “rest step”, which Pat had told me about months ago. Basically, you lock your back knee and put your weight on it, then throw you back leg up and lock/ rest on your other bottom leg, which saves about 30% of energy when climbing (just like drafting on a bike!). I also got used to calling for potty breaks, which they called “Look! A Monkey!” breaks. There wasn’t much cover but no one seemed to care. 


Day3: Moir camp to Pofu camp (13,200 ft)- Pat's bag arrived! A porter carried it all the way up in half the time.
Short day to gain some altitude

Day4: Pofu camp to Rongai cave 2 (11, 450 ft)
We got good use of the rain gear this day. Mountain weather is quite changeable- pea soup one minute blazing sun the next.

Day5: Rongai caves to Kikelew Caves (11, 850 ft)
More crazy plants and caves, the mountain seems to be getting closer. It is evident the guides have studied botany. 


It was so clear you could see the constellations and Mars as bright as a flashlight at night, and the twinkling lights of Kenya across the border. But once the sun set, it got cold fast, and we needed sleep.

Day6: Kikelewa Caves to Mawenzi Tarn (14.210 ft)
Last water until summit. 1:20 AM needed to pee, peanut bladder. Could not find headlamp. Scrambled to get pee bottle, which would not stand. Reached for pee funnel and felt/ heard a “pop” followed by sudden, searing/ excrutiating low back pain. I was completely immobilized by pain, and to add insult to injury, I still hadn’t peed. I woke up Pat who had thrown out his back in the past and knew what I was going through. He pretty much had to pull me up like a sack of flour and help me pee, then help me into my sleeping bag. Crap, only 2 days until summit, what was I going to do? I had some decadron that my PMD gave me in case of altitude sickness, due to my sulfa allergy (to Diamox, the water pill usually given to prevent altitude sickness). It’s a powerful steroid, like they use to shrink brain tumors and such. I took 4 mg, and by the next morning, the pain was markedly reduced.


Next morning, I was able to move slowly but my back kept talking to me, so Pat carried my pack. Thankfully I was able to walk, though still unable to sit. I took another 4 mg decadron. Irony of ironies, I did not feel the altitude at all. 

Initially it was pea soup, but in an instant it clears. 
We do a small acclimatization hike after camp and catch some amazing views above the clouds:

 
Day7: Mawenzi Tarn to Kibo camp (rerouted from Outward Bound, 15, 450 ft)

We could see the porter tent shaking with song, in prayer that we would summit, again I was too slow to capture this on camera.

MC decides to reroute us from Outward Bound, a quiet camp that used to be a German school, to the more crowded Kibo Hut camp which intersects with the Coca-cola route, because well, he had concerns about me and Donna scrambling up rocks and scree the next day and chose an easier route. It was like hiking on the moon,
we could see the plants getting shorter and more sparse, and though we didn’t see any slopes it was clear we were going up. Saw remnants of a plane that had crashed 5 yrs prior.
Apparently they were able to get some survivors down the mountain in 1 wheel stretchers, though they eventually died. It would majorly suck to get sick/ break a leg on the mountain.


That night, Donna was a little anxious, though she had been doing well. I gave her a couple of my decadron, and we watched a demonstration of the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, automated defibrillator, and oxygen tanks that Eddy had been carrying around with us the entire time, all for our benefit.


Day8: summit day/ Crater camp. We are awakened at 3;30 and ready to go by 5AM. It is cold but we all feel good, “pole pole”. Early on I realized, that my bowels which had been constipated all week suddenly decided to let loose. There was this whole thing about no solid waste on the mountain, but I could not wait. Actually there was a fair amount of litter on the mountain, enough that I stopped picking it up after awhile (lots of Red Bull cans?). I found a big rock but my back was too weak to squat. I needed to pee but Ididn’t want to spray my patns. The crew was probably wondering why I was holding up the group for so long, but I was 2 lbs lighter. I had to do it again the next stop. At least I got a fantastic view of Mawenzi peak at sunrise....


We reach Gilman’s point and the porters are there with a lunch tray and hot soup.
There is still a little ways to get to the true summit at Uhuru Peak (“Freedom peak”, amazing views of glaciers.

It seemed like we hung out there for ages, but it was only 20 minutes. 


Afterward, they decide we can take a shortcut down to crater camp since trail conditions are good. I had to hang on to Polite for the long snowy descent. For the first time, I feel the altitude. My SaO2 is 73, pulse is 106, and I just can’t get warm. We saw some amazing glaciers....




Day9- descent 1, arctic to rainforest (Mweka Millennium Camp 12,500 ft). I had hoped to see the Ash pit/ crater but chief decided there wasn’t enough time to add the 90 minute hike to ash pit L well at least we got to sleep in the crater.

So we start right away descending. 7000+ ft of descent in an hour probably killed a couple toenails. 

I was more short of breath than at any other time, though I basically was leaning on Loshie the entire time, my right hand in his, a pole in my left hand. He descended so fast we passed several other groups, and I got a taste of what it must be like to be a good descender. The scree was loose and pretty scary, but he kept saying, “you will not fall, I am a Maasai warrior”. We passed Barafu camp where we unloaded a bunch of layers, then on to Millenium Camp. There we had the “tipping ceremony” which was a slight source of stress.
Lou decides to raise the tip 50+% and we have barely enough cash to meet the pool, but I was very glad to be able to do it, after seeing how hard working everyone on the crew had been. Was my life so hard? Try carrying 42 lbs on your head up to 19,340 ft elevation.

 
Day10- celebration (Mweka gate 5423 ft)
We left early, for 6-7 hour hike (another 7000+ ft of descending!) to the gate, got our first taste of the rain forest.
Met some other hikers who had done a shorter, southern route who had been hit with horrible weather. Like most of the short itinerary climbers, they had started summit day at midnight, reached summit in morning, stayed there 5 minutes and descended all the way to Millenium on the same day.


It was deceptively slippery and I hung on to the guides who continued to point out interesting plants. We reached the gate and I washed at a sink and saw my scary reflection for the first time in 10 daysl We got our certificates and had a bottle of champagne.

No one really cared the certificates listed our summit date as “march 1”. Then back in the van for a brief stop in Moshi for souvenirs, then 90 minute drive to Rivertrees Inn. We only had 90 minutes to shower, pack, and get to dinner before returning to airport. First shower in 10 days sure felt good! Too bad I didn’t get to try out the bath, which was decked out in rose petals, in contrast to the farmers working the fields and children walking from school in the Tanzanian-flag patterned uniforms.
 
Flew into Orange County for the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach CA. Leg/ body pretty swollen and brain still in mountain mode + jet lag. 

Hot showers! Bathroom anytime day or night! We stopped for fish tacos and margaritas at a restaurant on HB pier , where the cost of one drink could probably buy a week’s worth of groceries for a Tanzanian family. Got email from Nelvin, the porter who carried my duffel, who used the tip money to help pay for his brother's stomach operation. I hope some of the mountain sticks to me.