Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Finale- Kili Day 6

I lie flat on my air mattress, the sun is beaming down. I reach for the zippers of my cargo pants and tug; they are now shorts, and the sun is beaming down. I fiddle with my headphones and plug them into my ipod; it has curiously recharged itself, with the sun now beaming down. I cover my face with my bandana, but there is no refuge. The sun is beaming down the sun is beaming down the sun is beaming down and I cannot escape its rays. I reach for my water but manage not more than one sip. I am crying now, no energy left in me, my tears streaming down. My shoulders are shaking and I am sobbing incessantly. What the @#^&* is wrong with me, the part of me that's sane asks wearily-- wondering who this woman is and how to calm her the !@#$ down! The voice of reason arrives in due time, takes one look, and reports: "Classic symptoms of dehydration. Take these. DRINK WATER."

I am in my tent, in our camp just below the summit. We have returned from our 8-hour hike up through the night and into the morning, followed by the 3-hour descent which I completed in half the time- what with my discovery of the trekking pole-inspired activity known to some as "African skiing." Snippets of our recent adventure remain with me now, but it is impossible to speak definitively about it-- no two experiences are the same. FACT: how one performs on summit day is physiologically pre-determined. You just won't know until you're in it.

We set out in the snow minutes before midnight and my iPod gives me 3 to 4 hours of soulful, soothing, sing-a-long'able tunes before it catches a cold and dies on me. I look around, we are all in different states; me in such esctasy I am convinced I'm going to jinx myself, going to crash, going to get sick, going to suffer. "How much longer now?" "We're half way there." "So, what are the chances of me getting sick at this point?" "You're doing fine, just keep going, keep drinking, keep eating, keep awake."

The GU energy gel sachets are my best friend here, along with the glowing torch lights of those climbers smart enough to charge and use their lithium batteries that night. I fight sleep by singing, loudly, to heck with being out of tune. I use my poles to write messages and draw shapes in the snow as I climb. We cannot fall asleep, however tempting that is. We cannot dose off to the side, however easy that seems to be. We keep walking and the night sky turns lighter as we climb. Is it dawn yet? Almost, keep walking. How about now? Almost, keep walking. I am giddy with excitement, the break of dawn being my internal benchmark for success. The sky is a shade lighter, I beckon it to appear, the Beatles escaping playfully from my lips:

"Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right (doo doo doo doo doo)"

We turn off our torches, move silently, endlessly, with purpose, full of hope.

"Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Sun sun sun here it comes.
Sun sun sun sun here it comes.
Sun sun sun here it comes.

Maybe I did jinx myself with all this singing about the sun. But first, before the sun: STELLA POINT!

We arrive at the final marker before Uhuru Peak and the Beatles are wayyyyyyyyy too mild for us here! "Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces" is a maaaaaaaaajor understatement-- we're rejoicing, celebrating, crying as if it's Uhuru itself. We're all singing now, but not about the sun, oh but about the mountain, I get haughty you see 'cause at this point, "baby there ain't no mountain high enough!" I was nothing short of a monkey by then, bouncing with energy, practically running to the summit. It's no wonder I got smacked by a good dose of nausea bitterly coated in headache, as I tried to calmly proceed back down.

As I relive our arrival at the peak, I am back to the beginning of my memory reel. The rest is downhill from here, literally more so than figuratively, but I must admit it's a bit of a downer to have to walk back down after such a high. As we slowly but surely make it down Mweka Route to the gates of Kilimanjaro over the next 2 days, we are leaving a part of us behind. But we surely took something huge with us. We're the same people, but ever so slightly altered, in ways that only those who shared in the experience with us can truly understand.

Some would do it again, others are happy to have done it once, fully. I am of the latter category, but the outdoors- they'll be seeing more of me, inshallah. And Africa- I hope a lot more of me as well.

Thank you to the Zahids for this experience of a lifetime, and thank you to the Jeddah Institute for Speech and Hearing (www.JISH.com), to which we dedicated this climb. The work you provide to help those in need is an inspiration to us all.

IT began as a field diary for my summer in Jizan (2006) under the title "Watch Out Bubba Gump." Now I'm not sure what it is... but I do know it's time for me to start writing again.