And we’re off….

OAC's last shot of HK as she boarded the plane

By the time you read this it is likely we will be off on our adventure – one happy camper aka the OAC has already left her home and is winging her way across the skies in her Cathay business class bed, nice for some – but it is a 12 hour flight and her ‘0’ birthday pressie so we don’t begrudge her too much. We also expect her to travel a 15 hour day with us once she arrives so – she can have a lie down for a little while first.

At 8am Durban time the LDL and I will leave to join her in Jozi for a few hours before taking off for Moshi via Nairobi (where we have several hours waiting time – be prepared for many airport photos at a later date).

The confirmation phone call came today from our travel organiser, as well as the list of the other members of our group – 8 more. With the three of us there will be 11 altogether – not sure how many porters and guides that translates to but I imagine you won’t be able to miss us as we traverse the slopes.

As all the other travelers are South African – I joked with the organiser – ‘I hope they don’t mind traveling with foreigners…’ in all seriousness she said to me ‘I’m sure they won’t but please call me if you have any concerns and I can arrange something’ – …………. moving on……. I was joking but am now thinking we may have to tone our ‘Aussie-ness’ down a little, although it will be too early in the Rugby World Cup for any fixtures that may cause fisticuffs. I’m sure the LDL can smooth it all over, although she has found amusement in the surname of two of our travelling companions which means ‘scary monster’ or something similar in Dutch. We may need to make that phone call after all.

As I am avoiding packing I will just include a quick itinerary so those of you who are interested can follow our projected path as we do the up and down thing.

Day 1 – Thursday 8th September – From Machame Park Gate at @1500m 18km to the Machame camp at @2980m (approx 7 hours)

Day 2 – From @2980 9kms to the Shira camp at @3840m (approx 6 hours)
Hmm already half the distance but nearly the same amount of estimated time

Day 3 – From @3840 up to the Lava Tower @4600m and then to Barranco camp @3950m +/- 15kms (approx 7 hours)

Day 4 – From @3950 to Karanga Valley camp at @4100m – not a lot of metres gained but it will be about 7kms and 4 hours.
Apparently a lot of the time is spent getting across the scarily named Great Barranco Wall.

Day 5 – From @4100 to Barafu camp at @4600 about 5km and 4 hours.
Leave early, get to camp early and get ready for summit night

Day 6 -Tuesday 13th September (starting midnight) This has it all – loose gravel, altitude, cold, dark & possibly vomiting.
7 hours from camp @4600 to Stella Point at @5250m
Then another hour to Uhuru Peak @5895m – the highest point in Africa
Photos, high fives and then straight back down to @3100m to Mweka Camp.

Day 7 – Wednesday 14th September about 15kms straight downhill and out – the itinerary says something about enjoying the scenery through the rainforest but am thinking my thoughts will be firmly on the shower ahead (after drawing straws with my roomies to see who gets to go last – longest shower)

I have spent so much of today receiving good wishes and support for the trip – I am so thankful to all my family and friends new and old, online and IRL who are supporting me in this climb. Your support makes me really believe I can do it!

Will give the last word tonight to my gorgeous children and the card they made me for my trip – presented this afternoon.

My good luck card - by 8yo son and 4yo daughter (WAFYO)

WAFYO weighs in

Getting ready to head to Kilimanjaro in *gulp* five sleeps time – is not just about fear of vomiting, sleeping on the ground, 20km training walks and making sure you have an insulator for your water bottle so you don’t dehydrate on summit day.

Current draft calendar - a page from 'The Manual'

There are also complex family plans to be made – this is the reason I obviously stopped at two children. The ins and outs of organising their schedules, school pick ups, activities, birthday party attendance for the mere 13 days I will be gone means I should have started ‘The Manual’ I am leaving for their care much much earlier. If there was one or two more of them I am sure I would have given up and said – ‘too hard, can’t go’.

The plan was always to go when school was in session – making it much easier to manage their schedules and keep them in some kind of routine. Not going quite to plan, unfortunately it is the last few weeks of term so there are school concerts, grandparents (or for us grandparent-less) days, art exhibitions and of course parent/teacher interviews all happening.

This week we had the WAFYO’s (world’s angriest four year old) parent/teacher interview. Last week when I was at the doctor for my ‘manky’ eye we were discussing kids and school and agreed that if you are in there longer than five minutes when you have a child in pre-school there is a problem. I was in there for 45 minutes……..

Turns out the WAFYO has a problem or two behaviourally that has emerged recently and may be related to the fact her primary care giver is heading off for two weeks to parts unknown.  There is also an increase in ‘willfulness’, ‘bossiness’ and playing hard and fast with friends. After a mild and gentle but firm reprimand from the teacher for not having informed her earlier of my plans to go away we discussed how we were going to work to resolve the issues.

One of the outcomes was for WAFYO to do a school project about her mum’s trip – which included being provided with a large piece of cardboard to make a poster to use while sharing information about the trip with her class and the other pre-school classes. She took to it with gusto – twenty minutes later declaring she was finished and could I help her with the words. Today she took the poster to school where by her own reports she did a presentation to the class and their ‘gogo’s’ (today being Caregiver’s day) and they all clapped at the end.

‘Just one thing mum, the children wanted to know why you were you to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?’

And that is a very good question children, a very good question indeed! Four and five year olds not being overly familiar with the term ‘mid life crisis’ I did opt for a slightly different answer and as she explained to her father when he arrived home tonight ‘Mummy is going to climb Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money for cancer so people like Mumma won’t get it anymore’
I really hope so WAFYO – I honestly do.

The poster - note top is above the friendly clouds & I am the one in colour - my climbing mates are just in blue

What to pack, what to pack?

Obviously my iphone, ipad, chargers, plug adaptors, camera batteries and charger, hair dryer and straightening iron first.
Oh, wait. That might take up too much room, or worse, weigh too much. Maybe I can live without straight hair for a week – but I worry going without anything else on the list will plunge me into severe withdrawal. Thinking that the hair dryer, if only there were magical electrical outlets, could serve as quite a good blow heater as a dual purpose device.
Am still investigating how far up the mountain you can get 3G signal for my Twitter addiction.

Seriously our family is a sucker for electronic equipment, we can’t go for a weekend away without taking a powerboard and several adaptor plugs with us in order to ensure there are enough outlets to charge our ‘essentials’. Sad but true, and there go all our weekend away offers by people deadly afraid of their power bill post a Moffitt day or two in their company.

Last Thursday it was so exciting to go to a ‘Kili slide night’ at a friend’s house – where of the five occupants, three have completed and successfully summited the highest peak in Africa putting of course no pressure on the remaining two family members to do so at some time in the future.

The LDL and I went along with our significant others to hear words of wisdom, view pictorial records and listen to Tanzanian porter chanting as background music as well as discuss the important questions.

Which included such gems as

What did you take that you wish you hadn’t?
Not really a definitive answer on this one, so no reason I shouldn’t pack everything on my list.

What didn’t you take that you wish you had?
Little magic hand warmer things that go in your gloves, a blow up pillow, an under mattress thing for the sleeping bag (able to be hired but a little bit manky – best to take your own or borrow before we go)

What to pack?
Too long to list but they very generously handed most of what they had taken x2 over to the LDL and I for our own packing pleasure

How did you go to the toilet?
There were pictures of the Toilet hut with some basic explanations for us.

When did you start vomiting?
Here, here and here (see relevant pictures)

What did you eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner?
Stuff – cannot remember but LDL’s husband and mine now think we are going 4 star as there were photos of morning tea and coffee being delivered to the tents and tables and chairs for meals, including a mess tent. They were thinking we were going to be camped on our haunches around a fire we started with sticks gnawing on chunks of raw meat I think. Much disappointment from them and much relief for the LDL and me. We are going with the same organisation that they went with so its good to know the ins and outs of how it all worked.

When did you start taking Diamox (the drug for high altitude sickness)?
Not soon enough – in some cases, not all.

What was the hardest part?
Going up and coming down apparently – so glad we asked.

I took along my pre-prepared printed lists from the wonderful world of the internet which included such suggestions to pack as
– a ruler (we couldn’t decide what we would be measuring so crossed that off)
– a compass (way too low tech these days – Our host Jono the intrepid adventurer, post Kili bought himself a fabulous amazing technical masterpiece of a watch so should he ever climb another mountain he would be able to tell which way he was facing and at what altitude he was doing it – we are honoured that he told the LDL and I that one of us could wear it for our trip)
– pee bottle for in the tent (doesn’t help the ladies so much – but boys don’t mix up your water bottle and your pee bottles now)
– fingernail brush (no idea)
– toilet paper (you don’t say)
– baby wipes (the only shower you’re going to get)
– walking sticks or poles (pol-e pol-e)
etc
etc
etc

At the end of the night we traveled home with a backpack and day pack each, overflowing with generously shared items for the duration of the trip.

I was very glad the next morning as I was wearing my dug up ex-ski gear long underwear (practice pyjamas) a ski jacket and wriggling into the borrowed sleeping bag on the floor of my bedroom that our housekeeper didn’t wander in and wonder just what this crazy lady was doing – I would have had to explain I was avoiding my training run to ‘test the equipment’.

33 sleeps to go

But why?

But why are you doing this thing? Is it on your bucket list?
Ummm. Sure it is – or not, don’t have a proper bucket list, more a meanderer looking for opportunities. But say that yes – it is. Does that count?

The honest truth is I’ve always looked for an opportunity to spend a week without showering or washing my hair, and in all possibility vomiting profusely for at least a couple of those days.
No, actually, that’s not it either.

I guess I like to set goals for myself and achieve them and this is one that came along and I just signed up. I’ve got some form on the hiking front, for starters my other blog lists hiking as a personal interest, as does my resume – that counts right!?! I’ve also fronted up three times for the Hong Kong Greenpower hike from the Peak to a far flung beach – 50kms no less, up (and down) the green corridors that are surprisingly plentiful on that small island.
I think I can still get up this mountain and when I do it I will remember others that can’t.

I’m not good at writing seriously – not because I can’t be, but because I am afraid of missing something in the telling. There are so many people that can write so beautifully about things that mean something to them and are important, but I’m afraid I can’t, I can only tell you how I see it.

Fuck Cancer!
Sorry to use a swear word (look away under 18’s, or is it under 16’s?) but I know you all agree. I am sure anyone that reads this has a friend, family member or acquaintance that has been affected by the dreaded Big C. It’s a horrible disease that defies logic along with many other things, there are so many different forms of it and not even they follow agreed paths or timelines.

For example, two people who are special to me were diagnosed with Bowel Cancer, Stage IV at diagnosis.

One is my mother. When I was pregnant with the child currently referred to as the World’s Angriest Four Year Old (WAFYO – just because she’s bound to appear on here again at some stage) I took a call at work in Hong Kong one day from my Mum at home in Australia and she told me she had Bowel Cancer. That’s not a good phone call. What followed was something that people who have been there with family members and friends understand, statistics like 30% success rate for operations and treatments suddenly seem to be amazingly positive possibilities (as opposed to when you were at school and that was your possible exam result). Because the alternative, what could happen the other 70% of the time is just not able to be considered.

It was five years in May since my Mother’s diagnosis, I cannot understand what she has been through although I know the facts – the number of operations, the number of chemo treatments that worked and didn’t, the ‘overlooking’ of a new related tumour for two years because of apparent radiographer/oncologist incompetence, another operation, the Chinese doctor that has kept her body and mind healthy through all the western treatments, her ability to stay focused and positive and still come and visit us overseas in Hong Kong and South Africa (on occasion against medical advice) to enjoy the company of her adoring grandchildren, who love their ‘Mumma’ all the time even when they don’t like me very much. Through it all she has kept her own record of events for the hundreds and hundreds- and I am not kidding about that number- of people all over the world that she counts as friends.

My mum is a special person, she is after all my Mum, but she deals with so many things (not just her cancer) in such a positive and upbeat way for the most part- as well as forgive me my many failings as an absent daughter that not enough can be said about how wonderful and unique she is and what she inspires in others.
So apart from the fact that she sent ME flowers for Mother’s day this year (correct- I sent her none) let me give you an example.
After discovering Mum’s illness and diagnosis one of her very closest friends took off on a ‘short’ 850km walk across the Camino, the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela to find a challenge as close as she could think of to the one facing Mum. After completing the journey, she wrote a book, dedicated it to mum and donated all the royalties from the first edition to Cancer research. These are the kinds of amazing friends that she has.

Five years on the doctors do not exactly know what to do with her, the cancer keeps coming back and somehow Mum keeps turning it away. Its back again now, and this time, like the other times it seems worse than before but part of me just keeps believing once again she will conquer it. If recent blood test results continue their trend, it appears that once again she will push it back and carry on with her grey nomad adventures in the ‘Hopemobile’.
I will climb Kilimanjaro for my Mum and remember how hard her journey has been and the unknown road ahead.

The other person is my friend Jodi. I met Jodi in 1995 when she was sharing a house with my boyfriend Sam (now husband) and some other friends in Bris Vegas (that’s Brisbane, Queensland for all you non-Aussies). They were all from Adelaide, living in Queensland and like ‘Adelaidians’ and South Australians everywhere – even though they had never met before managed to find each other in another location and become friends. Jodi started seeing Nick, a friend of Sam’s from school – of course. Later, the three of them moved to Sydney (not together) and we continued our friendship all living in the same city. Nick was a groomsman at our wedding, I organised Jodi’s hen’s day in Sydney in the absence of her out of town bridesmaids and Sam was a groomsman at their wedding. Our adventures together continued as Nick and Jodi became traveling Aussies at large, as we were, first in the UK and then in Vietnam. The Lees and the Moffitts holidayed in Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hong Kong and Adelaide together. Our kids played together, we had fun and plenty of laughs. Jodi was a wonderful reassuring presence and support when our son was going through his diagnosis with Aspergers having worked extensively with ASD children during her teaching career.

Then one day, we got another phone call. It was Mum’s diagnosis all over again. Jodi had to be air lifted from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok once they realised there was a problem and she had to be operated on nearly immediately. The upheaval and changes caused not only by her diagnosis but by living away from Australia and in a country with a different medical system were huge. Soon afterwards Nick, Jodi and their children Jack and Arabella moved back to Australia and Adelaide to be close to their families and continue their fight against the disease. I thought I knew how it would go from there, but no cancer, not even one with the same name and numbers follows the same path. She fought the cancer bravely for two years and then we got another phone call. My gorgeous friend had died. We were here in South Africa by then and only one of us could travel back to Australia for the funeral. I remember my ridiculous comment to Nick at the funeral ‘Sam and I had to draw straws on who would come’ (I am absolutely hopeless in these situations, can you tell?) Nick said ‘I hope you were the one that won’. Of course we had both wanted to go – to remember an amazing person, mother and friend. There were hundreds of people there, many had traveled from different, cities, states and countries to attend and say their own goodbye to Jod.

Not long afterwards The Jodi Lee Foundation was formed and in less than 18 months through some amazing efforts and activities it has already raised AUD $250,000 towards promoting awareness of bowel cancer and encouraging early detection through regular screening from age 40. People such as Nick, Alastair Cavill who just completed the Gobi March and Andrew Poole through his organisation of The Ride for the Little Black Dress (Jodi’s outfit of choice) have made tough, endurance type of activities a hallmark of fundraising for the foundation.
I hope to contribute to the Foundation through our climb and fly the Jodi Lee Foundation banner atop Kili. If you would like to donate to support me you can go here and do so, remember to choose the drop down (gulp) ‘Kilimanjaro climb’ so I can thank you later for the extra pressure to make it up there.
My target is to make it to to the top and fly that banner.

I know Jodi would want me to do that as quickly as possible. I am almost sure what her advice for the climb would be
‘The sooner you finish this Nikki, the sooner you can have a shower and wash that vomit out of your hair.’

We’re really going to do it

‘Anyone of moderate fitness can climb Mt Kilimanjaro….’ so say many of the brochures and web pages you can read about strolling up Africa’s highest peak.
Ha ha ha ha ha – I hope they’re right. I’m fitter than I look you know (in my mind).

‘Kili is the tallest mountain in the world that you can simply walk up! None of the routes require mountaineering skills, specialized equipment, or even previous climbing experience.’
So they say, but surely the fact I will be sleeping in a tent and sleeping bag on the actual ground qualifies as both specialised equipment and mountaineering skills?

‘There’s practically a road – I could probably drive up it’ says my husband whose name I don’t see on any of the travel documentation surrounding the upcoming trip.

‘The Kilimanjaro climb is just a nature trail hike. Anybody of moderate fitness can do it and I recommend it. The scenery is stunning..’ US magazine attributes to Jessica Biel in her little trip last year.

A snippet of my life as wife & mother on ‘extended world tour’ – current location of residence, Durban – South Africa.
Scene – School car park, second hand clothing sale, recently
Super school organiser Mother 1 – ‘Nikki, I hope you are going to play in the golf day in September’ (best to disregard any possible golfing skills – I don’t have any, obviously just making conversation)
Nikki ‘Actually, I’m going to be climbing Kili that week’ (said for the first time out loud – just trying it on, notice the shortening of the term, trying to sound like I know what I am doing)
Super school organiser Mother 1 and Super school organiser Mother 2 turn to face each other and both laugh
Super school organiser Mother 2 – ‘Have you just turned 40?’
I obviously refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I’m not telling – but its plainly a popular mid-life crisis point of reference for the folks round these parts.

A friend and I had been floating the idea amongst ourselves since I had made the move to Africa nearly two years ago – originally I was planning last year but that just didn’t happen so ‘next year’ I said.  Over Christmas at home in Australia I was telling everyone ‘I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro next year, apparently September is a good time to do it’ and happened at the time to be nearly a year away, sufficiently far that I didn’t have to think that seriously about it. What you find is the more people you tell, the more you say it out loud, the more established a story it gets and the more you have to end up actually doing it.

Deposits are paid and in just a little over 60 sleeps it will all happen – we (my fellow climbers – more on them later) will arrive in Tanzania ready for a big adventure and I am really getting quite scared.

Thursday September 8th is the day, a week later I will know if I have what it takes to summit – it all sounds so simple.