Saturday, March 30, 2013

Enjoying the Journey

One of my priorities for the climb – a refrain constantly in my mind, even before we started climbing – was: “When you’re on the mountain, be on the mountain.”

I’ve run seven full marathons, including one while training for the climb. Starting these races is typically full of excitement, with crowds cheering, people holding signs, and the adrenaline that accompanies the commencement of a long-anticipated event. After a few miles, however, my mind naturally starts drifting toward how far I need to run until I reach the halfway point – or whatever the next big checkpoint is.

In thinking about the second day of our climb, I’ve also recalled making motor home trips from Ohio to the western United States with my family, especially while I was growing up. The act of pulling out of the driveway, the packing behind us (not a fan of packing, in case you missed it), promised great adventures, but belied the fact that between Ohio and national parks far west of the Mississippi were a lot of corn fields.

The journey was the point. Our second day of climbing included roughly eight hours of getting from our first camp to our second. It was a day to deepen relationships with fellow climbers and to enjoy God’s creation.

I made adjustments to my pack – to lighten it and to carry the weight more efficiently. My teammates were more than accommodating with my surplus of gear. Several offered to carry camera equipment in their bags. While I held tight to my camera equipment, I offloaded non-essentials from my day pack: my journal and reading material, clothing I would not immediately need, even extra snacks. Some of my teammates had not packed their full weight allowance for the bags their porters carried. My gear landed in some of these bags. I felt bad to weigh down porters.

We woke up and started our second day of hiking in the rain forest. Eventually we emerged from the rain forest and entered areas of heath and moorland. I’d still fail a quiz on the differences between heath and moorland. Regardless, the scenery was interesting and included vegetation unique to Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Cutout Named “Phil”

A few moments from our eight-hour climb stuck out. The first was a break we took for water and snacks in the rain forest. I took photos of energetic teammates during this break.

I also first encountered the endearing, yet kind of creepy cutout of Phil, whom I gathered worked at the eMi office in Kampala. I never really sought clarification on who Phil was or why my teammates carted a cutout of him to the top of Africa.

Three Johns
Photo of three teammates named John, plus photo-bomb by cutout of “Phil.”

When I was in college, I worked at a coffee shop that had a cutout of a cowboy, and he perpetually had a lei around his neck. For years, he was “The Cowboy with the Lei.” I had heroic adventures rescuing “The Cowboy with the Lei” from miscreants who absconded with him to a freshman dormitory. It became the stuff of legends. Then, on the final night the coffee shop was ever open, I read the fine print at the bottom of the cutout and learned that it had been Bud Abbott, of Abbott and Costello, all along.

In an instant, our knowledge of the cutout’s true identity eviscerated the mythology of “The Cowboy with the Lei” that had taken years to develop. To this day, however, I have a cutout of Bud Abbott in my room. I digress. All of that is simply to say that I’d prefer to know as little as possible about the true identity of “Phil,” the enigmatic cutout that accompanied us to Africa’s highest point.

Welcome Sights

Not long after the aforementioned water and snack break, we left the rain forest and could see above the vegetation around us. I enjoyed views of Mount Meru, another volcano in Tanzania, roughly forty-three miles (seventy kilometers) west of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Mount Meru
After we cleared the rain forest, we could see Mount Meru.

We stopped for lunch roughly an hour and a half later. This was our first lunch break on the trail. I’m not sure any of us completely grasped that our porters would have tables and chairs set up for our lunchtimes. To crest a long hill and see lunch waiting for us was a fairly spectacular feeling. It’s difficult to overstate how much work the porters did to get us up the mountain.

Lunch Table
Pleasant surprise: This awaited us for lunch.

At lunchtime: Jeff and David.

Two and a half hours after lunch, we rounded a corner and finally had a view of the peak we’d already spent two days pursuing. That was cause for another break and myriad team photos.

View of Mount Kilimanjaro
We rounded a corner and had a great view of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Team Photo Kili Backdrop
Team photo with best full view of Mount Kilimanjaro during entire climb.

Slight Change of Scenery

After the impromptu photo session, we had a relatively short walk to reach camp. Most of us were not in a hurry to reach camp. One of my teammates, believe it or not, decided to go for a short run upon arrival at camp. This part of the story has nothing to do with him.

As we approached camp, we noticed a handful of cairns marking the trail. I’ll show you two photos of one of these cairns. One has Anthony, one of our guides, pretending to arm wrestle Meggie, my teammate, over a cairn. You’ll notice that, in this first photo, the cairn is a bit taller than in the second photo.

Cairn Photo 1
Anthony and Meggie pretended to arm wrestle over the cairn.

The second photo shows Katie, another teammate, leaning on the same cairn, after she’d taken it down a notch.

Cairn Photo 2
Katie, leaning on cairn, after “the incident.”

If I told you that Katie leaned against the cairn and knocked it down – despite the fact that our fake arm wrestlers managed not to damage the cairn – it would be kind of a boring story. Therefore, my official story is that Katie roundhouse kicked the top of the cairn to the ground.

Katie also took steroids and attempted to grow a beard.

Washing Porters’ Feet

My teammates became accustomed to my ridiculousness, perhaps even to appreciate it. However, I broached a subject of greater significance when our group met that evening. Our porters worked incredibly hard to serve us. By the end of the second day, this was already obvious. I wanted to find a meaningful way to serve them in return.

Each person on our team was a follower of Christ and took seriously the example that Jesus set. Jesus demonstrated great humility by washing his disciples’ feet. I suggested that we consider washing our porters’ feet. Others were already thinking along these same lines.

Kili from Shira Camp
Evening view of Mount Kilimanjaro from Shira Camp.

Ultimately, we did not wash our porters’ feet. My teammates took the suggestion seriously. Perhaps our relationship with our porters was not analogous to Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. I could understand the potential for a well-intended gesture of foot washing to be received completely other than how we meant it. I deferred to those who had more experience in the East African context than I had. Nevertheless, I wished we could have expressed appreciation for our porters more meaningfully.

Two days later, I found myself revisiting this topic in my mind – from a source I had not expected.

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