Day two saw a steep start, and the first of the altitude sickness with a couple of happy campers not so happily walking with horrendous headaches and nausea. It began to dawn on the group (well, maybe only me, the one who was winging it, having missed the webinar and not read the notes) that this was slightly more than a walk in the park. The speed still got to me – the step, pause, step, pause was not cool, all I wanted was to power past and get it done. Now, again, those who know me well, will know that I can quietly go along, doing my own thing, listening to conversations, gently daydreaming, letting my mind float. The group dynamic was awesome – there was such a range from people who play with ponies (cough cough), nurse, rugby team manager, rare book and record dealer, lawyer, guest house owner, marketing exec, IT etc, and everyone bumbled along, chatting to whoever was walking alongside, changing conversations, switching people, commiserating about altitude sickness and having to find bushes, blisters and snack packs. I happily chatted to whoever was next to me, but even more happily switched off the brain, shut up, potter along.
A few times, especially those first few days, Julio, the main guide, would link arms with me and say, don’t worry, it’ll be ok. I would reply, of course, everything was wonderful. So what was wrong, he would ask. Nothing – look – the sun is shining, the sky is blue, look at that big black bird, feel how the air is changing, notice how the rock is changing under your toes. Feel, your body is alive, you can move your feet, you can walk, you can breathe. He would look at me as if checking that I was sober (that bladdy whiskey), pat me on the back, say you really are ok aren’t you? And be on his way. That is the talent of the guides – they check in on who they think is struggling, help, bully, cajole and when they see that you aren’t a victim of the thin air, they leave you to your daydreams and your thoughts about why you are strolling this hill in the first place. The walk was gentle, the breeze was soft, we had invisible friends again. For the first time, out of the forest, we had views. The moment that I looked over my shoulder and noticed that we were above the clouds – again, just a little bit of magic. The sleepless, cold, gloopily sliding, rock filled, zipping night was all worth it.
(I think Emirates are the only airline with internal stars along the ceiling – it’s really rather cool).
The amazing thing about this journey – at the time, (at least for me) I had a job to do. It’s only now as I describe it, that it is dawning on me just how special the whole thing was.
A few things that will remain with me – sippy sippy. Every hour or so, we would stop, have a little rest. Wait for the tail to catch up. Check in everyone is ok. And the guides – sippy sippy guys, sippy sippy. Which, translated meant drink your water, – don’t get sick, we need to remind you over whelmed, sleep deprived, forgetful tourists, sippy sippy. Very special people. Jackson was the ambulance man. On a trek like that, so many people in a very organised manner, there is a doctor, and Kate was awesome, having endless patience – please put a plaster on my big toe, Kate. Her side kick for the week was Jackson. Now, there was the big hospital bag, carrying everything from plasters to oxygen, headache pills to emergency wee-wah stuff. And one porter is nominated as the ambulance man, balancing this massive case on his head, and sticking like glue to Dr Kate at the back, ready to dispense whatever she needs. Do you have any idea how heavy that bag is, and how steep the path when carrying that on your head? But, Jackson smiled from start to finish, and not only that, but he was Kate’s personal Swahili coach, by the end of the week, she could count to 100, say the days of the week, yesterday, day before, tomorrow, day after, hello, good bye, and most importantly, Every one eats Chicken, Slowly slowly (pole pole) like a chameleon and cool like a banana in the freezer. To keep smiling while carrying the mobile clinic and being the language professor takes quite a skill. (And me, tootling along within earshot of most the lessons? I can say hello… Jambo…)
Anyone reading this probably thought I would be describing the view more than the internal landscape of my brain. Or the food – seriously good food. (There was roast chicken and chips one night – which poor guy got to carry two chickens and 10kg of potatoes up the hill?) But that is what climbing a hill does to you – you start to examine the landscape in your brain…. So. This may be news to you, but I am bladdy minded, stubborn, pig headed and (possibly) dangerously independent. And I was going to climb that little hill even if I had to do it dragging myself up, pulling out my fingernails as I went. That elephant was getting up that hill. I know that. I think maybe you know that too. But, these were 100 strangers. And, the more sore I am, the more the world must **** off, because if my body puts its hands in the air and cries mercy, then my brain will drag my body, kicking and screaming where it needs to go. As Margaret, one of the reasons for this walk, would say – most people find a boundary and stop, I find a boundary and see how hard I can crash through it.
(Now we have Rachel Platten – if your wings are broken, please take mine so that yours can open too – anyone need to borrow my wings? If you can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through hell with you, all very apt, talking about these guides, they could put Red Bull out of business)
Dr Kate and I had discussed my broken neck at the hotel, and as we walked, I admit that my neck began to swear at me in new and spectacular ways. (Did you know that your right hand can go as numb as the left, and it can feel as if you have no arms – interesting experience…) And, several times those first few days, Kate would say, I think a guide needs to carry your pack, and I would say… NO. And keep walking. At half speed. Swearing at the damn bladdy hill, swearing at the damn bladdy pace and swearing at my damn bladdy neck. Kate is one of those exceptional people who can light up a room by arriving. Some people she pushed up the hill by telling them she would give them a kick up the backside. Most people she got up the hill with the power of hugs. Me, she read very quickly, let me get on with the job. Ben was very much the same. He lives for adventure and nature, one of those special people who becomes more animated the more he is at home in his environment. I adore finding the subject or question that makes the spark in people come to life – you can see them shine. Ask them a question about something that is their passion and just watch. See how it all adds fuel to their fire. The mountain does that to Ben, and his talent from that is to make each and every person in camp feel good and positive about their stroll. As people would file past him, he would encourage, push, help, and to me – would say Ashleigh, doing what she does. Yup. My comrade marathon running friend said she learnt to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But, I would already keep walking if it kills me – I think my lesson number two was let people help. (I can do it myself, now go away and let me swear at my body to keep moving).
The camp of day two was at Shira Camp, 3,840m. Bleak would be a good word. Moonscape would be another. We had the sing and party. We had an exceptional dinner – seriously, these two chefs can put more together in a tent with a fire than I can in a kitchen. And then, we had the most incredible sunset above the clouds. I can’t describe it, so won’t try. If you want the best sunset, climb the hill… And then, the wind picked up. By about 7.30 every night we were mostly tucked up in bed. Some people because they were exhausted. Some were sick. Me – I was so freezing cold, with goose bumps and shivering uncontrollably and the more cold I get the more sore I get, and I admit, those evenings when the sun dropped and I couldn’t soak in a hot shower – miserable. Did I mention that I don’t camp? (No green eggs and ham…) So, we are lying in bed. The one thing I didn’t pack was a book, so counting the stones under the sleeping mat… And the wind is howling, and there is crash bang. Next thing, there are torches flashing around camp, and a torch parks by your head on the other side of the canvas, and hammer, hammer, hammer, some poor guy is out there in a howling gale, double checking that our tents are hammered into the ground so that we don’t take off over the edge of the world where we are perched. It turned out that one of the dining tents had blown up and away in the wind and the guys had had to catch it and fix it, as well as making sure we survived. Personally, I think with the amount of food we were eating, plus the 6 litres of sippy sippy, a hurricane couldn’t have blown us down the hill….