I’m going to kick off my 50th year at 19,341 feet.

I’m turning 50 next summer.

I know, I know, I don’t look a day over 29. (at least that’s what I practically pay my 14-year-old niece to say. She’s a good sport to her ol’ auntie!)

But turning 50. That’s a big deal and it calls for an epic adventure.  A celebration of life and ability and a challenge to take me into the second half of life. 

I’ve been working on cultivating the right lifestyle for my "later years" and I'm finding that the habits that worked fine up to this point aren’t going to keep working out so well.  As Alison Bladh said on a recent podcast episode, we don’t have as much of a buffer to absorb any abuse we might unleash on ourselves as we get older.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be as healthy and vital and active and energetic for the next 30 years as I was for the last 30 years.  I’ve got sh*t to do!  I can’t sit around sick.  Of course there are things I can’t control, but regarding the things I can, (nutrition, hydration, movement, alcohol consumption, sleep habits, Geritol consumption) I’m going to pay closer attention. 

And that brings me to the epic celebration of my 50th year on the planet.  Me and 2 friends (who both turned 50 during Co-Vid quarantine and understandably wanted a “do-over” on their 50th celebration) are going to Africa to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro. 

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Kilimanjaro is the largest free-standing mountain in the world and the highest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet.  It’s actually an active volcano, but it hasn't erupted for 360,000 years, so we’re likely to walk away without any trouble!  (Thank goodness.  I’m there for the challenge, not for a lava shower!) Unlike Everest and some of the other scarier mountains, no technical climbing skills are required to get to the top of Kilimanjaro.  It’s “just a hike”. (pshhhhht….yeah, like Shaquille O’Neill is ‘just a tall person”!)

The route we will take is 22 miles of walking…up hill…over a 3 ½ day period.  (then 22 miles down, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.)

You may notice that I said we were going to “attempt to summit”.  I say that with great respect for the mountain, the altitude and this whole experience. Only about 65% of people who set out to reach Uhuru Peak actually come home with their mountaintop selfie!

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Many of them don’t make it due to gear issues, but I have some control there. For months I’ve been walking miles and miles in the socks and boots I’ll be wearing on the mountain, in the pants and jackets, with my weighted backpack on. I’ve also been testing the snacks and meals I’ll be taking so I know how my body reacts to what I’m putting in it.

Some people don’t make it due to fitness, but I have some control there too! I’ve been logging the miles, climbing on the treadmill, and taking advantage of hilly terrain whenever I get the chance. (Funny thing, I moved to THE flattest state in the country in the process of my training, so finding hilly terrain has been a bit of a challenge.)

Some people fail to summit because it’s so hard, so uncomfortable and they don’t possess the mental toughness to push through the discomfort and exhaustion and dark times to get to the top. That stuff is my jam, and after 28 marathons, 3-ultra marathons, 2 Ironmans and a figure competition win, I’ve cultivated the ability to keep going when the going gets tough.

Now for the fun part…often, people are sidelined by altitude. I will take anti-altitude sickness medication, I have practiced on a 14-er in Colorado and have a bit of an idea of what low oxygen feels like, and am ready to embrace “Pole Pole” (the motto of the mountain, Pole-Pole means SLOW SLOW in Swahili. Going slowly allows your body to acclimate to the altitude as you ascend.) I can do all that, but I don’t know how my body is going to react to the altitude on December 28th when I’m hiking in the dark at 3 in the morning, exhausted and cold after 3 days of hiking and only 5 hours of weak sleep. That I can’t control.

Then there’s weather, and how I sleep at altitude, and my reaction to the cold and African cuisine, and hand filtered water and a bat in our hut, and a snake in my sleeping bag and scorpions and locusts and lava and…ok, so all that PROBABLY won’t happen, but my point is there is a lot I can’t control.

And so I release attachment to the outcome, and am ready to celebrate whatever successes, lessons, strengthening and vulnerability the mountain has for me. I’m ready to celebrate my friends, old and new. The beautiful Tanzanian people who will take care of us whether we summit, or whether they have to deliver the bad news that this trip is not our time. The singing our guides and porters will inevitably entertain and energize us with. The beautiful and varied surroundings as we pass through 5 different climate zones on the way up, and HOPEFULLY, if everything goes the way we hope, when I get back to the US on January 4, I’ll have a selfie from Uhuru Peak to share with you. But if I don’t, I’ll still have lots of amazing stories and lessons to share. (With all the joy, fun, sadness, disappointment, pain, suffering, celebration, excitement, failure and success that comes with it.)

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This is a simulation of our Uhuru Peak selfie.  Despite the realism of this shot, this is photoshopped.

Have a wonderful holiday and a safe and joyful new years celebration, and I’ll chat to you next year. 

Go get ‘em Tiger.

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