Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Relatively Short Guide to Maple Fest

Every year you are excited, and every year it doesn't disappoint. You fly up on Friday, trying to relax on the three-hour plane ride to your favorite city in America. It isn't easy to relax, however, because you can hardly contain yourself.

You take a cab to an English basement on Capitol Hill. It belongs to the hostess with the mostess, the reason you started going to Maple Fest in the first place. You hug all ten friends that you haven't seen in a year, and try to catch up a little bit before the first meeting of the weekend, or Maple Summit, as it were. This meeting is usually to decide whether you want to stop at Cracker Barrel on the way to Southwest Virginia, or at Sweetgreen before you leave DC. You decide on a Sweetgreen salad because it's the last healthy thing you'll be eating all weekend.

You stuff your bags into one of three cars and climb in, wondering who will be DJing for the three-hour drive to Southwest Va. You talk with your car-mates, listen to Taylor Swift, and most likely stop in Harrisonburg to get snacks (that salad certainly wasn't enough...). You are starting to feel like the old you, the real you that only surfaces in a few places. You know it's going to be a good weekend.

Finally you arrive to your destination, and it's early to bed, early to rise. You have to get to the all-you-can-eat-pancake breakfast as early as possible to avoid the line. Before you leave, you pack a snack pack, graciously provided by your hostess' mother, of baked goods, crackers, and candy. Armed with a camera and a cup of coffee, you leave the house around 7:30am. You drive through the mountains to Highland County. You watch the trees fly by from your seat in the back, their branches bare from the lingering winter. You arrive at the breakfast, and see with disappointment that there is already a line. A long line. But you will wait, of course you will. It's tradition. An hour later you can finally smell the pancakes cooking, the griddle hissing with grease, and the low hum of folks enjoying themselves. Finally, you're in! You get your food and devour, making sure to smother the sausage gravy on both patties of sausage, and soaking each pancake with more maple syrup than you've had in the last five years combined. After you're finished, and can no longer eat another bite, you chug your milk and stand, freeing up table space for the hundreds of people still waiting in line.

"You" in pure Maple Bliss.

You then drive to a sugar farm, where they make maple syrup. You tour the sugar barn, and contemplate buying maple candy in the gift shop. You decide against it, since you're pretty sure your veins are already full of sugar. You buy a maple BBQ sandwich (you've digested those pancakes enough by now), and a Diet Coke, and chow down on the farm's delicious take on a bbq sammy. By now everyone is high on sugar, and you wonder briefly why everything is so damn funny.

Your maple bbq sandwich.

Your beer flight.

You are finished eating for the afternoon, and shortly after find yourself in downtown Staunton (that's pronounced "Stan-ton"), where you visit a wine tasting room, a brewery, a little bookstore, and another wine bar. You see someone you met your first Maple Fest and it is kind of awkward, but the wine is making you happy and you get through the embarrassment.

You go to one more bar before you realize you've had just about enough, and it's time to go back to your home for the weekend. Your friends decide to order pizza, and you eat (seriously, how are you ingesting so much?) while playing Cards Against Humanity. You don't want the day to end. But eventually you give in to your sugar and alcohol fatigue, knowing full well a hangover will hit shortly after 6am.

A little Staunton street art, explaining your feelings exactly. 

You wake up to the smell of bacon and coffee, and come downstairs to find that your hostess' sweet parents have cooked you an enormous breakfast, as they have done every year. You are grateful and very touched by their generosity and hospitality. After breakfast, you pack, walk around the grounds of the house, and chat with these friends who surround you, whom you never get to see, who are your best friends. 

The drive back to Washington is quiet, as you nap or think about the week ahead. The group makes one last stop at a winery to do a final wine tasting and to savor the sweetness of the weekend. You arrive back in DC shortly after and stay with a friend/former roommate before leaving the next day. You are exhausted, but your heart is full. You cherish your weekend with your buddies and count yourself one lucky gal to have such amazing friends. You and your friend stay up late catching up and reliving old times. You anticipate your trip home tomorrow and the perpetual search for your next career path. But for now you push those thoughts back, and say yes to one more glass of wine.

Your BFFs (although a few weren't in this picture.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Bibliophile's Life

Abilene is great. It really is a great place to raise a family, have a job, wear cowboy boots, etc. For a single twentysomething, however, things are a little bit slower than life in, say, DC or Austin. To make up for slightly lower frequency of action, I read. I read and go to movies and watch Netflix. Here is a recent account of what has been on my kindle and list of recently watched shows and movies.

1. As I said before my trip, I read The Hobbit and absolutely loved it. I realize it's a children's novel, but Tolkien is such a great writer that I don't think anyone would put it down just because it has a slight YA association. Peter Jackson certainly didn't. There are some great moments like: 

"He was in the dark tunnel floating in icy water, all alone--for you cannot count friends that are all packed up in barrels."


"Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait."

I loved it all, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a fast but fun read. Because I had finished the book, I wanted to watch the movie (obvs). I'm talking about the first one b/c I had already seen the second one. I do things backwards sometimes. 

It kind of follows the book, but Jackson takes a lot of liberties, like adding Legolas into the movie, giving Bard a much bigger role, and creating a love story between a dwarf and an elf...what? But I can get past all that since it leads to Kili, the hot dwarf

2. For somewhat clear reasons, I read Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," a short story about a man who gets hurt climbing Kilimanjaro and is basically drinking whiskey at the bottom thinking about his life. It's a 30 minute read, and I always love a good Hemingway story. 

3. Winter's Tale -- Ugh, okay, I rarely say this, but the movie was SO much better than the book. The book is a 750-page torture method that they probably used during the Cold War. I did get through it, but I wondered the whole time why I was bothering. I think it's because I have a mental block about starting books and not finishing them, which is why I haven't opened my copy of Moby Dick. In Winter's Tale, the book, there are too many characters, not enough character development, holes, unexplained plot lines, a 30-page chapter on the history of this newspaper where everyone works, and the secret to curing insomnia. Then I went to see the movie, and it was like a cool breeze on a hot summer day. They changed enough things that made the story make sense and took out characters that added no intrinsic value to the story. So save your time and just see the movie. 

4. Downton Abbey -- Do I need to say anything about this? Jk jk, I 100% do. Quick review: Mary's life is kind of turning around; she's got all the boys after her even though we all miss Matthew so much. I wish she would pay more attention to little George, though. Poor Edith, girlfriend cannot catch a break! It'll be interesting to see her baby come back to Downton, and what in the world happened to Michael? I don't love the teacher that Branson has been flirting with, but it's good to see him getting on with his life a little bit. I really want him to run for office. Bates and Anna seems to be okay, although I wonder if it's going to come out that Bates really killed that guy. Rose's dating life will surely be a focus in the next season, and I bet the writers have some scandal thrown in for our enjoyment. Sigh, I love this show. 

5. Just started watching House of Cards on Netflix. Ohmygoodnessit'ssoaddicting. I watched four episodes Sunday night, and I want to finish the first season this weekend. It is so freaking good. The opening credits show different shots of DC, and it gives me a twinge of sadness because I miss it so much! 

The writing is brilliant, and I love the (somewhat) exaggerated portrayal of life on the Hill. Certain elected officials, especially the higher on the food chain you go, definitely have the kind of influence that Frank has, making it easy to turn things their way or affect an outcome to get what they want. I think that role was written for Kevin Spacey, and Jenny from Forrest Gump does a great job as his wife. I definitely recommend it.

6. I'm currently reading On Writing by Stephen King. It's kind of like a memoir/here's what I've learned about writing in my decades of being a best-selling novelist. Since I hate scary things, I've never read anything of his besides The Shawshank Redemption, and I'm loving it. Talk about a fantastic writer. He is funny and educational without being pedantic. If you're a writer, or just someone who appreciates a good read, I'm pretty sure you'll love this book.

That's all for now, I think. I have a few more books that I've read and shows that I've started/am still watching, but I don't want to risk a Winter's Tale fiasco where I don't realize when I should stop. 

I would love to hear your recommendations! What are you reading/watching lately? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Wink and a Nod: The Liebster Award

Last week, my friend and former roommate, Lanie, passed the Liebster Award along to me! My first blogger award!! Although it's just a series of questions that I answer and I don't get a cupcake or a hug or anything, I'm thrilled just the same. It's wonderful to see bloggers passing on the love and enthusiasm for these things, and it encourages me to keep on writing and posting.

So without further ado, below is the q&a that has been passed down all the way to me here at Of a Long Book: 

 1. What’s up?  Seriously, what’s happening right when you type this?
I'm actually in my bed right's my day off and I like to drink coffee in bed for most of the morning while I brainstorm about topics for my blog, plan my next trip, or surf the latest articles on Buzzfeed. 

2. How did you come up with your blog name?
I was moving from Washington, DC back home to Texas about two years ago. My mom was in town helping me pack up everything, and we were driving through Capitol Hill to grab lunch after a long morning full of boxes and packing tape. My dad was on speaker phone, and he was asking how it was going. Feeling sad and emotional about leaving, I said, "it's the end of a chapter, " to which he replied, "of a long book."

3. What is your favorite part about blogging?
Sharing my experiences with my family and friends, and having an outlet where I can express my undying love for Downton Abbey...

4. Least favorite?
Probably a common thing for most bloggers, but coming up with content. I often feel like unless I'm traveling, most of my daily life is pretty boring. So thinking of new ideas can be a challenge.

5. What’s the very first outfit you can remember wearing?
A St. John's Episcopal School uniform. My elementary school had uniforms, and I remember hating the jumper and polo shirt we had to wear for chapel day on Wednesdays. Although now I don't think uniforms are the worst idea, as a seven year old they're not that fun. 

6.  What’s the last makeup product you bought?
I'm really trying to jump on the lipstick bandwagon. Since it just hasn't caught up to me yet, I'm starting with lip gloss and working my way up. I bought this L'Oreal leGloss the other day, and I'm loving it.

7.  Did you have an ‘awkward’ phase growing up?  Describe it!
Ugh, didn't we all? I'm pretty sure mine was middle school, 6th grade in particular. Like I said, I wore uniforms all the way through 5th grade, so when I got to Lincoln Middle School, I had no idea how to dress, what my style was, or how things were supposed to fit me. Luckily, there are very few photos from that era..

8.  What’s your all-time favorite movie?
If you know anything about me, you know that movies are some of my absolute favorite things. When we were little, we didn't play I Spy in the car, we played Movie Quotes. That being said, I have about 4, 973 favorite movies. My top ones, however, are Braveheart, Love Actually, Titanic (yeah, yeah...), Bridget Jones' Diary and Father of the Bride, 1 and 2.

Who could resist his flowing locks? She certainly won't.

9.  What’re you wearing as you type this? (how creepy does that sound, hah) 
Super creepy, but my nighty and a robe. Hey, I said it was my day off! 

10. It’s the weekend, do you go out, or prefer to stay in?  Why?
I'm a big proponent of a mixture of the two. I love it when my weekends involve any or all of the following: grabbing drinks or dinner with friends, catching a movie with my mom, cooking a few meals and reading a book. 

11. What’s your all-time favorite song?
I am loving Fires by David Ramirez. And if you handed me a Mumford and Sons playlist, I'd never not play it. 

Now I'm continuing to spread the love!! I'm passing the Liebster Award on to these amazing women and bloggers: 

Answer these questions on your blog, then pass the award along to your favorite bloggers! 

The Questions
1. What’s up?  Seriously, what’s happening right when you type this?
2. How did you come up with your blog name?
3. What is your favorite part about blogging?
4. Least favorite?
5. What’s the very first outfit you can remember wearing?
6.  What’s the last makeup product you bought?
7.  Did you have an ‘awkward’ phase growing up?  Describe it!
8.  What’s your all-time favorite movie?
9.  What’re you wearing as you type this? (how creepy does that sound, hah)
10. It’s the weekend, do you go out, or prefer to stay in?  Why?
11. What’s your all-time favorite song?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

London, and all my love.

Here was my thinking after Kilimanjaro: What did I really have to rush back to in the states? While I'm over here, why not spend a few days in one of my favorite cities?

I studied abroad in London in college, and it was probably the best four months of my life. I know that semester had more to do with the people around me and the friends I made, but with London as a backdrop, how can you not love life?

We arrived in London from Tanzania at about 6:00am. Since I couldn't check into my hotel until 3p, I got some coffee and read my book, then hopped on the tube up to Columbia Road, where a Londoner on the trip told me about a great flower market. I asked him if that was where Eliza Doolittle was supposed to be from, but he said no, :( womp womp. Regardless, I had a great time perusing all the flower booths, the sellers yelling out "two for five pounds!" and smelling all the wonderful flowers. There were some cute shops around there too, and I ducked into most of them to see what hip London shops had to offer.

Flowers for days.

I was pretty close to Islington, my old stomping grounds, so I walked up to Angel station and looked around. It smells and looks the same, and all these wonderful memories came flooding back. I remembered having a very in depth conversation with a friend as we turned the corner onto the high street to go into the tube. I remembered feeling sorry for the homeless people who slept on the air vents to keep warm in the winter, and shuffling back home after (many) nights of drinking in pubs. Oh it was wonderful.

At this point, it's a wonder I was even awake, let alone walking with some mental faculties throughout a large city. I stopped at The York near Angel station for a fish sandwich, some "chips," and a couple glasses of wine. I read my book and helped a young couple fix their caddywompus table, glad to be out of the chilly wind for a while.

A few more shops later, it was finally past three o'clock, so I headed back to the St. James's Hotel to check in. I spent the rest of the night like an old lady: took a bath, ordered room service, and watched a movie.


I woke up rested and relaxed, and ready to do some shopping. I wandered down Regent Street, went into a few stores, and bought a couple things. My general goal was a book store near Marylebone called Daunt Books. I read about it a few months ago and couldn't wait to go in. It was basically the cutest bookstore in the world probably, and I loved getting lost in it while the rain ting-tinged on the long glass skylight.

After a little bite of hummus and pita bread in a pub, and a glass of wine of course, I walked over to Baker Street, know...

#obsessed #bethbreeding


So then, I decided to walk down Baker Street back to my hotel. It was a gray, rainy day, and I loved getting to see a different part of the city. Right down Baker Street is Selfridge's, and I couldn't not go in, especially since my mom and I love that show "Mr. Selfridge" on PBS. I noticed that they had a salon on the top floor, and I was in no hurry, so naturally I got a manicure. The manicurist got all that dirt out from underneath my nails from the mountain (ewww), and I was feeling so pampered.

I spent the final night of my trip at the hotel, content to just read my book, eat a delicious meal, and drink some good wine. I know most people don't ideally want to spend a few days alone in a foreign city, and I probably would have loved some company for part of it. But after being in close quarters with 32 other people for the better part of a week, it was nice to have some time to think, to process what I had just done, and enjoy civilization. As usual, I'm already ready to go back.

Anyone want to come?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Kilimanjaro -- Summit Night

Day 5 -- Summit Night

Definition of the day: 
Conquer (verb) -- to overcome by mental or moral power; surmount; to be victorious.

It wasn't difficult to wake up...mainly because I was already awake; nerves and altitude kept me from sleeping more than an hour. After a nerve-filled breakfast of porridge, eggs and toast, we made final preparations. "Packs on!" Jo yelled from outside the dining tent, and we strapped on our packs carrying as little as possible (water, snacks, sunscreen), put a water bottle in our puffer jackets so the water wouldn't freeze, and walked out of camp a little after 1am.

My headlamp showed me the calves and boots of the person in front of me, and little else. We climbed uphill and over rocks, my legs and lungs burning at every rocky step. An hour passed, then two, and steeper and steeper we went.  Eventually the rocks disappeared and we were able to maintain a steady pace on what seemed like a gravel path. At one point, maybe after hour three or so (I began to lose track after the first one or two), we stopped for a quick break, and a guide came over and told me to give him my pack. I was only too happy to oblige. They took packs from a few people, recognizing when some of us were struggling and needed a little help.

With a brighter sky and a lighter load I continued, knowing that if I could keep up my pace (step, breathe in breathe out, step, breath in breath out), then I could hope to make it to the top. Just one step, then another, then another.

Let me be perfectly clear: it was the hardest thing I've ever done. I was exhausted. I felt light-headed and a little drunk, and I'm pretty sure I hallucinated once. I was really, truly blessed and lucky that I had neither nausea nor a headache, but it was still miserable.

All that faded for a brief moment, however, when the sun rose over the horizon. The sky was painted unfathomable colors of red and orange, and I felt like I was in the first scene of The Lion King...
I thought, what an incredible world God has created, and I was so happy to see that part of it, on that morning, on that mountain. Too exhausted to take a photo, I closed my eyes for a moment and breathed in the thin air, relishing the moment as best I could.

We reached Stella Point, 45 minutes from the peak, and I was shocked when everyone started hugging and congratulating each other. Had we made it? Was the walk to the peak not as difficult? Did I really do it?

Evidently so, because after a few pictures at Stella Point, we dropped our packs (or the porters dropped our packs) and walked to the peak. It was relatively flat, but it was slow going because of the altitude. Then, finally, the moment we had been waiting for. Uhuru Peak, and sweet, sweet satisfaction.

You can't see my Texas flag, but I'm holding one in the other hand.

Panoramic of the walk to the peak. Not bad, eh?

After about 10-15 minutes of pictures, it was time to head down.

If going up was exhausting, going down wore. me. out. Not only do you slide down scree (volcanic rock and ash) for about two hours getting dust in your hair, face and clothes, but your knees hurt, you are hungry, and you want to cry from exhaustion. I had to tell myself to not be a brat and remember the incredible, happy thing that I had just done. It didn't work very well...I may or may not have gotten a little snippy with a guide on our way down (I did apologize to him later).

When I arrived back at the camp, three hours later, my guide made me sit down and drink some pineapple juice. I really wanted nothing more than my sleeping bag and to take off my boots. But looking back now, I see that he was just trying to make me relax for a second, get my blood sugar up, and help me, you know, not die. I am so grateful for Efata and his help down the mountain. Without him I'd probably be lying in a ditch somewhere, or freezing underneath the glacier, who knows.

I slept for a couple of hours and then had lunch with the rest of the group. Exhausted, yet exhilarated, we walked with energy down to Millennium Camp, where we would sleep that night.

When we got to camp, I found some of my compadres who were not so lucky with the altitude. I am so proud of everyone in the group, regardless of the elevation they reached. Those who had to go back down did the bravest thing of all: turn around when it was no longer safe. Whether or not they were in the pictures, they were all at the top in spirit, and in our hearts on the way down.

I ate every bite of rice and beef stew that night, and slept like a baby ("kama mtoto") in my tent on the rock hard ground. It was glorious.

Day 6

Definition of the day: 
Beer (noun) -- often used as a celebratory drink after a large accomplishment; the preferred alcoholic beverage for a large group after climbing a mountain, esp. in Tanzania.

Day six began with bed tea (!!!) and a good breakfast. Then it was time to say goodbye to our guides and porters. We sang and danced one last time together, and took pictures with the beautiful peak in the background.

At about 8:15, we began our descent. I think we stopped twice for bathroom breaks (by this point, we were pros at going in the bushes), and were at the bottom in about 4 1/2 hours. There were sweet kids there to wash our boots for $2, and a tasty beverage for the same price.

We were bussed back to the same hotel where we had arrived wide eyed and green only six days before. Now though, instead of nerves and anxiety, there was relief and joy. We had a celebratory dinner, followed by a night out at the Glacier Bar, where we drank Kilimanjaro beers and danced the night away.

The next morning we would all be heading out to various locations: some to Zanzibar, some home to England or Wales or Ireland, and some back to Texas. All week we had been as one unit, getting to know each other and supporting each other in the process. I knew it was almost over. But for that last night, I still felt part of a team in the midst of an incredible journey, ready to embrace whatever may come next.


Next stop: London!!

Did you miss Days 1-4? Check them out here:
-Days 1 and 2
-Days 3 and 4

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kilimanjaro -- Days 3 and 4

Day 3 

Definition of the day: 
Walk high, Sleep low (phrase) -- a way to combat altitude sickness by walking to a high altitude during the day, and then going down to a lower altitude to sleep. Allows your body to acclimatize better to a high elevation. 

It was another morning of bed tea, and I was grateful. We began walking a little after 7, and the peak of Kili was at our 12 o'clock. Knowing that we would not reach the peak for another 48 hours, it was such a tease to see it in the distance.

It was an uphill walk that morning as we climbed to 4500 meters, or 15,000 feet, where we would be eating lunch. Journeying from moorland to desert, the landscape opened up and revealed vast areas of rock, and very little else. Other groups and porters were able to pass us with ease, but finding places to go to the bathroom became more of a chore. Before the climb someone said that you lose all sense of dignity or privacy when climbing Kilimanjaro, and they were right.

15,000 feet was the highest I had ever been in my life, and I was feeling it. There was a palpable change in mood in the group the last 45 minutes before we reached our lunch spot. Conversations slowed or stopped; we all had headaches or were breathing very hard (except for a few extremely fit folks), and by the time we reached our dining tents, everyone was exhausted. Thank the Lord I was able to get down some food despite my throbbing headache, but it was not easy.

We began our descent after lunch back down to 12,000 feet, but my headache never really went away. I thought maybe a good night's sleep would do the trick, and maybe some ibuprofen. I did have Diamox with me, which is supposed to help with altitude sickness symptoms, but I wanted to avoid taking any unnecessary medication since I was already very uncertain how my body would react to the elevation. It may seem backwards, but it made sense to me on the mountain...maybe it was the altitude.

After an afternoon of downhill trekking, and surviving a pretty big fall on some loose rock, I arrived at camp tired and sore in the late afternoon. It was a hard day, and general consensus was that altitude really is in a pain in the ass. That afternoon I played memory games and cards with some of the crew (I evidently say "banana" completely different from the English) and tried to quell my headache as much as possible with tea and popcorn. Day 4 was going to be another long day followed by summit night, so we ate dinner and hit the hay not long after 8:30pm.

Day 4

Definition of the day: 
Scramble (verb) -- make one's way quickly or awkwardly up a steep slope or over rough ground by using one's hands as well as one's feet.

Wake up call was at 5am, and no bed tea this morning. Shit just got real.

Not only that, but we were climbing to 15,000 feet to sleep, and no one felt 100%.

The Barranco Wall was our objective, and this rock wall on steroids is known as "second breakfast" by the guides. Well, I just wasn't hungry for a second breakfast. But onward we marched, and began our scramble by the light of our head lamps, begging the sun to rise so that we would maybe have an inkling of sure footing.

After the sun came up.

Photo cred to Claire Matthews. Thanks, Claire!!

Despite my anxiety, that morning was my favorite on the mountain. The wall was challenging, but doable, and with guides to help us every step of the way it was actually pretty fun. We reached the top of the wall around 11am, and we were thrilled about it. With an incredible view of the peak we stopped to snap a few pics, and then made our way down into a valley, then up the other side of it, to get to our lunch spot high on a cliff. With the clouds permanently below us and a huge rock wall behind us, I ate heartily (french fries, my fave) and felt ready for the afternoon.

Monal, my tent mate, and Claire in front of the peak. 
Texas girls! 

Another few hours uphill got us into camp, and after a satisfying dinner and a quick briefing from Jo, we went to our tents and tried to relax. We were beginning our ascent at 1am, and were advised to sleep as best we could. I was still feeling okay when I turned my head lamp off at 8:21pm, thrilled that I wasn't nauseated. After about thirty seconds I heard Monal breathing heavily, and I was so jealous as I lay there just thinking about the next 12 hours. I slept for about an hour, never able to take a very deep breath, and heard a porter knocking on the canvas of our tent a little before midnight.

Tune in tomorrow for Summit Night and the hike down!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kilimanjaro -- Days 1 and 2

To those of you who follow this blog (all 7 of you??), it would seem that I fell off the face of the earth after London almost 10 days ago. Au contraire, mon amis. Quite the opposite, in fact. I've been living it up in Southwest Virginia, eating maple and discussing water with basement-dwelling, rat tail-having individuals. I promise I will get to all that in the near future, but I'm gnawing at the bit to talk about Kilimanjaro. I journaled throughout the whole trip, so my handy handwriting will help me remember the most important parts. I am going to break it up into 2-day intervals, so be sure to check back the next few days to get the whole story. I'm so excited to share this experience with you!!

I'm glossing over the hotel stay in Moshi, but just know that it was a lovely place, with palm trees and an outdoor bar. Oh, and showers! Always a good thing..

Day 1

Definition of the day: 
"Pole pole" (adverb) -- Swahili for "slowly, slowly." Said many times over by Kilimanjaro guides to remind novice mountain climbers to walk slowly and steadily. Accompanied often by "sippy, sippy," to remind said novices to keep drinking water.

We woke up at the hotel in Moshi around 6am to pack, eat breakfast, and get going by 8am. It is 45 minutes to an hour to the Machame gate, and on the drive, we could see the peak of Kilimanjaro to our right. I remember seeing it and thinking, "there is no way I'm getting to the top of that thing." It is breathtaking, its snow-capped peak commanding the landscape like a king on a throne. I wondered briefly what I had gotten myself into...

I mean...

We arrived at the gate and all (33 of us) had to sign in, and then wait in a covered picnic area while the leaders organized our porters, guides, etc. All together, we would have over 100 porters and 23 guides. While we waited, the porters set out a table cloth and provided us with tea and coffee. It was the first time we saw how accommodating our porters were going to be that week; they did not disappoint one bit. 

At around 10:55am, with cheers and smiles, we passed through the gate and officially started our climb! The group thinned out to a single-file line to make way for porters passing us on either side, but conversations continued. We had thirteen guides walking with us, and I met and talked with a few of them that first day. Most of them are from the area and have climbed Kili well over 100 times. Their abilities are so about being in shape!

The first few hours passed with little pomp: gradual uphill walking through a beautiful rainforest. I was out of breath many times, my heart pounding, although I still don't know if that was the hiking or first-day jitters. But "pole pole" we walked, until our hourly breaks where we refilled our water bottles, our bellies, and our well of energy. We stopped for a picnic lunch around 1:30pm, where our porters had set out tables and chairs, and served sandwiches and salad. It was nice to have a little break and literally cool our heels.

We got to camp about 4:30, where our porters welcomed us with singing and dancing. What an encouraging pick-me-up it was at the end of a long day! Our tents were already set up, our bags were in our tents, and tea and snacks were waiting for us in the two large dining tents. Talk about service. I wish I could describe how incredible our porters were. Not only were they carrying all of our stuff (bags, tents, food, camp toilets), but they rushed ahead of us every day to make sure camp was ready by the time we got there. I was already thoroughly impressed.

After dinner, Jo, our fearless leader, gave us a briefing about the next day, and then we turned in early. It took some time to get used to the hard ground under me, but I eventually drifted off into a restless sleep.

Day 2 

Definition of the day: 
Bed tea (noun)  -- the act of being brought tea or coffee in your tent in the morning by a porter; serves as a form of alarm clock. Consequently makes getting up at 5:45am much easier for Jennabeth. 

My tentmate, Monal, and I packed our tent, drank our coffee, and got dressed. Not sure if it was the excitement or the jet lag, but I felt ready to tackle day 2. We ate a delicious breakfast of porridge, toast and eggs, and sausage, and enjoyed swapping stories about our first night on the mountain. Strapping on our day packs, we left camp around 7:15, leaving the porters behind to pack up our tents.

During day 2, we left the rainforest and began our trek through the mountainous moorlands. It was much rockier and physically challenging than day 1, and my quads were burning. Although it's more difficult, scrambling up rocky terrain is much more interesting than just walking uphill, so the time passes much faster.

It was a short day of trekking, and we got into camp in time for lunch. We were greeted again by our singing and dancing porters. This time, some of our group timidly joined in, although by the end of the week, we would all be dancing and singing our favorite song, "Kilimanjaro," in Swahili.

Coming into camp!

We had climbed up to 3800 meters, or 12,500 feet, and I still felt pretty great. It bolstered me for the next few days, when we would climb even higher, but the prospect of altitude sickness still loomed over us all like an imminent fog.

An afternoon of rest did us all some good, and dinner that night was lively and full of laughs. We had a wonderful group of fun, positive men and women, and I'm glad to have met and gotten to know so many lovely people from all over the world. Being with a good group truly makes or breaks an experience, and I'm grateful that we all got along and enjoyed each other. The sunset that evening was incredible, and looking out over the clouds just below us, I made sure to remember how lucky I was to be on a trip like this.

Sunset, day 2. Of course, the photo does it no justice..

Tune in tomorrow for Days 3 and 4!!! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

London in the Rain

I'm sitting at a pub with a glass of wine, my belly full of a fish sandwich and chips. Reflecting on the past week, I feel overwhelmed, and almost can't believe it happened. More to come on Kilimanjaro later, but for now, I'll just say that I feel so accomplished, fulfilled, and the greatest sense of self. It's been a while since I've felt this way, so I'm savoring every second. 

After a stop at a lovely book shop, I'm more than satisfied where this day had taken me. For now, I'm on my way to the Sherlock Holmes museum, and am rapidly remembering why I love London so much.