Onward, to Africa!

In a week and a half, I leave for Tanzania!

Way back when, about a year and a half ago, the plan was hatched for me to join a group of women hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro for a cause–the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. I raised the money (almost all of it…), I bought my tickets, and then, I got injured…over and over and over again. With all these injuries, it was impossible to train. And then I got a strange foot injury (that my podiatrist is hoping orthotics will magically fix) a few weeks ago that was the nail in the coffin — I was not going to be hiking Kilimanjaro.

At least not this year. Tanya Weaver, the amazing executive director at the AFCA agree to let me join a different hiking team that hikes the mountain in August of 2015.

And just like that, my trip to East Africa became a different kind of adventure!

Instead of hiking Kilimanjaro for ten days, I’ll be traveling solo throughout the country of Tanzania instead! Which, of course, makes my mother, father and sister pretty nervous. And, as I’ve never traveled solo, makes me a little nervous too.

Luckily, I have some good friends (looking at you Kelsey and Amy!) who have traveled extensively all around the world, and who have been able to give me advice and also instill in me some confidence. Also, my East Africa Lonely Planet book has become my best friend, as has the embassy websites of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Places to stay, safety tips, and more — I love it.

So far, I’m following the advice of having a plan for the first few days, and then making more plans once I’m in country. So, my plan for the first few days is to stay at the Ujamaa Hostel, in Arusha, Tanzania. Arusha is about a 30 minutes drive from the Kilimanjaro airport, and the Ujamaa hostel is outside of the city center — which is its only downside.

The upside, though, is that the hostel is home to tons of volunteers who are paired with volunteer opportunities through Ujamaa and can stay at the hostel from 2 weeks to years. I plan to stay in the women’s dorm, where I hope to meet people who might want to take a few days to travel with me!

Maybe they’d want to join me in Zanzibar’s Stone Town (where Airbnb is alive and well!) or perhaps camp at Arusha National Park — were you can take canoe safaris or hire a guide to take you on a half-day walking safari. Or, maybe I won’t meet anyone, and I’ll travel to those places on my own, or stick around at Ujamaa and take some cool cultural tours or spend time reading and writing.

Who knows….

After ten days in Tanzania, I’ll be meeting up with my friend Chandler in Kenya, where we’ll spend a week traveling around there before going to where he’s been living in Uganda for another week.

A few pictures of Uganda courtesy of Chandler:

uganda1

uganda2

uganda3

Exciting! ¬†Wish me luck and good vibes! I’ll try to check in while I’m there but as the internet and my access to it will be limited until in Uganda, I’ll have to play it day by day!

Change of Plans

Our week long vacation in Colorado was supposed to be a bit of a training ground for Kilimanjaro. Joe told me he’d “run me ragged” or something like it. I imagined I would struggle to get to the top of the mountains we chose but that my stair climbs, weekend hikes and runs in New England would have provided at least a base of athleticism that I could start from.

I may have been a little overconfident.

After spending a fantastic day with on of my favorite humans, Milo…

Besties

Besties

…and a great night catching up with middle school friend Jaclyn, who was amazing enough to let Joe and I crash at her house for a night, Joe and I woke up at 3:30 am to drive to the trailhead for Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache, which we wanted to hike that day.

Pre-Hike Happiness for Team Circle Hat

Pre-Hike Happiness for Team Circle Hat

Despite my foot injury (and of course the very obvious lack of oxygen at 10,000-12,000 ft.), things were going rather well on the hike. It was gorgeous. The trees were so varied and differently spaced through the entire hike that we easily got confused —¬† and about 45 minutes in we started saying silly things like “oh, i think treeline is right ahead!” Over and over again. It was not.

"we're almost at treeline!" said us, every five minutes.

“we’re almost at treeline!” said us, every five minutes.

when we finally *actually* reached treeline, we were thrilled, especially with the view below…

the view from 2,000 feet BELOW the summit. gorgeous.

the view from 2,000 feet BELOW the summit. gorgeous.

and with the goats(!)…

kate's happy place: among wild mountain goats. in her dorky circle hat.

kate’s happy place: among wild mountain goats

but not as much with the view of the top, which, right after this picture was taken, began to be overtaken by gray clouds.

what reaching treeline actually looks like

what reaching treeline actually looks like

I was also starting to worry about my foot, which was aching more than usual. not wanting to miss out on the summit, though, we sat and watched the clouds for a while to see whether we could divine their purpose. I ended up convincing Joe to head down, more because of my feet than the clouds.

And it turned out to be quite a good thing that I did, because just about 30 minutes later on the descent, I started to experience altitude sickness.

I had read all about altitude sickness in my book about Kilimanjaro before leaving for Colorado, but hadn’t given it a really serious thought in relation to Colorado. I had lived there before, climbed mountains, and neither Joe nor I had ever experienced. In my mind, there was no reason to imagine that I would be struck by the severe headache and nausea that altitude sickness brings.

What was interesting, in retrospect, about my altitude sickness was that it hit WHILE i was descending, when descent is usually the quickest way to “treat” altitude sickness. Head feeling like it was trapped in a vise, I stumbled as well as I could back down to the car, where I collapsed into a heap and began to experience terrible nausea. With no other option, we kept driving, trying to get lower in altitude as quickly as we could.

It’s an interesting (and, in the moment, very scary) feeling to be so physically helpless, as I felt when altitude sick, and as I’ve felt for much of this injury-ridden year. It’s humbling to be brought to your knees by your own body’s inability to handle the stresses you put on it, and to be reminded in a not-so-gentle way that you are not a teenager, you are not invincible, and you are at its mercy.

And I was at my body’s mercy until we reached about 7,000 feet, and the symptoms began to subside, and I started to be able to breathe and feel and think again.

From that day on, our trip was different from what we’d planned. No longer were we going to “run me ragged.” Instead, we played it safe. We slept at 9,000 ft to help me acclimate to the altitude and then we went on a hike to Lower and Upper Mohawk Lake. And my gosh, it almost made me happy that I got altitude sick and we had to change our plans, because wow, this hike was an absolute stunner.

the first half of the hike was a bit too flat for our usual liking, but perfect for the day

there were lots of things on this boy’s mind today.

beautiful wildflowers and vistas every which way you looked.

beautiful wildflowers and vistas every which way you looked.

this waterfall went on forever. perhaps literally forever.

this waterfall went on forever. perhaps literally forever.

but the best part was the approach to Upper Mohawk Lake. the path leading up to the lake just fit one person astride, and was lined with brush adorned with wild goat fur that had gotten stuck to the branches as the herd nudged through. then all the sudden, the path ahead suddenly opens to an outcropping of rock, and one step more and you are eye level with the entire jewel-blue Mohawk Lake. A few more steps and the lake is at your feet, surrounded by snow-dappled peaks on one side and rocky, grassy slopes on others.

the lake, at eye level

unbelievably gorgeous approach to Upper Mohawk Lake. It was literally this blue.

We both were stunned by this hike’s beauty, and that night, as we camped near Guanella Pass, watched meteors bigger than we’d ever seen stream across the sky, and played with taking astrophotography shots, we were both pretty smitten with nature, and with each other, despite the turn our vacation had taken.

What’s so funny to me, though, is that when both of us look back on the trip now, a month later, our favorite moments didn’t come from this hike, or those meteors. Instead, they came the next day in Boulder, as we gallivanted around campus and revisited our old haunts, and then again the days after, when we dug in the garden, played with his dog, and spent time with family in Pittsburgh. Just goes to show that things like injuries and mishaps can’t stop you from having a blast anyway.

math is hard. giving joe a taste of engineering (uh, ok, algebra) while reminiscing in the engineering center

math is hard. giving joe a taste of engineering (uh, ok, algebra) while reminiscing in the engineering center

running through the fountain! obviously!

running through the fountain! obviously!

IMG_4255

joe mourned the loss of great skateboard areas of his past, but then showed me how it was done…

glug glug glug

glug glug glug

the construction of mini-cairns continues!

the construction of mini-cairns continues!

sanitas view.

sanitas.

for moi? you shouldn't have!

for moi? you shouldn’t have!

andy being a super cute snuggled into the plants

andy being a super cute snuggled into the plants

BLUEBERRIES!

BLUEBERRIES!

joe's favorite thing - kale!

joe’s favorite thing – kale!

showing us how potato scavenging is done!

showing us how potato scavenging is done! i dream about digging up potatoes now. MY FAVORITE THING!!

headed for a "swim" aka "oh-my-gosh-its-cold-lets-get-out-yeah-and-leave-this-place-immediately-ok-high-five-ok-let's-GO!"

headed for a “swim” aka “oh-my-gosh-it’s-cold-lets-get-out-and-leave-this-place-immediately-ok-high-five-ok-let’s-GO!”

the unbelievable bounty from edie's garden.

the unbelievable bounty from edie’s garden.

An awesome week. ‘Nough said.