Travel

Braving Kilimanjaro: The Senior Class Trip of a Lifetime

Basecamp
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Shoving 100 wet wipes into a skinny bag with 3 liters of water, rain-proof pants, and the day’s lunch isn’t easy. Though my work “uniform” often calls for a back-bending pack of gear, I felt like a fumbling mess trying to make this little daypack of mine close. Tucked under the awning from the misty rain, I tried to pull myself together, baggage- and emotion-wise, to start mobilizing a group of teenagers toward a mountain.

Indiana does not typically breed the world’s most daring adventurers, and I never had realistic expectations of mountain climbing growing up; I think my hardest physical challenge from 3rd to 5th grade was trying to master the toe-touch jump. It never happened, well.. except maybe on a trampoline, but that doesn’t count.

These days my realistic expectations of daring feats have nothing to do with most people’s sense of reality. The realities of many of my friends and family back at “home” often involve children of their own, homeowner woes, and Disney cruises. It’s here, in this polar opposite work world of THINK Global School, that a late night email can inform me that I’m participating in a bucket list opportunity.

“Ahh, the classic Kili spine twist. Breathe everybody! Breathe into the stretch!”

My technique as a supervisor of international adolescents is to be utterly silly, and then somehow they listen to me, probably in pity. In the hours leading up to our ascent of Kilimanjaro, I pulled the kids into a circle to do some stretching. Behind us, somewhere past the mist and foliage, sat a gargantuan mountain that was going to drain us of our egos; sitting in her shadow, our circle felt miniscule in comparison, but we had to do something to calm our mounting nerves. We had to muster up all the courage in our reserves.

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We stood back up from our stretches before the spitting rain could dampen the ground and our bums. Fifty-five Tanzanian men assembled into a line and stepped out to introduce themselves, followed by a quick utterance of “…morning.” If they were apprehensive in the least, it was unbeknownst to us.

The porters –all local men from Moshi, topped with baseball caps and anchored with sneakers– were busy weighing bags and steel boxes of kitchen supplies, careful to limit their load to nothing greater than 20 kgs. Our climbing task seemed meager in comparison to their job of lugging our gear to high altitude. Feeling guilty for engaging in a task that required a personal porter, I was glad that I’d triple-checked my bag earlier for any superfluous items. My reverence for Clinton, my porter, grew ever greater on a daily basis; reverence that I tried to show with many double-handshakes through a debilitating language barrier.

I tossed on my tiny daypack and headed to the national park gate for registration and launching. Our assault on the summit was within sniffing distance, no longer a hypothetical challenge.

It was time to test a lot of things, most of which remained…

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