When some people go through a rough breakup, they put on sweatpants, glue their tushes to the couch, haul out a few cartons of Haagen Dazs and watch every Barbara Streisand movie in the Funny Girl to A Star is Born period. No judgments, but that’s not me. I get the appeal – when Babs says, “Your girl is lovely, Hubble,” it kills me – but my survival instincts drive me in a different direction. And so, last fall, when my volatile on again-off again multi-year relationship finally came to an end, I cried and cried in the bathroom at work. And at my desk with the door shut. And at home, in bed, wrapped around my pup, Stella. And then I booked a trip to climb Kilimanjaro.
This was just what I needed to get out of my funk – something great to look forward to, something to take up tons of mental space with all of the planning, researching and paperwork it required, something to train for in the gym. But there was another reason I was going. I had a plan, you see. I had decided to bury my sadness at the top of the highest mountain in Africa. This would be both metaphoric and literal – I was going to write a goodbye note to my ex, N, or maybe a letter to myself about the relationship, and leave it under a rock up there on that heavenly perch – and that would be that. Done. Finally. And, happier and psychically lighter, I’d hike back down the mountain free and unfettered.
And so, here is my tale. I narrated a slide show of the trip for Women’s Health’s website. The slide show is pretty cool – it really walks you through what the experience was like. What you don’t get from the pictures, though, is the physical feeling of fighting the relentless cold. That was tough. I horrified my tent mate, Gina, the first day by asking her if we could sleep back to back for warmth (in our separate sleeping bags)… and she blanched and declined. Personal space invasion! Stranger danger! (Lesson: suggest snuggling to a newbie climber only after knowing him/her for at least 24 hours.) Truth is, body to body contact is the tried and true way to handle extreme cold among serious outdoor folks…and I was out of luck. Brrrr. I ended up draped around my duffle bag and it was simply not the same.
What you also don’t see in the slide show is my progression with thoughts of N. At first, Gina and I talked and talked after lights out about our lives and our loves. Talk of him started to bring me down. The next day I wrote about him in my diary – if you go on a big trek, definitely bring one, btw – and I was annoyed that my head was stuck in New York when I was in AMAZING AFRICA. The next night, however, we had gained altitude, and I had other things to focus on (cold, see a theme?). Day 4, tent talk progressed to food and feet and hand warmers, and by the time we were ready for the final ascent, day 6, chit chat about guys was history. Forget that – we had really exciting stuff ahead, like strategy about the food/fuel we need to get up the final push, about the nervousness we felt and the fact that sleep was pretty much impossible at such a high elevation with such thin air.
And so, early the next morning, pre-dawn, I made it to the top. I had a few minutes up there to enjoy alone before the rest of my group climbed up and it was dark, cold, rocky, and windswept – my own private moonscape. Still alone as the magnificent sun rose above the top of Kilimanjaro, I started to laugh..and clap… and finally, to dance. Seriously. I was filled with adrenalin and spine-tingling happiness and when my team joined me we all jumped up and down and hugged each other and shed a few tears of joy. Pure, unadulterated, ridiculous fun. The smile in the picture below is not of the “Saying Cheese” variety, and it was stamped on my face for about an hour.
It took me a week to realize that not only did I not leave the goodbye note to N up there above the clouds, but I had forgotten to write it altogether. He, we, had slipped my mind. I had moved on. I was on another path and have other mountains to climb.