I have never cried so much on a trip before. Every time I summited one of the three high peaks in the Rwenzoris range, aka the Mountains of the Moon, I was completely overcome by emotion, welling up inside so that I could not speak and had to take a moment to compose myself, lest others see.
Climbing Mt Stanley, Mt Speke, and Mt Baker was literally a dream come true. Most will scratch their heads. Where are the Rwenzoris (and how do you even pronounce that)? Why were you compelled to go there of all places? Why can’t you stop adventuring and just sit still for a while?
I first heard about the Rwenzoris back in 2005, 10 years ago! I was just getting into climbing and picked the brain of a local woman, Alison Levine, about mountaineering. In addition to being a mountaineer and professional speaker, Alison also founded a non-profit called Climb High Foundation that trains women in Uganda to be guides and porters. That mountain range was called the Rwenzoris. I then heard my mountaineering role model, Arlene Blum, mention the Rwenzoris in one of her talks at REI Mountain View. Finally, my amazing sports podiatrist’s wife, Debbie, mentioned that out of all the things they have done (and they have done a lot – things like the Marathon des Sables, Ecoquest, climbed Aconcagua, etc etc), the Rwenzoris were the most beautiful they had ever seen. All roads lead to the Rwenzoris…
The Rwenzoris also just so happen to have 3 peaks at or above 16k ft high – Mt Stanley at 16,763ft, Mt Speke at 16,137ft, and Mt Baker at 15,988ft. My passion is high altitude climbing, so this put the Rwenzoris at the top of my list despite the time/expense to get there.
I obsessed about the Rwenzoris nearly every year, this mountain range almost no one else had ever heard of, researching/plotting/planning until the perfect storm of opportunity arose…
For some reason, turning 40 hit me particularly hard and I still can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not just checking a new box for the age bracket categories. It’s not that I suddenly looked or felt older from my last day as 39 or my first day as 40. My clients, most of whom are older than me, call me things like “kiddo” which is kind of annoying, but I also secretly love. I think it was more the disparity between the perception of someone in their 40s being mature and responsible and how I feel. I still feel SO young inside – there is so much to learn about the world and people, so many places to explore, so much inner growth to pursue – that mature feels like a ridiculous word to embrace at this stage.
I turned 40 on a particularly challenging Call of the Wild trip in Italy – the hikes and the terrain were not what was particularly challenging (especially because gelato and espresso were inserted between hiking segments!). It was the first time ever that I did not personally gel with a group (that’s the diplomatic way to put it). I never mentioned my milestone birthday because I believed most of the clients would feel like it detracted from their vacation and high expectations. The rest of the summer rushed by as I ran like a chicken with her head cut off from one trip to another. Something inside me felt empty for not taking a moment to celebrate.
I sat with this for months trying to decide what I could do that felt worth to me as a great celebration. I noodled and I brainstormed. I foolishly asked for feedback on Facebook for ideas (to which I got the response, “But didn’t you get to go to Italy for your birthday?” and “How about going wine tasting?”). Only Linda Sun mentioned climbing BIG peaks…exactly what I had in mind but how? The finances are tight since everything I have goes into the business and I didn’t have the staff support yet to truly leave and be out of touch for any period of time.
But if I set constraints aside, the objective that met all my criteria to be worthy of a 40th celebration??? The Rwenzoris.
My mother passed away when I was 12 and she was 40. After decades of never discussing my mother or her death with those who raised me, I always had a deeply buried sadness about growing up motherless, but I felt like she loved us until the end. I only learned 2 years ago, accidentally from an extended family member, that she committed suicide. This kind of information hits you hard, even as an adult. Suddenly I felt abandoned all over again. I will never understand why she did it – what depths of despair and hopelessness that she experienced. Every day and every year I now live will be longer than she did. It’s in her memory that I am dedicated to living an epic life worth living. One that is full of vitality and happiness and pain and disappointment – whatever comes my way from the choices I make.
This is why I feel an increased responsibility not to waste the precious time that I have on this planet. I have the opportunity to, hopefully, double her life experience if I live until 80…but anything can happen any day. On the journey back home, a passenger died on the flight that Eszter and Chris were on. We don’t have details about what happened, but essentially one moment a fellow was coming or going to a faraway destination, and he never woke up. No one wants to die, and few get to chose how they go, but I am dedicated to make the most of the time I have. Exploring a remote mountain range on the border of Uganda and the Congo sounded like a fantastic way to spend my time!
Making My Own Dreams a Priority
Many regularly express envy of my lifestyle – with good intentions, they say I am “living the dream” and wish they could do it, too. Not only do they not see the sacrifices I have made to leave the corporate world and try to make this combination of vocation and passion work, they are truly not interested. It’s easier and more fun to put someone on a pedestal than feign interest in the reality – the reality behind running any small business regardless how sexy the product is.
I won’t go on and on about those sacrifices (I’ve been told I’ll hear the smallest violin in the world playing), but the last 3 years I have been dedicated financially, physically, and spiritually to helping others dreams come while putting my own on hold.
“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”
-Jack London, The Call of the Wild
My personal dream is to climb – to have enough time and financial security to be able to take off a couple of times a year to do something BIG. I’ve been cranky and pent up and downright bitchy at times focusing exclusively on others. Climbing the three high peaks of Uganda was the realization of a nearly 10 year dream in the making – the perspective resetting impact of this trip is difficult to put into words. Making my own dreams come true simply must be as important and making others’ dreams come true, too.
For me, climbing is to love, to live, even to forget and release. It’s the purest celebration of life that I know – my own life and those who have gone before me. To climb is to be whole, and I am feeling whole again…thanks to the Rwenzoris!