One of life’s best experiences is when you’ve conquered a mountain. In that short moment when you stand on its very top and gaze down at all that lies below, you feel a mixture of intense joy, pride, and relief that it’s all over.
One of life’s worst experiences is what comes after you realize that it’s all over. Once the euphoria has worn off, you begin to feel sad and listless. What else could life possibly hold that could surpass that feeling on the mountaintop? For that brief moment of joy, you might pay with what could be months of depression.
I mean this metaphorically for any big accomplishment in life, but also literally. Anyone who has ever climbed Mount Kilimanjaro knows exactly what I’m talking about. It doesn’t make sense but the post-Kili blues are very real.
The one thing that can help you out of your slump is reaching out to other members of what I like to call “Club Kili”. Whether they were in your group or climbed the mountain 20 years ago, these fellow trekkers are the only ones who can fully understand what it was like. They know why you have such a need to relive your experience before you can move on with your life, and they’re happy go down memory lane with you.
By publishing Kilimanjaro Diaries, I’ve created my own “Club Kili,” and welcoming new members continues to inspire me years later.
The many emails I get on a weekly basis from readers and would-be climbers are a wonderful part of my life. When I wrote the book, I never imagined this would happen. Yes, I did want to share my experience to inspire others to follow in my footsteps, that was definitely a reason for writing it. But I didn’t think that so many people would actually be inspired. I was afraid that perhaps I’d turn more people off the idea. And perhaps for some this is true. A few reviewers have complained about the frequent potty talk. Not swearing, no, but rather actual talk about when and where to go to the bathroom, a singular obsession anyone who’s ever been mountain climbing will probably understand. All I can say is if you’re turned off by the talk of it already, perhaps you better not actually go there for the real thing.
I love the familiar way in which these readers address me. It’s as if we’ve been longtime friends, sharing our innermost secrets and fears. They tell me they feel as if they’ve just climbed the mountain with me, and so they don’t hold back. They sigh with regret as they tell me that their husbands don’t want to come along, leaving them to feel disloyal for going on their own.
(I also love that these readers often send me beautiful pictures of my beloved mountain. All photos in this post courtesy of Tami Trover Crosson from Wyoming who climbed Kilimanjaro in February of this year.)
Some curse me for my candor, for yanking at their emotions, for sewing doubts whether they should even go. A reader from Germany told me that before reading Kilimanjaro Diaries he was certain he would climb Kili. He had harbored the dream since his youth, simply because he thought a snow-covered mountain in Africa was “totally bonkers,” and now that his children were all grown he had resolved to make it a reality. But as he began reading, he became more and more convinced that he shouldn’t do this to himself. Only after the last page was he convinced again: I want to have that same feeling of standing on the summit and later celebrate with my group at the bar. From there, he turned to practical matters – Diamox yes/no, don’t forget wet wipes, buy the right kind of boots – in preparation of his 2017 climb.
Every time a reader contacts me and tells me of his plans, I am pulled back to that magical time in my life. I think back to that impossibly long time leading up to the climb, the frenzied shopping, the halfhearted fitness training, the many, many jokes before and during the climb, the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other during summit night while trying to drown out the agony of freezing toes and fingers, the feeling of euphoria on the top, the wild run or rather slide down to Barafu Camp… Invariably, these readers keep in touch and report back to me after their climb, some in amazing and lengthy detail. I’m sure this is fueled by that same need I felt after my climb to keep talking about it, to not let it go, because returning to “normal” life seemed utterly depressing and pointless.
You learn all sorts of interesting things from these readers. One woman told me she was part of a “danger community” of adventure seekers that planned the climb together. It made me wonder if I needed a “danger community” in my life. Maybe my WhatsApp chat with South African friends called “Adventurers Anonymous” can stand in for that. Although we mostly share videos of people doing stupid stuff.
You also learn of all the awesome equipment and gadgets you should have had. Kind of like baby monitors and bouncy seats and strollers are nowadays so much more practical than when my babies were little. I was told of the Ortovox clothing line with Swisswool filling that is super light and can somehow recognize whether you need more heat or cooling. And apparently, there is stuff called “Antichlor” that eliminates the taste of the dreaded but so necessary chlorination tablets. I was also told of a “luxury trek” guided option for Kili climbers that comes with a 3-inch mattress. What I wouldn’t have given for all of those things. Except perhaps that then I wouldn’t have had so much to complain, ahem write, about.
As I said, it’s hard to come back from a mountaintop and seamlessly connect back with everyday life and those that weren’t with you on your extraordinary adventure. I’m thrilled that so many people choose me as someone to share this feeling with. And it’s even more thrilling that some choose my book as a way to share their experience with those they left behind. “My husband was reading your book day by day form home following our journey,” one woman told me. And a reader from Canada brought tears to my eyes when she shared her story that reads like a poem.
“I laughed and I cried.
I cried over your epilogue,”
it began. Her husband had recently died and she couldn’t go on the climb with her sisters. Instead, she followed them day to day with my book, so she felt right there with them. Same route, even the same guide, my beloved Goddy. Her mountain to climb right now, she said, was surviving the loss of her husband and soul mate and best friend of almost half a century. Somehow, she has taken heart of my epilogue of 20 lessons as the way to get her though her grief, as putting a spark back in her life.
“You see my fire had gone out and I could not ignite it.
Thank you for the spark.”
I am deeply humbled that something I started more or less on a whim has been the spark for so many to go conquer a mountain, to overcome their grief, to change their life.