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Archive for the ‘17 before 2017’ Category

I get questions – especially around my birthday and the end of the year – about how my 17 Before 2017 list is coming along. The short answer is okay so far. Here’s a quick summary:

Progress This Year (2014)

  • Read more than 10,500 pages so far this year towards my goal of reading 90,000 pages. The last time I counted 55% of the time had passed and I had read 56% of my reading goal, so I’m on track.
  • Visited my sisters in their new locations – Copenhagen in July and Hong Kong in November – towards my goal of biennial sister trips.
  • Asked a man out on a date. Check. To see how this went see item #1 in the “Not Yet Accomplished” list below.
  • Set up a recurring payment to a favourite charity for the amount I spent monthly on pet food.

In Progress

  • Donate blood annually. I haven’t donated this year, yet.

Not Yet Accomplished

  • Fall in love (maybe a few times).
  • Try anti-aging cream for 6 months
  • Travel to Prince Edward Island

Previously Completed

  • Learn to scuba dive
  • Hike Kilimanjaro
  • Be Deputy Director of an organization managing public health programs
  • Work on a project that is not HIV/AIDS related
  • Run a 10k

Items I Want to Change

So there are three items on my list that just aren’t resonating with me right now. I’m not sure what to do about them, because I also don’t have ideas for what to replace them with. Here’s what I’m thinking about:

  • Attend a yoga retreat – it seemed like a good idea at the time. In hindsight I enjoy yoga, but not enough to practice regularly that would naturally lend towards attending a retreat. (I want to replace this with something appropriately “athletic” – maybe run a 5k every year and force myself to catch up from previous years?)
  • Knit a sweater I’ll actually wear. Really on the fence about this. I haven’t knit anything since I added it to my list. Of course I previously removed being on a scrapbooking creative team from my list and now I’ve been on one for the last 18 months. So maybe that should just count as my “crafty” item?
  • Have an impromptu conversation in Spanish. I love this idea in theory, have not been motivated enough to pull off in practice. I’m keeping it on the list for now and re-downloaded Duolingo on my phone. I am headed to Mexico in March for a wedding, so hopefully that will provide extra motivation.

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Many of you may already be familiar with my 17 Before 17 List – the list of things I want to accomplish by the time I turn 40. Most of the goals are one-off things like climb Kilimanjaro and learn to scuba. The one big goal that I have to work at continually is reading 250 books – or the equivalent of 42 books per year. I set the target with no baseline information, just a hunch that I read about 1-2 books per months and wanted to read more. Turns out that I was actually reading on average less than a book per month, so my target was an increase of 150%. In hindsight it was a bit much to take on.

Over the three years that I’ve worked towards this goal I’ve only hit the total number of books once – in 2011. Last year I was off by 9 or 10 books and as of right now I am off by 6 books. Over the last few months, however, I decided to look into changing my target to a total number of pages read. This is because one downside to a target number of books is that I have found myself giving up on especially long books, or avoiding them altogether. My prime example is “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I started it earlier this year but when reading for 15 minutes would only move me 2-3% along the way to completion I soon gave up. The fact that “Team of Rivals” would count equally towards my goal as “Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish a Novel by” David Rakoff that was only 128 pages was a big push for me to change my goal.

Which is all to say that I’ve decided to change my goal to a total number of pages read instead of total number of books. I’ve decided on 90,000 pages read between January 2011 and December 2017. Here’s how I came up with that total:

  • I made a list in Excel of all the books I’ve read since the beginning of this challenge in January 2011 and the total number of pages in each book. This was relatively easy thanks to Goodreads and the shelf I have called “17 Before 2017” where I record every book I’ve read towards my target.
  • I took the average number of pages I’ve read from the list above = 350
  • Since I know that I don’t read every single page in a book I upped my average number of pages to 360 per book and then multiplied that by my original goal of 250 books. 360 pages x 250 books = 90,000 pages.

So where am I right now? 37,012 pages or 82% of the 45,000 pages I need to read by the end of this year to be on target. Looks like I need to get cracking at “Team of Rivals”!

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If you’re a regular reader or know me well you’ll be familiar with my list of 17 things I want to do before I turn 40 in 2017 (you can see the whole list here with links.) Although I’ve edited the list, “Learn to scuba” has always been at the top. It’s the last “adrenaline” activity that I’ve wanted to conquer after abseiling in Cape Town and Semonkong, gorge swinging at Vic Falls and skydiving in Namibia. Okay, I’ll add climbing Kilimanjaro here too, although I’m not convinced it belongs on the same list.

You see, I think that drowning is among the worst ways you could die. It’s definitely in the Top 5, possibly Top 3. This is what makes scuba diving so scary and also something that I want to do. The same way my fear of falling from heights makes me want to throw my self off mountains, cliffs and planes. This drive to do things that scare me is difficult to describe. The best way I can explain it is that I am naturally motivated by logic and therefore want to challenge my irrational fears.

When I planned my trip to Mombasa the backpacker where I booked a room had a link for learning to scuba. I decided this was my opportunity. I emailed with the diving outfitter before coming and made plans. I told everybody I could that I was going to learn during my trip so that i wouldn’t have an excuse to chicken out. When I landed in Mombasa and saw dark clouds, however, I thought, “Phew, now I can tell everyone that the weather was too bad to go.” By the time I reached the backpacker, however, the clouds had cleared and the guilt of psychologically trying to get out of it forced me to book myself for the next day so that I could not chicken out again.

So, Sunday morning Buccaneer Divers came and picked me up from the backpackers and took me to the dive shop. I filled out forms and then watched a video that I hoped would assure me everything was going to be okay. Instead it scared the bejesus out of me with their attempts to enlighten me on potential dangers. I wasn’t going to be deterred so continued on with the pool session. I struggled with the very first step – putting the regulator in my mouth and breathing – thanks to a sensitive gag reflex. I knew that it was just an issue of “mind over matter” and thanks to a patient instructor eventually made it through that step and then all of the pool skills. The skill I thought would be most difficult – taking out your regulator and then putting it back in – was much easier than I expected. By the end of my lesson I felt ready to go.

The dive itself was good. I spent a lot of time thinking “Oh my god do I have water in my glasses?” and worrying that I would breathe in water through my nose. I’m also pretty sure my poor instructor had no feeling in his hand because I was clenching it so tightly. After 20 minutes I asked to go to the top and take a break. At first I wasn’t sure if I would go back down, but once I had a minute at the top to regroup I was ready to go again and we dived for another 10 minutes. I felt a lot better the second time down, partly because I knew how quickly we could get to the top and partly because I knew more about how it would go. The marine life was amazing. Fish in all kinds of brilliant color just going about their business. The highlight was a small octopus hiding in the reef. That was pretty outstanding.

All that being said the big question, of course, is: Will I dive again? Answer: Most likely. I would like the opportunity to get more comfortable with diving although I don’t see myself ever becoming fully certified or anything like that. Mostly I just want the opportunity to see amazing marine life in places where it’s supposed to be out of this world like Thailand, the Great Barrier Reef and (potentially) even in Belize over Christmas. For now, though, it’s one more thing to check off my list and I’m pretty proud of it.

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It has taken me a few days to get my thoughts together to sum up the 6-day once in a lifetime experience that was summiting Kilimanjaro. I am still processing the whole event. My earlier post with a day-to-day description of the hike serves as a pretty accurate travelogue so I’ll just go with some random thoughts/details:

Our group was made up of 10 people with 1 to 3 degrees of separation. Our connections could be broken down into three basic groups: med students, people who studied abroad together in Cape Town, and currently living in Lesotho. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone. We laughed A LOT, even when it hurt from lack of oxygen.

Thanks to Andrew who has been living in Moshi we had an awesome guiding company – Gladys Adventures – and lead guide – August. I can say without exaggeration that I would never have made it to the top without August. He stuck with me in the back and encouraged me to keep going. If you are considering climbing I would absolutely recommend both Gladys and August.

Days 1-4 and 6 were totally manageable hiking days. I would love to do another multi-day hike and even up to the altitude of Kibo Hut (aka Base Camp at 15,400 feet ASL). I can say with a lot of certainty, though, that I have no intention to summit a 19,000 foot mountain again in my lifetime.

I knew logically that being above a certain altitude would make it difficult to breathe but had no idea how that would actually play out physically. WHOA. At Kibo Hut it winded me just to climb out of the tent. Summiting would not be nearly as difficult if you were getting more oxygen with every breath. August has gone to the top 275 times (and one time in 14 hours round trip as part of a porter/guide race), I can’t even fathom that.

One thing that I consistently read about before going was that the guides would encourage you to go “pole pole” (which means “slowly slowly” in Swahili.) This was definitely my strategy and I feel that it helped me get to the top because 1) was used to being in the back of the group so I didn’t feel pressure to go faster and 2) I was able to go at a very consistent speed and not burn out. I didn’t feel significantly worse at Uhuru Peak (the very top) than I did at the first major summit point (Gilman’s Point) while others in my group were definitely struggling more.

7 out of our group of 10 made it to the top. We lost one to bronchitis at Kibo Hut, one to altitude sickness during the first couple of hours of the summit and one fiancée of the person with altitude sickness.

Summit day is the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life. Due to nerves I had about an hour of sleep, we started hiking at nearly midnight and I got back to Kibo Hut at 11:30am. In those 11 hours we climbed about 6.5 miles of distance (round trip) and went up and down 4,000 feet in altitude.

Summiting during the full moon was so cool. I could have done most of the trail without a headlamp, but used one just to be cautious. Because of my balaclava I couldn’t look up very well, but there were moments where I’d get glimpses of what felt like a spotlight shining down on me but was really the full moon. Very cool.

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Our camps on Days 2, 3 and 5 had the most amazing views of the tops of the clouds. The sunsets in particular over the clouds were stunning. I’ll also never forget the moment on Day 6 when all of a suddenly the clouds were above us again. Indescribable.

I’ll leave the random thoughts for now as I have at least one more post to come to discuss “Things I wish I knew before climbing”

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I am writing this just less than 24 hours from when I crossed at Marangu gate back into “real life.” Currently I am sitting poolside at the Sal Sanero Hotel in Kilimanjaro and listening to awesome 90s ballads (currently playing “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Michael Bolton) hoping that the masseuse will show up for massages this afternoon. There is a lot to be said about my Kilimanjaro experience that will be written here in the coming weeks. For now, I wanted to let everyone who isn’t on FB and may be following along that I made it back safe and sound (and also a day earlier than I expected as I learned on day 1 that we were doing a 6 instead of 7 day trek).

The only way I can summarize the experience is to say that it was a once in a lifetime experience. Summit night is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. EVER. Physically, emotionally, psychologically etc. In a way I am still reeling from the experience and wonder if my toes will ever look the same considering the gigantic blisters I have on both big toes. For now enjoy this image of sunrise off the glacier between Stella Point and Uhuru Peak. More to come.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro

When you see the full moon next week this is what I’ll be looking at.

Starting tomorrow I’ll be offline completely while I climb Mount Kilimanjaro for 7 days. I haven’t been completely offline in … Hmm, I can’t think of a time in recent history that I’ve been completely offline. Since Peace Corps? Let’s just say that both my boss and I are kind of freaked out about it.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is on my 17 Before 2017 list, but this trip happened to fall into my lap when a new colleague (Bhavya) told me during her first week on the job that she was planning to do the climb with friends in June/July. I told her about my list and she invited me to come along. Now it’s actually happening. We’re going with one other friend from Maseru (Katie) and 3 friends of Bhavya’s. Thanks to the musical I haven’t done as much training as I hoped to, but deep down I feel confident that I’ll make it. Plus you can’t train to avoid my biggest fear – high altitude sickness – that everyone says that it effects people differently and no matter their fitness level. I’m hopeful that: 1) already living at an altitude of 1,500m, 2) I successfully (altitude-wise) hiked at about 2,500 – 3,000m for 12 hours earlier this year and 3) I’m just a generally slow hiker will give me some benefit.

We are timing our trip around the full moon – so keep an eye out for it next week and think of me on Kilimanjaro. I’ve copied our itinerary below for the Rongai route (follow the link for an image of the route map), but we’re taking an extra day before summit to get better acclimated to the altitude and improve our chances of making it to the top.

Day 1 (Monday)
After completing the necessary registration formalities at the Marangu Gate, we transfer by 4WD vehicles to Nale Moru (1,950 m.) to begin our climb on this unspoilt wilderness route. The first day is only a half-day walk on a small path that winds through farmland and pine plantations. It is a consistent but gentle climb through attractive forest that shelters a variety of wildlife. We reach our first overnight stop by late afternoon at the edge of the moorland zone (2,600 m.).

Day 2
The morning walk is a steady ascent up to the ‘Second Cave’ (3,450 m) with superb views of the Eastern icefields on the rim of Kibo, the youngest and highest of the three volcanoes that form the entire mountain. After lunch, we leave the main trail and strike out across the moorland on a smaller path towards the jagged peaks of Mawenzi, the second of Kilimanjaro’s volcanoes. Our campsite, which we reach in late afternoon, is in a sheltered valley near Kikelewa Caves (3,600m).

Day 3
A steep climb up grassy slopes is rewarded by superb panoramas of the Kenyan plains to the north. We leave vegetation behind close to Mawenzi Tarn (4,330m), spectacularly situated in a cirque beneath the towering cliffs of Mawenzi. The afternoon will be free to rest or to explore the surrounding area as an aid to acclimatisation.

Day 4 We leave our attractive campsite to cross the lunar desert of the ‘Saddle’ between Mawenzi and Kibo to reach Kibo campsite (4,700 m) at the bottom of the Kibo Crater wall by early afternoon. The remainder of the day is spent resting in preparation for the final ascent before a very early night!

Day 5
We will start the final, and by far the steepest and most demanding, part of the climb by torchlight at around midnight. We plod very slowly in darkness and cold on a switchback trail through loose volcanic scree to reach the Crater rim at Gillman’s Point (5,685 m). We will rest there for a short time to enjoy the spectacular sunrise over Mawenzi. Those who are still feeling strong can make the three hour round trip along the snow-covered rim to the true summit of Uhuru Peak (5,896 m), passing close to the spectacular glaciers and ice cliffs that still occupy most of the summit area. The descent to Kibo Hut (4,700 m) is surprisingly fast and, after some refreshments and rest, we continue descending to reach our final campsite at Horombo (3,720 m). This is an extremely long and hard day, with between 11 to 15 hours walking at high altitude.

Day 6
A sustained descent with wide views across the moorland takes us into the lovely forest around Mandara (2,700 m), the first stopping place on the Marangu route. The trail continues through semi-tropical vegetation to the National Park gate at Marangu (1,830 m). We leave the local staff to return to our local accommodations by mid-afternoon for a well-earned rest and a much needed shower and beer!

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Dan, Jon and I before the run. The boys both ran the 22k trail run. Not pictured is Camilla who ran the half marathon on Saturday and was likely still asleep when this picture was taken.

Last Friday I completed my first ever 10k race – the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon Trail Run in Cape Town. It is the first race I’ve entered since a very un-illustrious “career” of high school cross country consisting of going to a few races my sophomore year and quitting early in the season. Ever since then I have always said that I don’t like to run but over the last year I have learned to enjoy it (even if I don’t love it.)

As I mentioned before, my running adventures started in January last year with Anita and the Run 5k application on my iPhone. We started out jogging 45 seconds and walking 90 seconds for 20 minutes. It took me all of last year (with a huge gap in winter) to build up to running for 30 minutes straight. After going on an accidental 10k run in early December, I signed up for the trail run as motivation to keep pushing myself. Unfortunately I had about 3 weeks of injuries in February/March so I didn’t get to the level of training that I hoped I would, but really my goal all along was just to complete the race.

Me at the starting line in my Merrell Barefoot Pace Glove shoes with my race chip attached.

Honestly, a big step towards finally feeling like I was starting to enjoy running was when I started wearing minimalist shoes. I read “Born to Run” last year after a non-runner friend raved about it on Goodreads as interesting even for non-runners. The book piqued my interest in minimalist shoes and I planned to look into them when I was home over Christmas. Then the universe intervened when I (VERY) randomly came across the Merrell Barefoot Run Pace Glove at store in Lesotho where you least suspect to find them. I did some research on the particular model and after reading great reviews decided to give them a try. Now I can’t imagine going back because they feel so great. I get a lot of questions of how I like my shoes and I always rave about them (usually saying something along the lines of “I la la love them!”)

My medal for completing the trail run.

This is going to sound so cheesy but as I was running on Friday I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it was that I could actually do it and how much fun I was having. I was so proud of myself for being able to run the majority of the distance and I’m pretty sure there were at least 3 people behind me when I crossed the finish line so I came in better than my 397th/400 prediction. 😉

I don’t know that I will ever consider myself a “runner” because, honestly, I don’t LOVE it like I think real runners do. That I said, I do *like* it and – most importantly – consider it something that I want to be better at. I think that’s what it’s really all about, right? Having the race as something to work towards was extremely motivating so I will definitely be signing up for another one soon. I really like the pattern I developed of doing a longer run (8k+) one day a week with a couple of 5k mixed in. It suits my lifestyle perfectly.

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