Ping…my mobile phone sprung into life as a text message dropped into my inbox. I picked it up and read ‘message from Sam Marshall’.
‘Hi Becky, I’ve been thinking, I’m really keen to get the Kili trip on our portfolio and would like to go out there and do a recce and I’d really like you to come with me……..’
There aren’t really the words to explain my initial reaction apart from ‘Gulp oh, really?!’ I tentatively replied that I would need to do plenty of research and give it some serious thought. And that’s just what I did. I knew where Mount Kilimanjaro was and I knew that it was a seriously big mountain but I’d never entertained the idea of trekking up it. I love walking and I love the outdoors but this was much bigger than anything I had done before and took me some way out of my comfort zone.
Jo and Sam had previously trekked Kilimanjaro some 20 years earlier so obviously they were my first port of interrogation. Sam spoke to me at length about the trip and what to expect, trying to alleviate my concerns and answer any questions I had. Jo had some photographs that she was able to show me and that helped enormously to give me an idea of the terrain and possible conditions. However they had used a different route to the one that Sam was planning for us to take so further investigation was required. The internet is a fantastic tool for this and I was transfixed by the inspiring and beautiful photographs of the mountain that each search displayed, however what I really wanted to know was; is it safe, how long will it take, how difficult will it be, what will the conditions be like, what is it actually like trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro and (this question came fairly high up on the list) what are the toilet facilities? I could go on – showers, food, kit, sleeping arrangements……and breathe! The days were ticking by and the trip needed booking. Although I hadn’t actually said no, I can’t recall saying yes either. ‘I’d like to, but I just need to think about it a bit more’. I had a cautious flick through travel books about Kilimanjaro albeit focussing on the less scary parts. I spoke to friends who I knew had climbed it and asked their opinion; ‘yeah go for it, it’s an amazing experience, you’ll love it’ they said. I took medical and fitness advice. My family too and most importantly my two boys…what did they think? It all came back positive, I just had to convince myself. I yo-yo’d between going and staying at home. I wanted to say yes, this was the adventure that I needed and I may never get another opportunity but I was a 40 something single mother of two boys, I had residual health issues and was still grieving the loss of my husband. I bought a fleece sleeping bag liner a few days later and that became the physical representation of my decision. I’m going to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro! (Well I wasn’t going to waste 15 quid!).
Now I had made my decision I only had a couple of months to get myself organised. I made a checklist of everything that I needed to do, find out about or buy. The list was by no means exhaustive but I methodically worked my way through it. I started with the health and medical requirements. There are vaccinations that are required for travel to Tanzania plus the use of malaria tablets as the lower regions of the country are in a malaria zone. I spoke with my GP and made an appointment with the nurse to have the jabs. I ordered sterile needles, syringes and cannulas from a medical supplier off the internet as it’s always prudent to take some to Africa just in case and made sure my travel first aid kit was up to date and restocked. My fitness I wasn’t as concerned about as I train regularly in the gym so I just had to maintain that level. It is worth noting though that trekking up Kili is more like a marathon than a sprint so I did concentrate more on building further strength in my legs and core muscles.
I then focussed my attention on my kit and what I actually needed to take away with me. It is fair to say that I have a tendency to over pack when going away on a trip or holiday. Well, why would you not take your full baggage allowance? However this trip was different. My luggage had to weigh no more than 15kg and be easily transported by the porters every day up the mountain, on their back or balanced on their head, so a suitcase was definitely not the best option, so I bought a large duffle bag which would hopefully hold everything I needed and a few little extra treats (Haribo sweets, chocolate and decaff tea bags, oh and concentrated fruit cordial to make the purified water taste palatable). I already had most of the required kit, boots, sleeping bag, walking trousers, waterproofs etc but there was some things that I was missing. Sam gave me a kit list and I worked my way through it and he even inspected my kit before we left. This was an enormous help although we did have to negotiate on the quantity of some items!
Travel insurance next, which I needed to make sure covered me for trekking up to 6000 metres and also across snow and ice. There is snow at the top of Kili. We took American dollars instead of Tanzanian shillings and this is readily accepted in fact even preferred.
But the hardest part of going on the trip was leaving my boys at home. They were excited and a little anxious that I was going away but encouraged me all the same. I’d never gone overseas without them before so this was a huge undertaking. My eldest was in his first few weeks at university and was still at the feeling homesick stage and my youngest has a medical condition that meant I needed to make sure family were able to stay with him should he be ill. However, I’ve always told the boys not to let anything hold them back and to make the most of opportunities whenever they come their way. So I had to lead by example and show them that it was ok for me to go and that they would be ok too.
So I was packed and good to go! Just one thing I’ve forgotten to mention….I hate flying!