By Randy Pierce
“’There and Back again’ by Bilbo Baggins” was the alleged epic title of the fictional hero’s epic recording of his own journey from Lord of the Rings. I struggle a bit with the notion because every experience changes us so much that even while it may seem like yesterday, we are so vastly different there is no real return. As if autumn nostalgia wasn’t already powerful enough in my life, the shadow of Kilimanjaro also looms over as I make the return trip in my reflection for the one year anniversary.
For me, it is so often the people which take primary focus and even upon a pillar of the earth that was once again true. The team which stood together on the slopes of that mighty mountain were passionately dedicated to supporting each other and yet we never know until it happens whether we ever will stand together on any similar quest. The commitment to each other, the determination to achieve, the raw emotional sharing, the joy of celebrations and the feeling of absolute certainty we would reunite were powerful and real. Many of us will connect for various adventures and in fact have already throughout the year, but capturing that exact group is a difficult and unlikely reality for most expeditions. Even should we manage it, we all will have changed and so too will our experience together. That seems sad initially but for me we’ve achieved those glorious moments and have them captured in our memories as well as how they have shaped our lives. So I’ll be glad for the reflections even as I plan many future adventures and experiences, hopefully including many or all of the team who touched my life so well in Africa
This day, I will remember September 2015 and the energy and nervous anticipation we shared in Arusha. I’ll smile at our challenges ordering pepperoni pizza, I’ll feel the awe of the real exclamation from those in my van as the first view of the mass of Kilimanjaro came into view. I’ll recall the shift from playful monkey thievery to worry that my friends shared as they noted the monkey making Darwin-like realizations about my blindness and ability to protect my juice boxes! The hopeful eagerness as the rainforest wide and smooth trail of the Machame gate allowed us to hike a little too quickly before “Polley-Polley” eased us to the “Slowly – slowly” we would need. The ever ascending views above the clouds day after day in a world so foreign in both plant and animal life, the cold winds at Shira camp, the ever cheerful and polite porters, “Harris Tweed!”, the impossibly distant summit cone illuminated each night by the splendor of a nearly full moon, and a foreign night sky my companions would share with voices filled with marvel and delight. All these and more were common occurrences as was a rotational sharing of guide duties for my ability to trek the trails.
There were struggles and some of us took ill. There was difficult terrain at times and none of us will likely forget how well our team came together for the Baranku Wall! That was our team together in the most health and celebration during the higher climbing I think, but you climb a mountain ultimately for moments near the top. While we did not all reach the summit together, a large contingent did and in weary, oxygen starved, sleep deprived, cold and hungry reality; we touched a point atop the second-largest continent in the world. With the glaciers beside us, the crater of Kibo peak and a horizon more distant than any of us had known from the ground, we experienced something together.
Each of us had different dreams and visions which brought us to that point and likely were touched a little differently by the experience. I do not envision ever standing at that point in the world ever again and yet I know the strength, determination, sacrifice, pain and amazement which are part of that moment and stand within me since then. It is as fresh as yesterday in some ways and as fleeting a memory as something from another life at times. Such is the difficulty I have with trying to hold time in my mind, yet I know if I close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can let my mind slowly wander to that time and place and steadily things become more clear and vivid to me. I can travel there and back again just well enough to keep it all so very real for me and to remind me of the fortune I have in the companions I keep here and there.