Out of Africa: Why Adventure Keeps You Young
There’s a picture in my office that I love. It was taken from a magazine over a year ago and stands out in stark contrast to the flat, pale wall…a metaphor of how I want to live. When I look up, it seems to stare right back at me, reminding me of what is to come.
Mount Kilimanjaro. All 19,341 feet of her. I can’t wait.
REI Adventures recently reported that adventure travel aimed specifically at women has increased almost 60% in the past decade and that more women over 40 are traveling solo, opting out of traditional lady-like excursions to the spa or the familiar “wine down” beach retreat. Women, it seems, have gotten the message that men have always known. It’s OK to get dirty. For me, it doesn’t seem weird or unusual to throw on a backpack and a dusty pair of hiking boots (that took me across the Grand Canyon, no less!), and hit the trail. The older I get, the less stuff I require to sustain me and the more I need to connect with wide open spaces, preferably ones with vertical climbing opportunities near the clouds.
Kilimanjaro—or Kili, as the locals call it—fits the bill. It’s the tallest mountain in Africa, and so significant that Ernest Hemingway wrote a famous story about it. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” speaks to both altitude and attitude: how high we aim, the excuses we make, and what we ultimately settle for in life. I feel sure that Kili will reveal all these things and then some at every rocky turn. I can’t wait.
Still, there are bigger challenges in store beyond the “mountain food” cooked over sternos, and lack of showers for eight days. (I’m afraid to ask about the bathrooms.) I’ve chosen to travel alone to Africa without my husband, a trip that will take over 24 hours with a long layover in Amsterdam. For his own reasons that I respect, he didn’t dig the whole wildebeests migrating across the Serengeti thing. So, for the first time in nine years of marriage, I’ll be on my own. A stranger in a strange land joining a new tribe of like-minded women ready to conquer Kili.
I’ve never met my climbing buddies except on our Facebook group. We’re far flung across the United States—Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Texas—with seemingly nothing in common other than our admiration of fine hiking gear and the desire to summit without throwing up from altitude sickness. I’m especially in awe of Tracy in Colorado, who has us all beat with her high-altitude treks up the Rockies. Tracy manages 14,000 feet like the U.S. Women’s Soccer team handles the World Cup.
Although the voices (and Facebook) like to remind me I’ve never attempted anything so big or audacious as Kili, I already believe in the power of our group to overcome any challenge. When women travel together, we tend to be more cohesive and close-knit. I expect we will support each other and encourage each other to try something that we have never done before. Sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with other strong females will immediately unite us in a way that sitting on a bus and staring out a window cannot.
Together, we will leave our marks at the summit and go beyond the boundaries we or society unknowingly set for ourselves. I’m ready to change. I’m ready to get better. I’m ready to climb. We’re already at the top because we will make it so.
And I can’t wait.