Our alarms were set and set with just enough time to get ready; set to not be rushing, but set so there wasn’t much time to dawdle either. We were going to have roughly 2-3 hours of sleep, or closer to two if you were like me and had to wake up to use the bathroom during that already too short chunk of beloved sleep.
I cannot tell you how much it sucked to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag, throw on even more layers, grab my headlamp, stumble out into the bitter cold alone and walk down the dark rocky path to use the squatty potty, which required extra skill with so many layers on, and then stumble back slowly to the hut with a slight limp from sore muscles and lack of proper oxygen flow being at 15,520 feet above sea level. But I digress…
As we went to bed for our short rest, and set our alarms for the unseemly early wake up, we all had laid out what we needed, or thought we needed, for our summit night climb. You want to see people check, double check and then triple check (or triple guess) themselves – climb Mt Kilimanjaro where you have no idea what to pack or wear any given day. It’s fun (insert eye roll).
My backpack was packed, with the goal of carrying a light of a load as one could get away with for the rough climb ahead. Sitting next to my backpack were my trekking poles, headlamp, water bottles, very dusty boots, and my outer and extra layers I was going to still throw on when I woke up. The neatly folded piles were quite the juxtaposition sitting next to my duffle bag that look like it had imploded due to my unpacking and lack of proper repacking while getting set up. In my completely unprofessional opinion, and after consulting with my people several times, I was ready for summit night.
When the alarm went off in our dark and chilly cabin, we all quietly started moving around, preparing ourselves for the last push to the summit. The closer it got to leaving our cabin to meet up with the team, the more my nerves grew with all sorts of emotions. You want to talk about anxious, excited energy, I had it whirring through me and didn’t know how to calm it. In trying to keep my tired head on straight with what I needed to do, all the while trying to manage my rising anxiety, I started the mental check list of everything I needed.
Gloves: check. Kleenex: check. Sunscreen: check. …check check che…wait! No no no…I don’t have everything!! We’re MINUTES from walking out the door and I was missing something that in my mind, and heart, was crucial. I don’t know if I actually verbalized this moment of panic, or if Barry knew me well enough, but he came over and asked me what was wrong; what I was missing. I told him, with tears brimming in my eyes, “My bracelet.”
I didn’t have the bracelet that my oldest daughter had given to me at the very beginning of my Kilimanjaro journey, ten months earlier. My daughter Ryah gave me this simple little bracelet made up of pink yarn and six silver cubes with letters on them that spelled out the word “strong”. When she first gave it to me, I remember just staring at it and asked her, “You think I’m strong?” She looked at me like I was crazy, “Uh, yes!” She told me that I must be strong to take on such a big task with a huge goal, and to train as hard as I was. For someone like myself, who never once in my life felt strong, I was totally blown away that someone could believe that I am. Her belief and confidence in me was a huge motivator in my training, especially on days when I wanted to throw in the towel. The bracelet never fit around my wrist, but I had that bracelet in my pocket on every hike I went on while training for Kili. Every. Single. Hike.
I had brought it with me on Kilimanjaro, with full intent on that bracelet making it to the top of Uhuru Peak. But here, minutes before departing for summit night, I didn’t have the bracelet in my prepared items and could not find it anywhere. I felt so sad. This may sound ridiculous, and perhaps one could blame exhaustion, nerves and/or altitude, but I had tears in my eyes thinking that I had messed this up and lost the piece of home I needed to have with me.
When Barry asked if he could help, I told him not to bother, it was no use and just a silly bracelet after all. I’m fine. (Code for: I’m not fine at all). Without hesitation or request, Barry and Zack, who both barely know the story behind it, but seeing that it was important to me, started searching for it. They were on all fours with their headlamps looking under my bunk, tornado styling it through my duffle bag until Barry found it in the bottom of my bag. I immediately felt like everything clicked back into place. I didn’t even feel that nervous anymore.
I know I could have made that climb without that piece of pink string with the silver letters, but to have that tangible motivation; the reminder that I had girls back home looking up to me who think I’m strong, it was priceless in my journey.
I zipped the bracelet into an inner layer chest pocket and went to work. Eight or so hours later, as I stood atop Mount Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak at 19,341ft, I put my hand on my heart, where the bracelet was, and cried happy, happy tears.
“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”Philippians 4:13