21 February 2012

Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR Details

Like I did after the Castlewood 8hr AR, I wanted to post a few things that helped our team have a successful day in the woods at the Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR.

CarboRocket = Rocket Fuel! http://www.carborocket.com/333-Half-Evil-Endurance-Fuel
I brought 2L of water in my CamelBak and drank about 1.5L of it. Throughout the day I ate 1 package PB crackers (210cal), 1 Boost High Protein (230cal), 1 package Honey Stinger chews (160cal), and about 500 calories of CarboRocket Half-Evil with nuun (divided between 2 bottles on the bike). I had about 500 extra calories of food left over in my pack (gels and jerky) that I didn't eat. I was hungry towards the end of the race but we were so close to finishing that I just drank a little water and continued on. I wanted to have plenty of room in my stomach for the post-race BBQ!

I wore my helmet for the entire first part of the race (trek, paddle, mystery, paddle, trek) before we even got on our bikes. My pack was full of gear and paddles, so there wasn't really any good place to put it besides my head. It conflicted with my headlamp on the first trek, but overall it worked out fine. So, let this be a lesson: just because you aren't on your bike, doesn't mean you can't wear your helmet!

I used a new map case for this race, the SealLine Large HP Map Case (with the neck strap removed, I seriously dislike those things!). I really liked the thin, flexible plastic material. I also liked the large size. But, the tabs at the corners were difficult to manipulate with gloves on. And, the top seal (the velcro part) was not very flexible, so I could really only fold the map in one dimension. I got frustrated enough by it that I didn't use a map case at all for the final trekking leg. Thankfully, the mytopo maps are water-resistant so I didn't have to worry much. I am pretty sure I will be returning this and looking for a different map case. Any suggestions?

I am fairly certain was my first time using 1:24000 maps for navigation (usually I use 1:10000 or smaller orienteering maps). With the shorter legs, I didn't have much of a problem, but the first few longer legs really threw me off for keeping track of my distance traveled. Also, not all features are represented on a 1:24000 map, so major things like the Devil's Kitchen sinkhole did not show up on my map and caused a small panic attack.
Map comparison for the route between CP29-CP33. Park map on left, 1:24000 map on right (images are zoomed, they are not the same scale in real life).
Thankfully, we had taken the time in TA6 to transpose some of the trekking points onto another park map supplied by Bonk Hard (the blue one in the photo above). The park map had contour lines showing the large sinkhole and we used that to navigate through it to CP33. The park map was also helpful in getting from CP35 to CP37 because we had to run on a trail not shown on the 1:24000 map.

UPDATE!!! Now that I am looking at the maps on the computer screen, the Devil's Kitchen sinkhole does show up on the 1:24000 map, it is just partially obscured by the printed text and my CP labeling. So even though I did not see it during the race, it really is there. I am still glad we had the blue park map which is much more clear anyway. Pin It

20 February 2012

Race Report: Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR

I leave work early on Friday and drive over to Sunny's house, where we load gear & bikes into the minivan and head south to Osage Beach, MO. The drive is easy and we chat about science!, things to expect tomorrow (this will be Sunny's second AR ever), and triathlon. We get into Osage Beach about 6pm and head straight to Quail's Nest hotel to meet up with Alpine Shop for dinner. The six of us also join another St. Louis team, Testemax (can you guess what division they are in?), for dinner at Lil Rizzo's. I am delighted there is pizza on the menu (my new favorite pre-race dinner, tried and tested at the Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr, PMETR, and Possum Trot). We have a really fun dinner and we finish up with just enough time to complete pre-race check-in at Oz Cycles & Kayaks. From there we head to the pre-race meeting just around the corner. Gary and Ellen Thompson, the new owners of Bonk Hard Racing, give a short overview of the course instructions and hand out a TON of schwag. Then we receive maps and are dismissed at 8.45pm. There is a little bit of plotting to do so we return to the hotel and get to work.

Sunny and I plot the first 29 CPs of the race and then go about route selection/planning. My newly-purchased map wheel has some issues, but she fixes it so we can nerdily measure distances of some different bike routes.  We have 2 mystery checkpoints on the clue sheet, but they are located between known CPs near Bridal Cave, which is coincidentally one of the race's sponsors, so we are reasonably sure that the mystery event will involve the famous cavern. Cool! After the maps are done, we focus on packing and deliberate over clothing tomorrow - the forecast is calling for temperatures in the 40s and a slight chance of rain. We finally get to sleep about midnight and I surprisingly don't have that many anxiety dreams!

We wake up about 4.15am and get all of our stuff packed in the van. Quail's Nest has graciously opened their breakfast area at 4am so we have hot water for oatmeal and coffee. We drive to the bike drop, and find a good spot for the bikes to wait for our return. Then it's off to the race HQ for final packing, peeing, and socializing before the race starts.

TREK 1 (CP1-5, 4mi, 0:36)
The first trek, starting at HQ and then CP1-5.
Gary shouts "go!" at 6.30a on the nose and 112 racers take off through the field in the half-light of dawn. Sunny and I settle in just behind Alpine Shop. My headlamp is bouncing around too much under my bike helmet so I turn it off and pull it down around my neck, trusting the pack to nav us to CP1. They do, and as we make our way to CP2 we scream downhill and onto the road for a short bit. Sunny gets her first taste of dragging my ass around Missouri (a common theme for the day) as we hook up the tow for the short run into CP2. From there we tow uphill to CP3, then run across the saddle to CP4, then bust down the hill to D road for the longish run into CP5. Here I go back on tow and we cruise. I hear someone yelling behind us but I think it's Alpine Shop heckling, so I just wave and keep going. Turns out one of my pack pockets is unzipped and a gel has fallen out, and the Kuat team behind us picks it up and yelled that they were bringing it up to us. In the meantime, a bottle of Ensure falls out as well, which I feel, and immediately stop...with the tow still connected and without telling Sunny. She gets yanked back, a strap on her pack breaks and the tow snaps back into my elbow, ouch! But at least I have all of my calories which the Kuat team so nicely brings up to us. Thanks guys! We continue the run into CP5 without incident.

TRANSITION 1 (trek to paddle)
We arrive in TA1 in about 3rd/4th place, punch, select a boat (they all look mostly the same to my untrained eye so we pick one with seat cushions), put in, assemble paddles, and shove off. We're not fast here but there were no big issues, which I was worried about because neither of us have assembled paddles in a race situation. Success!

PADDLE 1 (CP 6, 2.5mi, 0:50)
The paddling legs. Put in at CP5. Bridal Cave is just north of CP6/9. Take-out at CP11.
We are paddling on Lake of the Ozarks so the current is negligible. Neither of us have any considerable steering experience, so we decided pre-race to put me in the back. And my lack of experience shows - steering a canoe is hard! It feels like I am correcting almost every stroke, and my corrections are often too big so we zig-zag our way up the lake in a pretty laughable manner. Fortunately, we are both amused instead of enraged at our boat's crazy route, so we just try to keep making somewhat forward progress despite the bitter headwind gusts. I know we are going slow, but Alpine Shop hasn't passed us yet, so I trick myself into thinking "it's not that bad". We see the sign for Bridal Cave as we near CP6, so our pre-race speculations about the mystery event involving that feature are all but confirmed.

TRANSITION 2 (paddle to mystery)
Just as we reach the TA2 take-out, Alpine Shop comes cruising up and tells us they misplotted CP4 on the first trek. So that's why we were ahead on the paddle. Bummer. But we beach the boat and receive instructions from the volunteers to proceed uphill CP7 through the Bridal Cave gift shop. Maybe the mystery event is a Price Is Right-style shopping challenge?

MYSTERY 1 (CP7-9, .5?mi, 0:16)
Packs waiting outside Bridal Cave.
We run uphill, through the gift shop, and out the other side into a gear check - we are instructed to don helmets and headlamps and then leave all other gear outside the cave. Leaving the map with my stuff causes a short moment of anxiety for me, but I do as I'm told. We run into the cave and start winding our way through the passages, some of which are tight! It's comparatively warm inside and that helps take the chill of the headwind-riddled paddle. CP8 is located in one of the cool-looking grottos of Bridal Cave, but honestly I only take a quick peak because we are hustling. After we punch it's back out the same way we came, and I'm thankful we are in the lead pack of teams because this could get congested later.

TRANSITION 3 (mystery to paddle)
We climb back into the boats for the return trip down-lake, plus a little extra distance to CP11. The put-in goes smoothly!

PADDLE 2 (CP10-11, 5mi, 1:11)
We are encouraged by the thought of having the wind at our backs for the remaining paddle. While this does make us a little less cold, it doesn't help my steering abilities one bit. I'm just not very good at it! We have a few sections where we are in sync and moving straight, but they are few and far between. Sunny is exceedingly gracious and positive throughout the paddle - it's clear that neither of us enjoy being slow, but  we both know it won't do any good to get mad, so we just keep paddling. I am so happy when the take-out appears.

TRANSITION 4 (paddle to trek)
We are cheered on at the take-out by awesome volunteer Rachel from Bushwhacker (sitting out the race with an injury). The process of putting the canoe away and disassembling paddles takes a few minutes but is again smoother than expected. I realize I can't find my running tow (must have left it at CP7??) but I try not to worry about it.

TREK 2 (CP12-14, 1.5mi, 0:29)
Trek 2. The 316 stairs are just after CP12.
We have a short run to CP12 along park trails. The main race map (from mytopo) for this section is crowded, and I switch to a park map that we were issued in the race packet. It is okay, but I end up following the park signage instead for CPs 12 and 13. We get to run alongside a really cool-looking water body (I think the visible part of the Natural Spring) and then climb all 316 steps of an enormous staircase (similar to the stairs at Castlewood) up to the Natural Bridge rock feature. From there it's a quick run to CP14, site of the morning's bike drop.

TRANSITION 5 (trek to bike)
We arrive at TA5 closer to the middle of the pack than I would have liked. We lost quite a few spots on the paddle. But, I am hoping that Sunny's exceptional fitness to will move us up if I can keep the nav clean. We successfully add our trekking shoes to our packs (which have paddles too) and are able to ride without too much interference from the load.

BIKE 1 (CP15-29, 30mi, 3:04)
The first part of the bike: TA5 is at CP14. CP15 and 16 are doubletrack, then we take the road to CP17/HQ.
The first 2 CPs are close to TA5 and are on some grassy doubletrack trails. We collect those quickly, and in the company of a few other teams. From there on it's all road riding, a combination of paved and gravel and plenty of hills sprinkled in for good measure. We return to race HQ for CP17, where we get to drop our paddles! From 17 it's a longish ride to CP18 and 19, and from there we have been given route choice options. Our chosen route is 20-23-24-22-21-25-26-27-28-29/TA6. Sunny continues to be an excellent passport-keeper and Emily's-ass-dragger; I put myself on tow as much as possible (especially up hills) so we can share energy and keep moving quickly as a team. The navigation is very simple, but I try to stay in contact with the map by announcing estimated distances and landmarks, which keeps us focused. We are joined on our route by the Kuat boys again, and they make great racing companions. Not all teams are enjoyable to race alongside and we are lucky these dudes are both fast and fun.
The majority of the biking leg was on roads.
There are lots of great sights on the ride as well: a sad-looking discarded stuffed unicorn, a house using towels for curtains, several barking dogs, a mailbox riddled with bullet holes, a mailbox completely smashed in, a yard using beercans for landscaping, etc. Despite these interesting features, the ride is rather tame and Sunny expresses her dismay at the lack of epic-ness so far. I agree with her, and hopefully the last part of the race (which we don't have maps for yet) will make up for it!
Sunny and me leaving CP25/gear check.
At CP25, we have a gear check with a 5 items, and we are rewarded with Little Debbie snacks and Lays chips, mmmmmm chocolate moon pie! On the last hill before CP29, Sunny is towing again when she announces that her legs are toast, which makes me really happy because my biggest worry coming into the race is I wouldn't be fast enough to challenge her fitness. But, thanks to her terrific teamwork and immense towing efforts we are both equally tired! Sunny, thanks again for dragging my ass all over Missouri!

TRANSITION 6 (plotting & bike to trek)
We cruise into TA6 exceedingly ready to start running. We have moved back up into 5th/6th place and we both consider the trekking to be our strongest discipline if I can keep the nav clean. We have 8 CPs to plot so Sunny calls UTM coordinates and I mark the map. Then I route-plan as she transcribes some of the points onto a supplemental park map (the blue one) we were given in our map packets. We decide on 33-35-37-36-34-30-31-32-F and hustle out of the TA before other teams can latch on.

TREK 3 (CP30-37, 7mi, 2:54)
The last trekking leg, CP30-37. I wrote our order in black on the side of the map.
As we head out onto this main trekking section, my goals are to find good running (open woods and roads/trails) to maximize our speediness and also keep the nav clean instead of rushing. This might mean taking a few extra walking breaks to stay in contact with the map, but from my limited AR experience, solid navigation with a steady pace will always win over speedy mistakes. Right away, I get a chance to enact that philosophy as we find ourselves in a huge sinkhole (with a very prominent cliff face) that I don't see on my 1:24000 map. This is extremely worrying to me, but thankfully Sunny's blue map (which is a smaller scale) has it labeled better and we figure out what's going in in a few minutes. We hit 33 cleanly and take a combination trail/woods route to CP35. This route takes us through some woods that have been burned (for underbrush management) and it quickly becomes my new favorite terrain - the woods are open and the burnt residue lends a very Hunger Games-esque feeling. Cresting the big saddle on the way to 35 is awesome - we can see many different, complex ridge/reentrant systems and it's an orienteer's dream!

After we hit CP35 cleanly, I start to get confused about the trail system and exactly where we are on the map. The night before, we  transposed the Turkey Run trail from a park map onto the 1:24000 map I'm holding, but the trail is hard to find and I'm also struggling with the scale. I don't have much experience running on 1:24000 so it takes some time to get my distance perception calibrated. We take lots of walk breaks here as we use both maps to figure out just where exactly we are on the trail. Finally we figure out a reasonable location and are able to pick up the pace. A few hundred meters later, we find a park sign with a "You Are Here" sticker which matches what we thought...relief! It's time then to crash down a big reentrant and climb another one to CP37.
Around CP37, we pick up a tail. We shake them with a new route between CP36 and CP34 (shown i n dashed dark line)
As we approach CP37, we cross paths with a 2p male team. I do not recognize them and this makes me antsy - I really don't care for navigating with other teams in sight. They try to ask us what our route is - I ignore the question and Sunny answers with a generic "yes" and we keep moving. We've already revealed the correct reentrant for CP37 and I hope that we are able to shake them quickly. They stick with us to CP36 and we are both stopped by an unmapped barbed wire fence while hiking up a steep spur. They graciously hold the fence down so we both can slip through, and we locate CP36 about the same time. My intended route after this was to descend back down the spur continue to CP34 (shown in orange highlighter in the picture), but we find an unmapped jeep road at the top and I make the decision to re-route us up-and-over to CP34 (shown in dark dashed pen line in the picture). It means a little extra climb, but has several advantages - we will avoid repassing the barbed wire fence, and we can run the road to try and separate us from the other team. So we hit the gas and run up the doubletrack, and the other team drops back. We continue to push the pace (except for one thorny section where we both whimper a lot) as we loop around a reentrant and attack CP34 from above. We can still hear the other team thrashing around in the woods so we try to be extra quiet and speedy to get away from them for good. The long leg to CP30 goes great, and Sunny tells me a few stories from her days racing as a professional triathlete, including being drug-tested alongside Leanda Cave and Samantha McGlone. Yup, she is FAST.

We punch cleanly and set out for CP31. The route is tricky because it is mostly flat, but I am checking off features in my mind and everything looks good. The checkpoint is hung in the middle of a reentrant system and as we descend into it, there is no checkpoint. We canvass the area and still come up short. Crap...things were going so well! Where are we?! I focus intently on the map and determine the system we are in is oriented north/south, and the system we want is east/west. There are 2 north/south system on the map and I'm pretty sure we're in the southern one, but to be safe I want to retrace our steps back to the powerline to 100% relocate. Sunny suggests that we just go directly to the next system over (which will be faster), and I agree to try it. What follows is one of my proudest orienteering achievements to date - relocating on a tough map without being 100% sure where we are. So we carefully climb out of the north/south system and head northeast to the next system over. We enter and start checking the spurs, and I SPOT THE CHECKPOINT! I have never been so relieved. Sunny punches and get out of there, only 2 more short legs to go!
The route from 30-31. Orange is my intended route, blue dashes is the actual route.
The approach to CP32 goes well and I am again relieved to hit this cleanly. Now it's only the run to the finish, and we have a route selection: road or woods. This road is approved for running (Hwy D is not) but race-brain makes me forget that fact so I route us up a huge hill and through the woods to sneak in on the finish line from behind. There aren't many people there, which is a good sign, but the Bonk Hard crew raises their signature ruckus to celebrate our finish. They check over our passport, verifying that everything is punched correctly, and announce that we are FOURTH OVERALL!!!

Sunny and me! Yes, she is sitting and I am standing.
I am really, really satisfied with this result. Our final racing time is 9 hours 20 minutes. Full results here. Alpine Shop took the win in 8 hours 25 minutes. They are already changed into dry clothes but come over to congratulate us (and I'm pretty sure Doug is celebrating that I brought Sunny back alive). We have about 15 minutes of the standard map-pointing ritual (one of my favorite parts of navigating) and then I need to warm up too. We change into dry clothes and dig into the classy BBQ buffet post-race meal. Have I mentioned BBQ is one of my favorite foods? DELICIOUS! While Sunny and I are eating, Alpine Shop decides to drive back to CP29 to retrieve their bikes and they agree to pick up ours as well. How's that for class! Not only do they race the pants off us, they pick up our bikes at the finish!! While we are waiting, Sunny and I stroll through the old CC track in the field as a form of cool-down. We hang out at the finish line as more and more teams come in, each one receiving lots of cow bell and hollering from Bonk Hard Racing and other competitors. We stay at the finish line until the awards ceremony is over (I win a pair of Pearl Izumi shoe covers! Score!) and then say our final goodbyes and load up the mini-van for the drive back to STL, chauffeured by Doug! 

I can't say enough how happy I am with this race. It was my first try at being the 100% navigator, and it was Sunny's second ever adventure race. We were the only 2-person female team entered but we represented well, beating 39 other teams! Sunny is a most excellent teammate - her fitness is a huge asset, but her positive attitude ensured our success. I have seen other teams implode in anger when one person can't steer a boat, or when they get lost in the woods, but we stayed committed to the team's success and that is how we ended up close to the front.  Pin It

17 February 2012

Sugar Sugar

When most people think about nutritional evils, they think about fat. "Low-fat" and "reduced fat" and "fat-free" are terms that have become almost synonymous with "healthy" in America. I used to think that too. But when I started becoming more active, I realized I needed to be diligent in my nutritional habits as well as my exercise habits. I did research to satisfy my own personal curiosity, and I have come to the conclusion that fat is not my enemy; sugar is.

With that knowledge, I decided to conduct my own experiment in January 2011. I started with a kitchen purge; I seriously read every label and if it had any sugar or artificial sweetener, I pitched it. It was shocking how many bottles and jars I threw out that day. But it was also liberating, knowing I could use anything else in my kitchen and eat well. I stuck to my sugarless guns for 29 days of January, and broke it with a hot fudge sundae on my birthday (a planned treat). The sundae tasted delicious but I felt pretty crappy afterwards. So I decided from that point on, my nutritional goal would be to reduce sugar consumption wherever possible. And eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
A share from Fair Shares, yum!
That worked out fairly well for the rest of 2011. But, in the last few months, I have become more relaxed about my food intake, . I've got big plans for 2012 and they are not going to be fueled by eating crap. So, I've re-instated the Personal Sugar Ban again for this year, and it's in full effect until 24-June. In case you are wondering how far this thing goes, here are my rules:
  • No sugar, obviously. Don't matter if it's [brown] or white. No sugar will be used in personal cooking. Anything that has a label must be free of the ingredient "sugar" or any artificial sweeteners. (even savory items). 
  • No artificial sweeteners, or alcohol sweeteners
    • Corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup
    • Splenda
    • Anything that comes in a colored packet (Sweet-n-Low, NutraSweet, Equal, etc)
  • Natural sweeteners (agave, honey, molasses, maple syrup, stevia) grudgingly permitted, but in small quantities and for specific purposes:
    • Agave for Chuckie tea only, if needed
    • Stevia for protein only (a small amount is already included in the brand I use)
    • Honey/molasses/maple syrup for special occasion cooking. I put these bottles in my highest cabinet so they're not in the regular pantry or countertop.
  • Fruit in its natural form is fine. No jams, chutneys, jellies, syrups or preserves that have sugar in them. All-fruit products are okay.
  • Workouts, races, and the 30-min recovery window are exempt from these rules. My goal with the sugar ban is to rein in my daily eating habits, not my workout eating habits.
For some people, this might be a mind-boggling list of things to eliminate from their diet. For me, it's mostly about enforcing discipline. I am fairly good about my daily nutrition for the most part; I make a lot of my food myself using meat and produce from Fair Shares. But my biggest weakness is snacks at work. You know, the box of Krispy Kremes, or the plate of Girl Scout cookies, or the store-bought birthday cake, or any other variety of sugary semi-deliciousness brought in by well-meaning co-workers and left on the coffee counter. I always manage to convince myself it's okay to eat these things because, hey, I'm an athlete. An endurance athlete. Surely I have a few hundred calories to spare, and gosh those brownies-leftover-from-Valentine's-Day look good, and, and, I ate them. No longer!!

If you haven't tried your own sugar ban, I encourage you to find 30 days and give it a shot. At the very least, educate yourself on what ingredients are in your fridge and pantry - you might be surprised! 
Pin It

16 February 2012

EK Climbs Kili: Days 12-14 (Arusha & Travel)

Note: check out my Kilimanjaro page to read about the entire trip.


I sleep in until about 7.30a at Planet Lodge and soon it's time for breakfast. On a table with a table cloth. Sitting on a chair. It's the PL Special of fried egg, toast, a donut, tomato, sausage, bacon, fruit plate, and coffee. Chris and I both check in with our respective social media networks before returning to the room to finish packing. We check out and wait for Richard who picks us up at 11a. We have some time to kill before our flight leaves JRO at 9.40p, so we ask him to take us into town for some shopping and a lunch.
I fit, with room to spare, in a 150L duffel.

Dining room at Planet Lodge. Far cry from a Massai ground cloth.
Our first stop is Naura Springs Hotel. It is a tourist hotel. There is a gift shop inside the gated property. Richard drives the LandCruiser right up to the door and says we will find lots of nice things inside. Well, there are lots, and lots, and lots of things, but honestly the shop looks like an overcrowded Pier One. Carvings of every animal/person combination, made from every sort of wood imaginable, plus colorful batiks and kanga and t-shirts and magnets and coffee beans. Everything just screams "tourist!" instead of "authentic Tanzanian market" so despite the best efforts of the shop's host (who follows us around and describes each item we look at), we don't buy anything. There is a guy selling tanzanite here too, but he isn't Tanzanian and the prices are too high.
This is what all of the souvenir shops felt like - STUFFED with STUFF. From http://smallstepsforcompassion.blogspot.com/
We tell Richard we want to go to the Central Market, but he insists that it's too dangerous for us to walk around in. We try to tell him that we walked around last week with no issues, but he says he will drive us through it instead. And that's what he does - drives the enormous LandCruiser through a tiny dirt alley of the Central Market, forcing people to move their goods so the vehicle can fit through. We stare out of the backseat and feel helpless, and extremely white. The tour doesn't take hardly 20 minutes so after we emerge on the other side, we drive to ShopRite to pick up a few favorite African groceries - AfriCafe, African honey, Conyagi, and some chocolate snacks for the plane ride. I also pop into the local BdC and change my last $20.
This is ugali with beef (not chicken like we had) and beans, but looks similar. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ugali_with_beef_and_sauce.JPG
After the "tour" of the Central Market, it's time for lunch, so Richard takes us to a Tanzanian spot called 7-Up Restaurant. The weather is nice enough to sit outside, so we grab a table on the shady sidewalk and sit down. A waiter soon comes out and asks what we want. There's no menu, but the waiter gives us our options: rice or ugali, with meat or chicken or fish or bean sauce. Richard orders ugali and fish, and then orders 1 rice, 1 ugali, 2 chickens, 1 bean sauce, and an order of chapati for Chris and me. The food comes out super fast and Richard gives us each a lesson in how to eat ugali properly - take a small chunk of it in your right hand, roll it into a ball, press an indentation in the middle, and then use it to scoop up some of the meat/veg on your other plate. Everything's really good, and we take our time eating because learning to eat with hands takes practice.
The Cultural Heritage Center. From http://deponti.wordpress.com/2007/08/22/towns-in-tanzania/
With full bellies, we pile back into the LandCruiser for our next destination. I'm not really sure where Richard is taking us, but I just gaze out the window and try to enjoy our last day in Tanzania. As we drive along, Chris starts hitting my leg to point out a crazy-looking building on the other side of the road. It's all sorts of coppery-orangey-shiny and doesn't look anything like the rest of Arusha. We start slowing down...and it becomes apparent that Richard is taking us to the crazy building! The sign in front reads "Cultural Heritage Center" and it looks like Disney set up shop on the outskirts of town. There are statues everywhere, an artificial stream/moat, fountains, and of course a huge gift shop. Richard drops us off and says to meet him in the parking lot when we are done. Disappointed, we decide to be polite and wander through the gift shop, which is even bigger than the one from before lunch and even more packed with STUFF. We are also the only people here. It's a little weird.
Interior of the Cultural Heritage Center's gallery. From http://images.mitrasites.com/arusha-cultural-heritage-centre.html
After obligingly checking out the gift shop, we start to leave when one of the employees tells us about an art gallery that is part of the Heritage Center. It's free, in the next building, and we still have several hours to kill so we go explore. The gallery is a smaller recreation of the Guggenheim in New York with the interior spiral staircase serving as the main circulation space. Both the spiral's walls and the adjacent rooms are PACKED with artwork. It's clear every artist is not African, but all of the subjects are. We are the only two people in the building but the hush is nice and we spend at least an hour roaming around, trying to take in every painting, sculpture, and mask that is displayed. After we are thoroughly saturated with art, we go back to the gift shop via a different pathway, and encounter at least five other minor gift shops. This is indeed a Disney-inspired development, meant for tourists only! We purchase a few quick things (stickers and a rosewood buffalo) at the main shop and then head out to the parking lot where Richard is waiting.
The Tanzanite Experience! From http://www.panoramio.com/photo/35754113
Back in the LandCruiser, we head towards town and Chris asks again if we can walk through the Central Market. Again, we are told "no" and Richard says he will take us somewhere interesting. I soon see what he means when he pulls up beside a blue sparkly building with signs advertising "The Tanzanite Experience" outside. Finally Chris and I can't take the tourist gig anymore and just tell him to take us to the airport. We're a little early, sure, but it's better than wasting gas driving around Arusha to places we don't want to see. So Richard drives polepole and we take our sweet time soaking in the Tanzanian landscape. The airport has big-time security to even enter the parking lot, but we pass through and unload all of our stuff onto one of the airport luggage carts. We say our goodbyes to Richard and go into the terminal, where we have to show a passport just to even enter!
The outside of JRO. From http://in2eastafrica.net/kilimanjaro-international-airport/
The terminal building is a cool combination between Africa and the western world. There is an open-air courtyard with trees in the middle of the building, giving us access to the warm Tanzanian breeze. There are modern-looking ticket counters and security equipment, next to a few crowded shops selling snacks, bottled water, and even more souvenirs. One of the shops sells tanzanite and despite my earlier disinterest, I decide to go check out their prices to pass the time. The prices turn out to be fairly competitive, and the sales guy is from Arusha (not Egypt like the two previous shops). So I hem and haw and eventually decide to purchase two little, matching stones that I will mount as earrings in the States. Happy birthday to me!
Tanzanite - not actual size.
More and more tourists fill the terminal as our flight time nears. About 7pm, the ticket counters open up and we stand in a long line to check our bags. Then it's through security where we have to scan all 10 fingers before proceeding. I spend my last Tanzanian schillings on a sticker in the duty-free shop (gotta put something on the Nalg) and then we wait in the holding tank. The KLM flight finally lands, does its three-point turn on the runway, and returns to the terminal building to unload a new set of tourists. I can't help but envy those that are carrying backpacks (and therefore probably going on a Kili climb), thinking that I was one of them just a few days ago. We are allowed to proceed onto the tarmac and again, haphazardly guided in the general direction of the plane's stairs. We board and get settled for the short flight to Dar Es Salaam, where we will get a refueling and crew change before completing the journey back to Amsterdam.
Our plane for JRO-DAR-AMS.
I won't go into much detail about the flights because they were mostly boring. The KLM flight to Dar and Amsterdam, which I thought would feel like forever, goes by in a few seconds. In the Amsterdam airport, I buy a salad even though it's 6am because I am craving fresh veggies. The Delta flight into JFK takes ages, and the length is magnified by the lack of video entertainment (the sound system is broken). We make it through US customs without incident (the agent wishes me a happy birthday instead of the normal "welcome back"), and both of our bags arrive unscathed. Chris' mom picks us up and we spend the rest of the evening catching up with her and Casey about the trip over delicious homemade lasagna and chocolate-zucchini cake. The next day, Friday, I fly back to St. Louis and start the long process of integrating myself back into my own life.

So...that's it from the day-by-day account of my Kilimanjaro trip. I have a few more posts in mind with some general reflections, a review of gear, and some lessons learned, which will be posted as I write them! Hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing - it's been a great way to "wind down" from the experience of a lifetime and I'm glad it's documented in a share-able way. Karibu!

Pin It

13 February 2012

EK Climbs Kili: Day 11 (Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate)

Note: check out my Kilimanjaro page to read about the entire trip.

DAY 11 / 24 JANUARY 2012 / TUESDAY

START: Mweka Camp (3100m or 10100')
END: Mweka Gate (1600m or 5300')
AND: Moshi (900m, not that it matters any more)
AND: Arusha (1400m, doesn't matter either)

We wake up one last time in a tent (if any Marshall grads are reading this...it was the first of many lasts). I feel very rested, but not ready at all to leave the mountain. But, the end of the trip has to come sometime and at least I have my very first peak bagged to show for it. I get almost all of my stuff packed up before Mchami comes to wake us up for a cooking demonstration by Peter. All throughout the trip, Peter has made us delicious food, but our favorite was a crepe-type thing that Mchami calls a "pancake" but sometimes it was savory. (Note: In my blog posts I have called it chapati, although after looking up real chapati recipes I'm not sure that's the right name either, but it seems to work for Tanzania.) Peter is in the kitchen tent (which is really just a regular dome tent), sitting on two packs in the middle with the propane burner in the vestibule. This has been the standard arrangement all trip, and usually Richard sits facing the tent to help him with food prep. He shows us the batter which is made with eggs, cooking oil, all-purpose flour, sugar, and vanilla. It's very thin. He puts some cooking oil into the pan and then pours the batter in a thin layer. He lets that cook for a minute or so, then deftly flips the pancake (rivaling any restaurant chef). A little more oil gets drizzled on top, and then he continues flipping every minute or so until the whole thing is cooked through. One pancake takes about 5 minutes. And usually we get at least 4 on a plate with a meal, sometimes 6. I feel incredibly spoiled.
Me and Chris in one of the big trees we saw later on in the day.
After the demo, we go back to the tent and finish packing everything before our last mountain breakfast. We have pancakes/chapati, ugali porridge, hot drink (one last hot drink! cheers!), omelettes, and cucumber. And then, we hit the trail just like normal. The morning weather was cool at Mweka Camp but the temperature continues to increase as we descend and I'm peeling off layers frequently. We also start seeing the return of large trees. About 90 minutes into our hike, our porters pass us with their typical lightning speed. Godlisten latches on to their pace so he can arrive at Mweka Gate ahead of us and get our exit paperwork sorted. The mood is pretty jovial all around - tourists have (hopefully) hot showers waiting for them, and the guides/porters have tips to deposit. It feels like the last day of school.
Me and Mareme goofing off on the road.
About a kilometer later, the trail widens into an actual dirt/gravel road, the first I've seen in days. This really means we are getting to the end. Mareme explains that the road is only for park vehicles, and indeed, soon a park ambulance (white LandCruiser with a red cross painted on it) passes by going uphill, on its way to pick up a sick tourist. I chat with an older German man in one of my few conversations with other tourists. He says he and his wife have been planning this trip for over a year. He is amazed that Chris and I put the thing together in about a month. It's not that hard, really, with the Interwebz being what they are.
Tanzanian kids goofing off on the road.
We also start to see non-climbing people along the road, which is another big shock. A few women are out with their kids, gathering something in the woods. We also pass a group of kids, probably 7-10 year olds (?) who are swinging on an overhanging vine and asking for chocolate handouts. Mareme says they are supposed to be gathering grass for their cows but instead are playing around. Swinging on a vine sounds like more fun to me and I almost ask if I can try it. But I don't.
The last park hut where we sign the book.
Too soon, we are in sight of the trail's end. It widens again into a large dirt parking lot with several company vehicles parked. There are also lots of souvenir vendors selling bracelets, t-shirts, hats, patches, etc in USD, but we don't buy anything. We find Godlisten at the park office building where we are supposed to check out. I use the adjacent bathrooms and they are FLUSH squat toilets with a mirror over the sink. I haven't looked in a mirror for the whole trip and my face looks pretty tired, but not horrid. The park office gives Godlisten two summit certificates so he fills them out and presents them to us in front of the crew - they all clap! Then we pile into the Good Earth LandCruiser with Godlisten, Mareme, Peter, Richard, and Richard the driver (who picked us up at the airport) and another guy who I don't know. Richard the driver hands me and Chris box lunches, which are labeled "Chrisburger & Snacks". Awesome. I don't eat it yet because I'm not hungry.

We drive to Moshi where Peter and Richard the porter are going to catch a different bus to their homes. Then, we start the process of trying to get Godlisten his tip. First, we go to a bank where I am supposed to use the ATM. Even though it's a real bank (with air conditioning and everything!) I do not want to use their ATM so I go to the counter instead and ask the teller to change the $100 USD bill. She can't do it, citing the date. Then I ask her to change my $100 USD Traveler's Cheque. She can't do that either. So I go back out to the car and tell everyone I'm out of luck. Godlisten suggests a Bureau de Change around the corner, so we try that out too. No dice (EVEN THOUGH the BdC has a sign outside stating an exchange rate for TCs, they refuse to change mine. No idea why). I'm a little lost and feeling horrible that we are causing such an issue. I finally suggest that we go back to Arusha, to the same BdC we used on the first day of the trip, since they changed TCs with ease. So we all pile back into the LandCruiser and hit the road for Arusha (where the hotel is).
Mareme, Richard, Godlisten, me, Peter, and Chris in Moshi.
The drive is pretty quiet for everyone. I'm still feeling stressed about the tipping situation, and I'm assuming everyone else is tired on top of that. We catch our last glimpse of Kilimanjaro as we cruise down the paved, 2-lane highway filled with random speed bumps. Godlisten still keeps up his guidely duties by pointing landmarks along the way, including the Coke bottle "gas station" at Sanya where we first met our whole crew. As we near Arusha, Godlisten and Richard decide to take us directly to the hotel instead of going into town to the Bureau de Change. Godlisten says he will accept my TC and get Good Earth to cash it for him. I'm still a little skeptical but relieved that the burden is off of me as we pull into the familiar gates of Planet Lodge. The staff greets us with washcloths and fruit juice - so nice! Just as it was weird seeing Godlisten and Mareme in their winter gears on summit night, it is weird seeing them in the hotel lobby, so far removed from the mountain trails. We unload all of our stuff, say too-short goodbyes, and watch the LandCruiser just, sorta, drive away. The trip is really almost over.
Mareme about to disappear down the trail.
Back in civilization, we re-check into the hotel, collect the luggage they stored for us (nothing missing! excellent!), and write brief emails to our families saying we are alive and we made the summit. Then Chris claims first shower, hoping for the brief shot of hot water that I experienced upon first arriving at Planet Lodge.  While I wait, I eat my Chrisburger & Snacks box lunch on the floor of the hotel room, and Chris confirms that whatever hot water there once was is now gone. As I am sitting there, my eyes wander to a switch on the wall outside of the bathroom with a red light on the switchplate. It takes an instant and my mind puts everything together. Chris! I found the hot water! I shout and leap up to flip the switch. Sure enough, Chris confirms that the water has warmed up and I feel like I am starting to get Africa.
Not the actual switch, but similar. From http://www.kyledesigns.com/product/1475-DESPARD-PILOT/Ivory-Despard-Pilot-Light-for-Interchangeable-Switch-Plates.html
I shower next and while it feels nice, I think I would feel nicer if I was still on the mountain. Chris has commandeered my copy of Undaunted Courage again so I nap and then start unpacking my gears. The phone rings - it's David from Good Earth and he wants to meet with us in the lobby. So we go and have a chat, mostly confirming that our guides and crew were great, we ate lots of food, we tipped properly, etc. I hand in the tipping sheet we filled out earlier and explained Godlisten's situation, hoping David will help him sort it out. After David leaves, we hang out in the lobby, buying Cokes from the hotel bar and watching the Australian Open women's quarterfinals on TV. It is a crazy feeling - 48 hours ago we were prepping for the summit and now I'm watching the Belgian Kim Clijsters beat the Dane Caroline Wozniacki in an Australian tournament. And drinking a Coke. This is nuts.
From http://www.ghanasoccernet.com/pictures-ghana-versus-botswana
We go back to the room for a little more packing and reading before it's dinnertime at the hotel. I order the same thing as our first night, a vegetable curry, and we watch Ghana play Botswana on TV (soccer). At least this seems a little more normal. After finishing dinner, I watch the remaining minutes of the match with a few of the hotel employees. We have a power outage but the signal gets restored successfully, and Ghana wins 1-0. I return to the room and finish up packing - tomorrow a driver will pick us up at 10a for some exploring before we have to go to the airport and fly home. This day has been long, somewhat stressful, and sad, and I am ready to sleep.
My official summit certificate!
Pin It

12 February 2012

EK Climbs Kili: Day 10B (Barafu to Mweka Camp)

Note: check out my Kilimanjaro page to read about the entire trip.

DAY 10B / 23 JANUARY 2012 / MONDAY

START: Barafu Camp (4700m or 15400')
END: Mweka Camp (3100m or 10100')

About 8am, Mchami wakes us with a meal - I'm not sure what to call it but it's chapati, chicken soup, and watermelon. I am hungry, but Chris is not. Again, Mchami insists that we finish everything so Chris reluctantly puts a few small bowls of soup down the hatch. After we eat, we pack up and depart Barafu. The wind is still screaming down the mountain, but we've become so desensitized to it and almost stopped caring. We both have headaches, but are pretty sure they will go away as we drink more water and descend.
Our last clear view of the summit, at a rest stop at Millennium Camp (3800m).
After we lose enough elevation to reduce the wind to a slight breeze, Godlisten pipes up with a suggestion. When he applied for our permit at Londrossi Gate, he only put 6 nights on the paper instead of our planned 7 nights. He told us this up front and explained that it would protect us from trying to collect refunds from the park, in case one of us got sick and had to descend early (and, if things went as planned, he would just pay for the extra night at the end of the trip). So, if we want to, we could descend all the way to Mweka Gate (1600m) today, get a Good Earth driver to pick us up and go to Planet Lodge tonight, and then have a whole extra day available to go on a short safari, perhaps to nearby Arusha National Park or Ngorongoro Crater. The trip length reduction would give us a Good Earth refund of $220 (and a reduction in our crew's tips), but we would have to pay $70 for an extra night in the hotel, plus the cost of the 1-day safari.

Chris hiking down to Mweka Camp.
I'm a little thrown at this suggestion and my reaction isn't wholly rational, probably because of the 7hrs of hiking we did before breakfast. I don't even try to do the math - I am slightly hurt by the whole suggestion of dissolving our climb and crew earlier than planned. Do they not like us? Are we being typical (aka bad) Americans? Have we not been strong like buffalo? Everyone is quiet on the descent and this only lets my thoughts of inadequacy stew longer in my mind. Aren't we friends anymore? Were we friends in the first place? These negative thoughts are also compounded by my emotions surrounding our summit, which are a combination of pride at reaching the top, sadness at summiting before sunrise, and loneliness for leaving the mountain already. To say the least, I am one girly headcase in the hours between Barafu and Mweka Camp. I'm not crying, but I'm not talking either.

Near the entrance to Mweka Camp, the vegetation is growing!
Thankfully, the trail here is incredibly technical and that helps distract my mind from increasingly depressing thoughts. My legs are very fatigued so I have to rely on my trekking poles a lot to take their burden, which requires full-body coordination. The temperature is also increasing so it feels like I'm actually working out, although I try not to sweat too much in case we decide to stay on the mountain tonight. The change in vegetation is fascinating - another good distraction. We have left the rocky slopes and have gradually seen the plants grow in height and soon we are walking in shrubby trees over our heads. The valley to the east (our left) is lovely, and I try to catch glances of it whenever possible.
Main area of Mweka Camp. Our tents were in a little grove to the right.
After a few hours, we arrive in Mweka Camp (I think about 1.00p?) and sign in. Chris and I had chatted on the descent and delayed our 6-day vs. 7-day decision to our arrival in camp. We take stock of our legs and decide to stay the night in Mweka Camp, per our original plan. We are both physically tired, plus too mentally drained to try and set up a fun adventure for tomorrow in lieu of the planned hike. We tell Godlisten our decision and he rolls with it - maybe we are still friends - and soon we are having a lunch of pasta with bean sauce. After lunch, I sit outside to write, and enjoy the camp. It's filled with trees, the temperature is comfortable, and just is a generally nice place.
Chris hears a plane outside our tent in Mweka Camp.
Chris wakes up from a nap, we decide to tackle the whole tipping situation since Godlisten suggested we do it after tonight's dinner (instead of the usual after-last-breakfast timing). Before the trip, we had put cash (USD per Good Earth's recommendation) in envelopes for each position. Now that we have gotten to know everyone, we add some extra for people we felt gave exceptional service - Godlisten, Mchami, Peter, Kitao, and Richard. Chris also brought some souvenirs from New York for a few people, and I contribute the last unopened tube of nuun for Godlisten, since he loves it so much. I'm nervous about the whole tipping situation because I don't have much of a reference point to work from - will our tips seem cheap? Or will they show my appreciation for the whole crew for taking such good care of us? In the end, our total tips add up to about 20% of the price we each paid for the 7-day Lemosho Route. So I just cross my fingers that 20% means as much "job well done" in Tanzania as it does in America, and seal the envelopes. The other tricky component to tipping is the tip sheet - we have to record each person's tip and have them sign for receipt. This isn't middle school where the teacher hides your classmate's scores - everyone will see everyone else's tip. Then we keep the signed tip sheet and turn it in ourselves to the Good Earth office. All of this is done to prevent tip hoarding/hijacking. I appreciate the concern but for me it just adds to the awkwardness to the whole situation.
Sunlight filtering in through the trees in Mweka Camp.
So we have our last mountain dinner, and it's a delicious meal of chapati, butternut squash soup, rice, and vegetable sauce. After dinner, Chris goes to the camp hut and buys a souvenir Kilimanjaro map for each of us. Then, Godlisten calls the entire crew over to our tent and we have a little tipping ceremony - we shake hands with everyone one-by-one, hand them their tip envelope, and have them sign the tip sheet. Godlisten suggested that we write down the minimum amount on the tip sheet, and then put our real amount in the envelope. I'm not sure why but we do this too. Maybe there are some sort of taxes for porters?

I'm relieved that the tipping is over, and Godlisten invites us to try Tanzanian food, which is what the crew eats after Peter is done cooking for us. He brings over a bowl of ugali and stewed greens. The ugali reminds me of thick polenta and the greens have an unusual spice to them, almost bitter, but I'm happy they wanted to share with us. After this post-dinner snack, Mchami comes over with a problem - one of the (USD) bills we gave him as a tip is dated pre-2000, which evidently is worthless in Tanzania. Thankfully, I have an extra bill to replace it, problem solved. Godlisten has the same problem, however his issue is with a Benjamin and we don't have enough USD cash between us to replace it. He decides we will go into Moshi on the way home and sort things out. Problem solved, for now.

After descending 1600m, completing the nerve-wracking tipping ceremony, and eating 1.5 dinners, I am ready for bed. I curl up in my sleeping bag for one last night on the mountain. I'm mentally and physically tired from the last 24 hours (not quite as exhausted as a 24hr AR, but close), but I know I will be sad to see Mweka Gate tomorrow.
Pin It

11 February 2012

CW Climbs Kili: Day 10A (Summit! to Barafu)

Note: check out my Kilimanjaro page to read about the entire trip.

Note: This is the second post written by my climbing partner and friend Chris. You've met him in all of the previous Kilimanjaro posts, and I asked him to write about his summit night. Even though we summited on the same route at the same time, he had a very different experience which I think is important to share. I have made no edits (besides adding pictures). 

DAY 10A / 23 JANUARY 2012 / MONDAY

START: Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m or 19341') 
END: Barafu Camp (4700m or 15400')

After losing my second contact it's only another few minutes until we are back at Stella Point. On the way we pass one or two more groups on their way to Uhuru. I'm feeling cheerful enough to shout encouragement to them, letting them know that they're almost there and they've basically made it! 

At Stella we take another picture break. Some Americans are there and take some pictures for us. Once we're done we start the steep decent the way we came. We are passing more and more groups now and we are urging each of them on as they make their way to the top. I'm feeling extra proud of us knowing we were the FIRST ones up the mountain that day. The toll that our faster than normal pace has taken on me feels (only a little) like it was worth it.
Sunrise on Kilimanjaro, after we summited and re-passed Stella Point.
It may be the altitude, but the people we are passing look like half man and half machine. They are moving so so slowly. Their faces are all covered with ski masks and goggles. Their covered hands are all gripping trekking poles. I mention this to Emily, but the scene doesn't have the same effect on her, giving me the thought that my oxygen deprived brain was playing some tricks on me.

At some point (I'm really not sure when) we stop seeing any more groups. Again, given my dizzy state it takes me a while to realize that we are not on the same trail that we took up the mountain. I also realize that we are not so much walking as SKIING! The path that Mareme (who is leading now) has taken us on is essentially just an extremely ashy and sandy slope. We are basically letting one foot slide in the sand then switching as it get's more and more buried. Every so often one foot will catch a rock and I'll fall backward. But falling backwards is not bad as the slope is so steep that one easily sits down and gets right back up.
Godlisten with my pack, and Mareme on the scree field at sunrise.
We are making excellent time, but the wind at our backs is making things twice as hard as they would be otherwise. My legs soon start to ache and let's not forget that I STILL haven't had any food or water for hours. The only thing that I can see ahead of us is more and more ash. The "path" does not seem to end anywhere in sight. I'm starting to get more and more frustrated. I want a landmark or something that will tell me where they heck we are and how far we have to go. I start to ask Mareme where the camp is. He kind of points into the distance and says, "Over there. Can you see?" 


I don't want to explain about my contact lenses so I kind of just smile and nod although I'm sure I didn't look as friendly as I think I do.
Instead of descending on the trail between Stella Point and Barafu Camp, we skied down "South East Valley" and then caught the connector trail (dashed line) back to Barafu.
We finally reach a flat part and Mareme points out that we're almost to the place where we finished our acclimatization hike yesterday afternoon. Finally a point of reference for me! Now knowing how far we have to go puts me in a much better mood. It feels like no time until we are again walking through the cliffs of the camp back to our tent. The wind looks like it has taken a toll on many of the taller dining tents around. None have blown away, but many are severely dilapidated. 

When we arrive back at our camp I am too tired to even feel happy. I need to climb into that tent NOW and get some sleep. I'm asleep within maybe 5 minutes after having one bit of cookie and some juice. I sleep for an hour and wake up feeling refreshed, but my headache is not gone yet. I get yelled at by not only Emily but also Mchame to finish eating the snacks and have some juice and water.

Back in Barafu, our tent is still standing. Good work, Kitao!
Every sip of water seems to make me come back to life. The wind is still whipping which is annoying, but it doesn't seem half as bad as a few hours ago. It maybe that we're surrounded by rocks, but also it's because my mood has returned to normal. The sun is out and we pack up to descend to 10,000 feet which to me feels like we're going back to sea level. 

It may not have gone perfectly smoothly, but we did it and I'm feeling great as we hit the road once again.
Pin It