This “Why I Climb” goes out to our fearless expedition leaders for our Kilimanjaro climb, Earth Treks’ Chris Warner and Nelson Laur.
Leading up to our climb, the Survivor Summit team would convene over conference calls to discuss logistics and equipment with Chris. He took the time to answer all our questions with as much detail as possible. He would always note that his job was to make sure we were safe, which would put my mind at ease. When we arrived in Tanzania, I expected to meet someone who was serious, detailed, regimented, and straight-laced.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
So Chris met us at the airport, and he was ready to joke with us immediately, even when we made our way up the mountain. Yes, he made sure to take care of the important issues that needed to be addressed, but he also wanted to ask us what our favorite road trip movies were or who we thought the worst actress of all time was. Additionally, he wanted to make fun of me for being from New Jersey (takes one to know one, Chris!). His counterpart, Nelson, was no different. He, too, instantly let his awesome personality shine while he led us across the trails of the mountain.
Both of these amazing guys would tell us ridiculous mountaineering tales over breakfast and dinner, then switch into serious discussion about our plans for climbing the following day, and then start joking again without missing a beat. All in all, their demeanor kept us focused and positive, as well as constantly amused.
The hours of hiking would fly by whenever Chris or Nelson were near me. I loved listening to both of them tell us stories, and I also appreciated that I always learned something new from them, whether it was about life, Kilimanjaro, climbing and hiking in general, or movie trivia. These guys had plenty of knowledge and experience to share, and I was always happy to hear about it.
Another great thing about our Earth Treks guides is that they were incredibly smart, quick-thinkers who could pretty much MacGyver their way around any situation. There was always a Plan B, C, or D. I was seriously impressed, for example, when Nelson led Mindy up the Barranco Wall with a rope in case she needed it, and designed a fool-proof, well-executed plan to help her (and the rest of us!) summit.
Chris and Nelson are incredibly well-traveled guys who have pretty much been through it all. And while climbing might be their job, tackling the next mountain or setting a new record isn’t the most important thing to them. Instead, they are very kind men with genuine adoration for their families. When I asked Nelson about the first meal he planned to eat when he got back to the United States, he smiled and replied, “a home-cooked meal. My wife is the best cook.” Same with Chris, whose smile beamed with pride whenever he would talk about how intelligent his young daughter is.
I think that the most valuable lesson I learned from both of them wasn’t: “how to summit a mountain.” It was: “how to live your life with plenty of heart.” Even when the climb was done, Chris and Nelson made sure we didn’t miss the point of it all. They had us sit in a circle and remark on the lessons we learned from/what we admired most about each other. And Chris’ blog post reiterated that our climb was made with great purpose and a lot of love. He wrote, “it is amazing how climbing for others brings out the very best in people.”
It was Chris and Nelson who truly helped bring out the best in all of us, and I will always consider them to be members of our Survivor Summit team. Thanks for everything, guys—I couldn’t have made it without both of you. Today, I climb for you.
This post is the first of my “Why I Climb” series since I’ve gotten back from the climb…
I’ve decided that I’m going to blog a little bit about each of my teammates, because after meeting them all, I truly love them for everything they have to offer. Each of them taught me something important, and for that, I am thankful.
Today, I climb for my teammate, Chasse Bailey-Dorton. Chasse is a mom, ten year breast cancer survivor, and according to her, a “damn good doctor” (and trust me, it’s true!). She went from “bald to buff” over this past decade. She completed her chemo and radiation treatments years ago, and now she regularly participates in triathlons and races with faster times than someone half her age. Simply put, Chasse is a badass.
Chasse nicknamed me “short stride” because of my petite stature. I would often amble along in front of her and act as a little canary to find any shifty rocks ahead of her. When I’d bite the dust or wobble a bit, Chasse would be at the ready with a witty comment. She always kept me laughing and in high spirits, even on summit day, when we were all woofing down Ibuprofen like candy to fight off altitude headaches.
I think I have two favorite experiences with Chasse. First: climbing down into the valley after Lava Tower. There were some steep parts, slick ice, and crazy rocks that made heading down the path a little uncomfortable. Thank goodness Chasse was there, cracking jokes to my backpack as I tried not to faceplant.
Second: when we all got back from the climb, our Earth Treks guides, Chris Warner and Nelson Laur, had all of us sit together and talk about the journey. In her southern drawl, Chasse eloquently pointed out that this trip was a metaphor for cancer. Like a “mountain,” cancer can be scary and filled with uncertainty, but there are experienced “guides” (doctors) there to help, as well as “teammates” who offer support (LIVESTRONG, family, and friends).
Chasse’s good attitude, straight-shooting perspective, wry sense of humor, and insightful comments inspired me to climb Kilimanjaro. I hope to carry these awesome traits with me whenever I encounter a challenge in my life. I’m so happy we had a chance to meet; today and every day, I climb for Chasse.
Don’t be the mountaineer that reaches the peak, but misses the point.
Yesterday, I volunteered at the Texas 4000 for Cancer ATLAS ride, in which the Texas 4000 team invites the public to come out and ride Day 1 of 70 with them from Cedar Park to Lampasas, Texas. It’s a celebration send off, and the next day, the Texas 4000 team heads north to complete the 4,500 miles to Alaska.
I’ve helped out every year at the ride since I actually completed the 4,500 mile journey with Texas 4000 in 2009. In 2010, I worked with some of my 2009 teammates to put on the alumni-sponsored breakfast for the 2010 team. In 2011, I was the Volunteer Coordinator, where I was in charge of recruiting and directing volunteers for over 140 spots. I’m pretty much always happy to help this cause in any way I can. So this year, I signed up to work at Rest Stop #1, and also at the finish line, too. It was going to be a long day, but I knew it would be worth it.
I got up at 5:15 a.m., so I could leave by 6 a.m. to make it out to Rest Stop #1 by 7 a.m. to meet Tere Holmes and the Cancer Support Community Central Texas volunteers. When I arrived, we all started working together to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slice oranges, bananas, and watermelons, and set everything up so that when the riders arrived by 8:30 a.m., we’d be ready for them.
As the riders started to roll in, we made sure everyone was taken care of. The pace quickly picked up and soon, over 200 people were at the rest stop eating, hydrating, and hopping back on their bikes to Lampasas.
One thing I wasn’t doing was eating very much. Or hydrating. I remember falling victim to this during the 2009 ride to Alaska, and I called it “mom syndrome.” Running a rest stop and taking care of people isn’t easy and often, one can forget how important it is to practice what he or she preaches. It’s analogous to being a really busy mom who puts her kids first.
After the riders had all moved on, I jumped in my car around 10:15 a.m. to head to the finish line at Lampasas and fulfill my volunteer role there. Throughout the drive, I started to get really hungry, and I had wished I had taken some water with me. But I told myself that once I got to the finish line, I’d eat some of the delicious free barbecue brisket and have some water, and that I’d feel much better. I even reminded myself of that as I started to develop a headache.
At 11:15 a.m., I arrived in Lampasas and immediately got to work at the merchandise table. It was hot outside, and I wanted to organize and get everything laid out before I jumped in the line to get my brisket. I got a cup of water to cool off in the meantime, yet I was having a hard time thinking efficiently. About an hour later at 12:15 p.m., I finally got a chance to eat.
The food was so good! But my headache and lack of concentration kept getting worse. I tried drinking some water, but to no avail. Finally, after feeling lightheaded and dizzy, I knew I was in trouble. By 1:15 p.m., I found a member of the ATLAS committee to take my spot so I could go to the medical tent to have confirmed what I already knew; I wasn’t making my health a priority, and I was dehydrated.
At the medical tent, I simply said, “I don’t feel well” and everyone sprang into action. My blood pressure was taken (normal for me at about 96/72), as was my pulse (which was high for me at 100), and they put ice on my neck immediately. They asked me questions about how I was feeling, what I had eaten or had to drink that day, and if I was hot. I told them I actually didn’t remember going to the bathroom that day since I woke up. Dr. Martha Pyron and her Medicine in Motion team were awesome (even though I didn’t feel so awesome). I started to get really disoriented and nauseous, and sipping water wasn’t helping my headache or stomach at all. That’s when they told me to get out of the heat as soon as I could. The ATLAS Committee was kind and understanding when they helped arrange for an amazing 2011 alum to drive me and my car back to Austin. I’m so very thankful to everyone for the help.
Simply put: that was a crazy day. I learned two incredibly valuable things from it, though:
For me, I was supremely dehydrated in the Texas heat and had narrowly avoided true heat exhaustion. I wanted to help out Texas 4000 any way I could. But the first volunteer duty at Rest Stop #1 was probably plenty, while the second duty out in Lampasas was just too much. I needed to listen to what my body was telling me.
Our team will arrive in Tanzania in less than 3 weeks to begin climbing Kilimanjaro. Our summit guide, Chris Warner of Earth Treks, told us several weeks ago during a conference call how important it would be for us to let him know how we were feeling during the climb. I admit that during the conference call, I kind of shrugged it off: I’m one of the youngest climbers; I’m athletic and in good shape; and I usually don’t have too much of a problem pushing myself.
Now, though, I’m much more informed about what I really need to do and what warning signs I need to watch out for. Basically, I never want to feel that awful again.
I’m looking forward to climbing Kilimanjaro to fight cancer. But in order to do that, I’ll need to take the valuable lessons I learned yesterday and apply them when I’m making the 19,341 foot climb.
So as to be expected, I’m taking it easy today and drinking a lot of water. And I’ll probably be tapering from here on out so I can be totally ready in mind, body, and spirit for this adventure.
Thanks again to everyone for the help yesterday!
I joined in on a Survivor Summit conference call last night with founder Mike King, several of my teammates, and Chris Warner, who will be leading our expedition.
Chris Warner is the founder of and director of Earth Treks, which specializes in rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering expeditions. Chris is an American Mountain Guides Association certified Alpine Guide, and he has been teaching climbing since 1983 and climbing internationally since 1987. He has summited over one hundred times on peaks over 19,000 feet, and has guided throughout the United States, the Alps, Africa, the Andes of Peru, Ecuador and Argentina, and the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet—that’s right: including Everest.
After getting a sense of what the climb would entail, I feel at ease about what to expect, and very hopeful I’ll be successful in my summit attempt! So, this is a shout out to Chris for helping us attain our goal of climbing Kilimanjaro to fight cancer; to Mike and the King brothers for helping to found such a great organization and partnering with LIVESTRONG; and to my teammates, just for being awesome. I’m excited to meet you all and I know we’ll be in good hands with Chris.