Christoff mountain Curacao

We decide to climb to the highest point on Curacao, Christoff Mountain. We are clearly in vacation mode and arrive at noon ready to climb. We are turned away as there is no climbing after 1100 am. We plan to try again tomorrow and content ourselves with information on the area.

We arrive early for us at 0900, pay the nominal fee to enter the park, peruse the map and drive to the base of the mountain. It is an interesting looking mountain with its pointy part at the top. We are informed it should take two hours to complete the climb one hour up and one hour down. This makes no sense to me as climbing down generally takes less time.  Still we are not on a schedule and we begin.

The trail starts gentle, clearly marked with sweet little rocks flanking the sides, it’s obvious. Too soon the sweet little rocks are absent replaced by large boulders that we step and sidestep on our ascent. Unseasonably, it has rained a great deal in the last few days and the trail is washed out in places, slippery in other places. Every few minutes we stop to determine our route. There are no gentle switchbacks just a relentless up. We walk out of the shade and clearly understand in this moment why no hiking is permitted after eleven. The sun beats down, taxing our sunscreen and sucking the moisture from our skin. I taste salt on my lips. We continue and stop frequently to catch our breath, take photos, check the time. Despite our vacation mode, our pride is at stake,  it’s important to complete the trek in the time suggested.SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSCimg_5430

The trail takes a turn for worse as we near the top. We meet others heading down who advise us the worst is yet to come. We are told to take the gentler left path at the top as the right is more challenging  I look around as I crawl on the boulders trying to find a safe ascent and think they must be exaggerating as it really couldn’t get much worse.  I do like the idea of a gentle path and push onward and upward, thinking of the moment when it becomes gentle.

I catch myself at times, as I reach out to hang on, luckily noticing at the last moment that I am reaching for a cactus.  I withdraw my hand quickly, saving certain pain.

SONY DSCWe arrive at the fork close to the top. The gentle path promised is really not a path but rather a series of boulders with sharp drop offs into oblivion. Perhaps this is where we make up the time lost by falling down the mountain to the bottom?  The other “path” seems a bit of a stretch to call it thus, is a collection of boulders with no navigational route, save for the fast route to the bottom of the mountain. We stand for seemingly forever, collecting our breath, thoughts, and courage before scrambling the last 50 feet to the top.

We arrive and are treated to a birds eye view of the island.  The Caribbean sea beckons in the far distance. There are few places to rest so we perch and rotate to take in the beauty. We are not alone. Young girls have brought music adding to the festivities. A man makes a phone call, speaking rapidly in foreign tongue, though his excitement transcends barriers. Another man sits quietly, serene and seemingly contemplates life. We take selfies, then proper photos, then just chill, taking in the moment and recording it in our minds. I think about Kilimanjaro just a few years ago and compare. This trek just a few hours, Kilimanjaro was days. This time altitude is not an issue as we are just 1220 feet above sea level,  not 19, 340 feet.  Kilimanjaro was cold, this is hot.  The path to Kili was gentler overall, this trek is much like the boulder area just before Gilmans. I decide that they really can’t be compared except for two commonalities, the view and sense of accomplishment. I think of this as I marvel at what we have just accomplished, snapping off more pictures in my mind to keep and reminisce when I’m too old to climb.

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We begin the trek down, barely stopping though mindful of every step. We arrive at our car and look back at the mountain. It looks different to me from just a few short hours ago. I shield my eyes from the sun and look to the top marvelling that we stood there just a short hour ago. No, the mountain is the same, it is me that has changed.

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Walking away from it all in Taiwan

Doc - Sep 24, 2015, 5-51 PM

Taiwan is an island and its wildness is always only moments away.  When the stimulus of the city becomes too much, you simply walk away and literally step back in time.  One hundred years ago all of Taipei was covered with rice fields, a quiet simple life, island style.  Its difficult to imagine that life, standing on the steps of the World Trade Center, dwarfed by the landscape.  The building effectively block out the sky as they rise from the earth.  In the distance, the mountains beckon.

Doc - Sep 24, 2015, 5-55 PM

A busy urban street leads to a quiet country road and terminates at the base of a mountain.  There are 1200 concrete steps, chiseled into this mountain-straight up, no switchbacks.  I begin my ascent.  People of every age pass me on the way.  Their faces are relaxed. The pace is slow.  Some twirl hoola hoops, others stretch their tired muscles.  We are all quiet as we concentrate on the effort.  Temples dot the landscape.  Graves are carved into the mountain.  Incense burns, the air is saturated with the lushness that surrounds us.  From this vantage point, I look down and observe the older women with the lampshade hats tending the rice fields and terrace gardens.  A river gently flows in between.  I need to see this up close.

I chart my course and walk to this place.  I get closer, and crawl down to be eye level with the river.  Trembling, he approaches.  His voice quakes and in halting English he states, “You take pictures.”  Nervous, I haltingly respond, “yes its all so beautiful.”  I search his eyes; passion looks back.  For what I wonder?  He gestures with his hands and encourages me to look closely at each individual plant and its individual struggle to survive.  I kneel down and gently touch a small fern.  I see its tenacity to survive.  It grows between the rocks that surround the river bed, framed by its ancestors, their trunks as large as trees.  I look at the bigger picture.  Every shade of green is represented.  Reflections create a mirror image.  The beauty is doubled.

Doc - Sep 24, 2015, 5-53 PM

He continues,, “Many years ago, the people here used concrete to stop erosion.  It did, but it also destroyed the plants that the river needed for survival.  The plants died, the river began to die too.  Its better now, the concrete was replaced by this natural rock, the plants came back, the river began to breathe again. I’m a Botanist.  I have an interest in the plants.  I come here to watch.”  He draws me in further–connects as he discovers my profession as a Respiratory Therapist.  Immediately, I understand the enormity of his task.  He says, “you watch the babies get sick, you help them breathe, they get better.  It is the same with the plants.  Our struggle is the same, the end result is the same, we both offer hope for the planet.”

Movement here is subtle.  A gentle breeze waves a palm tree.  Closer to the ground, its force is softer, a small plant stirs.  The river flows, bubbling over rocks, etching the landscape, creating a well-worn route.  The river, the plants and the rocks all rely on each other for balance.  The simple truth is we are all on a path to achieve the same harmony.  At this moment, everything is as clear as the river

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Destination Kilimanjaro.  It was a year ago that I read that email.

Preparing for this great adventure has been a lesson in delaying gratification.  The entire year has been devoted to working, training and planning for a trip that will commence in just three short days.  I had been looking for something to challenge me, to take me out of the comfortable cocoon that had become my life–I knew at first read that this was the opportunity.  The search was over!

I remember the first time I decided on a minus 30 degree day to climb the stairs in my home.  I did this without hiking boots and pack, just in socks.  I went up and down the stairs for 20 minutes.  I was crippled for days after this challenge.  Who knew that months later I would climb 1600 stairs in 30 minutes on my lunch break and that some weeks I would do this 3 times in a week without any pain during or after.

I recall hiking in the winter and how sore I was after just a few short hours.  I was so pleased  with the level of fitness attained since, when just a few weeks ago I hiked for nearly 9 hours and was disappointed that we had to finish the hike as it was getting dark.

I had many illnesses and injuries, but I do know that I did all that I could to achieve this great goal.  I worked hard and at times three different jobs were juggled to make it all fit to pay for this trip.  I worked hard at our home, staining and painting the house, maintaining the garden, doing yard work, dealing with the dogs, cats, house and all that is required for Summertime at the acreage.

I cycled, biked, hiked, ran, stair climbed, hill climbed and mountain climbed. I woke up at 0300 and drove to hike in Nordegg, then drove home to care for the dogs.  I hiked with lung infections, sore knees, sore hips, sore feet and when exhausted to prepare for Kilimanjaro tough.  I read books about this great mountain, visualized the route, practiced breathing,  meditated and did yoga.  I prayed that we will finish the climb together, that our group will all make the journey to the top,  and asked anyone I met to pray for us.  I kept a journal, a calendar to keep track of my training and another to keep track of my jobs.  Preparing to climb Kilimanjaro was a priority for my life this past year.  When I could not make group workouts, I did more at home to make up for the fact that I did not attend. When walking was difficult due to one of the many injuries, I did core exercises twice per day to strengthen–it worked.  I went to my doctor more than I have in any recent year.   To determine the nature of my pain, I had a bone scan, x-ray and consult with a Sports physician. Convinced I was likely too fat for my body,  I lost over 30 pounds and many inches and that is what made all the difference.  I’ve met many great new friends and learned some of the stories of their lives as we hiked together.  I hope that we will remain friends after we have shared this amazing experience together

I know that the mountain will change me. I am hoping to leave some of my less admiral traits on the roof of Africa.  I will take people with me in spirit–my grandparents, parents, patients that have passed and patients that I currently care and have the honor of being a part of their lives at present.  I will think of my daughters, my grandson and new grandchild and hope that their lives will always be full of adventure, that they will never allow their live to be limited and that they will always aim high.

I will use this as a launch to the next chapter of my life.

I have no idea what the future brings–how many more years that I have left to live, but I do know that I will continue to live every day with intent and purpose.  I will continue to challenge myself physically, mentally and spiritually.  I will not sleep walk through life, nor take the days for granted.  I will continue to learn, grow and develop to become the best that I can be in this life.

I do know that I have done all that I can to achieve this great feat and I’m ready.  To the Top!