Metaphorical Base Camp

December 14, 2010
I trekked into the sports store and out of the cold with Mt. Kilimanjaro on my mind and six months away. I began to browse the store with a friend from school. She’s bright, dark-haired, and has a particular knack for cynicism. When she discovered that I planned to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity, she was gung-ho and enthusiastic about the idea. Now, in this outdoor temple, surrounded by serious looking customers in overalls and green-shirted workers, she was soberingly critical.

We ambled through mountains of polyester in a myriad of shapes and colors until we reached the coats in the men’s section. With six thousand dollars to raise and lots of training ahead of me, I figured I could at least find a coat. Surely I, with my semi-extensive outdoors experience and Discovery Channel survival education, would be able to pick out a coat. I found one, which seemed adequate. It was black and red, and decked with a multitude of pockets, zippers and strings. It had a vicious and mountain-worthy name like “tri-climate vortex”. It seemed warm enough, and the tag told me it was waterproof. The tag also told me that it was $250. “This is two hundred and fifty dollars!” I rather dumbly stated, tag in hand and jaw ajar. “Yeah that’s what a good jacket will cost,” my companion quite dryly returned, arms akimbo and with arched eyebrows and pursed lips. I put the jacket back, handling it tenderly now, and suggested we examine some rather nice looking pants.

My experience with pants seemed to be déjà vu. I examined some warm, waterproof trousers thoroughly, found them adequate, and yet far too highly priced. Again, my companion addressed the price as though it were obvious that these very pants were weaved by Athena with Olympian Gore-Tex, and thus cost a virgin sacrifice or its fiscal equivalent. We played out this melancholy charade throughout the store, until we finally returned to the cold empty handed, with a downtrodden look on my face and a rather triumphant one on hers.

“This is going to cost you a lot.” She supplied.

“Yeah, I realize, but-“

“Some of what you need you might not even find in this state.” She said.

“I know. I’ll need to do a lot of training too.” I returned, feeling my extra forty pounds of adipose tissue weighing down my hike back to the car.

“Yeah, a lot.”

I only stared in return.

“You have a whole mountain to climb before you even get there.”

At 19,340 ft, Uhuru peak stands as the famous summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, “the roof of Africa.” The mountain claims several lives a year of eager trekkers, and I, a seventeen-year-old junior in high school, had set out to climb it. In this most pivotal year of high school, I was facing down eleven more semesters of schooling before entering the “real world”, and having recently lost my father to cancer, I needed to do something drastic, something tangible; something which really meant something. I needed to climb out of a life of desperation, and the mountain seemed the best way to do it. But my friend was right, I was looking up dumbly from a metaphorical base camp, and I did have a whole other mountain to climb.

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