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0 Days till Kili: Breathing Thin Air


September, 2016


Mount Kilimanjaro Sneaker and Snickers Bar
A beloved college friend called me: “I’m sure you’re excited and scared…I’ve heard those feelings originate from the same place in your brain.” Wow. Checked the Internet. Sure ‘nuff. But I’m not surprised. They feel the same way in my body. What’s more, I can sense other people’s fear when they find out what I’m doing. Often, their eyes widen to around 400 times their normal size, and then they ask, with sincere incredulity, “Have you been training? Are you prepared? Have you ever hiked before???” This concern/fear might be a natural response, but it sure can mess with my head. My stock answer? “Yes, I’ve been training since early June, as hard as I can…weights, cardio stamina, hikes, spin class…” But it’s easy to get psyched out and wonder whether they’re right: maybe I am crazy. Maybe I should be scared. Scared and getting older. In fact, today is my birthday (oh all right, I think you know anyway — 59) It all made complete sense when I signed up. It seemed to be part of the “rightness” of this adventure: the universe wanted me to go to Kili so it scheduled departure on my birthday. Now the world is watching me get older and wondering if I can pull it off. Excited? Scared? Hmmm… When I read online about the brain and these two emotions, one researcher talked about the “sensation-seeking gene.” Apparently, we are all programmed differently when it comes to risk. Those who have this gene, typical among extreme sports participants and drug addicts, require a different level of sensation to get that dopamine fix we all want and need. (www.sciencline.org). This got me thinking about my sister and brother – and other sisters and brothers who are addicted – and how we as a culture are doing so little to help them cope with how they’re made. Shatterproof, the organization I fundraise for, is determined to change that. Gary Mendell, its founder, is a force to be reckoned with. He lost his son to drugs and is driven by that pain he’ll always carry. Some people turn inward with their pain. Gary turned out. Me, I turned in. For a long time. Now this trip is about turning out: suddenly I’m talking about my siblings’ deaths and drug addiction, I’m literally going outside to climb a mountain, and I’m definitely going outside my comfort zone to do it. As a member of this Kili team, I’m stirring up the universe on behalf of Eleanor and Billy and other families touched by drug addiction. I’m doing this in the context of something bigger than myself, joining women going outside their respective comfort zones, dealing with their own challenges. Yes, I’m scared…but I think fear is par for the proverbial course when you take a chance, even if that chance involves moving, or in this case scaling, mountains. After Kili, I wonder if I’ll feel freer to talk about some things that have been tamped down inside me while I’ve been busy coping. I imagine other tamped down people reading my story, thinking maybe they, too, can take a risk. Maybe they can go outside their comfort zone and make some change. This is another part of the trip’s deeper meaning for me. I found a quote by Richard Heller that I love: “Fear is excitement without breath.” I know breathing will get harder as we get higher and higher. But I also know I can live with less. Where there is oxygen, there is breath. And as long as I’m breathing, there’s still a chance I’ll be excited, watching my feet, listening to stories, and rocking out to Metallica. All the way up Kilimanjaro.

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