Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Run Down, in Case You're Curious

My little Tanzanian adventure starts on September 14th when I depart Chicago for Kilimanjaro by way of Amsterdam. The flight to Holland takes about 8 hours, and then I have a solid 3 hour layover at Amsterdam-Schiphol. From there, it's another 8.5 hours south to the airport near Kilimanjaro. I land around 8 PM local time (GMT+3) on Saturday, September 15th. Assuming my luggage arrives intact and on time, I board a shuttle to my hotel in Moshi, a smaller city near the mountain.

DAY 1 (Sunday, September 16th): The first day is mostly clear for chillin' and exploring Moshi. I'll probably hit up the sights, mosques, and whatever markets they have in store. Later in the evening, I have a pre-climb orientation session to meet the other climbers. A bit to my chagrin, my group ballooned to 15 climbers (I was expecting 12), exclusive of guides and porters. Bigger groups can get a bit unwieldy at 19,000 feet once you add the support staff. I'm guessing around 40 porters (2.5 to 3 per climber) will help haul us and our gear up the mountain. Add in roughly three guides, and suddenly the "small group" hits nearly 60 people. The more climbers, the more potential problems. On the other hand, the more cool people I get to meet. My entire group (unfortunately) is from the States.

DAY 2 (Monday): Properly settled and oriented from the day before, we grab a quick breakfast before driving out to the remote Rongai route trailhead.

ASIDE: Kilimanjaro is by far the easiest of the Seven Summits to climb. In fact, over 20,000 people climbed it in 2000 alone. There are six ascent routes up the mountain, each with its relative merits. The Rongai route (also called Loitokitok or Nalemuru route) is by far the least traveled. Compared to the others, it’s harder to reach (the trailhead is on the north side of Kilimanjaro, furthest from the towns of Moshi and Arusha) and more expensive (as it’s further away). Since potable water is more scarce, porters must carry all that’s necessary (again adding cost and complexity). Also, given the trailhead’s close proximity to Tanzania’s northern border, the area is prone to occasional forays by opportunist bandits from Kenya who enjoy a little light larceny before slipping back into their homeland and out of Tanzania’s jurisdiction. To prevent such thievery, the Tanzanian government requires that armed guards accompany all groups starting up the Rongai route. By all accounts, however, neither guards nor bandits are ever seen on the mountain. And further decreasing the trail’s appeal, farmers have mostly denuded the bottom of Kilimanjaro around the trailhead, thus destroying any semblance of native flora and fauna.

The appeal of this route, however, is also rooted in its remoteness. Of the 20,000 Kili climbers in 2000, only 130 took the Rongai route. We’ll basically have the entire side of the mountain to ourselves. It’s a better adventure. And just in case you aren’t convinced, we descend the other side of Kilimanjaro, so we won’t miss anything on the other side. It’s the best of both worlds.

Back to Day 2. Depending on road conditions, the drive to the trailhead can take anywhere from two to four hours. After lunch, we start climbing. Day 2 takes us from the trailhead at 6,400 feet to Simba Camp at 8,500 feet. We start in cultivated farmland, pass through an alpine forest, and end up in a transitional heather zone. Climb: 2-4 hours, 2,100 foot gain.

DAY 3 (Tuesday): With enough altitude beneath us, the morning should hopefully bring a spectacular sunrise over the Kenyan savannah. I’m not sure what time we hit the trail, but the morning portion of the climb is long and hard. We gain 2,600 feet over a four hour trek through heather and moorland (boring) before stopping for lunch. In the afternoon, the trail flattens out up to Kikelewa Camp at 11,500 feet. Climb: 6-8 hours, 3,000 foot gain.

DAY 4 (Wednesday): Thankfully, Day 4 is much easier than Day 3. By morning’s end, we reach the base of Mawenzi Peak, one of two peaks on Kilimanjaro. Mawenzi is more jagged, more technical, and lower than Kili’s summit at Kibo Peak (our destination), and therefore we don’t bother with it. We break for lunch at Mawenzi Tarn (14,000 feet), and then we take an acclimatization hike to work through the side effects of altitude sickness. In addition to the hike, I’ll be on Diamox to help get acclimatized, and I’ll be forcing fluids, too (6 liters a day). Climb: 3-4 hours, 2,500 foot gain.

DAY 5 (Thursday): At this point, there are no easy days. The air is seriously thin. In the morning, we leave camp a little earlier to trek toward the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo peaks. At one point along hike, we can look out over Kenya to the north and Tanzania to the south. With Kili’s summit in the background, the trail to the high camp will stretch out before us. Our destination for the day, Kibo Hut, sits at 15,500 feet, and we reach it early afternoon. The rest of the day and evening is spent conserving strength and eating. I go to bed super early. Day 6, summit day, is looooong. Climb: 4-6 hours, 1,500 foot gain.

DAY 6 (Friday, September 21st): SUMMIT DAY! But before you get too excited, listen to this. We wake up at 11 PM on Day 5 to prepare for our summit bid. At midnight, we leave camp, slowly climbing for the first time under our headlamps. In the early morning hours, we hit Gilman’s Point on the Crater Rim at 18,600 feet. The route will take us through a scree field laced with 37(!) switchbacks. With luck, we catch the sunrise from Gilman’s Point before trekking another 90 minutes along the rim to Uhuru, the roof of Africa, at 19,340 feet. I’ll dance and sing or maybe just collapse, but regardless we have only 20 or 30 minutes at the peak before we have to head back down. Our initial descent to Kibo Hut takes about 4 hours. By then, it’ll be early afternoon, so we have a light lunch and then catch the Marangu route to Horombo Camp at 12,200 feet. Basically, we fall down the mountain. My knees will want to kill me. Climb: 13-16 hours, 3,800 foot gain followed by a 7,100 foot descent.

DAY 7 (Saturday): We sleep in. A long time. And then we eat a giant breakfast. No longer dead, we fall another mile or so to the Marangu route trailhead at 6,400 feet. This day should be relatively easy, all things considered, and filled with expansive, stunning vistas of the Tanzanian savannah. Once at the trailhead, we drive 90 minutes back to Moshi, our hotel, and my first hot shower in a week. I may or may not snag a quick nap before cracking my first beer at the celebration dinner during which I’m bound to forget my name, where I am, and how to walk. Climb: 4-5 hours, 5,800 foot descent.

DAY 8 (Sunday, September 23rd): PARTY! I finally get to chill in Moshi. Not sure what the day will entail, but I’m sure I’ll spend some money in overpriced tourist traps, drink piss for beer, and meet at least six crazy Aussies, three Kiwis, and two creepy Germans.

DAYS 9 and 10 (Monday and Tuesday): My safari begins! Our first destination is Tarangire National Park. We’ll take a few game drives and then a walk to get away from the vehicles. I’m liable to snap more pictures than a Chinaman with a brand new 12 megapixel Minolta. No, I’m not racist. I ROVE Asian tourists!

DAYS 11 and 12 (Wednesday and Thursday): We’re off to Serengeti National Park! It won’t be migration season, so I’ll miss all the sucker wildebeests getting munched by every living creature in Africa, but we’ll hopefully catch zebras, gazelles, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, elephants, baboons, hippos, crocs, and all sorts of hoofed mammals and crazy birds. It’s raw, unbridled, and unmitigated life all around us in one of the last truly wild places on Earth. Gnarly.

DAYS 13 and 14 (Friday and Saturday): On the way out of the Serengeti, we’ll stop at Olduvai Gorge in East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. This area is often called the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ (if not the ‘Cradle of Life’), because the earliest remains of Homo Habilis, among other hominid species, were discovered here in the 1950’s by Louis and Mary Leakey. Homo Habilis lived between 2.6 million and 1.5 million years ago, in case you were wondering. I think that’s awesome.

After Olduvai, we’ll head to Ngorongoro Conservation Area. More hikes and game drives follow, as the crater is home to perhaps the highest concentration of big game in the world. We’ll see huge herds of buffalo, zebra, and gazelle along with more lions, rhinos, elephants, and leopards. Groovy. My safari ends with a final game drive along the crater on Day 14.

DAY 15 (Sunday, September 30th): This is the final day of my trip. In the morning, I’ll take a morning cultural tour of traditional Masaai Boma where I can meet and interact with members of the Masaai tribe. Afterward, I’ll catch a ride back to a hotel for a quick shower and repack, and then I’m off to Kilimanjaro Airport. My flight departs at 8:55 PM local time. The plane will make a quick stop in Dar es Salaam before heading north to Amsterdam-Schiphol. Another layover, another flight, and I arrive back in Chicago at noon, one more country and one more adventure securely notched in my passport and belt. The End.

Friday, April 20, 2007

OK, but WHY?

So now that I've convinced most of you that I'm serious about this trip, the inevitable follow-up is "WHY?!?" I'm not sure I have a satisfactory answer for you, but I'll take a shot.

First and foremost, clearly, I wanted to impress women. Unfortunately, this plan has already backfired. Just two weeks ago, I was out to dinner on a first date of sorts with a girl we'll call 'Amelia.' When she asked about my post-bar exam plans, I was careful to build the suspense with a long-winded explanation of my desire for excitement and adventure (a novelty for me, because I've NEVER given a long-winded explanation of anything). Then, just as Amelia's anticipation reached a crescendo, I dropped the Kilimanjaro bomb. The exchange went something like this:

Me: Seriously I can't even tell you how stoked I am. It's gonna be a crazy adventure.
Amelia: Alright. I get it. Just tell me already what you're doing.
Me: OK, ready?
Amelia: (looking over menu nonchalantly) I guess.
Me: I'm climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Amelia: (finally looks up from menu)
Awkward 10 second silence
Me: So?
Amelia: (slowly rolls her eyes) Whatever it only takes like six days to climb and a grandma could do it. Hmm, these portobello mushrooms look good. Maybe I'll get a salad, too.

True story. Just my luck, it turns out I was talking to the only girl in all of central Illinois who had already looked into climbing the damn thing herself. So that's the last time I try to impress Amelia or any other women with my Tanzanian adventure.

But luckily, as with everything I do, I have several other reasons. Chief among them are the following two.

First, for about a year now I've had an obsession with East Africa. It all started with a copy of Isak Denisen's Out of Africa that I read in springtime '06. For those unread (or who haven't seen the movie) , it's the memoir of a Danish woman who moved to Kenya and ran a coffee plantation in the early 20th century. Few stories have better captured my imagination. To wit, I spent a significant portion of the following summer daydreaming of a life at the foot of the Ngong hills. Now, less than two years later, I'll actually get to find out what it's like. True, Kilimanjaro is several hundred kilometers south of Ms. Denisen's plantation, but it's close enough to do the trick for me.

Now, my second main reason for going is a bit of a downer. The truth of the matter is that Earth is heating up, and in the process we're losing many of our finest treasures. Only seventy years ago, Earnest Hemingway published a quasi-autobiographical short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Thirty years from now, his title may be no longer self-explanatory. Kilimanjaro's 11,000-year-old ice cap is melting away at a freakish rate.

Kilimanjaro's ice cap in 1993 (above), and seven years later in 2000 (below).

It's sad, but the ice cap will be gone very soon. For stories and the websites from which these photos came, see here and here. As a traveler, I want to experience as much as possible before it's too late. Ergo, I'm running off to climb Kili.

Sadly, I have a lengthy list of destinations I want to see before they disappear. Among them are Antarctica (melting), Venice (sinking), Greenland (melting), New Orleans (oh, wait...), and the Amazon (being chopped down). I have to start somewhere, so the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro seem like a good place. My kids won't have the privilege to see what I can, but perhaps a few pictures and a personal story can bring the place back to life, much like old photos and stories from my parents' past do for me. But even if I'm unsuccessful in this admittedly lofty endeavor, at the very least I'd like to experience the same majesty and power of Kilimanjaro that led eleven millennia of local Masai tribesmen to name the mountain the "House of God."

True Story

So apparently I need to clarify. Yes, I am in fact going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Literally.

Perhaps a little explanation will help. For those of you who don't know, post-bar exam trips are quite commonplace for those among us who've sold our souls and best years of our young lives to giant law firms and the clients who pay them. It works like this. I'll spend May through July preparing for and then taking (up the ass) the Illinois bar exam. Thereafter, I have approximately two months to travel before I start work. It is, quite simply, my last, best chance to do something crazy before I buckle down for a couple years (in theory). It's kinda like the summer before law school but with money.

Many of my friends are doing some pretty cool things. For instance, three guys are riding the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok (with extensions from St. Petersburg and to Hong Kong). Others are going to India, the Middle East, and New Zealand, while most everyone else is will spend their remaining days of freedom in Europe. And two girls (two of my personal heroines) spent five months this year past trekking through Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America after their bar exam. And to boot, their adventures aren't even over. One's at a legal aid clinic in Argentina while the other is stationed in London.

Anyway, I'd been struggling to come up with a trip that was suitably exciting and worthy of my bar trip rite of passage. I just spent several months in Europe, so I didn't much want to go back right away, and I also wasn't having much luck finding friends with whom to travel. I needed something big. Something crazy. Something unique. And something about which I could get genuinely excited. As much as I love Europe, it doesn't stir my blood quite like it used to. After all, weekend trips to Paris are possible. Weekend trips to the far corners of Earth are not.

For some time, I was thinking Bali or Fiji or some other tropical paradise. Then, I got an email through my university's alumni association advertising a climb up Kilimanjaro. I usually discard association emails without much thought, but this one obviously caught my eye. To be honest, it took no more than two minutes before I decided to go. Nonetheless, I still had to research the idea and iron out a few kinks before committing. There are several operators that run treks up the mountain, so I had find the right one. Lots of Googling and a few phone calls later, and now I'm all booked up.

Of course, I'm not just trekking Kilimanjaro. I've currently committed to the climb (six days, from September 2-9) and a week-long safari thereafter (September 9-16) that includes trips to Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro National Park, and Olduvai Gorge. For extensions, I'm looking into a few days on the beaches of Zanzibar, as well as a three or four day excursion to track chimpanzees through either Gombe Stream NP or Mahale NP. Other ideas I've kicked around (emphasis on 'kicked') include Victoria Falls, the Greek Islands, Cairo, and South Africa. Any thoughts? Suggestions would be *greatly* appreciated.

But that's the short long of it. With a new adventure comes new blog fodder. With luck, you'll see some pretty cool pictures of Africa right here around the first of October.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Climbing Kilimanjaro

My apartment is on the third floor on my building (which still feels like it should be called the second floor). Sometimes I get winded walking up the stairs. It's about 30 feet.

In September, I will climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It's about 19,340 feet, so I kinda have my work cut out for me.

Yes, I will climb to the top of this. Don't laugh.

A reasonable person might be inclined to ask such questions as "why are you doing this?" and "are you a masochist?" or "when did you grow such a giant pair of balls?"

I don't really have a good reason other than "just because." I get bored easily, so I just think this will be a good way to fill my time. It's not really any different than if I took up solitaire or knitting.

Also, I'm not really a masochist, I'm just naive. The operator and head guide that will lead our little trek said the final push to the summit was the hardest, most painful eight hours of his life. His wife said the same, and yes, she's given birth. But they're not invincible like I am. They're at least seven years older.

And as far as growing giant balls goes, who are you kidding? It's me we're talking about here. If I actually knew what I was getting myself into, I'd be signing up for that free knitting class at Joann Fabrics instead of a six day climb to the roof of Africa.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I was walking through the law building at lunch today when a friend asked if I wanted some food left over from her student group meeting. They bought milk and cookies but no one showed up. I hadn't eaten lunch yet, so I thought I would help my friend out by eating her leftovers. I took a half gallon of milk and a large chocolate chip cookie, and then I finished them both.

Let me tell you, a half gallon of milk is not a good idea for lunch.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Go Cubs Go

My brother apparently doesn’t do much “work” at work these days. During March Madness, he somehow managed to throw together a bracket that won him a $1300 first-place office pool prize. He claims he only spent a couple hours of lunch researching. No one really believes him. Nonetheless, we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. As my Dad always says, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.”

Yesterday, my brother sent me an email with some interesting stats he threw together on the Cubs’ outstanding early-season play. Again, he claims he didn’t spend much time on it. Apparently, the story goes, he listens to Cubs games on his lunch break, since 1:20 games start at 11:20 in California (where he lives). Because the Cubs were snowed out yesterday, he had a little extra time to kill and threw together his email. Of course, Cubs games last at least two hours. Those must be some pretty long lunches. It’s now blatantly clear there isn’t much “work” going on out in Irvine these days. From my brother:

Total Games: 8
Record: 3-5
Central Position: Tied for last with Houston who beat us twice
Runs Scored: 31
Runs Scored/Game: 3.875
Runs Allowed: 35
Runs Allowed/Game: 4.375
Cubs Salary Paid: $4,921,991.70
Dollars/Run Scored: $158,773.93

And because he’s our favorite middle-reliever, a special look at Bobby Howry.

Total Appearances: 4
Total Outs: 11
Hits Allowed: 5
Strike Outs: 3
Walks: 1
Wild Pitches: 1
Total Runs: 4
Earned Runs: 3
ERA: 7.36
Record: 0-2
Salary Paid: $222,222.22
Dollars/Out: $20,202.02

Speaking of the Cubs and interesting numbers, I recently came across some other facts worth sharing. We all know they haven’t won a World Series in 99 years. It’s common knowledge and given little thought. But, when put in context, their drought proves way more pathetic. For example:

- The Cubs last World Series title preceded: 1.) the Model T (by thirteen days); 2.) the construction and sinking of the Titanic (by four years); and 3.) the construction and explosion of The Hindenburg (by 29 years!).

- Just 28 years prior to their last World Series title, Thomas Edison received a patent for the light bulb.

- In the twenty years prior to their last title, the United States gained 8 states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Oklahoma). Since the title, we’ve gained four more (New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii).

And if the start of this season is any indication, we might be in for another 99 years.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

...Stop Being Polite, and Start Getting Real

I know, it’s tired and played out. Two posts in two days on the same topic. I’m whining. But it’s kind of a big deal. If you’ll grant me kindergarten, this is my twentieth spring break. Twenty springs. Twenty breaks. Twenty weeks of lukewarm temperatures and rain, or, if I was lucky, an escape somewhere hot or adventurous. That’s almost half a year of this. Five months, at least. And now, the end.

On the other hand, one of twenty isn’t much of which to speak. Yet, as it’s my last, the break precedes only shortly the impending thrust that will force me headlong into the “real world” – that scary place where all things financial are truncated to abbreviations (IRA, 401k, FICA, etc.), where student discounts and the appurtenant treatment don’t apply, and where the address on your license becomes yours alone, not a constant if latent reminder of your childhood home and the stability of your parents. Oddly (thankfully), none of this makes me nervous. A little responsibility never hurt anyone. Indeed, much of me looks forward to casting off the “student” label and the claustrophobic binding it necessarily imposes. It’s been a long time coming.

Nonetheless, I hesitate and even push back a little. I like school. I’m good at it. It’s what I do. Why fix what ain’t broke?

Ok, I’ll stop now. No more sulking. No more last this and that nor counting all that matters. I should be enjoying myself, not thinking about school on my last free week in March. And I would be, if only it weren’t forty degrees and pouring rain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Enumerated Nostalgia

There’s something about impending “ends” that lends itself to list-making. I made all sorts of lists the last few weeks I spent in Leuven, and I once again find myself doing the same as law school comes to a close along with my formal education. They provide, I think, a convenient means of reminiscing, of looking back, taking stock, and appreciating the sum of a particular experience. Of course, it’d be great to have foresight enough to record events at the beginning of adventures, but who ever knows what’s worth remembering before the fact?

After seven years in The Corn, there’s a lot I won’t miss when I leave. But there’s also a lot I will. After all, I’ve traipsed about those streets for nearly a third of my life. There’s no doubt I grew up there, and when I drive away for the last time in May, I’ll leave more than just a college town and a few friends behind. In the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll find myself listing all that won’t come with me wherever I go next.

For now, I’ll enjoy my last Spring Break for all it is and was. I’ll no doubt spend considerable time looking back. But to be honest, my eyes are squarely focused on the road ahead. With so much coming up, something tells me I won’t be missing law school very long at all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Hell hath no fury like three baked girls in Panera when the manager gives away the bakery.

It snowed today. A lot. The University cancelled all classes for the first time in nearly thirty years. Of course, I didn’t find out until I actually went to class. All dressed up with no where to go, I headed out in search of coffee and nice place to study. Some stuff happened in between (three clues: snow, rear-wheel drive, unplowed parking lots), but eventually I made my way to Panera. Six or eight other brave souls (all of whom drove Jeeps!) had the same idea, including aforementioned “artists,” but the restaurant was otherwise empty.

Not long after I arrived, the manager announced he was closing the restaurant and sending his employees home before the roads worsened. But what’s a bakery to do with a day’s worth of fresh-baked goods and no one to buy them? Give them all away!

Now, I’ve spent alotta time around alotta people high on all whatever kind of bud or hash they preferred (after all, I lived in a frat house for a year), but never have I EVER seen three stoned girls move so fast! They were up at that counter quicker than beer turns to piss. Ludicrous Speed. It was like watching kids in a toy store, but not. Maybe hyperactive kids on crack in a crack store? Anyway, when they finished, each girl had a couple boxes and a bag full of spoils - scones, brownies, pastries, muffins, you name it. They have their work cut out making sure it all gets eaten. Good thing classes are cancelled tomorrow, too.

For my part, I took a cinnamon roll. And then, I took another. Whatever. Maybe I’ll knock up Starbucks tomorrow. And maybe I’ll throw more snowballs at cars passing by my balcony. Or perhaps I’ll just play football in four foot snow drifts. If only there was a good sledding hill around here...

Yeah, I pretty much love snow days.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Final Countdown (do-do DOO doooo...)

Somehow, I'm scheduled to graduate from law school 94 days from today (not that I'm counting). After twenty years of education, precious little stands between me and the end of my youth as I know it? a giant bag of cash? the sale of my soul? being a lawyer. A couple months, a couples exams, a couple papers. Oh, and there's the bar. Almost forgot - it's such a minor inconvenience. By "minor inconvenience," I mean "most ridiculous exam ever created," and also "biggest pain in my ass ever." But like I said, precious little.

Between now and then, I'll be occupied with little things - like what to do with my life - and big things - like how I'm going to fit studying for the bar in between Cubs games. But before that, I have a couple classes left. In case you're interested (I know... you're not), the line-up for this semester:

Constitutional Law II: inter alia, procedural due process, substantive due process, equal protection, other fundamental rights;
Constitutional Law III: first amendment jurisprudence;
Federal Courts: Article III courts and the nature of judicial power (with a little jurisdiction thrown in);
Advanced Law & Economics Colloquium; we review working/unpublished papers on various L&E topics;
Advanced Legal Writing: self explanatory, dry, and practical.

Mixed in with all that, I have work to do as grad assistant and as an associate editor of my journal. So yeah, I'll be busy. But believe it or not, I actually love this stuff. Don't laugh. Or do. Whatever.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for laundry and a little non-law school reading. I'm currently paging through The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud, and I *highly* recommend it.