Beg, Borrow or Buy

If you aren’t a hiker this is quite likely the most boring thing to read, and you may want to skip this entry. But, if Kilimanjaro is anywhere on your bucket list, I recommend you factor the above into your travel budget and planning. Sure some of these items—like hiking poles and sleeping bags—can be rented in Tanzania before you start climbing, but rental options can’t help you think through your weather personality and how best to prepare.

Anyone who’s been to summer camp is no doubt familiar with the “packing lists” of recommended items. If you’ve hiked or climbed in another country, or traveled with a tour company, you know their overwhelming versions of packing lists are like summer camp on steroids. And that’s before all the necessary inoculations, medical clearance and Visa ordeals (more on my horrible Visa ordeal in another blog/rant).

As I prepare to ascend “Kili”, I realized the tour company’s recommended list of items is enough to dismay and intimidate even the most enthusiastic aspiring climber. Thirty-three clothing and toiletry items, including multiple shirts (long sleeve and short sleeve), rain jackets, ponchos, jumpers (aka sweaters), etc. That’s before the gear like walking polls, headlamp, and on and on. And “hiking gear” I’ve learned is expensive. When a pair of pants is more expensive than a pair of Prada’s, that’s saying something.

Facing this list, and it facing me, I asked myself a few questions. Firstly, what from all this stuff is necessary? Second, what do I have (that I don’t need to replace) as well as what might I borrow? For example, I’ll probably not use “walking polls” again, but heard they’re recommended. Third and final question, is there anything missing from the list?

The first question is worth noting because it translates to weight. Humping up a trail with a sixty-pound pack, and you’ll quickly identify what’s superfluous. The trick is to identify what’s important. Schlepping stuff across the globe that was never used is not only infuriating, it can be expensive.

Packaging lists are good ‘guidelines’ but other things also come into play. Checking the weather ahead of time can guide in knowing what you need to be comfortable. If you hate being cold, layers are important. If not, that’s a perfect place to economize. No matter where I go, and what the season, I always bring a scarf and/or sweater.

Kilimanjaro is a different trip. Sure, I’m somewhat familiar with long day hikes and what I need. This is the third time I’ll traverse multiple ecosystems, which requires more careful packing. What’s different is the length of the trip (LENGTH) and that this is an extreme variation in climates. From rainforest to what was guaranteed to be temps below freezing at least once during our climb.

After taking stock of my current hiking gear from Peru, I realized I was going to need to gear up. Once I got past the overwhelming length of the Kilimanjaro packing list (its nearly two pages), I identified the things I absolutely needed. I decided against rain pants after being in Peru for the rains. When it rains, you’re gonna get wet. I also nixed a few items that I knew I wouldn’t appreciate (binoculars—I have my camera) and travel pillow (folded sweater).

After ticking the “non-essential items” from the list, it was time to separate the remaining items into three categories: begging, borrowing and buying.

Begging

My family celebrates Christmas and exchanges gifts. Somewhere along the way we adopted the idea of exchanging “wish lists” so that gifts would be something the recipient actually wants. This year, I begged Santa to help me get ready for my trip.

And Christmas delivered this great Marmot jacket. I have an old ski jacket but it’s bulky (I also question the warmth, since it’s about 15 years old.) The Pertex Quantaum model I got is lightweight and lined with goose down for warmth. The shell is nylon and will be enough to resist moisture, or light rain.

Gear

Mr. Os went all out and treated me to Trail Tech Quarter-Zip from LL Bean. This was on my list because my hiking gear overall is lacking when it comes to long-sleeve items. I liked this shirt because it’s a wicking fabric (aka, it keeps sweat off your skin which in turn keeps you warmer). I also think it’s important to have one outfit to change into after a day of hiking, and this shirt is a good choice for that. I also got a Polartec Windbloc fleece jacket. With the above Marmot jacket, it might be overkill but a fleece jacket at camp is worth it to me, and the pair will be my go-to items after each day’s climb.

In terms of warmth, few things help more than long underwear. As a skier, I advocate for the Hot Chili brand. It’s a little more expensive, but they wear well and keep you warm. I recommend a pair with stirrups at the bottom (to prevent your long underwear from running up your calf).

Borrowing

I don’t usually borrow things from people. It’s partly because I’m a borderline germaphobe but also because I worry items will get stolen. I don’t want to have to explain to someone that his or her gorgeous, expensive backpack was ripped or ripped off. That said, unless I begin to focus on these adventurous climbs, I won’t need a backpack with a frame moving forward. Luckily, if you talk to people about climbing, sooner or later you will stumble across someone who has gear they will push on you because “it never gets used.”

Buying

With all of the above, it’s crazy that I’m not done acquiring gear for this trip. And yet…

Salomon hiking boots that have already gotten some decent mileage.
Salomon hiking boots that have already gotten some decent mileage.

My old hiking boots would not make the trip. Of any single piece of gear, these are probably the most critical piece of gear to get right. I finally settled on a pair of Salomon’s, but I tried on about five different brands and several styles in each brand. Simply put, buy the most comfortable—your feet are worth the investment.

Tip: Go to an REI or other outdoor store. Spend a ridiculous amount of time talking to the staff about where you’re going. Earlier I mentioned the expense of hiking pants. One associate was insistent that I needed wind pants AND rain paints. But in passing I asked another sales associate. An avid hiker, turns out she leads tours throughout Southeast Asia. I explained my concern over the expense of dropping a small fortune on pants I might not wear much after my return. Without batting an eyelash she asked me to think about what makes me more miserable/cold – rain or wind. Oooo, good question! She pulled out two recommendations from a pile of pants and I walked about with this crazy expensive black diamond water resistant, wind-stopper pants.

It’s important once you buy your outfits that you begin wearing them immediately. First, you want to make sure there are no problems with the items. Second, you want to get used to them. We’ve been “blessed” with some crappy weather in the past month so I’ve given the pants and boots test runs while walking dogs. I’m pretty happy with my purchases and will keep the pants in my daypack for sure.

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One thing I will never go hiking without: the Nike wicking running shirt

My final purchase was a Nike wicking long sleeve running shirt. I’m not a runner but these shirts made a quality-of-life difference when climbing Macchu Picchu. They’re lightweight and pack easily and keep one warm in damp, humid climates.

I will leave you with one final travel tip. This applies to both hiking as well as traveling with a guided tour. You’ll notice a fair amount of color among my jackets and fleece. In fact, the gear I already own ranges from blue, to orange to purple. Especially climbing Kilimanjaro at the time of year that I’m going, colored jackets are strongly recommended. Many people gravitate to subdued colors, if not all black. But color makes it easier for your guides to spot you. This is important for your safety especially in potential situations where the weather quickly changes.

*Authors note: the above items were all purchased, given or loaned to me. No company or brand provided these items in exchange for a “review.” The thoughts and opinions reflected are my own and should not be considered a professional endorsement.

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Results. I got them.

Aside from having to walk up a hill during the Trek Across Maine because i didn’t train enough, my biggest fear was not meeting my fundraising commitment. This is perhaps an irrational fear and yet, that was my concern.

It’s hard to explain where this came from. Like most people, i tend to approach the subject of money with extreme caution. I watched a few friends go through extremely difficult times during the recession and i believe that things are still tenuous at best for others. During the same time frame, we tightened our house hold expenses and continue to try to run a tight ship. As a result, and with a heavy heart, i often don’t help charities or friends with similar fundraising. Who could blame someone for not supporting me when i didn’t help them? And of course, we all remember finding out that the Red Cross used the vast majority of post September 11th Terrorist Attack donations to upgrade their infrastructure…WTF. I’m always leery that my pet cause will suffer the same fate. I’m sure a psychologist would have some label for this, maybe rationalizing my failure in advance?

Turns out that fundraising was an eye-opening experience for me. Friends who i had not spoken to recently generously opened their wallets. Even co-workers were kind enough to donate. With a lot of social media, email blasts and behind-the-scenes help from my Dad*, i managed to exceed my goals.

The result (selfishly), i was entered in the prestigious Trek winners circle. The circle is a very generous way to thank participants who raised $1,000 or more for the American Lung Association. When you check-in for the ride, you are ushered to a special room, greeted with significant fanfare: massive cheers from the volunteers and CEO, and thank you gifts from Trek sponsors. The room is decorated with balloons and all winners circles names and fundraising achievements are posted. Before i forget, thank you LL Bean for that gift card! You have no idea how badly i need a new suitcase!!

Look at the Kennedy family on the Trek2013 winners circle wall
Look at the Kennedy family on the Trek2013 winners circle wall

The result (bigger picture), is that research to eradicate lung disease and continue healthy air efforts (read: lobbying) will be supported for another year. That’s really the point of the ride and it hits home when you arrive in Bethel. Individuals and team members ride in memory of friends and loved ones. You see lots of jersey’s and buttons honoring people who died after battling lung disease. It’s incredibly moving.

An example of some of the moving team tributes you'll see at the Trek Across Maine
An example of some of the moving team tributes you’ll see at the Trek Across Maine

I think, the opportunity to honor a friend or loved one is really what motivates people to participate in the Trek. I mean, it’s not easy to cycle 180 miles, nor is it easy to prepare yourself emotionally for this ride. That’s probably even more true if you are riding in memory of someone. I’m sure some participate because they are training for bigger, longer rides. Others participate for fun or because someone asked them to (duh, me) and that’s fine. What brings people back is the opportunity help and honor someone. And that’s probably the biggest result and most significant result for the Trek.

*Another writers note. Turns out my Dad was absolutely, positively committed to getting me in the winners circle with him. Once he met his fundraising goal, he gently suggested family member’s contribute to my fundraising efforts. That was really sweet because i refused to ask family to support me. I didn’t want anyone to think we were “double dipping.”