Mt Kilimanjaro, the road to the Seven Summits
When I was at my low point as I turned 50, I felt compelled to accomplish something super significant. Some guys get a new girlfriend or a bright and shiny car but for me, I set my sights on something with more value so I decided that I wanted to be the first NFL player to climb the Seven Summits.
I called a mutual friend, Phil Ershler of International Mountain Guides who is a famous climber in his own right and told him about my plan. He suggested a path for me to accomplish my goal. He thought that starting on Kilimanjaro would be a great way to test my altitude aptitude on being at high elevations. At the top, Kili is 19,341' and presents many challenges for those who haven't conditioned correctly or just aren't fit to be that height.
I could have used IMG but decided to go with a British outfitter because the cost was less. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone w/ IMG as the food was awful and had a big impact on my summit day.
What an adventure this was going to be! Flying from the US to Amsterdam, through Kenya and into Tanzania in a tiny airport located in Arusha. I was picked up in the middle of the night from a guy holding up a sign with my name on it and shuttled me to my hotel 1 hour away. As we approached the hotel, there were steel gates with armed guards who verified who we were before letting us in. Wow, now that's an entrance! Once I got to my room, my bed had a protective net around to keep mosquitoes out and free from disease.
Off we went on a 90 mile, 7 day journey up one of the many routes they have on Kili. You start in the jungle, full of sounds and monkeys and then make your way up the mountain going into a more arid rocky terrain as we had 17 porters to ferry 4 of us climbers up Kilimanjaro.
The porters were constantly moving ahead to set up camp and start lunch or dinner so that when we arrived, everything would be ready. I had a lot of time to think about life. That happens when you have no cell coverage and in a foreign land.
I was on fire in terms of my conditioning and endurance & always ahead of everyone until summit day. It was super cold at our high camp which was at 15,500' . We awoke at 3am and the skies were clear. I tried to force down oatmeal which was the 7th day of eating this and had a really hard time forcing it down. Yuk.
Off we went and they paired me with "Victor" as we were at least 1 hour in front of the other 3 Brits. Then suddenly, I lost all power and energy. I sat down and became super groggy as Victor was slapping me in the face and forcing snacks down me to get my energy back. It worked. He got me back on my feet and up the mountain we continued. We reached the summit around 10am and was so overcome with joy that I had made it.
After about 45 minutes at the top, we headed back down the mountain and as I was descending, I was overcome with emotion as I reflected on my life. I knew If I could overcome getting up this mountain, I could overcome the obstacles in my personal life. As I came back into high camp, 14 porters came over and circled me and sang African songs celebrating my accomplishment. So selfless and greatly appreciated. Reflecting back as we hiked our way out, I knew this was my destiny and what I wanted and needed to do. This was the beginning and I was well on my way....