Highlights by Mt. Kilimanjaro Climber Tim Challen

Blog 1
After the flag off at UNEP, we headed into the Nairobi traffic. We were all apprehensive about cycling through the city, which is notorious for cross cutting traffic, dust and exhaust fumes. We got all of the above. However, we found drivers very polite, letting us going by - I guess it was the novelty of seeing 14 cyclists (we were joined by 3 Kenyan professionals along the way), all of us dressed in green cycling gear, that made drivers and passengers just stop and watch. Truckers have been cheering us along and school children have been waving. We arrived in Kajiado at the end of the afternoon and a Masaai Chief and his youth group welcomed us at our first camp. They talked to us about using football for engaging young people and promoting messages and they also do a lot of work in relation to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Globalbike gave them 2 bikes to help them get around their community and they went off into the dusk very happy. Observation of the day: Real need on alternative transport systems - too many cars, minibuses, and trucks - many polluting more than they should. More bicycle lanes please. It took us just over an hour to get to the airport, it has taken sometimes much longer in a car. Traffic jams are far too common...

Blog 2
Left Bush camp in Kajiado at 9am. Today was a long ride but uneventful - except that everyone we meet along the way wants a bicycle. The weather between 2pm and 4pm is just too hot. Fortunately, we arrived at our next camp at 1pm. Water water water! Although we may need a lot because of the cycling, the heat makes us realize how important water is for the communities living in this region. Tomorrow, we cross the border and will have plenty of activities to write about - it will be a long day, meeting groups at the border and then at a Masaai village.


Blog 3

Left Namanga early and met youth groups in Namanga, Kenyan and Tanzanian side - we gave them 2 bikes each. After spending too long at the customs, we made our way into Tanzania. 110 Fahrenheit coming off the tarmac. The only way to cool down is to ride and feel the breeze - stand still and you burn. Met up with Arusha Cycling Team members who came to meet us along the way. Great club, doing great things for young cyclists in Arusha. Those that needed work have been hired as courier cyclists-now that is smart sustainability. Rode 28km until the small village of Engikareti and were hosted by the Masai. They took us to a village and showed us their way of life. More importantly, they showed us that you don't need much to be happy. We gave them a bike to help them get around and they were grateful for the gesture. Now sitting by the fire, watching the Milky Way and listening to animals in the distance. Truly magical, so close to nature, so close to life.



Blog 4:

Logistics! It has been a very busy past few days. After doing a garbage clear up in Arusha, we cycled to Marangu. It's when you are on the road, in anything slower than a bicycle that you realize how dirty the roads are. In Arusha, many plastic bottles and bags, and I found 3 razor blades near a school. It is just carelessness - you throw things away because you expect others to clear up behind you. The more we focus on our own comforts, the more we harm our general environment. The last ride up to the gate was terrible, the steep incline tortured me for more than 2 hours. But I was determined that the bike and I would make it to Kilimanjaro gate. After a rest day, we started the climb yesterday. We spent 5 hours meandering through an old beautiful forest, all 35 climbers, and 67 support crew (guides, cooks and porters). After a night at Mandara, we spent today walking up to Horombo, admiring the alpine Tundra - with stunning landscapes around us, and Mount Kilimanjaro growing more and more intimidating.



Blog 5:

Took a group photo just outside Horombo, with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. Everyone is smiling but I know it will not last. 3 hours up the road and some people will start feeling nauseous. Mount Kilimanjaro is not for every day life – it is an environment that men will never tame and ends up reminding us humans that we can not conquer all forever. After a couple of miles we reach the saddle, moving from an alpine tundra to a lunar like landscape. It’s beautiful and surreal! Step by step we make our way up the long straight path to our lunch spot. The young women and men from East Africa are singing. Is it the nerves or are they happy to be where they are? One thing for sure is that it is their mountain as much as anyone else. A place they thought was out of reach and the privilege of foreigners is at their own grasp – and rightly so. A few mice run around our feet as we eat our sandwiches, reminding us that life is all around us, even in seemingly barren places. After lunch, Kibo hut suddenly appears around a corner after just a few minutes walk. Over the next hour it doesn’t seem to get any closer. We are walking in slow motion and the breathing intensifies. Finally we reach our destination, with the evening’s ascent looming above us. The UNEP team find consolation in breaking up their chocolate and putting in little bags which they can dig into during the night – sugar for the blood.


Blog 6:

11pm on Day 3, time to go to Uhuru. I tell fellow climbers in my dormitory that we need to get up as departure to the summit is in 45 minutes. No one exits their sleeping bag until I do so, all cocooned in the warm comfort that contrasts the cold outside. At midnight, we finally all line up  outside the hut and start the long steep walk up to Gilman’s point. 10 steps and stop, 10 steps and stop – it is tough and your body tells you that you shouldn’t be there. But if you are lucky, your metabolic system gets you through and mental strength pushes the limit that always seems just in front of you. At 8am, after the most magnificent sunrise over a close by Mawenzi peak and projections of a pinkish orange color over the Kilimanjaro ice, we reach Uhuru peak  - scorched earth below our feet, islands and walls of ice around us, above the clouds and close to a deep blue sky – we are humans on Mother earth, and we feel like we belong to her rather than she belongs to us.


Blog 7:

Apart from a couple of medical issues which we manage, all 35 climbers and 67 support crew make it back in one piece to Marangu gate the following day. A girl tells me she did not make it to the summit of the mountain, but that she surpassed the point she had aspired to and that the journey within was more important. Mount Kilimanjaro is the perfect metaphor: there are no short cuts, you must work as a team, you must persevere and believe in yourself. “Tim” General Sarakikya, a former Tanzanian Ambassador to UNEP who has climbed many times, once said to me “you will see, this mountain is like life. Once you get to the summit of what you want to do, all you want to do is get back down”. I realize that understanding one’s environment and being humble in what one does is a practice that is much needed in our present societies. The true meaning of Kilimanjaro Initiative is in the name, Mount Kilimanjaro is its force, as it teaches you about overcoming hardships and putting these lessons into everyday life – it is the environment which really shows us the way, and not the other way round.