I saw Melissa sitting on a rock looking into the sun, tears streaming down her cheeks. My heart went out to her, as I could imagine the frustration. To be so close and to be told to stop. I remember telling her that she made it to 18,885 feet, higher than most people will ever be. 18,885 feet is nothing to sneeze at. We all hugged Jessie and Melissa before they headed down with Goddy. Then Felix promptly moved us along, on a mission. Our group was now down to just Anne, Chris, Donnie and me along with Felix and John. We were headed to Uhuru Peak at 19,341'. We were to follow the rim of the crater to the final point. It looked mostly flat, open, easy. Yay, I can do this!
Soon after starting up again, I was once again struggling to move my legs. Why was I having so much trouble? Frustration hit again because as before, the other three seemed to be having no difficulties. Then Anne pulled over and threw up.
Next thing I knew, those three seemed a mile ahead of me. I was pulling up the rear, and John was patiently walking with me. I'd like to say I was "taking in the scenery", but the truth is I was just slow. People kept passing us coming down, having already summited. I remember a pair of ladies telling me I was close. Close? What did that mean, at this point?
John was amazing. He was encouraging and patient. He told me stories of camping in the crater, of hiking up the other side. I was listening, but mostly struggling. Determined to get there. I was NOT going to quit a quarter mile from the top. No way. Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Why are my legs not moving? This trail was never-ending.
Then John spoke.
"Suzanna, may I ask you a question?" (yes, he called me Suzanna)
All I could think was, "Dude, NOT the best time for conversation",
but I replied, "Sure."
"May I hold your hand?"
Now, this might seem odd. Or overly polite. But at that moment, it was the perfect thing. I think I replied with "Please". So we held hands. It wasn't romantic or awkward or uncomfortable, but the opposite. It was comforting, strengthening. The power of human touch, human connection. Just holding somebody's hand was enough to keep me moving. We sped up ever so slightly, but it felt like I was speed racer. Every now and then, he'd give me a squeeze and say, "You are amazing. You are strong, like a lion!" I couldn't even squeak out a whimper, let alone the roar of a lioness, but hearing it felt good. Soon, we were there.
The emotion. So hard to describe. Joy, victory, power, gratitude, strength, friendship, relief, love. I remember hugging Chris and telling him I was glad he came along on the trip and then we both cried. Tears of joy and friendship. I remember taking the below picture with Anne, feeling like we could do ANYTHING.
Overall it was a feeling of accomplishment, gratitude and love. Accomplishment because THAT WAS HARD, but I did it. Gratitude to everyone who donated to the American Foundation for Children with AIDs, to my body for being so strong (even though I had had doubts), gratitude just for being. Being there, being alive. Love of my friends. What an amazing group of friends to share this with.
I felt human again. And it was literally all downhill from here. I was at 19,341 feet. The top of Africa's highest peak. The top of the world's tallest freestanding mountain. The top of Kilimanjaro.
To read more of Suzanne’s adventures, please visit her blog!