I knew I had the story to write about way before I had the title. The events of the past weekend but one will remain etched in my memory. There was fun, pain (caused by old age and other organisms), fear, hope, desperation and prayer. At the end of the less than 24 hour ordeal. We were all a bit stronger than we went in. We were tired but we (most of us that is) made a promise to face the demon again. All tools required for the exorcism at hand this time. I have an inclination to melodrama and hence the introduction might read like we were the cast of a real great movie. But no, this happened. and I will try to narrate the events to as much accuracy as I can remember.
That Saturday started in a very different way than most. Saturday 6 AM does not normally find me awake, dressed and calling people to plan for meeting points, items of clothing and wake other people up. I sleep at around 4 AM on Saturday mornings, wake up after midday and spend most of the day in boxers and a vest. So you see the difference, oh and we all know how much I hate phone calls. Yet I spend hours on calls with her. (We are not going to discuss this. I have spiked your interest I hope.)
About 3 hours later, having fought the Limuru mist where the 50KPH speed limit in Nairobi seems like Need For Speed kind of movement. We arrived at the foot of the Aberdares. We got lost..twice. Our rental van driver is not the best at directions but he’s a real good human being. You’ll know why later in the story or in the next one. We had only 7 hours to go up and back down Aberdares Elephant Hill. 4 hours to go up, 3 hours to go down.
We started at a slow pace, waiting for each other at certain points. But with time elapsing and with the Central province clouds gathering. We realised some people were here for a stroll, others for sight-seeing and then there was us who were here to conquer the hill, nature and some of our demons if possible. When you have a brain that keeps you awake for 48 hours sometimes without a wink of sleep. You’ll understand why, I needed the body to be fatigued in all kinds of ways. Just to get some beauty sleep that night. We gradually left the others behind and with the first ranger (There were 2, one at the front, the other at the back.) we set our sights on being at the peak before 6PM.
Soon after, hell’s fiery gates were becoming a bit loose at the hinges. We just didn’t know it. We laughed on the way. I was feeling the sweat on my brow and enjoying it. I love sweating for the right stuff, not like the current Nairobi sun in which you yawn and your palms become damp and have to take another liter of water. We had been walking for about an hour now. I could feel no fatigue. My lungs were working exceptionally well. I must be good at this cardio stuff. 😛 What I hadn’t counted on was the silly legs giving in.
I play football when I can, I walk to town almost everyday from Riverside and do squats with dumbbells every week day. So it was a complete surprise when passing through some bamboos, my right calf locked in a painful muscle cramp that had me on the ground in seconds. I was hurling cusses that would make milk curdle. 30 seconds later, the peeping hole in hell’s gates was open now. I was covered in Safari ants. Something tells me laughing at Wanja’s ordeal the week before or is it after? (My Karma might be a real mean b**** to see into the future) warranted this punishment. Yes she was attacked by Safari ants. 😀
This time, the cussing took an almost medieval turn. I think I was insulting those ants in Ogiek and high Neanderthalish. And these were not small ants, the ants in the Aberdares are either GymRats or Ninjas. With the bamboo cover, for an instance I felt like I was in Crouching Stupid Hidden Stubborn. My woes did not end there. As I stood up to run from them, mind you my other foot was still cramping so I was half walking, half crawling away. The left foot got the same cramp at the calf. I know, this is starting to seem far fetched. But nothing could be closer to the truth. At this time I let out a universal and forest wide “F***************************************************K!!”. It’s when I heard the echo and no person answering that I realised I was alone. Bollocks!!
In my struggle, I had been left too far behind by the pacesetters and was too far in front of the the second group. So here I was under cover of the bamboo trees closely knit together. No one in sight. Barely able to stand and slowly removing ants from hair. (Where’s a nice grooming monkey when you need one?) It’s at this particular moment that my aforementioned overactive brain decides to think of any eccentric wild animal that doesn’t follow rules and is not nocturnal like it should be. Like a leopard maybe. I grabbed a broken bamboo (seen below, we were to be companions for longer than I ever imagined) and now limping with both feet, (How possible that is only remains to be seen) trudged uphill, my cusses now reduced to whispers and whimpers with every step and now suffering from pain induced perspiration.
I did finally catch up with the team. They decided to wait for me. And boy was I happy to see them. I made grinning from ear to ear very literal.
My moods revived and a drink of water after. I was once again at the front. Leading the team to this goal that we were so intent on achieving. Do not ask me why they agreed to be led by a foul mouthed, injured and still ant infested Moses look alike. Oh the Moses part could have been it. Or maybe I just looked the most edible and of course the least capable of running away on the chance encounter with a wild animal. They’d take home a scapecoat of many colours to my mum if that happened. (Please, please tell me you got the genius of that statement 😛 )
If I fully describe the things we had to endure later on in the journey. These events might dilute the sincerity of the story. All I know is this. When the calves could no longer pain. Or my central nervous system just decided to ignore the pain. It was then that the cramps moved to my quadriceps (I can’t say thighs because for some reason that sounds lady-like. Worse in Swahili “Mapaja” Not a negative thing though). In the same order. My right quad then the left. At least no more ants then. But we would take a break every 1 minute, there was more rock than vegetation. Now with no more ability to lift my legs. I was wading through mud and water. The below is testament. Check the pants.
I was the willpower despite the lack of the ability to walk normally anymore. And my friends had the strength to keep me up when I was almost falling down. And at 6.30PM, I stepped at that peak, as the first of 2 people in our group. The other being Cesar who had made sure I wasn’t left behind to be some animal’s dinner or an elephant’s rag doll.
We made it to the top. And with our perseverance as inspiration many more than we had expected made it too. We smiled and laughed and lay on the grass exhausted. But a really cold fog covered us and we knew we had to get back down and soon. It would be a 2 hour descent. With heavy rain probably coming, animals waking up for the hunt and of course darkness and a very expansive bamboo forest to cross.
Join me on part 2 – The Descent