I can't quite remember when I first heard of Simon Mtuy or the Kilimanjaro Stage run. It must have been an ad in the back of a trail running publication. It captured my imagination on so many levels, trail running, adventure, multi-day, travel and circumnavigating a mountain.
This is 2012 documentary "Mountain of Greatness" that really excited me.
I have always wanted to travel to Africa (and the rest of the world). I was the child on a Saturday morning where a good time involved me and a giant atlas. I had every country's flag and capital city memorized and loved maps. I also watched a lot of movies as a child, especially with my Grandpa John. He introduced to my first celebrity crush; John Wayne. My favorite movie of the Dukes as a little kid wasn't a western or a WW2 movie, it was Hatari! (Ignore the obvious racism, colonization, animal cruelty, misogyny etc) this was 1962. It is set in one of Tanzania's national parks and is great entertainment and another reason I had dreamed of going to Africa. My preferences and hobbies have evolved overtime and now trail running is one of my biggest passions, so my first trip to Africa specifically Tanzania would be highly centered around running.
So I had this dream lingering in the back of my mind and then my Uncle Pete got sick this year and I had really generous tax return it seemed silly to put off one of my dream trips any longer. I spoke to my parents and John and they were super supportive and so I booked the trip!
I traveled about 20 hours and landed in the Kilimanjaro Airport in the evening, it was already hot and getting off the plane and remember thinking if nothing else at least I accomplished the goal of setting foot on the continent. After such a long flight, we lined up for the next hour in a crowded hot line to get thru the visa application and custom process and then I met my driver. It was about a 45 minute drive to town of Moshi. I stayed about a ten minute walk out of downtown at the Hibiscus Bed and Breakfast. The power was out when I arrived, I would soon learn this was a very common occurrence. I had a cold shower and put my mosquito net and down and was quickly asleep. The next morning after breakfast I decided I would go for a little run around town and explore Moshi a bit. I dressed conservatively but I still drew a lot attention to myself. I spent most of the day just exploring.
The next day I was met with a driver and we headed to the Mhabe Cottages, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. I was super nervous about meeting the other runners and the impending challenge of running 260 km in the next 8 days.
I was greeted by the host of the cottage Wilson. He is a older gentleman in his 70s and made his living as a mountain guide. He was soft spoken and very kind and wise man, and me feel welcomed.
I met the other participants Fred (from Belgium) Brian (from USA) and Bojan (from Slovenia). We got to know each other a little bit while going on a hike around the cottages. The area was so green and lush and beautiful. We got to see a local school and some of the small communities around the area. The highlights were seeing the trail we would finish on in 8 days, a group of women singing in the back of a truck and finishing off with a local beer.
After a great dinner and not a bad nights sleep we set off in the morning. With the staff from the cottage helping us with our gear, we hiked down to the gates of Kilimanjaro. I am never one to look that closely at elevation profiles, I knew there would be some climbing. But I had no idea how much climbing and how technical the trails would be. I was also careful to not overdo it on the first day and didn't want to twist my ankle on the steep technical descents. The first day it didn't take long for me to start struggling, between the heat, the climbing, the altitude and at one point missing our water drop and running out of water. The suffering was mitigated but the incredible views and meeting the local people using the trails. Two encounters stick in my mind that day, the first, a young boy who was about the same age as my nephew, who was carrying a sack on his head and navigating the same trails as us and the second, was a lovely older woman who when we ran out of water, kindly let us use her well.
By the late afternoon I was bonking hard and feeling like I was wholly unprepared for this adventure. It was hard not to let mind jump ahead to the days to come and wonder how I was ever going to finish, if I was feeling this miserable on the first day. As we finished up late in the day about 6 pm the sun was starting to set and we had finally reached our stop for the night. My mood quickly changed from defeated to elated as I bought a bottle of coke from a local vendor and turned the corner to see a whole village of children waiting for us. Their smiles and high fives were all I needed to forget about all the struggles of the day. We quickly got washed up as best we could, ate supper prepared by the camp cooks and soon it was off to bed.