Tag Archives: nature

Train Trek to Beerfest

Björn and I drove back down a couple of hours south of Hamburg to his hometown of Dorste. Dorste is a small town in the countryside parts of the area. My first perception of Dorste was that it was a clean and cozy community where everyone knew each other. I met his dad and mother, both whom were really nice and welcomed me to their home for a few days. I also met Björn’s younger sister Svenja, who spent a year abroad in New Zealand  just recently. The whole family was really nice!

We planned on going on a hike to one of the smaller mountains near Dorste called Brocken. It’s a popular hiking/biking trail amongst the locals. We brought Björn’s dog Neele with us too!

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It was really foggy and misty out. The visibility was low and it was hard to get any good views of the landscape during the hike. I did notice that there were posts along the pathway with drawings of witches on them. I asked Björn about that and he said that at the top of the mountain was a witches castle. The posts indicated we were going the right direction. The fog played perfectly into the atmosphere of the whole story of the mountain witch .

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Along the way, the mist intensified and it began to rain a bit more. I don’t mind hiking in the rain, it beats the heat any day! Poor Neele was soaking wet, but she didn’t seem to mind one bit.

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If you didn’t feel like hiking to the top, the only other alternative route was to take the steam train to the top. It was an old school train that blew steam out of its top and went ‘choo-choo’ all over the mountain.

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The hike was a couple of hours and fairly easy. Once we made it to the top, we could barely see anything ten feet in front of us. The fog covered the entire area!

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There’s also this giant boulder at the top of the mountain with a plaque describing the details and history of the region. The thing to do here is take a photo with it. The mist was horrible for any photos, but at least the cute dog made it better!

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We did see the witches tower but it was hard to make it out. Instead, we ate at a restaurant up top and made our way back down the trail. The rain and fog began to let up, and we were able to see some of the viewpoints around, including this cool little lake.

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Beerfest

Near Dorste, and even in other parts of Germany, Beer Festivals are held in smaller cities. Imagine Oktoberfest but on a much, much smaller scale. Björn and a few of his friends planned on going and he wanted me to come experience it too! This would be great practice for the real deal later this month! Björn’s dad drove us and his sister to a nearby town where there were large stalls featuring a different kind of German beer.  Germans are known for drinking beer so it was the German thing I oughta do. It was great!

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The plan was simple. We would all get one beer from a different stall every time. Each beer would be different and each of us got a chance to choose. Everyone had to keep up with each other though. It was a team effort.

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I can’t remember the names of any of the beers we tried but one of them stood out in particular for being one of the worst beers I have ever had in my life. It was the beer brewed from Björns hometown! Sorry man, my taste buds just didn’t agree with it! Even the 11% beer I made everyone try tasted better. Prost!

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We stayed at the Beer Fest for a long time. I was so tired that I was asleep for the entire taxi ride back home. I passed out immediately.

The next few days, Björn and I chilled out in Dorste. One of his hobbies is collecting mushrooms from a nearby forest and cooking them for his family. We went on a trek one day to collect some mushrooms that he ended up cooking for dinner for us the very same night. Along the trek we came along to this quarry that was being mined for…something. I have to ask Björn what it was.

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We closed out our last night fighting each other. Not for real, but by use of the classic video game Street Fighter II! I haven’t played that game in ages and I´d say we were evenly matched. Björn and his family have been great hosts for my stay here. They whipped up homemade dinners every single day. I never had so much bread in my life! It was all really good though and I appreciated everything. Unfortunately, it was time to leave Björn and head to Bielefeld, another small town near the countryside. This however would be a short-lived goodbye as we planned on meeting up again during Oktoberfest later on in the coming weeks. to reunite the Pai Guys, minus Viola unfortunately.

Thanks for everything Björn! Off to Bielefeld to reunite with an old friend I met in South Africa. 🙂

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Falling With Style

I have been trying to sky dive since way back in June, and there was always something that intervened, mainly the weather. However that would all change today; I finally will be able to jump out of an airplane! And the weather couldn’t have been any more perfect, absolutely no cloud in this blue sky. It was sunny, the temperature felt great, and no sign of rain. Today was the day my friends. 🙂

I missed school again, but this time my teachers had no idea I would be absent. I wasn’t able to tell them yesterday because I was abseiling. But I’m sure they’ll be fine, maybe not Zuki. She is probably going insane right now because I’m not around to help with their computer troubles haha! I’ll be back tomorrow to set things straight. In the meantime, I took a train to Cape Town in the morning to meet up with some volunteers from the Rec House who were also going to jump: Larry, Jess (U.K), and three new volunteers I haven’t met yet who are from somewhere in Europe. Isaac was nice enough to take us to sky dive initially, but he had an important tour that came up, so instead he sent his friend Maude to take us. The drive was about 45 minutes north of Cape Town, just below the Sands of Atlantis over a scenic, almost deserted route. We pulled up to a warehouse that held two small planes, the same planes we would all be going on, three at a time. None of us has ever sky dived before and there’s no better place to do it than in this beautiful panorama of the Western Cape. I didn’t care if I went first or not, but I was asked to go with the second group of three because the first group was the lightest or something. I wasn’t too nervous yet, and I figured I wouldn’t be until the moment before I jumped.

The first group left and I watched them as they all squeezed into a tiny plane. They were extremely nervous, but brave enough to finish their task at hand. My group was next. We put on our harness and met our tandem partner. The fact that my guy showed no ounce of nervousness made me feel relaxed and not as uneasy as I thought I would be. I had more butterflies bungee jumping than I did here.

The dive crew.

I was more excited than anything! We walked to the tiny aircraft and my tandem partner hopped in and said to me, “Come and sit between my legs.” Haha! I was laughing then, and laughing now just thinking about it. But sat between them I did. I never been on a plane so small before. We were pretty much jammed inside as we lifted off into the sky. The pilot announced that it would be a 20 minute plane ride to about 10,000 feet into the air; at least I think he said 10,000 feet, I was too excited to comprehend. On the way up, we could see all of Cape Town and then some. Table Mountain, Robben Island, all of the beaches, farmlands, vineyards, skyscrapers, the ocean, everything!

Amazing

Soon our tandem partners attached themselves to us. And then the moment came – the pilot shouted, “Open the hatch!”

I watched Larry jump out first; as he was the closest to the hatch.

Bye Larry haha!

I think my jaw was just about on the floor the whole time as I saw him fall into the abyss. The other volunteer I was with went out next (I forget her name, but I know she’s from Luxembourg). I wish I could have seen the expression on my face as I watched them leap off! I’m sure I looked funny. I was next up, and the last to jump. I shuffled towards the hatch until my legs were dangling off the plane. Alright, NOW I was nervous haha! I clutched my harness and tilted my head back, as I was instructed to, and before I knew it, I was free-falling in the sky.

#%#@*$$^@^(^@%$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I got a tap on my shoulder, which meant I was free to let go of my harness and spread my wings. I don’t remember what I was shouting but I know they were certainly shouts of excitement pumped full of adrenaline. It looked as if the landscape below me wasn’t getting any closer, as the wind pummeled against my body. I loved every single micro-second of it. Suddenly, my partner pulled his cords and a parachute shot out of his backpack. Soon enough we were cruising in the air. And at that same moment, I didn’t feel too good.

I think my face says it all lol

I felt like I was going to vomit any second, in midair. Mr. Vertigo paid a visit to me (again) in the middle of the sky. I can’t say this was totally unexpected, because if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’d know that everything EVERYTHING that moves seems to make me feel queasy haha! I didn’t eat anything that morning because I didn’t want to risk puking. It didn’t work, my stomach was uneasy. My tandem partner had no idea I felt like crap because I was laughing and bursting shouts of joy as we were falling. I bet if he could have seen my face after he pulled the cord he would have got the hint. I didn’t want this to interfere so I pretended I was fine. He gave me the handles to the parachute and let me guide for a little bit. “Pull your right arm towards your stomach!” he shouted. I did that and found that maneuver twisted us rapidly, spinning us round and round. He was laughing behind me, but my stomach was churning even more. There was really nothing I could do. It’s not like he could pull over real quick, let me stop to vomit, and then continue parachuting down. I had to wait until we made our proper landing.

I had to put my ‘wanting to vomit’ feeling aside for the camera!

I could see the Luxembourg girl a little down below me land, but there was no sign of Larry. Eventually, we made a perfect, smooth landing in the middle of the sand target, much to my relief. But I tell you, as soon as I landed, I felt perfectly fine again. Even with that brief queasiness, that was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done in my life! Larry came down and landed right after me. I asked my tandem partner how did I land before Larry? He said it’s because I weighed more.

We met up with the first group who jumped and we were all still pumped about what we have just accomplished. I told the guides I felt like was going to vomit up there and I asked if it was normal to feel that way. He said it usually happens when people don’t eat. Go figure. I didn’t eat, to prevent just that but it turned out it worked against me. I would definitely sky dive again, but not on an empty stomach! Overall, the thrill of it overshadowed my queasiness. I love this.

After all was said and done, Maude dropped the Rec House volunteers at the train station and he was nice enough to take me home to Kayamandi. Good thing because I did not want to get on another train. When he dropped me, I saw two kids down the block playing with my soccer ball. Now was my chance to take back what’s mine! I walked toward the kids, and as I got closer, it turned out to be a girl and a boy, about nine or ten years old, playing with my ball by themselves. When I got close to them, they kicked the ball towards me and I felt how deflated and soft it was. It was definitely my ball, but it was now brown instead of white and there were cuts and scrapes all over it. I kicked the ball back towards them. Even if the ball looked like it did when I had it, I wouldn’t have the heart to take it from these two kids. It would have been a different story if it were the older kids who were playing though. So long soccer ball.

The two kids were were innocently playing with my ball.
It was nice knowing ya Wilson.

The Spanish girls time in Kayamandi was just about up, but before they departed, they wanted to make a special dish from Spain for the whole family and us volunteers. It was very tasty and I was just glad they didn’t make me cook anything or otherwise I would have ruined dinner for everyone haha! I went and laid in my bed right after that. All I kept thinking was, “Could I squeeze in another dive before I leave Africa?” Possibly…:)

Voyage to Z

Ah, Zanzibar! Just the name of it alone sounds like paradise.

Zanzibar.

Yes I’ll be going there. But before I dive into that awesome chapter, I still gotta get off this damn mountain!

After about ten minutes at the summit, I put back on my gear and made my way back down the path I just came on. It was extremely liberating to know that I wouldn’t have to ascend any further, just mostly descend. I still felt like crap and I still had a hard time catching my breath. I passed my group and made it back to Stella Point with relative ease. However I had zero energy left.

I didn’t realize just how steep we came up. I thought going down would be a piece of chocolate cake, but it was tiresome. Kili’s last resort to try and bring me down. The gravel going down was so loose that with each step I would sink into the mountain. I was exhausted and after three hours, finally stumbled down to Barafu Camp, the site where we stayed right before Summit Day. Three hours! That’s how battered and beaten I was. I told Nderingo that I needed to sleep for at least an hour or two before I hike any further. My body couldn’t go any further. I wasn’t the only one who needed to rest. Everyone else in my group slept as well.

I only slept for about an hour and a half but it was all I needed to regain my strength. I was rejuvenated and anxious to get off this mountain. I walked with another member of my team who suffered more than I did at the summit. After walking for a bit, I became so antsy to get off Kili that I ran full speed down the mountain. I leaped over mud-pits, hopped from rock to rock, and sprinted as if I was running for my life. I found it quite fun. It felt good to feel normal again. The lower I descended in elevation, the better my head felt. It was easier to breathe. Eventually I made it to the bottom of Kili. We all made it down one way or another. I was done with this mountain.

The entire team. The porters, the cook, the guides, and LX6!
My mountain family minus Allison, who is on her way down right now!

On the way back home to Arusha, we could see Kilimanjaro behind us in the horizon. I didn’t have the same awe-inspiring feeling when I used to see this picture. Before it was “Wow, that looks so amazing!” Now it’s “Screw you Kilimanjaro…”. We all pretty much had the same thoughts :).

I haven’t showered in about a week. I was the dirtiest I have ever been. My beard was bushes and my hair was matted to my head. I immediately darted to the shower and watched all the black goo come off my entire body. I gave myself a haircut and shaved off my beard. I looked like a new man! No time to rest though, because I had to pack my bags again. Myself and a few others would be leaving Arusha tomorrow morning and going to spend a week on the tropical island of Zanzibar! I considered it to be my reward for conquering Kilimanjaro. I have been looking forward to this for months!

Katie, Tanner, Lana, and myself took an eleven hour shuttle in the morning from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam, one of the major cities in Tanzania. Later on we would eventually reunite with Nick and join up with Lana’s hometown friend Ben (Vancouver, Canada). We opted to take a shuttle and then a ferry to Z because it was much cheaper than flying. The big drawback is that it takes a day in a half to get there rather than just an hour by flight. We finally made it to Dar and booked a hotel in the city. The next morning we took a two hour ferry across the Indian Ocean to Z. Out of all the things that make me motion sick, boats are the biggest culprit. I took three motion pills before hand and it knocked me out! I managed to make myself cozy in the aisle of the upper-deck in the ferry. It was a rocky start but I got through it.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows on that ferry…ugh…

Finally, after a day and a half of traveling through the country and in the ocean, we docked in Stone Town, one of the main hubs of the island.

Stone Town

Stone Town had a completely different feel from any place I’ve been in Tanzania. I felt like I was in the middle east. Everything about this fabled town had an arabic vibe to it. Such a nice change of scenery. Another thing, it’s Ramadan here. It’s a muslim holiday that lasts a few weeks (I think) where muslims can’t eat or drink anything as long as it’s daylight outside. Because of this, a lot of restaurants were closed but we managed to find a few that stayed open along the beaches. We had to be careful not to drink our water bottles in the middle of town, out of respect for the locals here.

All tatted up for Z!

After a few hours of exploring the city, we took a taxi to Nungwi beach, the setting of my holiday for the next week here on this dream island. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Z 🙂

The Conquest of Kilimanjaro

“Do you think I’m alright to climb Kilimanjaro?”

The doctor didn’t answer me immediately. He instead checked my heart rate and prescribed me with a bunch of meds. “If you take these, you should be okay by then” he said. It was friday, which meant I needed these drugs to work by Sunday in order to be in good shape for the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. What a long shot!

I rarely ever take any pills or medications back at home. If I have a headache, I refuse to take an aspirin; I just sleep it off. If I have a cold, I just let my body build up the proper immunity. What the doctor here in Arusha prescribed me with is just insane! Just look at it all…

For real?????

It’s so much! I’m very naive when it comes to this stuff. I feel like a pill popper. Will I die from taking all of these drugs at once? I don’t even know what those yellow tablets are for. In addition to the malaria pills that I have been taking once every day, now I have to take all of these at least once or a few times per day. But I felt like I had to do whatever was necessary to feel better. With that, I made my decision that I was going to climb. So I told Lana (Vancouver, Canada), another volunteer in charge of organizing a team of trekkers, “I’m in”. I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. However, if I didn’t make it to the peak, then it would be one of my more embarrassing moments.

Preparation Day (Sunday July 15th)

For the next few blog posts, I’m going to treat my experience on Kili as sort of a rough guide for any of you readers out there in the world who are interested in summiting this gargantuan beast. I’ll share what to do and what not to do. My first-hand experience.

There are six of us making the journey to the summit: Myself, Lana, Mike, Nick (London, UK), Allison (Chicago, US) and Kang (China). We are team LX6! LX6 stands for “Lana times 6. We were picked up from Arusha and taken to Moshi in the morning.

LX6 at the hostel before the hike.

The name of the company we went with is called Karibu. They are a little cheaper than most other companies and well worth it. We went to get the necessary gear we needed. This equipment place had everything we could ever want. So if you come unprepared do not worry. Everything you need for the climb is here available to rent and is included in the lump cost. The items I had rented as recommended by our guides are :

1 large down jacket
3 pairs of thermal socks
3 pairs of thermal slacks
1 balaclava
1 head torch
1 fleece jacket
1 rain proof pants
1 pair of gloves
1 pair of gaiters
1 camel-pack
1 pair of heavy-duty pants
2 walking poles
1 water bottle

In addition to those items, I had already brought with me:

1 rain jacket
1 scarf
1 winter hat
1 pair of hiking boots
5 long and short sleeve shirts
1 cargo shorts
1 cargo pants
1 hand torch

You can rent all of those from the equipment shop as well. I used all of these items on the mountain and found that everything was absolutely necessary for the long ascent. I rented the water bottle just in case there was a hole in my camel-pack; I would have a back up. Maybe I could have done without the scarf but it was a nice touch to have. Next we hit up the local grocery to load up on snacks. I will burn a lot of calories hiking hours upon hours so it was essential that I brought plenty of snacks to replenish some energy. This is what I brought:

2 cases of Pringles
4 Snicker bars
1 bag of mini Mars Bars
2 bags of roasted cashews
1 box of chocolate cookies

Being the chocolate fiend that I am, I ate two of the Snicker bars before the hike even began :). I will tell you first hand though, pausing to eat a Snickers after hours of hiking is the best thing in the world! I never had a Snickers bar that tasted so good. I would advise against getting cashews or peanuts. They dried my mouth out and I didn’t get the glucose energy I needed from them like I got from the chocolates.

We were taken to our hostel for the night where we were given a brief lecture about important things we should know about our hike. We met our three guides there: Nderingo (the chief guide), Peter (assistant guide), and Sosteness (assistant guide). We would wake up in the morning the next day to start our ascent up the Machame Route, the second hardest ascent to the summit of Kili.

Day 1 (Monday July 16th)

At the start of the Machame Route.

The hike on the first day was through a humid, muddy jungle. Trees were draped with vines and covered with bright green moss. Flys and mosquitoes were everywhere! It was a sweat fest for sure.

I was certain I’d see Tarzan swinging around on these vines at some point.

It’s highly recommended that climbers hike very, very slowly to let their body acclimate properly to the increasing altitude. And that’s exactly what I did. I had the pace of a grandma crossing the street. The guides would shout “pole pole!” which is Swahili for “slowly slowly!” So this would be my first tip for you: Take it slow! Statistics show that young males are the least likely to summit because they go too fast. I would have been part of that statistic if I had not read about how important it is to go pole pole.

It was a bit frustrating at first going such a snail pace because I could have gone much faster. But I knew from past experience what altitude sickness felt like and I didn’t want to succumb to it again. The slower I went, the less oxygen I used which meant my body could use more oxygen to acclimate properly. On top of that, I was still sick so I didn’t want to take any chances. After about 6 hours of hiking, we made it to the site of our first campsite at the Machame Huts (9911ft). Our guides set up three tents, two trekkers per tent. The tents were very small but they did the job.

LX6! Day 1 complete

Everyday the cook in our team would make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All hot meals! Breakfast is usually porridge or oatmeal with a rotation of juices, sausage, eggs, crepes, and fruits. Lunch and dinner is where we would get soups, chips, pastas, rice, salads, fruits, and other side options. Lana, who is vegetarian, was given specially prepared meals just for her. Much to my surprise, we were very well fed the entire time on the mountain. There was also plenty to go around. The cook did an amazing job. We even had our own personal waiter each day who brought us anything we needed. Such a nice touch :).

Day 2 (Tuesday July 17th)

The next day we made the ascent up to our next stop, the Shira Caves (12,595ft). The terrain was different from yesterday. It was dusty and there were small shrubs all over the place. The day was a bit cooler and there were hardly any bugs. Even though the path was considerably steeper than yesterday, I found this trail to be a bit easier and more enjoyable. I kept the “pole pole” pace going. In addition to going slow my next big tip: Drink Plenty of Water! I cannot emphasize that enough. The suggested amount of water a climber should drink each day is about four to five liters. Every few minutes I would drink a sip of water from my camel-pack. In other words, I was constantly drinking water all day long. It keeps you hydrated and is an important source of oxygen for your body. Every time I urinated (which was quite often), I made sure my pee was crystal clear.

Eventually we made it to the site of our camping grounds for the night. Although we made it to camp, our hike for the day wasn’t over. Our guides suggested that we ascend about a half hour further and then descend back down to camp. This brings me to my next tip: Climb High, Sleep Low. Basically by going up and then coming back down, you are preparing your body for what lies ahead.

Tomorrow is Day 3. Previous hikers told me that Day 3 is the day when most start to feel symptoms of altitude sickness. Better prepare myself, off to bed I go!

P.S. My coughs haven’t gone away yet. At this point, I ran out of cough syrup and I finished my antibiotics. I’m at a stale mate.

If You’re Farting Well, You’re Faring Well

Day 3 (Wednesday July 18th)

Ok, Day 3. I heard this is one of the longer days of the hike. And it is. Today looked like we were hiking on a distant rocky planet. Dull colored and strewn with boulders and a tad brisk. It was a steady hike up a long slope and down through valleys. After hours upon hours of hiking, we ultimately didn’t ascend as much as we did the previous two days.

Almost there?

Most trekkers hate this day because it is so long and dusty. It certainly was both of those. I didn’t get any symptoms of the altitude though. No headaches, no nausea. Nderingo said it was normal if I should feel these symptoms and they should disappear after descending a bit. I was completely fine. Just tired. Sleepy tired. I just wanted to find a nice boulder, sprawl out, and fall asleep next to it. I managed to sneak in a quick ten minute nap during lunch break.

Nice and cozy.

It didn’t last long. I had to continue the long hike towards the Karanga Valley Campsite(13,235ft). Before that we reached the Lava Tower(15,180ft), rested and had to descend down to Karanga. Today overall, was more about acclimating rather than ascending. We constantly went up and down and up and down. So far so good.

Day 4 (Thursday July 19th)

Today was definitely my favorite day of the hike. Why? Because the terrain today was very rocky and the path wasn’t as laid out as previous days. I find I fare better with rocky conditions. I consider myself a pretty good rock climber and loved scaling the stone walls up the mountain. It was quicker than following the narrow path which took ages. This is the only time I broke my “pole pole” rule. I was fine though. I had fun doing it. I felt like Spiderman. I don’t know why anyone else wasn’t doing it too, but climbing the walls was very exciting. Maybe a little dangerous but I knew what I was doing. The guides let me climb because they saw how comfortable I was doing that, rather than walking along the set path. Very cool!

I loved this!

There are two other useful pieces of information you should know. I completely forgot to mention that I had “anti-altitude” sickness pills with me called Diamox. Every morning during breakfast and at lunch I would take half a pill. What this does is acidifies your blood, allowing you to breath more conditionally and enters more oxygen into your bloodstream. I have no idea if it worked for me or not. I have nothing to compare it to. But it didn’t hurt to have these. They may have helped. It’s highly recommended by everyone who has been on the hike up Kili.

Another useful piece of information is to make sure you fart and burp, a lot! Passing gas and burping is a great indication that your body is acclimating properly. So don’t be afraid to let loose on the mountain. Myself and the others in my group had no shame. “Whoops sorry guys, just acclimating!” We would even applaud someone when they let out a giant fart haha! Never have we been more open about our gases, keeping count of how many times we cut the cheese. It’s something we can only do on this mountain. No shame. Just acclimating :).

Today was a lot longer than the other days but I enjoyed today the most. We finally made it to our last campsite for the ascent, the Barafu Huts(15,295ft).

Tomorrow is the big day: Summit Day! We went to bed because we had to wake up in three hours for the night crawl! Yes, just three hours of sleep. It was so cold that night too! We certainly had to sleep close to each other to stay warm. We had to wake up ate 11p.m and start the final ascent at midnight. So far all of the days have been…easier than I imagined. I felt zero symptoms whatsoever. Besides my coughing that seems to never go away, I felt great. Just sleepy. I drank plenty of water each day, took my time, ate plenty of food, and enjoyed myself. If this was any indication, I thought summit day would be a breeze as well…right?…

I could never have been more wrong in my life…