July 2011

When Everyone Lifts

Few burdens are heavy when everyone lifts. —African proverb

I am in Kenya at last! For the first time, I am bringing a team with me. On this trip, to Kenya first, then to scale Kilimanjaro, everyone lifts!

We had a long flight: Julie Winton, a nurse with BioRx, arrived in Boston on Thursday, and I drove down to meet her and whisk her away to my home. We reviewed the gear and equipment for Kilimanjaro, and weighed our bags. Mine was 16.5 pounds; hers was 44.5. While I gloated, Julie pointed out how little I had by way to thermal/arctic clothing. She scared me into buying more. She said it was -5 degrees on Kili!

So we packed and repacked all night, and on Friday morning, we drove to EMS to buy a sleeping back liner and heavier socks. Much better!

At 3 pm our ride arrived. I was shocked to see a stretch limo–a surprise from my assistant. And we need it–we had six huge bags, filled to the max, and two carry-ons each, also filled.

A seven-hour flight to Paris only to face a delayed flight by 12 hours, a rented hotel room in Paris, then an 8.5 hour flight at 11 pm last night, landing us in Nairobi this morning. Julie didn’t sleep all night.

Nairobi is beautiful: the air is cool and dry, the streets clear for once. Cattle are shooed along by a barefoot boy, alongside motorbikes and cars that seemingly mocking him as they whiz by. We pull up to the Southern Sun Hotel, just last year the Holiday Inn. When I check in, the staff says, “You’ve been here before.” Two other times, in fact! I know this place well.

We relax, unpack. Later, our colleague, Maureen Miruka, founder and president of the Jose Memorial Hemophilia Society visits. While sipping tea, we discuss how we will most likely invest the up to $45,000 we have gleaned from our climbing proceeds. For that is what we are doing: investing in the future of hemophilia in Africa.

While Kenya is a model African country, the country is currently faced with an influx of refugees. Conflicts in the Horn of Africa have driven more than 1,300 refugees a day, the vast majority from embattled Somalia, into the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya – now the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with almost 400,000 refugees in three camps designed for 90,000.

Short-term efforts by humanitarian groups include improvements including safe water and sanitation, improved security, and access to health services and emergency shelter.

For now, this doesn’t touch us. We will focus on the crisis of hemophilia. At dinner we sat around, told stories, and prepped for tomorrow, when we will go to the homes of the poor, to see how hemophilia is not just endured but survived.

Interesting Book I Just Read
A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

I have to review this book with two hats: one as a human being and mother; the other as an editor. And it wasn’t easy in either case. Jaycee Dugan’s story has made headlines for the past two years; in 1991, at age 11, while walking to the bus stop for school, she was tasered and abducted by a married couple. For the next eighteen years, she was held in crude captivity until her rescue in 2009. She suffered years of what can only be described as sexual and psychological torture, living in a tent in the backyard, unseen by the world. She survived by learning to adapt, giving in to the perverse needs of her captors, and eventually gave birth to two daughters, the first when she was only 14 years old. Her case made headlines also as a horrific example of the failures of the legal system: Garrido was a known pedophile, and parole officers who visited the home numerous times never once looked in the back yard, where they would have seen Jaycee.

Jaycee’s memoir is honest, direct, and spares no detail. You will marvel at how a child survived such abuse; you may cry as you read this, or even stop reading it. Jaycee was never allowed to use her own name, was deprived of all books, TV and human contact other than Philip Garrido for months. Eventually, she lived vicariously through the TV and internet, and gained access to the main house, but always returned to her crude tent, where there was no plumbing or luxuries. By complying, she won favors, such as outings and even helping the Garridos run a printing business. She never, ever forgot who she was, that this was wrong, and prayed that someone would recognize her. She is filled with longing for her mother, which is perhaps the most poignant part of the book. The book is a testament not only to Jaycee’s strong spirit but to the human spirit and how, even in a child, it can triumph over the worst of circumstances. Jaycee is not filled with hate, does not feel entitled, and has moved on with her life. She is now a lady who is dignified, calm and impressive.

As an editor, I do need to point out objectively that the book is not well written. It took only a night to read, was riveting, but uneven, choppy and skips vast amounts of time in her captivity. It’s told only from her point-of-view, which is fine, but the book would have been so much better in the hands of an experienced writer who could have brought more of what was happening with efforts to find her, and her mother’s experience. The book feels like it was written by a child, and in many ways it was, as Jaycee’s education ended so abruptly in fifth grade, and she endured so much. More time was spent describing her numerous pets than her own children—these are odd things psychologically, and even endearing, but makes the book a bit frustrating to read. Still, I highly recommend it. Jaycee is a classy lady and perhaps the bravest one we can imagine, to share her experiences. I think she may have shared too soon, however; perhaps over time she can pen another, which will provide more insight from her as an adult. My rating refers to the content and my regard for the author, and less the style. Three stars.

Stairway to Heaven

The true result of endeavor, whether on a mountain or in any other context, may be found rather in its lasting effects than in the few moments during which a summit is trampled by mountain boots. The real measure is the success or failure of the climber to triumph, not over a lifeless mountain, but over himself: the true value of the enterprise lies in the example to others of human motive and human conduct.” —Sir John Hunt, leader of the 1953 British expedition that first ascended Mount Everest

In one week I will return to Kenya, for my fifth visit. And two weeks from today I will be somewhere along the Machame route on Mt. Kilimanjaro! I’ve been training hard these past two months with an excellent trainer. He’s helped me increase my endurance–rather than walk on my treadmill, or even jog, I set it at the highest incline, strap on ten pounds and my hiking boots, and “hike” for an hour, sweat pouring off me. The first 15 minutes are hard, but soon, it is a rhythm, and then it’s easy. I look forward to it the next day!

Check out my rainproof jacket, embossed with our Kilimanjaro logo, compliments of Neil Herson, president of ASD Healthcare and fellow teammate!

Twice a week I’ve been doing plyometrics, simple looking exercises that are deceptively hard. Dan’s license plate reads “TRNZ4MR” and he is a Transformer! I’ve shed 7 pounds of fat and have toner muscles. Just in two months! I have learned to love to eat egg white and protein bars, and no longer crave M&Ms, my stress food. I feel ready for Kili.

My daughter, feels ready too. She worked out with Dan once–and when she hit my iPod, which had been playing the Doors for an hour–the shuffle picked a song out of 4,200 songs… called “Kilimanjaro.” (Hear Twilight Zone music playing, anyone?)

Today we sorted through all our gear. It’s a lot of planning. We have to plan for 5 days in Nairobi, visiting hemophilia patients, the members of the Jose Memorial Hemophilia Society, the hospital and doctors. We’ll be taking visits to the villages, far from Nairobi. Then, we will leave on the 5th to fly to Arusha, Tanzania. The next day, we start our 6 day climb!

All of this benefits Save One Life and our Africa programs. All ten climbers are paying their own expenses. Every penny raised goes to the organization and to fund our programs in Africa. Please stay tuned as I hope to bring you stories of our adventures, and portraits of the people whose lives we touch. I am most anxious to see Peter, who has hemophilia, and his younger brother Zakayo, who was in a psychiatric ward when I visited him, a victim of the riots that broke almost two years ago. The ward was a grim place. His brother was declared “cured” but the family had no money to pay for his care. No money? No release. The poor young man was trapped in that place. We paid the $300+ fee to get this young man released to go home to his family. For us this is what it means to save one life. One child, one young man, one hemophilia patient at a time. They all have names and stories and our climbers will have the immense privilege to enter their world, and experience a little of what they endure.

Our climb up Kilimanjaro may be the hardest thing we have ever done in our lives, but pales next to the daily lives of those who live in poverty with hemophilia. Thinking of them makes our climb a stairway to heaven, as the money we raise will help ease their suffering. We get to relax after our six day ordeal; theirs never seems to end.

Please make a contribution to the fundraiser! 100% of your donation goes to Save One Life and our Africa program, and not to climbers’ expenses! Help change the lives of those in Africa with hemophilia–one at a time. Visit SaveOneLife.net and click “Donate”

Countdown: Three Weeks

Three weeks from today I will be settling into a sleeping bag on Mt. Kilimanjaro, gazing at what I think will be a billion stars overhead. But… back to today. I was supposed to go back to Mt. Washington to hike again, but the Auto Road was closed and… it’s a long way to drive up and back–about 6 hours that I don’t have right now.

But training continues!

I dusted off my Orbea Diva racing bike and took it for a 12 mile bike ride, thinking of Barry Haarde and thanking him for reigniting my love of cycling this year. Quite frankly, I am afraid of my bike. I’m used to the heavier hybrids, where you can really pump hard and fast, standing up even. But this thing.. it weighs about 13 pounds, is light and super fast, but moves when you do. The bike was shaking for 10 minutes when I realized it just feels every vibration in me. It has clip-in pedals, which also takes some getting used to. I survived and really enjoyed it!

My trainer, however, says the bike isn’t enough. Not enough cardio. Ten minutes with my trainer and I feel my heart bursting and pounding, just like it did on Mt. Washington. I see him twice a week and it’s made a huge difference. Dan suggested I increase the incline on my treadmill (what a concept! I’ve had it for years but never do that!), throw a ten pound weight on my back, lace up my boots and walk it. Sounds easy, but within 10 minutes, I was sweating and got the heart pounding again. This is a good thing. Eventually, someday, it will get easy. But not really before Kili.

As important as the training is what I am eating. Previously, I had fallen into a pattern of carbs, carbs, carbs, which gives me lots of energy. But also gives me points in the day when I am totally depleted. I’ve switched to a high protein diet, with minimum carbs. It was kind of hard at first, but now I am slowly losing my cravings for any carbs. This is great because not craving them allows you to think about what you are to eat, not just react. The protein helps repair the muscle tears (plenty of those) and carbs give you energy. This past week I ate so few carbs I found myself really depleted. After an hour with Dan, I went to run 4 miles, made it 2.5 and crawled the rest of the way home!

I am mostly vegetarian, and never eat red meat. No longer. All the working out has raised my energy levels, and I feel like a machine churning away calories! It seems I can’t eat enough, but I am slowly losing weight.

The treadmill says I burned off about 400 calories; how much could one little s’more that night cost?

Seriously, I’m learning so much about eating right, and exercising for maximum effect. If you want to learn about being fit, getting fit and raising your standard of life, check out Bayer’s Living Fit program that might be of help to you.

On Saturday I went shopping at REI and bought sleeping bags, day packs… a ton of stuff you need for six days on the mountain. We will start in tropical weather and end (hopefully) in winter weather with the temperature dropping to the 20 degree mark! It’s really getting exciting, now that the big day is coming!

Consider a sponsorship! I still need to raise more money. Go to www.saveonelife.net and click on Donate Now. Then click Kilimanjaro and follow the directions. Let’s raise it for Africa! Asante Sana!

Mountains Beyond Mountains

I broke in my new hiking boots on Mt. Washington, a 6,288 ft. deceptive mountain. It looks so harmless, yet is often rated one of the 10 most deadly climbs in the US. The strongest winds in the world were recorded at the top, at 281 mph. It sits at the confluence of three weather systems, and has a reputation for sudden changes in temperature, weather conditions and wind. You can start out at 80 degrees and sunny at the bottom, and within an hour hit snow, gale force winds and whiteout conditions.

I’m training for my Kilimanjaro climb August 6, trying to raise money for Save One Life, Inc., the nonprofit I started in 2000 to give financial aid through sponsorships to impoverished patients with hemophilia in developing countries. I have raised $140 so far, thanks to Barry Haarde, Cheryl D’Ambrosio and colleague and friend Michelle. This is my week to do some serious fundraising, so you may all be getting emails from me!

After reading about the treacherous weather, I wore summer clothes but packed winter gear in my backpacks, along with some survival items: matches, lighter, lots of protein bars, ponchos, waterproof coverings and layers of clothes. I drove 3 hours Saturday to the White Mountain range, stayed overnight and started at 8 am this morning. All smiles.

Within 15 minutes I was breaking a sweat and laboring with my breathing. This was way tougher than I had ever imagined! The trail is all rock—big rocks that make footing tricky. It’s not a lovely dirt trail under the pines; it’s rocky, rough and all uphill. Viciously up hill. I kept looking at my watch: 8:30, pant pant. 9 am, pant pant. I stopped over and over to guzzle water.

I found three slimy slugs on the rocks, really misplaced and in danger of being stepped on, and like the animal-lover I am, coaxed the creepy things on to a leaf and then relocated them off the trail, where they were safe. By 9:30 slug saving was no longer part of the morning. I had to save myself. My heart was about to explode out of my chest wall. I was drinking my water so fast I feared I’d have none left for the half way mark, where there was a pump.

With my calf muscles burning, I pushed on. Finally at 10:30 am I had made it to the half way point, where there was a cabin and yes, a water pump. The view was beautiful. The strenuous climb left me with no appetite. All I craved was water.

I set off again, once my heart settled down to a normal beat, this time feeling much better.

One of the guides told me that they get sunny, clear days about one day per month. Today was that day! The sky was crisply blue and there were no clouds. So this was the mountain that has taken 146 lives, and puts fear into climbers’ hearts? It seemed so peaceful today and all the hikers I met were in awe over the great weather.

The second half of the trip saw me leaving the woods, and entering a more barren terrain. Our path was called Tuckerman’s Ravine and I hiked right through the ravine. Suddenly it seemed almost impossible to push on. The steep grade made gravity like a huge magnet, pulling me down. My heart was pounding wildly. I had to stop every tenth step and breathe deeply over and over to calm it.

The trail turned into just a huge pile of rocks from millennia past. I focused so much on putting one foot in front of the other, that I lost the pseudo-trail twice. There are very faded yellow markers on the rocks (AMC should really repaint these!) but these are hard to see. Rocks and boulders everywhere and at times, you think you are just stumbling over the world’s biggest rock pile, going who knows where.

Eventually I came to the heart of the ravine, where miraculously, on a summer day, was a snow bridge—a huge sheath of snow suspended over the ravine! A blond-haired man, fit and daring, stood under the bridge while his girlfriend took his picture. I couldn’t bear to watch; I didn’t want to see this guy on 1,000 Ways to Die. The climbing was really tough and even the young people we met were struggling. I think this part was the hardest of the whole climb. At times we were going hand to foot, crawling vertically like Spider-Man.

Finally, around 11:45, I could see the summit, and those coming down gave us an encouraging “Just about 45 more minutes! You can do it!” Mt. Washington is like one of those crazy optical illusions: you think you are getting closer, but the closer you get, the further away it seems! By this time I was leaning on my trekking poles, gasping. Once I caught my breath, I pushed on.

It took me another 15 minutes or so but I made it. Really, I had no choice but to make it! There were lots of cars and tourists, as Mt. Washington has an Auto Road, and many drive their cars up winding, hairpin turns, 11 miles to the summit. I literally dragged myself across the parking lot… only to climb more stairs to get to the restaurant, gift shop and reservations for a van ride down. I have never breathed so hard in all my life.

But, having said all that, it was a fantastic experience! I learned so much about myself and what I need to know for Kilimanjaro.

Trekking poles are a must. They provided balance, and something to lean on when breathing hard.
If you can’t eat, an energy gel snack gave an instant boost while being easy to digest.
I don’t think you can drink too much water!
Good hiking boots are vital. Mine kept our ankles protected form sudden twists from slipping on rocks or stepping into little crevices.
Warm jackets; the wind picked up at the top and once I stopped sweating it got chilly!
Climb with someone, not alone. Especially at my age!

I need to hike more often. So, despite how tough this was, I will return probably next weekend, if the weather is good.

Please help support Save One Life’s Kilimanjaro fundraiser! Make a donation via PayPal in my name as a climber. Each climber pays for 100% of their trip to Kilimanjaro. 100% of your donation goes to our Africa programs and to Save One Life! My goal? Raise $5,000 to give towards college scholarships to young men with hemophilia in Africa, to help them pay for medical expenses and transportation. Please give today!

(Mountains Beyond Mountains is the name of a top-notch book by Tracy Kidder about Dr. Paul Farmer’s humanitarian work with TB and AIDS in Africa and Haiti. Read it! You’ll be amazed.)

This Time for Africa!

One month from today I will be in Africa, about to reach new heights, literally. I’m planning a huge mountain climb, up Mt. Kilimanjaro, the largest mountain in Africa and largest freestanding mountain in the world. At 19,340 feet, it’s colossal. We will start at tropical temperatures, and gradually progress up to Arctic temperatures, below freezing. It will take us six days: five up and one down!

Who are we? The nine other climbers are: my 17-year-old daughter; Eric Hill and son Alex; Neil Herson and daughters Britney and Kelly; Jeff Salantai, who has hemophilia, and Julie Winton, a nurse with a son with VWD. Jeff and I just met for the first time last week in San Antonio! He was the first person with hemophilia to climb Mt. Rainier last year!

Eric is president and founder of BioRx, a specialty pharmacy. Jeff and Julie are his employees. Neil is president and founder of ASD Healthcare, one of the largest distributors of plasma derived products and pharmaceuticals in the US.

Our goal is to raise money for Save One Life and its Africa programs. Save One Life is the child sponsorship program for impoverished children with bleeding disorders in developing countries. I’ve been traveling to Africa since 1999, and was the first person from our international community to travel to Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania. I’ve also been to Zimbabwe four times and hope to return again soon. We started outreach programs in Tanzania and Zimbabwe to help locate more patients. We also want to start a scholarship program for college age men in Kenya. They are all so lacking in funds, and it doesn’t take much to get them an education. Once they are educated, they have a chance at a better life.

Eric is a sponsor of two children through Save One Life Neil is one of our biggest sponsors at 49 children! Obviously they are deeply committed to our cause.

They must be to tackle Kilimanjaro. Long the focus of lore and legend, Kili is very special. And tough. While not a technical climb, meaning there will be no ropes or climbing gear, it is strenuous. The biggest worry is altitude sickness: migraine headaches that lead to vomiting and lack of appetite. Oxygen levels will be at 50% of sea level.

But I have hope. Chris Bombardier, a young man from Colorado, just returned from Kenya and I think is the very first American with hemophilia to summit Kili! His climb also raised money for Save One Life.

If you’d like to sponsor a climber, please go to our donation page. Please note that 100% of your donation goes to Save One Life and its African programs, and not to cover the costs of the climb, or airfare or anything related to the trip. Each climber pays for his or her own expenses. All funds raised are donated to Save One Life. It’s a huge commitment in terms of time, energy, and money for these climbers. Please give them motivation and support by pledging today!


Interesting Book I Just Read
Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky

Shaman or madman? Forty year ago today Jim Morrison died of “heart failure” in a bathtub in Paris, of a suspected overdose. His death is being honored around the world by tens of thousands who loved his music and somehow identified with this tortured poet-turned-rock star. It’s hard to see the poet when you read the account here which can make you wince: the drinking, the juvenile antics, destruction of property and disregard for the rights of others, including his own band mates who suffered six long years with their front man. Gifted with a gorgeous voice and even better looks, Morrison relished the role of star, but also sought solitude personally, and respect for his poetry. “The Lizard King” brought the Doors fame and a legacy in rock and roll history, but as much for pushing the envelope as for his lyrics. His on stage antics made him the first rock star to be arrested on stage; he had 20 paternity suits pending at the time of his death; he was banned forever in Phoenix. Now his antics look tame, but in the 60s, this was all new, and dangerous. Morrison took rock where it had never gone before.

Riordan was a Rolling Stone contributor, and interviewed Morrison. But the writing is choppy, perhaps reflecting two different authors’ styles, and references to current events—Vietnam, Charles Manson, Apollo 11—are stuck in the middle of the story, often without a connection, or when there is a connection, it’s contrived. Some of the statements are just ridiculous (No matter how he tried to avoid it, legal trouble followed Morrison [as though he were an innocent bystander] and then in the next paragraph, they relate how he was arrested by the FBI and held in jail for disturbing the staff and passengers on a commercial plane ride). The attempt to view Morrison as a shaman is a bit too serious, verging on hero-worship. Much of the material here seems to be pinched from other sources, though sources are often not cited. So this is not a well written or researched book, certainly not as good as No One Here Gets Out Alive. I prefer drummer John Densmore’s Riders on the Storm the best, for its candid and sympathetic view of a man, Jim Morrison, who vented his deep-seated angers at his audiences, and muted his insecurities through alcohol. What a waste: judging from the Celebrations of the Lizard today, he is still cherished as a star, marveled at for being truly innovative, and listened to with pleasure. He appalled and attracted. The world is ever fascinated by him. Morrison has influenced many rock stars since his brief life ended. And members of the Doors are still touring, as much as ever (I almost went to see Ray Manzarek when he was in Massachusetts in May–so sorry I missed it!) He always said he would be a comet: a brilliant flash, here for a short while, but leaving a lasting impression. How true! RIP, Lizard King. Two stars.

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