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Day One - Its In Africa You Know


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2/15/10: Monday, February 15th: The day has finally come. All the packing, testing, working out, foreshadowing, preparing, speculating, worrying, anticipation has come to a head. My parents showed up at my place to pick me up and take me to the airport. If you had been following along in the pre-climb, you saw that they came and helped me through a test pack just a day or so ago. Well we got everything in the big suitcase, my carryon' backpack and briefcase. I was informed by my mom that I am not only allowed a carry on back that measures certain dimensions as to fit in the overhead, but I am also allowed a personal carry-on like a laptop, or in a ladies instance, a purse. So I put my overflow into my soft-sided briefcase. This included my thermarest pillow, noise canceling headphones and Ipod, camera stuff, among other things. I was worried cause my suitcase was 51.5 lbs.

At the airport

Can't wait to hit security
I couldn't wait to get going, I was really early at the airport and climbin' the walls when this picture was taken. I just wanted to get there, get on the mountain, and start this climb as soon as.... yesterday!!!! But I was able to pause for these photos. My biggest fans were with me. Thank you God, I am truly blessed!


2/15/2010 @ 1:18PM Eastern: The journey officially begins. My mind is spinning, so much has been done just to get me to this point. I think I am ready, house is ready, job is taken care of, dog has a caregiver and my bags are packed and hopefully being loaded onto the airplane as I write this. I am at the gate, way too early, eager. Flight leaves in an hour and a half.
My parents were absolutely instrumental in every aspect of the planning, research, support, and "positive talk," for this trip. Through it all, they have really been great to me. I am sure they will be climbing with me, in my mind and spirit. What a blessing!

They finally just left the airport, they came as far as they could go, right to the jaws of security. I then got into a conversation with a TSA employee, mom watched the whole time, as I passed out cards promoting the website. Then, once through security we had about what seemed like a 5 minute wave session, then I saw them leave. I Grabbed a pepperoni pretzel, a hot dog, bottled water, and headed for the gate. When I sat down at the gate, all the way at the end of concourse C, I realized that I was really early. Wow, we made great time!

As my mind continued to twirl, bouncing through all of the things I potentially forgot to pack or to take care of I heard the lyric, “Every little thing, is gonna be alright…” and I thought, “Thank You Bob Marley.”

"Wow, I am really going to be on vacation for three weeks, I am really going to not see my dog for three weeks, I won’t see my home for three weeks, I am really going to go to Africa, FOR THREE WEEKS!"

It is now beginning to set in. Maybe this was my first, “Aha!” moment. Just a reflection.

As I sit back on a KLM Boeing 747 from Amsterdam to Nairobi, Kenya, I have the opportunity to do some more “reflection.” I mean what else is there to do at 40,000 feet. The flights so far have been absolutely enjoyable. Cleveland to Newark the least exciting of all. It was the same old type of flight was have grown accustomed to in the United States, soda and pretzels. In, up, down and out, welcome to Newark. No real adventure, I can not even remember, as I write this, if I had an isle or window. Oh wait, it just came to me. I sat next to a husband and wife with a 4 month old baby, that never cried. I had the isle seat, my long time favorite and watched an episode of Breaking Bad on my Ipod. I downloaded the whole second season just for this trip. I want to be prepared for the third season which starts shortly after I return. I can not wait. Anyway, we touched down rather quickly and that leg was over, very nice!

As I hit the airport terminal, I checked the monitor and saw that I had to head to the next terminal. On the way I made my way past all the new, cool retail stores, I had to stop into The Body Shop, needed some moisturizing cream for possible achy body joint rubs, a foot rub if nothing else. I picked up some Body Butter, intense moisturisation, protection and repair for extremely dry skin. Sounds good, it is going to be dry at 19,000 feet, and all the ingredients are natural, so I made my choice. Okay, which way now?

On my way, I spied a sign, Sushi Bar – Gate C124. Now how am I going to pass that up? I have plenty of time so off to the next concourse to gate area C124. Picked up a nice assortment of sushi, soy sauce and wasabi included, a bottled water then headed for my gate in the next concourse. I thought, this Newark airport has come along way from the days when I used it as a hub to get into and out-of Manhattan. Speaking of Manhattan, I had the opportunity to check out the city a few times from various windows that I had passed. I thought how now the Empire State Building seems to grab my eye, instead of the World Trade Centers. I love that skyline, always have but now I don’t seem to want to stare at it as much, I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I do. 9/11 still stings, I know that it always will.

As I am walking along with my sushi, I seem to keep following this very tall, perfectly shaved bald guy, with horn rim glasses. He walks with a ton of confidence. I think to myself, “Probably a big shot in Manhattan, owns this airport, much like I used to think I did.” I mean I can go there in my mind real quick, I remember those days as a salesman, working out of the garment district at 295 Fifth Avenue, across the street from the Empire State Building. I loved those days, I was a “mover-and-shaker!” I loved to travel, I knew all these airports like the back of my hand, Newark especially. After years of trial and error, I determined that the gateway to Manhattan was through Newark Airport, a Port Authority bus ride into the terminal in Hell’s Kitchen, then a short elbow and sneer walk to one of my favorite hotels just blocks away. That beat getting ripped off by some cabby trying to get through Queens, or the alternative Harlem, into the city as they try to determine if I’ve ever been there before or not. I always made a point of letting the driver know that I am a veteran of the city, and don’t try taking me the long way around Ellis Island first and running the fare up through the roof. No, I would save my naivety for Nairobi. Let some Kenyan take my money, not some New York Cabby, I’m too smart for that, right?

I keep following this tall bald guy though. He’s like the mayor, pulling along his carry-on on wheels, his black overcoat open and filling with air as he strides through the concourse, patting little kids on the heads and kissing air with groups of flight attendants. I figure that this guy is really a frequent traveler, all the flight attendants know him.

I head to my gate, all the way at the end of the second “C” concourse, and I see people, lots of people sitting. I spy an open seat, sit down with my meal and tailor off into my own world as I enjoy my sushi. They now have these little circular power stations for laptop people, all tethered to like a tetherball pole in a school yard. Many people looking on in case someone falls off, so they can plug in quickly. I even considered plugging in my Ipod to charge. It would not have been a bad idea in that I wouldn’t have access to an actual 110 power feed again until I borrowed a converter in Nairobi over a day later.

As I sat at the gate, I noticed some things that I guess would enter into my mind several times throughout this trip, maybe this was the first time so it is significant. In that this Continental flight was heading to Amsterdam, there were several European’s waiting for this flight, and it being cold outside, many had on scarves. Now either I’ve been sheltered for the last several years, actually I have, being a cubicoid now I haven’t traveled out of the U.S. in quite sometime, but I noticed that Europeans wear their scarves differently. It is kind of cool and has grown on me, so I began to study it. Basically, the wrap it around their neck one time around, wrap it under and over itself and back around to the front to meet its counterpart, leaving this big “mass” in the front. But it looks effective, and warm. Interesting I thought.

At 8:30 I caught a 757, with a window seat this time, to Amsterdam. What a wonderful flight. While I enjoyed my sushi meal at the gate, I began a conversation with a gentleman named Mika, who is Zambian, but lives and works in Amsterdam, as a banker!

We had a nice conversation, I think he is the first person I ever noticed wearing a scarf in that “European way.” I do not think I have ever thought of “banker” and “Amsterdam” in the same sentence but “Mika” gave me some insight, and now my reality is just a little bigger. He had a really friendly demeanor and a very nice accent.
As I sit there in my own little world, the flight crew begins to assemble at the gate doors, low and behold, the tall, classy bald guy. He’s a Continental Airlines international flight attendant. Now that fits. Cool, this is going to be a fun flight I think. In fact, all of the flight attendants amassed at the door for this flight seem classy, confident and just somewhat more than just a pretzel and soda slasher.

In fact, nearly all of the flight attendants for this flight were male, older classy and carried themselves with seemingly lots of confidence. They served us drinks, they fed us, more drinks, more food. It was an awesome flight. It crescendo’d with a beautiful sunrise over the frozen Netherlands as our plane land. We left “Continental Country: and now were clearly on KLM turf, which consisted of 747’s, wide-body jets and more 747’s. All in the Royal Dutch Airline trademark blue. KLM seems to clearly own Amsterdam airport. This is when I was blasted by a wave of “Internationalability.” As I scurried from Continental’s terminal to KLM’s I began to pass one amazingly beautiful woman after another, all dressed to a “T” in the most beautiful shade of Royal blue ever imagined. Meet the KLM Flight Attendant. All blonde, all pretty enough to be models, trim, classy and just simply amazing. I must say, once making it to my gate, E-22, I found the KLM staff to be extremely polite, helpful and clearly enjoying their jobs. Maybe A&E glorified the stereotype of the angry airport staff, or the patience-less flyer, but KLM staff, and the Continental International flight staff enjoy what they are doing. They love their jobs, their organization, and their passengers, or they sell it well. Either way, I was truly enjoying myself.

As I entered E-22 I needed to get a seat assignment, which I did, a whole row to myself, and go through security again, at the gate. No problem, and it didn’t bother me that now I was commissioned to the gate area since once inside I had access to not only a phone back but we had our personal restrooms. Now this is comfortable flying.

It seems to me now that I made many notes up to this point, seemingly unimportant and even I question why I have chosen to write about such mundane things like flying, eating sushi in an airport, a bald man, a new way to wear your scarf, and I wonder right now actually if I will continue to focus on such small details of this trip. Regardless I find notes penned in my moleskin somewhere like 36,000 feet over Egypt.

2/16/2010: As I stare out of this 747’s window, from row 58, I marvel at the vastness of the desert below. I saw a shoreline a while back, presumably of the Mediterranean Sea. I can only think that I am now over Egypt. We have bee flying over desert now for at least an hour. Desert sand, as far as the eye can see, or even imagine. Sometimes I think I can see a road, or water, then I think if I were attempting to cross it, how with every peak I’d wonder if the other side would hold an oasis, or activity or some form of civilization. But from up here I realize crossing this desert on the ground would have to be impossible. I then spotted water, and what looks like a city, and squares cut into the sand, like perfectly placed window panes. Then dunes, miles and miles of dunes. I am getting a sense of the magnitude of this continent: Africa. It is big, bigger than anything I have ever known. Still more sand!

Amid all of the sand bumps, at least that is what they look like from 36,000 feet, I see a long dune rising up out of the desert like a serpent’s tail. Then more bumps like the serpent’s skin. Still more sand. I see veins, dried up veins that may have once fed a luscious rainforest or village, now appearing to only be dry, wind tunnels, corridors snaking through the dunes, maybe enticing one to try. But from up here I see there is no other side, there is no life down there. We definitely need airplanes!

The veined beige reptile seems endless and I do not feel like it is earth anymore. Then I wonder if Angie sees this as she enjoys the amenities of the fist class cabin on British Airways out of London to Africa. After a trip to the lavatory I returned to a different desert, a much more strata appearing pattern ending in big sand cliffs, then waves of sand, like an angry sea. Still more sand!
I have not seen civilization in quite a while, I can not even imagine anything lives down there, more cliffs, more waves, more lines following the path of our plane. I spot a town, an airstrip, only one, lots of structures, surrounded by dunes s far as my eyes will let me. I see vegetation, all in perfectly made squares. Manmade no doubt, dashing the desert like an artists’ paint hits the floor, by accident and out of place. Then more desert, maybe a road, but its hard to tell. I see great flat top columns rising up, surrounded by wind tunnel streams, dry, baron, bleak, a few random clouds below cast shade as if to indicate some sort of pity from the Gods. They don’t seem to be moving, and they don’t seem to help, they look as dry as the sand, and as lifeless as dunes, rarely changing except over a lot of time.

desert town in egypt

Amsterdam, 6:25AM: As I rush through Kidrow Airport making my way to 01565 KLM to Nairobi, I realize I am unable to fully appreciate the splendor of this really cool airport. I mean when did they become the nicest shopping mall I haven't been in forever? E-22 is a long way, and I needed to visit the Lavatroy first, not to mention, it that a line I see at the gate? Oh, and there's a swatch counter, oh I wanted to stop. I need a watch! Oh well, keep moving I think.

Now I'm the last guy that likes to speak about bodily functions but I was truly impressed with Amsterdam's facilities. I always fashioned myself a "Home field advantage" guy whose biggest fear is public toilets, so it was not wonder I said a prayer on the plane for a clean restroom. I hit the rest room close to the gate and was astonished by the cleanliness and one fact that I just can't get over in comparison to the United States: stalls with walls and a door that go all the way from the floor to the ceiling, and with ventilation. And clean! In fact I noticed each bathroom along the way had a cleaning cart positioned outside of it so apparently they had a crew that kept them in order. How nice! So what is with our short stall walls in America? I mean, who invented the fact that we have to try and complete the most personal of business looking at someone else’s shoes, or listening to someone else slay their dragon? This is so stupid in a land of supposedly plenty. All I want is walls and a door.
The shocking moment for me was as I washed my hands I noticed a cleaning lady, yes I said lady, mopping the floor around my feet. She continued to mop the floor, around the feet of the men using the urinals. No big deal. I was amazed to say the least though. I mean in America its no big deal to share our most intimate moments with someone else’s shoes and sounds but we don’t allow cleaning women to wash the floors around our feet as we urinate. Interesting!

I reached my gate, E-22, all the way out to the end of the concourse. I was greeted by a kind KLM representative who quickly noticed I needed a seat assignment. She sent me down the right side of the line to another kind smiling face that said, “How about an isle seat?” I said, “Yea!” I was happy with that. It turned out that I had a whole row to myself. I started out in the isle seat, moved to the center seat as everyone adjusted, to run a “block” for my row, then I moved to the window seat and spent hours cricking my neck to look at hours of desert motifs, which I am still flying over as I write this. Hours before I marveled at the Italian Alps, which I managed to click off a few pictures from the airplane window. I thought, “And these aren’t even as high as what I’m heading for, but look how high they are…” Gulp!

Italian Alps

Italian Alps again

More Italian Alps

more alps

Alps town in Italy

KLM service from Amsterdam to Nairobi: So far, what a great flight.Upon takeoff I receieved a soda, a hot towel, then a steak dinner with saffron rice, a coleslaw styled salad with dates and a wonderful piece of cheesecake. Following this was a cup of coffee, and a bowl of chocolate ice cream with the little wooden spoon and some alpine spring water. Notable as well wat this 747 is staffed with the most beautiful woman I have ever seen yet on this trip. I need to travel more. Bad news is, I feel congestion in my chest. I am sounding like I may be getting sick. As soon as I can, I begin to up my vitiamin intake regiment. Lord knows I have a healthy supply, all labeled and overstocked per my parents.

Stay tuned, I have a ton more notes....