Found in Translation

Oh goodness me –  just had to share!

Over the past few weeks, Lana and I have been busy planning our Great Camino Mash Up Adventure. This is our catch phrase name for the 5 weeks we get to spend in France, Spain and Portugal taking part in the best parts of 3 different Camino pilgrimages. Check out Planning is Half the Fun! for way too many details on just how knee deep into planning we have been.

While bouncing about the world wide web during a recent planning weekend, Lana and I were finding ourselves quite amused. Some of the information on accommodation or travel websites in Spain and Portugal were hilarious. Either they are just darn funny people by nature (I hope so as that will make this trip even more fun) or Google Translate has wreaked some humorous havoc on their web fronts!

We had to share a few of our favourites which at 2am after hours of planning had us in stitches – of course what isn’t funny in the middle of the night with your bestie!

  • you shall see on your left hand side, a skat-park
  • chronic melting of volunteers
  • book to secure your most satisfaction
  • the soul given by each of you, to you
  • sheet low to use and throw away

Now while most made us laugh, I couple hit a bit home. These two statements that were seemingly lost in translation … may have actually been found in translation. I am hit by a much deeper meaning to these – for our lives and for this adventure.

Despite the passage is forbidden, continue

Despite the passage is forbidden, continue. This one had me thinking about all of the hardships we may run into and need to work through on our adventure. To overcome and just keep on stepping. Blisters, injuries, weather, malfunctioning gear, health issues, or whatever. Just take the next small step towards our goal. Despite it continue.

Trust in God and tether your camel.

Trust in God and tether your camel. Well this one definitely hits home for me as I am a bit of a worrier, ok sometimes more than a bit. I think this one will be a great reminder to just give it to God and know he will take care of us. Tether that anxiety or grumpiness or weariness and trust … and keep those hiking boots moving forward.

Awesome mantras for the adventure ahead!


Planning is Half the Fun!

Well lets start this post with some confessions of an adventurer…

I love planning. I love organizing. I love documenting details. I love images and maps of far off places. I love reading books about the far off places. I love research into destinations and gear and travel hacks.

All this love means that I am one of those quirky travelers who has the pleasure of loving the planning for a trip as much as the actual trip itself! No joke. And the bigger the trip, more countries, more flights, too many languages, different currencies – the more I enjoy it. Like a ‘giddy school girl with pig tails bouncing and clapping with little screams’ excited.  Get this wanderer some sharpies and post it notes, a pint of lager, and you will have a trip of a lifetime planned in detail in no time!

Deepening the confession level … I actually need things planned. Yup need it. Deep in my soul I am a ‘need to know the when, the how and the what’ in order to relax in the moment. I am not a fly by the seat of my pants globetrotter. Rather I am the researcher, advance planner and informed decision maker who dreams of cutting lose but gets a little chest pain when it actually happens. So thank goodness my quirks are resolved by something I love. I do not apologize for this must-plan trait in fact I am proud of it. It brings me a little closer to our Strachan Clan motto of “not timid, just cautious”. Boom!

So let the planning fun begin . . . for our big Camino Mash Up,  Lana and I will be walking 5 weeks worth of 3 Camino Ways in France, Spain and Portugal.

Blank Slate Trip

A blank slate – like a big, amazing canvas!

Lana flew in to Vancouver for a long weekend and we spent it planning, planning, planning. Before Lana arrived we had our flights booked and had, for the most part, decided our route we would take on the 3 Caminos – a spreadsheet may have been involved. So we knew  arrivals and departure, roughly which days were we walking, and where we had to find a bed at night. A great start to our blank canvas!

We set ourselves up on the deck by day and the kitchen table by night. Armed with our poster size calendar, laptop, iPad, travel books, spreadsheet route, snacks, pints, post it notes, sharpies, and a pencil  – we got to planning. The pencil was for Lana – she hates when I use a sharpie on the poster or post its before the plan is set in stone. Makes me laugh.

Planning by day – on the deck!

Planning and eating.

Planning by night – at the kitchen table!






After a near 4 solid days of planning (I may have accidentally made Lana help me paint my living room and french doors when we weren’t planning) we had a pretty solid plan. Add in a couple more weeks of planning by text between me in B.C and Lana in Alberta, and we have a perfect plan! If we do say so ourselves. I could do this for a living!

Planning complete!

Planners gotta plan – its like art!

Ok we do have two days where we need to find a place to sleep but we have 2 months and 2 days to sort that out and technically we could always just show up in the town and find a bed  on the day of. Like real pilgrims.

Wow, this trip has gotten very real now that it is all planned. It feels great to be so ahead of the game on this. Now to wrap our head around the packing list!


Dear Sir Osprey

Dear Sir Osprey (my backpack),

Well my little buddy, my trusted friend and most loyal travel companion … it is time for our travels around this vast world to part I think. With a sad, but working on accepting it heart it is time for your retirement. You will have a trusted place on the shelf next to all the very travel books that once you carried around this wide world for me on our adventures. And oh the adventures we have had together!

West Highland Way

West Highland Way, Scotland

Remember the West Highland Way, Scotland? Our first long distance hike (154km). I bought you for that  adventure 10 years ago from the Robinson’s Outdoor Store in Victoria. I loved you the from the second we took our first step on the path! This is the hike that set the bar for all others. We walked from the lowlands to the highlands, playing the Run Rig music collections on repeat, and feeling amazed at how lucky we were every day. We closed this trip in my favourite town in this world Fort William, Scotland at the Grog and Gruel with a pint of Tennents Lager toasting my 30th birthday and the start of 5+ more months of travel still in front of us!

Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Wales

Oh but do you remember the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path on the coast of Wales? Wow that was a doozy. 16 days walking 299kms. Sadly 14 of those days you were wrapped tight in your waterproof cover as we were pelted with sideways, upwards, downwards and misty rain. Like the rain scenes from Forrest Gump really! Not to mention the poor tears you had to witness as the path was often on the very edge of the coastal cliffs and well beyond my comfort zone. I will never forget that gust of wind that took my right off my feet and I was sure we were plunging to our death – but you had me! I landed on my back like a sad little turtle flipped upside down on my shell with my legs dangling, tears streaming and all of our fresh blackberries in your outside pocket crushed. You still have that blackberry stain!

Hadrian's Wall Path

Hadrian’s Wall Path, England

Our next adventure was the Hadrian’s Wall Path in England and it was no less exciting at 135km of adventure. You hung on tight as we  very, narrowly outran that crazy bull on day 3 –  catapulting ourselves over Hadrian’s Wall itself (thank goodness it is now so robbed of stone over the years that it was only 7 feet not 16 feet tall). We landed right in a thistle patch as the bull struck the wall behind us. Thanks to you my back was the only spot not covered in thistle burrs that led to prickly hives for days. A great compliment to my 102 fever we were fighting from all the spider bites I had when we walked through that nest and they all snuggled under and you next to me and starting their afternoon snack on me!

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Did you love the day we got back to Scotland as much as I did? Our trip to the Isle of Sky where we hiked basically through the equivalent of pea soup all day for days – we were soggy and virtually blind from the fog. Yeesh I almost walked right into a sheep up on the ridge. Probably saved me from walking off the cliff edge really now that I think about it – wee cutesy and heroic lamb he was.

Great Glen Way

Great Glen Way, Scotland

Oh yes and of course one of my favourite memories with my sister Shar – the 127km Great Glen Way also in Scotland. You experienced everything from walking to boating on that trip. Again never a complaint. How great you did your job and how easy it was to carry you about. Even on all the days I was sick as a dog from drinking from an unwashed water bladder pack (I brought the wrong one), you felt like comfort and home on my back. Many a time on our breaks during the day you became my trusted pillow while I tried to cat nap away the headache, dizziness and nausea. Oh what a story – all part of the adventure!

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Perhaps your biggest adventures was Mount Kilimanjaro! Wow. Up and over the tallest free standing mountain in the world. We love Africa – the only place where you can you get a sunburn while walking along a glacier while people chant and encourage – it was just amazing. Sorry that other guy had to carry you for a while at the Summit there. My much regretted and unexpected case of the ole pulmonary edema wreaked havoc on me. Trust me though, your hike with the guide was much better than it would have been on my back that day. Alas though we made it and loved it and once again our long standing friendship was solidified in another country and another adventure.

Salt Spring Island, Canada at the top of Erskine Mountain (fairy door trail)

Salt Spring Island, Canada

Now we can’t of course discount the many, many adventures we had here in our own backyard of Canada. You have been with me to all kinds of places on Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island, North Shore, Whistler, Squamish, Fraser Valley, Alberta, Okanagan, and more, and more. Too many too remember individually but collectively a wonderful memoir of you!

I can’t imagine having reached for any other than you Sir Osprey to get me where I needed to go. However, all great things (even backpacks) must one day come to an end and Sir you have put your time in. From the battle scars and stains all over you, to the ripped out non-existent inside pocket, to the old- school canvas hip straps you are ready for a glorious retirement! May your days forward be relaxing and reminiscent, because you dear friend can now sit back and enjoy the easy life.

A quote from Henry Miller comes to mind when I think of our travels together …

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” This is so true and I have you to thank for helping me see things in new ways. With just my own two feet, a full heart of love from back home, and anything I could ever need in your 35litres – I had the confidence and the hefty sense of adventure to see new things in new ways and in so many amazing places.

Thank you Sir, thank you.


PS. I hope the next generation of Brande’s Backpacks tackles my Camino adventure as well as you did all yours! I will be sure to leave you and he alone for a few days so you can provide him with a comprehensive briefing on how to best support this gong-show adventurer!

What the Santiago? 

Yup, yup, yup – another adventure is in the works for these Running for the Gate gals! So exciting! 

We are off to see what all this Camino fuss is about in September … but in classic Lana y Brande style we are doing it mash up style. Instead of walking one Classic Camino, we are doing the best of many. The best of the France Camino, the classic Spain Camino, the Portugal Camino, and for good coastal sunshine measure the Finesterre Camino too. More details on the exact Camino Mash Up Itinerary of Awesome coming soon. 

We depart Aug 25 for at least 25 days of walking, covering what we think will be about 580kms by our own two feet (well four feet really there are two of us) and then back on Sept 30. A little hip, hop, skip, jump, hike, blister, laugh, whirlwind tour. 

Guess this means I better finish my Kilimanjaro blog posts – I still owe you day 5, 6 and 7. Coming soon.


Salt Spring Island – Hippy Happy Bliss 

Long Harbour, Salt Spring Island

Approaching Long Harbour, Salt Spring Island

I am so lucky, for ra-zeal … I live on the west coast of amazing Canada and have at my finger tips some awesome places to explore. This summer for a few random weekends in June and August I am blessed with the scenery of Salt Spring Island. I big style enjoy the hippy, happy bliss of Salt Spring Island and would recommend the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring or any other, to any one!

Salt Spring Island

What a place. How to describe it? In one long, poor grammar and badly punctuated sentence …. A small isle of winding,  hilly, crazy roads riddled with cyclists navigating from lake to lake to ocean among mountains, two wee villages, many artisan shops, some cheese shops, a winery, a brewery, a cidery and more, oh my! If it sounds quaint and yet rugged – I have gotten my point across!

Getting here: the only way here is to boat yourself (I wish), harbour plane (amazing if you can afford it), or on BC Ferries (also amazing but still expensive). I come over on the ferry. Some tips – it’s cheaper to walk as a foot passenger ($20 per human each way) and the expense of driving across is cheaper if you go mid week. Make a reservation for this sailing and check the schedule closely. This route is usually served by a small, old ferry boat with little room for cars and peeps so things fill up fast in summer. The milk run route (stops at least once at every other Gulf Island before getting to Salt Spring) is a neat idea if you have double the time but does not save you any money.

Getting around: I am all about using my own two feet to get around or at least the most enviro friendly option (biking, public transport) but on Salt that’s an adventure in itself. The island is MUCH bigger than most people assume. The roads are windy, hilly and the wilderness (trees, deer and more) meets the road right where a ‘shoulder’ for walkers and bikers should be. So walkers and cyclist must use the actual skinny roads to commute and while probably safe (many do it here) not something I prefer (I am a big fan of bike lanes and sidewalks). If you are traveling with kids here, use caution walking and biking assuming the little humans even have the leg power to get up and over the hills. So basically I recommend a car while here. There are though local taxi like services and many locals gladly pick up and drop tourists on their travels – but not my thing.

Getting eats: there is no shortage of good eats on this island. Salt Spring is as good to artists as it is to the outdoorsy and the foodies. All over Ganges and Fulford (the only ‘towns’ on the island) are restaurants from burger joints to coffee shops to pubs to pizza places to bakeries. Ganges is littered with food truck inspired locations that are really fun. Most places boast of local, organic food and many have fun twists on the usual boring fare too (duck wings instead of chicken wings). In Ganges my usual haunts like the Oyster Catcher has a great flatbread pizza, Moby’s Pub has great duck wings and the best pints, Treehouse Cafe (built literally around a tree) has awesome breakfast, Salt Spring Island Coffee has epic .. you guess, coffee, and Embe Bakery has treats for every taste. To name just a few of the yummy places about.

If you need groceries I highly recommend the Country Grocer just past Ganges Harbour to the Thrifty’s in the  Harbour. I am a huge Thifty’s fan usual (mmmm west coast ranger cookies) but the one on this isle is a gong show. Sorry. But if you are here in the height of summer I would instead suggest sticking to markets for your shopping! There is a massive market in Ganges on Saturdays and Tuesdays offering veggies, breads, jams, meats and more. There are also honesty boxes all over the island. In your travels have some small cash on hand and if there is something on the roadside for sale like eggs, veggies, flowers, firewood and more – simply drop the indicated and required sum in the honesty box and take what you paid for. Easy! The organic, free range, couldn’t be any more local eggs we picked up were amazing!

Getting to sleep: there all a whole host of campsites, bed and breakfast places, and Air BnB or VRBO places across the island. There are a few inns, hotels and guest houses too. Oh and most do accommodate humans and not just fairies like this one.

I generally go the Air BnB route so I can ‘live like a local’ and find this a pretty affordable option especially as I prefer to cook most of my meals. And by cook I mean eat cereal or make peanut butter and banana toasted sandwiches. (Side note: did you know that was Elvis’ favourite sammy? Yup!)

Anywho, the camping can be fun but be warned most campsites are walk in only (aka you must hoof your stuff in by hand not car) so embrace minimalist notions if you camp. I love love love the Ruckle Provincial Park campground! Some folks just set up their camp on local beaches and parks and don’t bother with official campsite mumbo jumbo. While this route is easy on the wallet, the prospect of getting woken in the night to get in trouble for it deters me. I am…how do you say it … A wimp when it comes to authority. Park Rangers especially. They might revoke my hiking rights!

Full disclosure here – prices in high season (summer) can be steep. Take the time to explore all options and you will find something in your price range even if maybe out of your comfort zone a wee bit – even 5 star hotel peeps can enjoy a walk in campsite with no amenities right? What you maybe over spend on accommodations you can save by fishing for your own dinner or eating Elvis sandwiches at your camp site!

Getting to know the island: what better way to get to know a place than by leaving it! Seriously hike and drive and bike the island for sure but also get on a boat and see it from the water. It’s just an amazing place – as is all the other small and large islands around it! Consider kayaking; the slow, quiet commute around and about the island gives you a great opportunity to take it all in. We saw seals, otters, snakes (being eaten by aforementioned otter), star fish, osprey (the actual bird not my backpack), deer and more from the comfort of my kayak! (Check out Island Escapades if you go.)

If bobbing in the ocean where something called a Killer Whale swims about underneath you isn’t your schtick – don’t worry, the island has enough to offer to keep you entertained. Try Mount Erskine Provincial Park for the fairy door trail, Ruckle Provincial Park for a great trek from bay to bay (and awesome geo-caching), Mount Maxwell Provincial Park for a hard core hike or a 4×4 drive to the amazing summit, Peter Arnell Trail for a rain forest fix, and then cool off at Beddis Beach on the ocean or St. Mary Lake for a swim of the non-salty variety.

Now what most people will tell you about Salt Spring is that the place is full of local artisan shops – if you like amazing, homemade, interesting, one of a kind, local art then Salt Spring is the place for you! You can’t dance in circles without hitting a local artist on that island. So many and so much talent. I will be honest I have not had the chance to explore this aspect of the island yet; when I have an ocean and mountains around me I hike not shop. Once I have done all the hikes, I will check out the art.

Some more pics to give you a sense of how great this Island really is!

Peter Arnell Trail, Salt Spring Island

Peter Arnell Trail (convinced they filmed Jurassic Park here

Ruckle Provincial Park

Hilltop section of the Ruckle Provincial Park Trail

Mount Erskine Trail

Up and up and up; the trail to the Mount Erskine summit

Mount Erskine, Salt Spring Island

View from the top of Erskine Mount, Salt Spring Island (the Fairy Door Trail is on this mountain)

Burgoyne Bay Beach, Salt Spring Island

Government dock at Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island

Burgoyne Bay Beach, Salt Spring Island

Burgoyne Bay Beach, Salt Spring Island (northern part of the isle)

Outhouse at Chocolate Beach, Third Sister Island

Chocolate Beach, Third Sister Island (about a 1,000 kayaking paddles from Salt Spring Island, Ganges Harbour

Hmm, I think that about sums it up  – put Salt Spring on your list!


Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Epiphany)

Well I subjected you to the run down of my roller coast emotions on the day we reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, so its only fair I also subject you to my summit epiphany as well.

(If you missed my emotional recap, click Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Emotions). Its pretty raw, you have been warned.)

mount kilimajaro summit

Any who, back to my epiphany. Drum roll please….

Getting to the summit is only half way!

Let me explain before you are all wondering what I am going on about.

Every conversation you have before you even depart for Tanzania, before you even pack your bags, get your travel insurance and start any training (if you plan on training) is about if you will summit Mount Kilimanjaro. When you finally arrive in Arushu or Moshi, whichever destination you pick as your ‘base camp’ all questions from the Lodge or Hotel staff, from your fellow trekkers and in your own mind are about if or if not you will summit. Then the day comes and you meet your Guide and climbing company and every conversation is about how they will make sure you summit. Summit, summit, summit!

Makes some sense. You travel all the way to Tanzania, you labour up that mountain one painfully slow step at a time, to do one thing: summit. Summit, summit, summit!

This ‘all about the summit adage’ once made sense to me but is now totally nonsensical. The summit is not the finish line, it is not the end of the road, or the end of your journey – it is only half way. Half bloody way!

Of course it is half way, duh – what kind of hiker, trekker, and mountain climber am I anyway? What goes up must come down, and last I checked there is no Gondola on Mount Kilimanjaro. But wait. You honestly do not think much about anything but getting to the summit, until one day the possibility of the summit is really real and then it hits you that holy crap you have to get back down. People need to know and I am serious about that – if you are debating that mountain embrace my epiphany. lol

The summit is not a finish line. It is not a marathon where my husband is standing at the finish line to hug me up, walk with me though the post-race snack line up to grab some chocolate milk, half banana and some cookies, and then get in the comfy car to head home for a long, well deserved shower. {oh wow that would have been amazing}

The summit is only half way. You have to turn your arse around and do exactly what you did for the past 6+ hours one more time but this time your legs are already burning, your lungs are on fire and feeling like the are fully on strike, your head is pounding, and you are willing yourself to go even 100 more steps without puking again.Did I mention the toes jamming in the front of your boots or the knees on strike? Every step you took on the way up already, you take again but this time fully exhausted not just kind of exhausted. Sometimes the cruelty of the mountain is such that you can even see your own footsteps in the opposite direction left in the scree field that you humped up just hours before and now you need to slide unbalanced down again.

Getting to the summit is a feat, and anyone who has done it or even attempts it gets a big, awesome, amazing kudos from me. The ultimate trick is if you can get up and down the highest free standing mountain in the same positive head space both ways.  A few on my crew were happy go lucky the whole up and down time, I wanted to be but don’t recall having the energy to be. I for sure had moments in my happy place and also in my get me the hell down head space over the course of summit day. Trust me, like many others before me, I was so focused on the summit, just like everyone with me and before me on that mountain, that I almost and very nearly missed an opportunity to appreciate the ‘coming back down’ as much as the ‘going to the top’.

I was happy to be on Mount Kilimanjaro, wow I was ecstatic to be honest. But there is nothing I wanted more than to leave that bucket list mountain top and get down and never see that thing again. Well now that I am down, recovered and looking back on the experience I maybe have a more reasonable opinion of the roof of Africa….

If you asked me if I would I climb it again? You bet! I would do it again in one heartbeat.


PS: Blog post with the step by step details coming soon. It would seem I needed to see more pictures from my fellow trekkers to piece together the day. Who knew altitude stole your breath and your memories! Pics and step details coming soon.

Hola Mexico 

Taking a little break from our Mount Kilimanjaro posts, to tell you about my current, exciting excursion to Cancun, Mexico. 

Me and the hubby are here at the Grand Bahia Principe Coba for 7nights with my mom, stepdad, stepsister, sister and her boys (my 2 nephews and her man), the sisinlaw and her daughter. 

So far I can conclude the following: 
1) the emergency exit row leg room is shy of heaven – and this wife is on the ‘best wife ever’ list for snagging it at check in 

2) West Jet as usual has impressed with their service and such friendly staff

3) that these little raccoon / lemur / ant eaters / bears are basically as cute as can be and I want one (actually called Coatis, and I would name home Ralph Racolemantbear)

4) having a logic model design for a university course due at midnight the day you land in Mexico is not fun
5) the infamous (me thinks the correct reference already) Zika virus carrying mosquitos are creating quite a conversation buzz but judging by the sheer number of pregger ladies on this flight it’s not as scary to some as others 

6) going for a hard run and not stretching before sitting on a plane for 5+ hours makes for some seriously sore hammies 

7) the Grand Bahia Principe result here in Cancun is pretty much an exact replica of the one in Dominican Republic – why change a good thing! 

8) the guacamole must be crack cause this girl cannot get enough of it – I made withdrawal therapy

9) some people truly do not understand that the personal space you should afford a stranger in public is the same when that same stranger and you are in a Buffett in proximity to each other. I cannot believe how many times someone has literally tried to take a serving tong from my hands for food that is overflowing from the serving dish – did you think I was gonna eat it all? Ok that is possible but all the same 

10) I love me a vacation with my sister for the laughs and I have a running partner! 

11) this girl could sit at a poolside all darn day everyday if given the chance – if anyone would like to fund that enterprise drop me a line


PS If any of my soccer gals are reading this … Go Diamonds! I do love me a pool side margarita but in my heart I would rather be toughing it through our cup game against the Millers 

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Emotions)

uruhu peak, kilimanjaro

Uruhu Peak, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

Here we go, Kilimanjaro summit, day 5 of the hike …

(If you missed it – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 4)

I figure I need at least a few posts and maybe a book to tell you about the day we went up and down the summit of the amazing Mount Kilimanjaro. Lets start with this post at least and see where it takes us.

Funny or sad or surreal or crazy enough, when I think of standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro I get emotional and am now writing this very sentence through salty tears in my eyes and on my cheeks. I want to try and tell you why that is, if I can even put to words the emotion of such a moment. I can’t even call it a moment as the experience was more than even moments; it was the accumulation of emotional, physical and really quite spiritual challenges and ah-ha experiences that in the end become your “Kilimanjaro memory’ if you will.

So really, stay with me, as I try to explain how it felt, how I actually think it has changed me, and through that hope it encourages you to challenge Kilimanjaro Mountain itself or your own ‘Kilimanjaro challenge’ whatever that might be in your life. In my next Summit Day – Hiking post, I will give you more of the factual, step by step of summit day stuff and lots of pictures. I felt I had to get this emotional stuff of my chest first before I could get into hike-y stuff and wanted to paint the picture of how it felt before dazzling you with summit pictures of glaciers and volcanic craters and such…

Some of you are probably still stuck on the Brande is crying while writing – what the heck? When you hear I have tears, please don’t be sad for me! These are tears of pride, of amazement, of feeling blessed, of being awed by our amazing planet and its Creator, and of being speechlessly reminded of how much the human body and mind are actually capable of. Of course, I will be honest with you and admit they are not all happy tears some are sad but that’s ok too so please still don’t feel sad for me. Some of the salt water in these eyes as I write are in memory of the fear of heights during the climb, the dread I felt when I honestly believed the next cough would leave blood in my palm, the next puking fit would leave me too exhausted and unable to continue.

A little caveat before we start, I am hoping beyond hope that none of my fellow hikers actually knew I was feeling all this. I was trying to keep it in so they could focus on their own hikes and not me all working my crap out up and down a mountain summit. I am not sure if I was able to dupe my hubby, bestie or sister but a girl can hope.

My memory of that day has gaps for sure. But as usual, the next morning I woke (light headed and coughing) and sat in the tent scribbling down every detail I could recall… here is how I remember feeling (think roller coaster) …

I remember feeling guilt. Yup, guilt. The guilt I have for making my wonderful husband stand by and watch his wife suffer though nothing shy of a wee dose of pulmonary edema purely for the thrill of knocking something of MY “must do” list in life, not his or ours – but my list. I think it is nothing shy of total and complete love that he, with full support and love, saw me through it, and even climbed it with me. You have probably read before that my husband hates hiking. Well his love is more for me than his hate is for hiking, so he does strap on his hiking boots once in a while just me and that includes to hike Kilimanjaro. I feel looking back I was very selfish asking him to hike for 7 days straight because I wanted to and then topped that off with me getting sick on the summit and scaring the crap out of him in thanks. So lets admit here, I know some of my emotion is caused by this overwhelming display of his love for me and just how far and high, literally, he is willing to go to demonstrate it. Wow! Right? So not just guilt, but also fall-in-love love all over again too.

Any who – carrying on.

I remember feeling stupid, yes you read that right – stupid. When we started out at 5am in the morning. I had all the right gear, the right training, my body felt mostly right that morning but yet I had a voice in my head that said ‘who do you think you are stupid girl, you were the chubby kid in school, the every diet out there I tried it gal, the just shy of being really good at sports but never amazing girl, the etc etc etc (insert all kinds of nasty self talk here). Stupid! I felt stupid cause of my self talk and I felt even more stupid for letting this self talk even enter my mountain-climbing, kick-ass mind.

I remember, on the very opposite spectrum, some very awesome self talk. Giving myself a mental high five for training so hard and feeling so good in my muscles and joints as a result. There was some definite you are bad-ass and hear me roar self talk moments happening!

I remember feeling thankful. Thanking myself for all the hours and hours of research I did so there were no surprises along that way that can trip up my brain into an anxiety / obsessive worrying. Thanking God for my body and the opportunity to be able to experience something so amazing on this globe of ours. Thanking all the family, friends, and support I have who were so excited for me to do this and so willing to jump in and make sure it was possible to get here and get up the mountain.

I remember looking around at my fellow climbers and feeling so blessed to have such amazing friends and family. I was on a mountain with my wonderful husband, with my so tough and so funny sister and her awesome husband, my hilarious and inspiring best friend, and the two closest friends my husband and I could ask for in the Carmen brothers. How did the universe align for such a rock star group of loving, darn funny and supportive people to come together? To accomplish this feat together? For all of us to be successful together? I will never know but it was a great reminder of the power of the universe (not to sound cheesy).

I remember feeling lonely. I had to leave behind the group on our descent as I was told to link arms and scree ski down with our Assistant Guide Felix and get down to a lower altitude where my breathing would get easier. I remember feeling lonely that my husband was not with me and yet rather glad he would not be next to me to see how much I was suffering, to hear that popcorn crackle in my lungs, or to see the liquid coming with each coughing fit. If I saw concern in his eyes for me it would be my undoing I think. I was channeling all of my ‘you are strong’ woman feelings I could. So best we could not make eye contact really.

I remember being frustrated. Getting back to the tents and being so glad that they came so quickly upon on us and yet so mad that they seemed to take forever to materialize. I was walking with my husband again shortly after scree skiing and glad for it. I have gaps in my memory here but know he was always asking how I was and was not impressed when I went to my knees in a coughing fit or puking fit. For both of us, for different reasons, we wanted to turn the next corner and see our tents.

I remember being scared. I think my hubby knew I was struggling with breathing already but really getting back into our tent tent was when quiet the crackly/pop of my lungs hit home for us (BUT I was still breathing and exhausted smiling to have made it).

I remember being happy. When we arrived back at the tents my oxygen saturation was 60% and heart rate low (not a great combo) when we first got to the tent but I recovered to 62% with some focused breathing in just minutes. So I figured it would climb right up in 2% increments with more good breathing and I would be golden in no time. Yahoo I am breathing better already and I climbed a mountain!

I remember feeling ashamed. The moment when I saw the not impressed, incredulous, what-the-hell-are-we-even-climbing-a-mountain-for look on the husband’s face made me feel bad for my selfish bucket list. I knew he was worried for how I was feeling and more than anything my response to how I was feeling. But I actually think this helped me. I went into focus on getting oxygen in, getting the vision back to clear and without little fire fly bugs, and get the fear / mad out of my husbands eyes. Not to sound like a generalist, but I think the fear / mad thing is a total guy thing – they are scared for you but mad at whatever made you sick or hurt in the first place.

I remember feeling so taken care of. Shortly after the not impressed-husband look he was lovingly (and romantically in my opinion) unlacing and pulling off my dusty boots for me as I laid on my sleeping bag focusing on not passing out. Then shortly after, that amazing sister I mentioned early, who is also Asthmatic sadly but  bless her cotton socks for it, came by with her inhaler thingies for me and I was soon feeling better and better as the night progressed. Moments again after that my husband was teaching me how to use an inhaler for the first time between coughing fits. Finally, him him chuckling at me as I wrapped myself in an emergency blanket like a baked potato and fell back to sleep like a rock.

I told you … roller coaster!

Oh Kilimanjaro, I may not have left any toenails on your mountain side .. but I sure did leave a blazing trail of emotions up and down your summit!

Next post I will honour the beauty of the mountain with pics of the summit day and a hiking account. They will be so much more meaningful now that you have the emotional foundation to lend some passion to the images.


Lana Looks Back – Kili Day 3-4

(If you missed it – here is a link to my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 2)

Day 3 – Morning Paradise

It feels as though it’s been a long time coming but looking back to just 3 months ago, to the day I woke to the most amazing sunrise above the clouds, I can easily recall the surreal scene. It was as if I had been transported to a fantasy world high above the earth, it’s peak surrounded by a dense puff of cloud and it’s inhabitants squinting against the fiery ball of sun rising through the clouds, basking in the warmth it brought.

 This image and other spectacular moments are emblazoned on my memory but the complete compilation of day to day activity that brought myself and our group to these fantastic places is somewhat jumbled, the order misaligned in my mind. On reflection, the single days seem to run in to one another making it almost impossible for me to accurately state which event took place on what day. I struggle to recall the order of days even as I look through my photos, thankful that they have been recorded in some semblance of time and place in a week filled with so many amazing experiences. A word to the well intentioned, procrastinating, journal writers out there (me)… “Take notes!” I am thankful for my blogging partner’s discipline with jotting down daily events, experiences, and itineraries, but even as I read her recollections,  knowing they are accurate – I still have my doubts, wondering if she has it right. I have to wonder if maybe it’s because only 2% dehydration affects one’s attention, memory, and cognitive skills or if perhaps my brain cells were cannibalizing themselves in an effort to ward off starvation… With the incredible food we were being provided I can’t imagine it was the latter so at this point in time, even knowing that memory is a tricky part of the brain affected by emotion, past experience, and interpretation, I’m going with the dehydration option.

 On the morning of day 3 at Kikilewa Camp while our dining table was set in the open air and our bags and tents were packed and portered out, we lingered in the sunshine (and by lingering  I mean bandaging my battered heels) and set out late – close to 8:30am! Our trek was reported to be only 3-4 hours today with an acclimatization hike after our arrival at Mawenzi Tarn Camp – I know, sounds like great news! After an hour or so of upward and upward I wasn’t as excited.  My excitement waned further as another hour took us and my Darth Vader-like respirations upward yet. By the final hour I was wondering what kind of Tom-foolery I had signed up for. I felt deceived by the morning feast and the easy gathering around a heavenly table for 7 only hours before. What had begun as a lighthearted fellowship enveloped in sunshine and grace had turned into an ongoing slog of one foot over the other in the shadow of Mawenzi peak, surrounded by nothing but the grey rocks and dirt of Kilimanjaro.

 Cresting the ridge to Mawenzi Camp was a relief and even the slimy green puddle, the pale green of our tents, and the welcome of our home camp appeared to be a kind of oasis after our colourless morning.

 It took only moments before my grey thoughts were lifted. Popcorn, peanuts, and a lovely cup of tea have a way of quickly raising the spirits! A few card games in the dining tent, an amazing lunch, and we were set for a short acclimatization hike. The purpose of these wee treks was to climb temporarily to a higher altitude ensuring that the climb high – sleep low rule was followed so that our bodies had every opportunity available to adjust the altitude and maximize our chances of reaching the summit. The 20 minute rest at the height of the hike was an opportunity for the guides to lay out the plan for the next day and quietly assess each one of us and our physical, mental, and emotional state almost midway through this adventure. The knowledge and intuition of our guides never ceased to amaze me and I noted their keen sense of our team throughout our trek.

During one of our many water breaks, Felix #1 asked me how I was doing. I replied that I was doing well – no headaches, nausea, or shortness of breath (except on the uphill!!!). After confirming again that I was okay, he then questioned why, whenever he looked back, that I walked with my head down and was so quiet. “What are you thinking?” Initially I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed him looking back at us while he was in the lead –   I had been behind him directly or at least 2nd in line for the last couple of days! Secondly, for him to note my style of gait, and my quiet character surprised me.  For those who know me, they can imagine my discomfort at the beginning of this trek, despite being with one of my best friends, being smack dab in the middle of a group of 7 who I had met only a couple of times before – I mean, I’m basically a hermit! My response was that I was in fact doing okay. I was quiet because in the day to day busyness of life there isn’t much time for quiet contemplation and that I was only thinking one thing while on the uphill, “One more step, one more step.” He laughed at this and told me the next time he asks how I’m doing, if I feel as good as I do today,  that I should reply, “Ajabu,” which means fantastic. I believe that each one of us had at least one encounter like this with at least one of the guides as they observed and endeavored to learn more about each one of us, our physical state, and our well-being  whenever the opportunity came about.

 The day 3 acclimatization hike had served it’s purpose and after we settled in for an amazing supper I was satiated and sleepy. We all went our separate ways, snuggled into our tents for the night, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, the supposed theory of the difficulty of sleeping at altitude had thus far been disproven and remained merely a myth. I slept like a rock! I was looking forward to a day crossing “The Saddle,” which I had read was dry and hot, where the sun scorched and burned anyone who dared not cover their head. Oh yes, after the chilly, grey afternoon/evening of the third day, I was already dreaming of the desert tundra of day 4 in all of it’s warmth and glory!

Day 4 – A Change of Plan

During our acclimatization hike on Day 3, the guides suggested an alternate route that would shave several kilometres off of our trek and allow our group a greater chance of successfully reaching the summit. As it turns out, we voted unanimously in favour of the alternate route albeit for each one of us, the reason was different. We would now attempt to summit on day five, leaving in the daylight rather than making an overnight attempt. This new route would also involve us skipping the original stop at Third Caves Camp and making our way directly to School Huts Camp (4800m) one day early. I was greatly in favour of this part of the plan because it meant that we could stay in the same camp for two consecutive days and I wouldn’t have to tidy or pack anything before our 5am attempt at the summit!

 Breakfast was early and by 7am we were already into the second course.  This morning’s porridge was something new however, it was made from millet. Hmmm… not sure if I was a big fan of this change because of the taste or because at some point on day 3 my stomach had started to give me a bit of trouble. No nausea, no diarrhea, nor any acclimatization flatulence to speak of (my tent-mate was probably grateful for that!), just dull, continuous, epigastric pain that could not be relieved. Weird, but I was not going to be deterred from what I knew was going to be a fantastic day. With heels bandaged and taped, boots strategically tied, and my sunscreen at the ready, we set out for The Saddle. Up, up, and up we went, each time reaching a small summit then being rewarded with a small downhill section of trail. Finally, when we reached the peak and gazed over the edge, we could not only see the trail we would take across the saddle, but the path beyond leading onto the mountain, it’s solitary form rising up in the distance. Kilimanjaro – our final destination.

 There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we descended into The Saddle. The azure blue overhead extended across the horizon and in every direction as far as we could see. The warmth of the sun was in direct opposition to the coolness of the high altitude breeze in the way that you could feel the shining rays on your face but when you touched your skin it was cold. Oh, there is something amazing about the sunshine and how it can transform the way you feel. Well, the way I feel anyway. I felt as if I could walk all day with our easy pace along a slow and barely perceptible incline… Now this was the hike I had dreamed about and the day that I most fondly look back on. The pace increased slightly as we excitedly began our cross country trek. Nothing but open space in front of us, our goal in sight every step of the way. After an hour I think our pace had slowed… It felt as though we had not made any gain at all. I think each one of us was marking rocks or breaks in the trail to ensure we were actually moving forward as the distance did not seem to close in any measurable way at all. I found that it was only when I looked back from where we had come that I realized the distance we had covered, the progress we had made. Life is a bit like that too, I think. Sometimes we have to look back to see how far we have come. So looking forward, there seemed no end but I didn’t care at all – the blue of the sky, the brightness of the sun, the freedom in my spirit, and the beauty of this place were like something one reads about only in books.

The easy pace of this day kept my abdominal pain at bay but the ache returned on the evening acclimatization hike and had me wondering if my breathing pattern was to blame. In medicine, when you are bagging a patient you don’t want to fill their tummy with air by pushing too much volume too fast. I thought maybe I was gulping air while trying to take deeper breaths in an attempt to get more oxygen at this altitude. I wasn’t able to eat anything really but it was due to pain more than anything else. Again, I was not nauseated, had no vomiting or diarrhea, did not have a headache, and thankfully, was not experiencing the dreaded acclimatization flatulence. I went to the tent earlier that afternoon for a rest but no luck. Thankfully, the Rolaids that Brande had given me had provided momentary relief.  My nursing mind was trying to come up with answers but nothing seemed to fit.

The night chill came early and it was freezing in the dining tent. I was cold and uncomfortable, and not really myself so I was off to bed soon after our briefing. It was decided we would wake up at 4am, leave at 5am, and summit around mid-day. I tried to be excited as I took out all of the clothes I would need and put them in the inner part of our tent… It was freezing up here and I knew I wouldn’t want to put on cold clothes at 4am!! It had started to rain/snow and I wasn’t looking forward to the morning but imagine my surprise when I unzipped the tent to make  my way to the toilet and a sheet of ice shattered and slid off the roof! Nightmare! Not only did the noise wake up Matty, I thought I would be slip-sliding all the way to the summit! By the time we woke up for real, there was only a light dusting of snow on the ground and thankfully, no evidence of the aforementioned ice storm. It was time to start day 5 – Kilimanjaro Summit day.




Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 4

Date: Oct 3 2015 Saturday
Route: Unique Rongai Route
Destination: Mawenzi Tarn to School Huts
Duration: 3hours walking (+ 1hour acclimatization hike)
Distance: 8km
Elevation Gained: 420m (1,378ft)
FitBit Steps: 23,392
FitBit Calories Burnt: 3,931

(If y’all missed it – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 3)

Mount Kilimanjaro, Day 4 of 7

Mount Kilimanjaro, just over there on the other side of the saddle …

Day 4 was the start of a twist on our original itinerary and one of my favourite days on the trail…. the original plan was to leave Mawenzi Tarn and make our way up and then down again into Third Caves Camp on day 4, then walk to School Huts Camp on Day 5, and make our attempt for the summit at 1am on Day 6. This original route really put in place the climb high and sleep low theory that is meant to be the key to avoiding altitude sickness to give us the best chance at the summit. However, the day prior, our Guides suggested we consider another unique twist to our already ‘Unique Rongai’ route.

The new, suggested Unique-Unique Rongai route had us skip Third Caves Camp all together and instead make our way straight to and up to School Huts Camp on Day 4 and then make our summit assault on Day 5 during the day. Our Guides strongly suggested this would give all 7 of us the best chance at reaching the summit.We chatted about it as a team and everyone was on board – oh my goodness we are going to summit Mount Kilimanjaro tomorrow! eeeeeeek butterflies!

The decision for me was not too tough. I was a little bit sad that we would be cutting a few kilometers off the trail (yes I know get over it, do I really need more than 84km?) but I was also ecstatic that we would make our summit attempt during the day (I hate walking in the pitch black with a headlamp when you cannot even enjoy and/or be distracted by the sights!). I also liked that we would get to stay in School Huts Camp a second night right after our summit success. This shaved a full 10km off of our post summit hike and I had a feeling I would appreciate getting back into my already set up tent 10km closer!

So our new, unique Day 4 of 7 was to School Huts not Third Caves Camp.

Our day started like any other. Lance and I were up about 5am for his usual lay in sleeping bag and chat with me while I jotted in my journal the details from the day prior. Then around 6am we were up and out of our tents. Either from desperate need to relieve the diuretic pressure, if you know what I mean, or because the sun was coming up and you do NOT miss a sunset on Kilimanjaro – they are a definite highlight of the experience.

7am we were eating our yummy breakfast spread of scrambled eggs, pancakes which are really crepes, millet porridge (which our Guide Leo said is a staple in local breakfasts), sausages which are really hot dogs, toast, jam and peanut butter, mango and pineapple, and all the hot mix drinks you can want. Rough eh?

820am we were on our way. The day was meant to be about 3-4 hours, approximately 8km in distance, sun baking us like crazy, and as usual 98.5 percent chance of rain (as per our Guide Leo who always made sure that even if it looked impossible that there would be any chance of rain, we had our rain gear in our packs).

The first 40mins was a bit tough, it was largely up hill, a little down hill which felt great but don’t get excited, and then back up hill again – repeat. We were walking slow this day. At over the 14,000 foot marker of altitude the air in the lungs was not feeling quite as fulfilling as it was the days prior. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly) was the mantra!

almost to the saddle, day 4 of 7

Before walking through the saddle you had to walk up and over a few summits – these felt huge!

After our up hills, we spent the last 3+ hours walking through the “saddle”. The saddle is a desert like area on Mount Kilimanjaro. The sun was shining and there were hours  of not a cloud in the sky. The uninterrupted views of the blue sky were something to remember.  I have to tell you there is a different blue to the skies above Kilimanjaro then there is here at home in Canada – more crisp, more blue, more something. Now do not get me wrong; we have some awesome skies here in Canada but wow there is just something different about those in Tanzania. Trust me, check out these photos.

the saddle

Day 4/7 The Saddle – me and hubby Lance.

the saddle, rongai route

Day 4 of 7 a pic here of our almost complete crew as we get started on our decent down and across the saddle.

Just like a desert though, your destination looks so close and yet you never seem to get any closer. We knew were were making good time as rocks in the distance would be upon us soon enough. We treated these rocks like break markers. Lance or Paul would crack their backs, the rest of us would load on the sunscreen and lip chap, Lance would hand out hard candies, and then we were on our way again. But the path in front of us always seemed as long as it was before the last break and the camp you could just make out seemed to stay that teeny, weeny size it was when we started.

saddle, day 4 of 7

The saddle and that there is our trail, across the plain and to the right is our next camp School Huts

The temperature was interesting too. The sun was baking us – sun screen applications were happening every  break and sometimes while moving, especially on the lips. Yet the wind would whip up to the point of having to hold your hat on your head and chill you right down again. I was doing more wardrobe layer changes than steps it felt like at some points. Water was a big deal this day, from the heat and the dusty wind. I ran out and had to use Lance’s water as back up for the last 40mins. How any of my fellow trekkers had any water left I will never understand – I was so thirsty! Pole, pole and drinky, drinky peeps!

Thank goodness for the conversation as we slogged along. At one point we had a zombie apocalypse conversation. This was serious stuff. Our friendships were solidified this day and if ever the zombies come for us our trusty Kilimanjaro band would know exactly how to support each other to avoid being eaten or worse yet turned into zombies! Basically, we all decided that zombies would not be impacted by altitude sickness as they don’t have red blood cells that can be impacted by altitude. Well they do have blood but its black so we didn’t think altitude would impact black blood. So really we would not be fully safe on Mount Kilimanjaro but because there are so few of us on the mountain its likely we would not be the first target in the Zombie War so we could hang out for a while with our crew, we had a great cook on the trip with us, still needed to summit, and probably had enough protein bars collectively to live 10 years up here!

Also thank goodness for distractions along the trail that brought us out of the ridiculous yet entertaining zombie conversation. Along the path we passed the wreckage of a small plane crash from 2008. The four tourists were killed sadly and the pilot seriously injured in the accident. This is in fact not the only plane crash on Kilimanjaro, seems a few small and large planes have had a horrible fate either getting to close for a great look or coming upon the mountain out of the clouds with no warning. Sad.

saddle, day 4 of 7 Rongai Route

Day 4 of 7 Rongai Route walking through the saddle past what is left of a plane crash from years ago.

12:15pm we came into School Huts Camp finally. I arrived with a nice headache and pesky cough. OK I will be honest the cough was not as pesky as the “grandma” comments my fellow hikers were making every time I went into a wee fit which seemed to be every time I laughed or talked to much. So yes, they happened often as I do talk a lot and laugh even more.

school huts, rongai route

School Huts Camp, Rongai Route our base camp for two nights and our summit attempt

After signing in at the Camp Hut, we made our way to our tents to set up. Lunch was again massive and amazing and sadly all of us thought we were hungry but had no appetite when we actually went to eat something – thank you altitude. Most of us forced what we could down because we knew the calories would be so important to our summit attempt the next day but there was not a lot of enjoyment.

school huts camp, lunch time

Lunch time at the School Huts Camp and all of us know we should eat but no one had an appetite.

Following lunch was a short break where we all sat in our separate tents listening to a weather system come in that was promising rain, hail and maybe even some snow while waiting for the Guides to tell us its time for our acclimatization hike. Today’s acclimatization hike was important. A few of us were experiencing headaches, I had a cough, and we needed to give ourselves the best possible chance of a good sleep before our big summit day the next morning. So feeling as good as we could was important for all of us.

Back down, we met for dinner and repeated our not hungry but try and eat any calories you can stomach routine. I was feeling much better and ate more for dinner than lunch. The headache I showed up at camp with was gone after our acclimatization hike so all I had left was the annoying cough but with all the dust in the saddle and at camp it was not surprising. I think most of us felt good, and all of us were excited for the next day.

Lance and I retired to our tents early after our briefing with Guide Leo and got all of our gear ready for the next day. We had a 4am wake up call coming our way and the crew wanted to be on the trail by 5am. Getting to sleep was tough with how excited and nervous I was but we both felt ready and looking forward to the summit. The chill in the air and the snow in the night made sure you stayed cuddled in your tent which prompted sleep – thank goodness.

Eeeeeek more butterflies and tummy flips!


(If you are keen – check out my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 5, the Summit)