What up world? I know — it’s been a while and the world hasn’t stopped turning in my absence, but to put it simply, this boy’s been busy.
One major item that flooded my headspace was the 60 Days in Paradise contest, which sought to award one Canadian $50,000 ($30,000 pay for documenting a $20,000 trip). Though I didn’t place in the Top 10 and advance, it was a great wake-up call to get my head out of the clouds and return to taking care of house and all the opportunities I already have around me.
But losing in a contest with such an attractive prize, especially when you’ve convinced yourself that you must stand a good chance with a killer music video, heartwarming bio; and plenty of interaction about the contest while the judges made their decision — it can take a toll. Once upon a time, I’d sulk it out. I still remember to this day what it felt like to get 8th in the 8th Annual Ontario Spelling Bee finals, tripped up on a word as simple as “perusal” (which I swear was pronounced by a man with a heavy Southern twang, making it sound like “puh-rooz-e-ul”). Or when I flunked my driver’s test in 2003, getting me so down that I wouldn’t try again until my 30th birthday.
I haven’t been out to the Detroit-Windsor corridor since late 2008, when my brother-in-law got married there and only 9 months into dating, Sarah led me into an ambush, seating me at a table with many of her paternal uncles and cousins who I’d meet for the very first time. (Quite the feat to make a good impression while hungover, but that, my friends, is a story for another time!)
This year, they kicked it up a notch by invited me as one of a dozen Canadian bloggers as their guest at Putting You In The Driver’s Seat: the NAIAS Blogger Experience, which revolved aroundthe 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan.
BiSClaimer: You’re about to experience my six-day Vegas adventure in the span of one post. If you’re not ready to take in all the awesome through text, video and images galore, turn back now. Once I start, I will not stop until it’s out of my system. You have been warned.
It’s been almost a solid month since Bloggers in Sin City, and it’s taken about this long to get off the buzz from my BiSC-uit high. In the time since I’ve been back, I’ve volunteered at a national conference, listened to amazing speakers, eaten delicious food and got up to much of the madness I would’ve done before I went to BiSC.
But it just wasn’t the same.
When I got back, many friends and family members expected that I’d spent all my time partying, getting drunk and gambling, because that’s what you do in Vegas, right? At least that’s what TV and movies tell us.
But there’s so much more to the Vegas experience than you can imagine. You need the right people and the right opportunities to make it happen, though!
The Dad is the unsung hero of parenting, and it’s easy to see why. They don’t grow babies inside of them for 40 weeks. They don’t breastfeed or have the same degree of parental instinct as mothers do. In many parenting situations I’ve seen, the role of the Dad is ambiguous. Secondary to the mother. Perhaps a pale shadow of motherhood, expected to do her same function, but perhaps with a slightly masculine twist to it.
Our memories are shorter now than they’ve ever been (thanks, technology!) — there’s a lot about my Dad I remember from my later years, but much of my childhood is a blur. And in a family with both parents working to make ends meet, what I do remember is lots of time in my Grandma’s basement, watching TV or horsing around with my brother until my parents come home to resume the parental segment of their lives, tired or not.
I have a wealth of social cues on what it means to be a Dad — so then, why do I feel woefully unqualified to carry it out?
If you can’t keep it real, why the heck are you blogging, anyway??? Last night was the first night I’d had off in a while to do something other than work. I don’t know how we get so wrapped up in our jobs — okay, that’s a lie, I totally do: it’s all a response to worry and fear. The worry that if we fail to do a good job that we’ll wind up on the street, unable to sustain our lives. The fear that comes with the possibility of failure and the horrors that could happen due to us not living up to expectations. Though I’m still convinced of a saying that I came up with last year:
“Jobs need people more than people need jobs.”
Call me a liar if you want, but I’m convinced of this. If we didn’t try so hard to keep up with multiple Joneses, live beyond our means and keep up appearances to the world around us (who mostly don’t really care too much about us as individuals, so in effect, we do a lot of this for no reason whatsoever…) — we could settle for jobs that pay less, provide less hours, but possibly afford more happiness. With Toronto having the high cost of living that it does and the very visible homelessness problem (in its downtown core especially) that it does, there’s no way I’d wish to be unemployed, but balance is a must. Which brings me to here — trying to get in the rhythm of blogging again. You may or may not have noticed I changed the tagline of my site to:
“I’m not a blogger, I just talk a lot.”
Completely true. Ask any “popular” blogger about how they approach their craft, and they’ll likely tell you about the time and effort that goes into keeping a blog fresh, from using editorial calendars, spending hours working on and scheduling posts, and generally approaching the entire art of blogging as if it were a second job. But I hate planning. Sarah’s always taking care of the planning in our marriage because I’m so horrible at it. I’m the spontaneous one. The doer. I don’t think — I prefer to just get something out of the way and move on to the next thing. Apparently personality tests completely agree that this is the way my brain is hard-wired. (I’m an ENTP in my Myers-Briggs assessment if that means anything to you.) This is why I’m way more inclined to use Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to get my ideas out. It’s instantaneous. It’s quick. It matches the speed at which thoughts come to me a little more closely. But there has to be some reason to blog, right? I suppose when it all comes down to it — we all want somewhere where we can share the stories of our lives, and furthermore, somewhere where people will actually care about our existence. By and large, the Internet is a vast and boring place. We’re in a day and age where if we have an Internet connection, we’ve seen much of everything. You could discover more through YouTube, Wikipedia and social media in the last half a decade than you could through any encyclopedia in the years before. So when you see these niche blogs on things like tech, fashion or whatever other material goods — they’re great and all, but you rarely get any sense of feeling from them. No personality. No connection with the reader. There’s nothing that makes most blogs more real than any other blog — they end up just being words on the screen rather than a reflection of the writer providing them. And in my opinion, if you can’t keep it real, you don’t have a story to tell. But in a world where we share our thoughts in little bite-sized chunks and at a quicker pace than ever before… is there even a place for blogging anymore? This is the conundrum I came across — I was looking at my blog the other day and I thought — “I’m bored with this. I write a bunch of stuff, but I don’t care enough about it to finish what I started.” It’s not like it’s the first time it’s happened, either. My blogs in the past — and I’m pretty sure the same could be said for most people’s blogs — have died off because I didn’t feel connected to my content. I think I said it best when I told Jelani and Bess about my predicament:
“I’m writing like a news reporter looking in on my life, rather than writing like the guy living my life.”
Yeah, well that can’t happen anymore. Writing about only the events that pass in my life is lopsided. It’s like having a newspaper that only covers current events, without any of the columns and Op-Ed pieces that keep readers coming back. So even if I’m not really a blogger; even if I like the spontaneity and freedom of keeping my thoughts in bite-sized chunks of 140 or 63,206 characters (alright, Facebook’s not so bite-sized anymore) — it looks like I’m going to keep blogging for the simple reason that I like to write. Despite the fact that I lead an active social life, hitting up dinners with friends, tweet ups and learning conferences; despite the overly-busy work schedule that often just sees me coming home to pas out and do it all over again the next day; despite the fact that I’m using up most of my time for one thing or another, I still — like most people — feel like I want people to hear my story. So here I am, world. I hope your eyes are open, because I’ve got a lot to say!
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
We settled our bill at Imani, which included a free ride to the Zanzibar airport (which was amazing after all the taxi-related debacles). After getting through customs (where the customs officer gave me quite the strange look when she saw my tripod — I think she thought it was something else), we’d take a 20-minute flight, where we’d reunite with Trevor and Sakshi!!!
It’s funny how you can be so happy to see someone one day and so bewildered with them another — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Another couple of hours in our 12-seater bush plane and we were picked up by our driver (and new best friend), Muba from Maasai Wanderings, who would take us to Ahadi Lodge in Arusha to rest and prepare for what could very well have been the most challenging week of our lives.
My mission, should I choose to accept it (and my friends didn’t give me much choice in the matter, here), was the following:
Arusha-Machame Hike: 8.2 km 1840m-3022m 5-6 hours
“We depart after breakfast for the transfer to the National Park Gate at Machame where we fulfil [sic] the registration formalities before entering the Park. We make our way through the heavily rooted forest area parallel to a flowing stream. We eat lunch along the way and by mid-afternoon we are able to recognise our first camp.”
End: MACHAME CAMP
Sounds simple enough, but from the first day of climbing, we realised that reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro would be far more of a challenge that we’d thought. Between Sarah and I, anyway, she’d idealised what kind of adventure it’d be, realised how much of a life-changing experience it’d be, but not factoring in how hard it would be to do it. Me on the other hand — I chose not to think about it very much beforehand — bad move since the Kili climb is as much mental as it is physical, if not more so.
But I digress — let me tell you about the madness that was 7 Days of Kili!!!
So like I said, the first day would already set the tone for a week that none of us would ever forget.
After the belated arrival of our guide on the first day (both ironic and an omen, since he gave us flack for being “late” the night before — when in fact, our flight time had been given to him incorrectly), we packed our gear into Muba’s Toyota Land Cruiser and started the 2-hour drive to the mountain!
But not before stopping at the Shop-Rite supermarket! Did you know that they don’t sell dental floss in Tanzania?! Seriously, it’s the little things you miss the most. But moving on…
Some of the sights we’d see on the way there included:
The Clock Tower — in the Central Business district of Arusha, they call this “the centre of Africa” as it’s allegedly halfway between Cape Town, South Africa and Egypt
The Arushan International Conference Centre — where they were holding tribunals for criminal involved in 1994’s Rwandan Genocide
Tanzanite Mines — where we learned about Tanzanite, the stone said to be a thousand times rarer than diamonds (back in 1967, you could find Tanzanite 6 or 7 feet into the ground, but now they’re searching 400-600m deep and coming up with squat) and accordingly ridiculously expensive
The sightseeing tour would be brief, though — through the clouds and on the horizon loomed the beast that we (read: I) were sure was out to destroy us — Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Theoretically, we should have been more than prepared to deal with this:
for our group of 4, we were given a team of 17 to get us up, including guides, a chef, waiters, a tent-master, and an army of porters to carry everything (our bags, our tents, the food, everyone else’s crap, and so on)
our guide, Julius, was made out to be a legendary figure:
one tale had him carrying a woman (who’d given up) on his back up the last leg of the climb to make sure that she saw the summit
in 17 years, he’d climbed the mountain over 500 times
we’d brought all the right gear, got in shape and were young and positive enough to get this done!
This video should help to give you an idea of our initial attitude toward the mountain:
Kili had plans for us, though — plans indeed.
We would enter Machame Gate at 1800m, and while we waited for Julius to get our registration complete, men descended upon us to rent us gear (of which Trevor and Sakshi wisely partook for that which they lacked); we were provided with nicely gift-wrapped lunch boxes for the day (more on that later); we would watch as Muba drove off into the distance, marking that as the point of no return; and 45 minutes later, we were on our way!
Here’s what we looked like right then:
And on we would go. The first temperate zone of Kili is farmland (800m-1800m). Not much of a climb, so they skip you forward right to the second zone: rainforest (1800m-2800m)! With majestic trees and rugged paths, it made for quite the hike!
But as long as we took it pole pole (remember, Swahili for “slowly, slowly”), we could do it!
Rainforests also bring something else — TORRENTIAL TROPICAL RAIN! We should’ve known we were in for trouble when our guides started suiting up in rain jackets, waterproof pants and gaiters for their boots and we only had our raincoats with us, but it was a lesson that wouldn’t soon be forgotten after TWO HOURS OF RAIN and pants that were SOAKED THROUGH. (I, for one, also learned that Canadian passports AREN’T WATERPROOF.)
So LESSON #1: Carry ALL of your rain gear with you! Not just your rain coat — your bottom half will thank you.
After this, we were obviously miserable, and still had far to go. Trevor — who I was none too impressed with at this point, as I unfairly blamed the entire idea of the trip on his adventurous self — decided to look at the situation optimistically with a dose of “Trevor Zen”:
Trevor: I look at it with Trevor Zen.
Casey: Whaddya mean?
T: Well, each step we take is one that we’ll never need to take again!
C: …Trevor Zen sucks.
But he was right — if we kept moving forward, we’d eventually get thee. This is something we’d need to constantly remind ourselves over and over with each passing day!
Plus, part of my misery was my own damn fault — I hadn’t thought to unpack the unnecessary junk out of my day pack before climbing, so I walked 6 hours like I was carrying my bag to work in Toronto, including:
the Joby Gorillapod Ballhead X tripod I’d brought
our entire supply of snacks
two camera lenses
on top of the stuff I was going to need:
my digital SLR camera (yes, with a third lens)
3 litres of water
So, LESSON #2: Only carry what you need! This applies from the morning before you drive out to the afternoon when you get back — make sure your bag is light and filled with things you’ll actually use while constantly on the move. (And trust me, you won’t need snacks!)
Climb time: 12:35 pm – 6:15 pm (5h 40m)
We’d eventually make it to Machame camp, where we would strip the wet stuff off, rest our weary bodies, and dine on a voluminous dinner! (Note: between the amounts of food for every meal plus the lunch boxes they have you carry per day, there is no way humanly possible to finish all of the food they give you, ergo snacks are useless. Don’t pack too many!) We felt terrible that first night as we didn’t want to be wasteful, but our stomachs weren’t big enough to handle it all! This feeling, too, would eventually wane….
With one day down and six to go, we’d already learned a few lessons, and surely we could make the next day better than the first — right?
Next time in the Tanzania Chronicles — it’s called “uphill” for a reason!
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands: