Before the Trek

God moves in mysterious ways. Some might call it serendipity or perhaps coincidence. Others might go so far as to call it divine intervention. I’ll just leave it at the realm of heavenly mystery.

Noah with teammates from Amani. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

Upon our arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO, for those who want to know), Noah and I dealt with customs, collected our bags and headed out into the night. Our tour company informed us we’d be met by a driver holding up a sign with their logo and our name. I quickly found him and he came to help us with our bags.

Reflecting on Kilimanjaro

We’ve been back in Boston for less than a day. Most of our clothes from the trek have been washed and dried already—the dirt from our trek lingering now only on our boots and hiking poles and under my fingernails (not sure how many times I have to clean them before it all comes out). Both Noah and I fell asleep early last night and woke up while it was still dark thanks to the jet lag.

View of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Millennium Camp. Phil LaBelle,  2017.

For those who watched our route on the Garmin site or who follow me on Instagram know that we summited Africa’s highest peak on Monday, but there’s much more to the story. The summit occupies only one part of the past fourteen days; the experience was made in the journey.

Trying to Prepare for the Unexpected

Unlike my son Noah, I’ve never been a Boy Scout. I’ve got five years as a den leader for Cub Scouts under my belt, and I’ve camped out with Noah’s Scout troop a few times. Even the uninitiated know the Scout motto: Be prepared.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

I’m pretty fastidious when it comes to planning and thinking through things that I may need along the way, especially as I head out into the wilderness, but even so that doesn’t mean I’ve thought of everything. I try to imagine what could happen and then fill my pack—bringing extra batteries, having something for blisters, carrying an emergency bivy sack. It makes for a heavier bag, of course, but I’m fine with that.

How to Follow Our Kilimanjaro Trek

We leave for Africa in a few days. Eighteen hours of travel time via Amsterdam to get to Kilimanjaro. Our trek begins this Tuesday (8/8) with a summit push on Monday, August 14.

Screen capture of the Garmin tracking site.

I know some of you have expressed an interest in following us. I won’t be blogging for the next couple of weeks—that lack of wifi on the mountain thing—but I do have a satellite gps device from Garmin that sends out tracking information every 10 minutes or so for you to follow along.

To do so, go to: https://share.garmin.com/PhilLaBelle/. A map will show up, and you’ll be able to see the waypoints of our hikes along the way. I used it today on my last training hike—a little under 2 miles at nearby Mt. Wachusett—so you should see that one right now. Tanzania is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Time. Additionally, on most days our hiking will take 4-6 hours. If you check the site by 9am here in East, we’ll likely be done for the day. On our summit push, we’re slated to leave in the darkness at 3am (8pm Eastern) and hike 10-12 hours or so.

I’ll blog once more before I head out, but wanted to get this information out there. Thanks for your support!

Coming Home

Last night after a long day of driving, we pulled into home. It’s been five weeks of living on the road, visiting parks, waking up in a tent or in a hotel room, and then wondering what grand adventure waits before us.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

But those adventures now lie behind. We’ve explored and hiked and saw family and friends and did so many other things it’s too much to account for in a blog post.

And perhaps the best adventure of all is coming home.

Broken Things

The other day my tent pole snapped and so did I.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

It had been a windy day. I had seen the forecast the day before—a red flag fire warning had been given for the entire area surrounding Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota—winds coming in with gusts between 25-35 miles an hour. No campfires or grilling allowed. When we set up the tent the day before, we placed it head on to the winds having learned earlier in our trip that the massive eight person tent we had acts like a sail. With the tent facing the winds, we could leave the windows open allowing the strong breeze to blow through.

Or so I thought.

Halfway Reflections on a Sabbatical

I’m sitting in a low chair in the business center of a Best Western Plus (I have no idea what makes it a “Plus”– perhaps the water slide at the pool?) in Havre, Montana as I near the halfway mark of my sabbatical.  Officially it happens Saturday when I’ll be tenting in Teddy Roosevelt National Park and away from cyberspace yet again (but will be feeling much closer to outer space in this great stargazing part of the country), so I wanted to get some thoughts down now.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

To think it’s only been half of my sabbatical feels odd. I’ve been away ages it seems and visited so many places. I’ve had a week in New Mexico and then Vancouver. I’ve been in the White Mountains and the Green Mountains of Vermont. We’ve explored 8 National Parks, a National Monument and a variety of other sites, from the strange — I’m looking at you, Green Giant–to the breath-taking–everyone should spend time at the Crazy Horse Memorial. We’ve seen elk, bison, prairie dogs, moose, black bears, eagles, beaver, mountain goats, big horn sheep and more. We’ve visited waterfalls, and hiked mountains. We’ve seen old friends and visited with family. We’ve endured wind gusts pushing 40-50 miles an hour, hail, lightning, rain and the presence of smoke from wildfires at our campsites. We’ve soaked in hot springs, floated on a river, and eaten more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches than I ever though possible.

Wildfire

I first noticed it about an hour after we had crossed the border into Canada, although I thought it was smog. “Wow,” I remarked to Melissa, “I never thought there’d be this heavy of a haze in Alberta. You can barely make out the mountains.”

We had been traveling north along the Rockies from Glacier. I thought maybe it would pass as we got closer to Calgary.

It didn’t. And then we noticed the car began smelling like campfire. It dawned on me then that there had to be a forest fire somewhere in the distance.

We’d heard countless times that the immensity of the Canadian Rockies would blow us away. And it has some. But the majestic views have been clouded over by smoke. The acrid smell of a fire hangs in the air at all times. I woke up to see if I could catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights only to see the sliver of the waning moon shrouded in red.

I heard again about the importance of forest fires to the ecosystem on a ranger led hike in Montana. Fire deals with the underbrush that has gotten too dense. Some trees, like lodge pole pines, can only spread the seeds from their pine cones under immense heat. We noticed fireweed–glorious purple wild flowers–on that hike in Glacier, which immediately spring up after the flames rip through a forest. It has been a few years since fire had hit the trail we walked, and I saw shells of tree trunks with their insides completely charred.

While the end result may be beneficial, no one likes the impact of a fire when it’s happening. I know I wish I could see the stunning views better. And I know when the fires have raged in my life, the last thing I could imagine was new life.

Paying Attention to the Weather

We had a bit of rain last night, and the wind hasn’t yet died down this morning. The weather report predicts strong gusts all day.

Camping has made me more aware of the daily weather patterns. It’s easy to have it be an afterthought most days back home. You head out the door and then realize you hadn’t dressed appropriately. You think, “Perhaps I should have checked the forecast.”

And maybe being more aware of the weather patterns in our own lives would be helpful too. We recognize the storms full on–the hurricanes and the like. But do we really notice when the sun shines a tad too brightly giving us a burn? Or are we attentive when the wind swirls dust clouds around us lodging dirt in the crevices of our lives?

Or those delightful days that heal the soul, do we cherish them enough?

Camping, being outdoors day after day, opens my eyes to the physical weather. I hope it does the same for the eyes of my soul.

Technical Difficulties

Please Stand By

Houston, we have a problem.

So, I imagined a great system for posting to this blog with my iPad and a wireless keyboard. However while stored, the keyboard had keys pressed down and the iPad thought I was trying to log in. Except it wasn’t the right passcode. And it tried too many times, so it locked me out until I can connect to my home computer.

Posts for the next two weeks or so will be few. (I’m attempting to post from my phone when I have service.) However, I’ll still post instagram photos (instagram.com/ramblingpriest) when possible.

It’s the wilderness, friends!