Climbing Kilimanjaro: How my brain took the lead when my body gave up

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro between the 22nd and 27th of July 2018. I successfully reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, in the morning of the 26th of July.

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Despite the title, this post is NOT to convince you not to climb Kili. It is without doubt a life changing experience and I’d highly encourage everyone to do it.

But. Yes, there is a but. It’s a very challenging adventure, both mentally and physically. So challenging that some people give up and turn around.

Luckily for me, I had enough mental strength not to give up but it was challenging enough for me to burst into tears few times. And throw up. Also few times.

For the sake of statistics, I cried 4 times in total and threw up 3 times. All the throwing up happened on Summit Day. Yes. I left my vomit on the glacier.

Day 3 was our first real test with altitude and acclimatization, we were hiking through a semi desert and rocky landscape with the aim of reaching Lava Tower at 4500m.

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It all started well until it was scorching hot. Despite drinking water, I started having a headache. A headache that was getting worse with every step.

It doesn’t matter how hard you try to relax and enjoy the experience, when you are setting off to summit a big mountain like Kilimanjaro, you worry about the smallest thing that could stop you from achieving your goal. High altitude sickness is a serious thing to worry about.

So when I had the headache, my brain started playing games with me. I was worried I’m having high altitude sickness. I was also worried if I’m already struggling with altitude on day 3 at 4000m, how am I ever going to reach the summit?

Worse than the headaches, were the thoughts I had. It all conspired against me. My body couldn’t hold me anymore and I felt like giving up.

The first rule of Kilimanjaro is “Pole, Pole” which means “slowly, slowly”. But at that time, slowing down or stopping for breaks meant not being able to walk again. Instead, I just kept going. Every step was bringing me closer to my goal. Every step was bringing me closer to Lava tower.

I’m not the fastest walker among my group, if anything I was among the group of the slow walkers but that day I was the first one to reach Lava Tower.

I didn’t even pay attention to my pace, I didn’t plan to be fast or to lead the walk. My brain was telling me to just keep going. Just keep going.

When I reached Lava Tower, I burst into tears. To my own surprise. Tears of pain and pride. The pain of the headache. The pride that I did it despite the pain.

I guess I was proud of my mental strength. This was the first mental challenge on the mountain and my brain did carry me through when my physical strength couldn’t do it anymore.

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I wasn’t done with tears that day.

Another rule of the mountain is : Walk high, sleep low. Camps are usually at a reasonable altitude.

So after reaching Lava tower and having lunch there, we had to walk some more to spend the night in Baranco Camp at 3900m altitude.

The rocky route wasn’t kind to my knees and the headaches weren’t kind to my head.

I felt like the path would never end and I would never reach the camp. It took me way too long. I arrived just about sunset and I burst in tears again.

Then I “superwoman” posed for the camera and smiled.

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Day 6 was THE day, summit day.

Day 5, we reached base camp around mid day, we had lunch then we went for a nap. An early dinner was served at 6PM then we went to get few hours of sleep since day 6 starts at midnight.

We started hiking towards the summit in the dark.

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Despite the anxiety and anticipation, it was a beautiful hike. The path was lighted by the climbers head torches and the chants of the guides filled the void.

The views of the mountain and the sunrise were spectacular.

I did my research and I knew it’s absolutely crucial to keep drinking water and eating on summit day. I needed all the energy of the world. Reality was a different matter. I didn’t really eat or drink and ended up severely exhausted and delirious.

Once again I knew that I just need to keep going despite the pain.

My pain was so obvious that other climbers were being supportive telling me that Stella peak wasn’t far away and I was almost there. But I couldn’t see the sign.

When I finally saw the sign, I cried. I cried because I made it. I cried when my teammate told me “I’m one tough cookie”.

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It takes only about 40 minutes from Stella point to reach Uhuru peak. I never thought about stopping at Stella, not at any point. But I also had no idea or energy on how I’d walk for another 40 minutes.

Half way through And I couldn’t keep going anymore. I was told that the peak is around the corner.

When I turned around the corner, I could see the peak. It was around 100 metres away. 100 metres that felt like 100 kilometers. I cried “It’s too far away”. And I threw up.

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5 minutes later, I made it to Uhuru. I faked a smile and took a photo in front of the sign.

I learnt that day that I’m stronger than what I think. I also learnt that summiting is not the best of Kilimanjaro.

Stay tuned for my best of Kilimanjaro in the next post 😉

 

 

 

The secret thoughts of a woman in tech: Motivation, productivity & keeping up with all the Beckhams Instagram stories

Previously on The secret thoughts of a woman in tech… 

Earlier this week (3 weeks ago now when I started drafting this post), I posted on my Instagram story ( I luuuuv Instagram. Go ahead and judge me.) how I wake up early (6AM FTW which is way too early by my standards), went to my gym session and did not break any nails while lifting weights. Oh yeah.

A friend pinged me to say how cool I’m (totally agree on that one) and how she’s struggling to find the motivation to wake up early and exercise.

The truth is I don’t just wake up early and go to the gym, in the same way I don’t just eat healthy and drink water or most importantly I don’t just sit in front of my computer and magically am productive. It’s a whole process that I’m applying to try to descipline myself to find the motivation to do all the things I want to do and be productive.

By all means, I’m not one of those self-help gurus (or whatever they are called), I’m just going to share with you some tips and hacks to win at life or simply survive…I guess, based on my own experience.

Chances are my line manager, the boss of my boss and my teammates are reading this, so it’s wise not to mention anything about distraction or my struggle to focus.

First of all, I never pretended to be wise.

Second of all, I’m lucky (until this is the norm for everyone as it should be) to work with an amazing group of humans that values…humans. I don’t have to pretend, I can openly go to my boss and say that I’m struggling to focus, that I can’t find the motivation to do this piece of work or that it’s taking me forever to finish a task. Even better, I get some tips from them on how to deal with it all.

It does happen. To all of us (don’t try to hide, I can see you over there. It’s alright, come join us).

Now, buckle up, things are about to get serious!

Motivation:

I must clarify that there is a difference between not feeling motivated to go to the gym once in a while and not liking your 5 to 9 , 7 days a week job.

I’ve been there, for both the gym & the job.

I found (notice the past tense 😉 )  myself twice in jobs that I hated.

That resulted in me being a very unpleasant person loudly and publicly expressing my hate for the job …in the office. I don’t think I was despressed as rage took over any other kind of feelings but I was definitely unhappy.

My motivation to get up every morning to go to that job was to pay my bills ( I was late most of the days, we had a fairly flexible hours so technically I wasn’t late).

My motivation not to murder anyone on that job was the fact it is illegal and I could go to jail. I do not want to go to jail.

Was that enough motivation for me to stay? No.

In my own experience, unless you’re motivated to do something, you’ll never be able to do it. Maybe you will but as a result, you’ll end up with a done task and a very miserable depressed human being, that’s you.

Doing things without love is not sustainable, eventually something will fall apart.

So here’s my first valuable tip for you :

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Paying the bills is not a good enough motivation to be stuck in a job you hate. Some of you may shout “We have mouths to feed”. I understand but that still doesn’t make it a good motivation.

But hear me out, when I left the job I hated , I didn’t just suddenly leave. I had a plan.

I actually turned that shitty situation into my new motivation to find a new job. Instead of ” This is a shit job but it pays the bills” , my brain was telling me ” This is a shit job that only pays the bills. It’s time for us to look for another job”.

So we did.

Last year I gave a talk entitled Keep Climbing in which I state lessons learnt from Climbing and how to apply them in my professional life as a woman in tech.

The first thing I mentioned was my motivation to start climbing in the first place as I’m scared of heights.

I do climb to beat my fear actually ( I’m still a pretty rubbish climber but who cares? I’m still doing it. I’m actually going climbing tomorrow) .

This is how important having the right motivation is! You can beat your greatest fears for the right motivation. ( I’m also scared of rope bridges but I did cross one in Morrocco because that was the only way to reach the restaurant where we were having lunch…the power of food).

Now, for the gym, in November 2016 I suddenly decided to start exercising. I joined something called BootCamp which is basically a small group of people exercising with a Personal trainer.

As this wasn’t surprinsing enough for myself and everyone who knew me, those bootcamps are early in the morning. They start at 6:45AM which means I have to wake up at 6AM. What’s so unsual about that? I DO NOT WAKE UP EARLY.

Guess what, since November 2016 I’ve been going to my bootcamps 3 days a week. I did miss few sessions because of work or laziness but I did not give up. Why? Because If I ever make it to the age of 60 or 70, I want to be healthy and active.

This is what Sarah Knight call the power of negative thinking in her books.  I imagine a future me out of shape, unable to go hiking and really miserable. That’s the future me I do not want, that’s my motivation to go to the gym.

The positivity of negative thinking. This sounds similar to !False = True , doesn’t it?!

Basically, find what makes your heart beat , it doesn’t have to be the job or the gym but whatever you do or want to do , think why you want to do it? What motivates you? And this will massively help you move to the next step : Doing the thing.

Productivity

I don’t know about you but I had days when I had all the motivation of the world and all these amazing plans and yet couldn’t achieve much.

The first step towards being productive is knowing when you’re not (which shouldn’t be that hard) and trying to fix it.

In the era of social media and increasing mental health issues, it’s easy to get distracted or loosing focus.

You think you’re only spending 5 minutes to check Victoria Beckham latest Instagram photo but she tags David, Brooklyn, Cruz and Romeo and you end up checking all 5 profiles for hours!!

Here’s what I did/am doing in order to be productive and it’s fairly working :

  • Adios notifications : I don’t think it’s FOMO but I really hate notifications. The moment I see or hear one, I have to check it out. I can’t stand having little notifications on my screen. I get emails, slack, facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp notifications. That’s simply a lot. Checking all of them is definitely a huge distraction and waste of time. That’s why, I disabled all notifications on my phone. Since then my life is much better. I do still check emails and Slack on my phone but on my own terms, same thing for Instagram.
  • To-do lists, To-do lists, To-do lists: I love those, I always did but I’m applying them more to my daily life after reading Sarah Knight’s book Get Your Shit Together. Every morning, while having my breakfast, I’ll spend half an hour writing down my To-do list.
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I do need to remind myself to floss. Do not judge.
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I asked Sam, the best barista in the entire world, if he wants to be on the blog and that’s the answer 😀

Now that I finished this post, I’m going to treat myself to a short break and checkout the Beckhams on Instagram 😀