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Throwback guest post from Tusker Alumni Natalie Dana who climbed Kilimanjaro in 2007. Since this original adventure, Natalie has travelled with Tusker to Bhutan and Iceland. 

School’s Out… Forever!

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks…”

Somehow I thought that I would leave it all behind, on the last day in June, with those seminal lyrics echoing in my ears. But I was wrong. I wasn’t nearly prepared for the sense of loss and grief I experienced as the year progressed.

My name is Natalie Dana and I am proud to say, I have climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. However, before I did, I faced a different kind of challenge.

Tusker Kilimanjaro Climbers

Prior to embarking on the adventure of a lifetime at the age of 60, I was a Social Worker at an east coast middle school for 20 years. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to retire from a career which had meant so much to me. Social work had been part of my identity for over 30 years, and now it had a drastically reduced role in my life. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to redefine myself without a job. I mean, was I still a social worker if I wasn’t working, or would I always have to preface it with “retired”? Obviously, I needed a new focus.

The need for adventure came simultaneously with giving my notice to retire. I think it was the need to restore balance in my life to offset the loss of my work that made me look for something to really “knock my socks off.” It had to be something that would take my focus from the negative of retiring and turn it into a positive.

I had a few ideas in mind. One of them really stood out.

The Complete Challenge

Of all the ways I could think of to “knock my socks off,” I chose climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro because I knew that it would present the exact type of physical and mental challenge I needed.

The reaction of others when they learned that I was going to climb Kilimanjaro was mixed. Some of my friends were highly encouraging and some looked blankly at me and said, “why?” My husband Bruce’s reaction was the hardest for me. Initially, he didn’t even want to hear me talk about it. I know that he hoped that this desire in me was a passing phase and it would just go away if I didn’t talk about it. Bruce won’t get on an airplane so this experience would take him about as far away from his comfort level as one can get. I didn’t think that I could do this without his support, and now I feel that he has given me such a gift by putting aside his own feelings and helping me to realize this dream in every way possible.

Another person who factored into the equation was my daughter, Meredith. When I told her that I was going to climb Kilimanjaro with a friend, her first reaction was, “Cool, I want to come, too.” I never thought that she would be even remotely interested in doing something like this; you know, something that involves sweating, not showering and hard physical labor. She looked upon this adventure as a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was delighted that she wanted to accompany me.

Tusker Kilimanjaro Climbers

Building Excitement

The months we spent planning our trip helped to build a huge level of excitement. Meredith and I, who had both celebrated milestone birthdays this year (30 & 60), bonded over planning the intricate details.

Together we purchased the gear we would need and compared notes on how our training was going. We read books and scoured the Internet for any information that would make our trip a success. I was determined to do anything to optimize our chances of getting to the summit and it was for this reason that I booked with Tusker Trail. We chose the nine day Lemosho route as I thought it afforded us the best opportunity to acclimatize. I also wanted to really experience the mountain and what it offered. I wanted to absorb all the sights and sounds and climate changes without feeling rushed or having events blurred because of exhaustion.

From the moment our plane landed at Kilimanjaro and we were met by the hotel driver, the entire trip exceeded my expectations.

Aiming High

We aimed high in our pursuit and Tusker Trail delivered everything it promised and more to make our trip as thrilling, rewarding and as successful as it was.

On the third day into our trek we were shivering in the morning and our guide asked us how we slept. We said that we were cold at night and mentioned to him about wearing our hats and gloves to sleep in. That night my daughter and I were given an extra sleeping bag each to keep us warm. Without asking, our guide dispatched a porter to bring us the sleeping bags. It was an unexpected act of kindness that made the difference in our comfort for the remainder of our climb.

Tusker Kilimanjaro Cuisine

In the quiet times of my climb I often thought of how I might feel if I made it to the summit. I thought that I might look down from the top and as a metaphor for my life at turning 60. Also, I couldn’t think of anything that would be more meaningful to me than to summit with my daughter beside me.

After a great journey up, we finally did reach the summit and the exhilaration and emotions of the moment flooded over me. More than anything, this accomplishment forced me to ask myself the question, “What’s next?”

Empowering Experience

This exotic and amazing climb has been a very empowering experience for me. I feel more confident, more energized and definitely more ready to go than I ever have!

I have plans with a friend to climb the Grand Canyon and I would love to climb Machu Pichu. I would sign up to travel with Tusker again in a heartbeat. My mind is spinning with travel ideas and now that I have the time, there will be no stopping me!

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