So, I was thinking the other day... why do people do stuff? Crazy stuff. I have two friends who have recently scaled or are about to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. To some people mountain climbing may not seem crazy, but to someone like me who has never (and will never) pay money to be cold, I think there is an element of madness in such pursuits.
I also have two bad knees, thanks to my service in the military. One is courtesty of a parachuting accident and the other is from falling while carrying a rather large Maori soldier on my back during a drunken piggy back race. Therefore the thought of trudging up and down a steep incline for days on end concerns me more than a little.
Curious about what makes people (blokes especially) do seemingly silly things, I asked occasional blog poster and regular TP reader Robert L-W why he decided to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Robert did the climb with his sons, Sean and James, and nephew Justin.
It really was just a different African experience, to go somewhere we’d never been before. (Robert, like me, is a hopeless Africa addict - TP).
It was important I do it with Sean & James – the father and sons thing. Not sure I would have done it without them, but I probably would have. Nephew Justin was a bonus – I mentioned it to him and he was very keen to go. It was a totally different experience for him (only been to the US and Bali before).
Plus, having turned 50 in November, I guess there’s a question as to whether you are physically capable of doing something like this. I’m getting old and falling apart. I injure myself more at the gym these days. So it was a challenge that I wanted to give myself, but with an African flavour.
I get all of that, particulary the bit about being old (I am not far behind Robert). I also plan on having a different African experience on my next trip to the dark continent - only mine involves drinks with umbrellas in them on a beach on an island in Mozambique's Bazaruto Archipelago rather than freezing my bollocks off on a mountain.
In Robert's email to me explaining why he wanted to climb Kilimajaro he also mentioned wanting to see the different eco zones the trek passed through, heading up from the savannah, through misty jungles, and then up to the really cold bit. Clearly, from the photos he took, he was also angling for some free books from me, which he got.
I have done lots of crazy/stupid things in my life that seemed quite normal to me. I have bungy jumped, parachuted (though that was mostly with the army, which has an incredible knack of taking the fun out of things), abseiled face-first off tall buildings and various other adrenaline-producing endeavours.
When I joined the army we had to do a psychological test and one of the questions was, 'when you are standing on top of a tall building do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to jump off?'. Naturally, I ticked 'yes' because I had often had those thoughts. After the test, I remember chatting to one of the other recruits and we were going on about how lame some of the questions were.
"Yeah," he laughed, "like anyone would be stupid enough to say they wanted to kill themself by jumping off a tall building."
Gulp. I sweated on that answer for the week it took for the army to get back to me and tell me, yes, I was crazy enough for them to take me. I thought, at one point, of writing a letter to the psychological testing deparment telling them I had reconsidered my answer, and that if jumping off a tall building meant dying then that clearly wasn't for me. Of course, I soon realised later (or perhaps my mother pointed out to me), that only a crazy 17-year-old would even consider writing to the army to tell them they were not crazy. It was all very Joseph Heller.
Anyway, I passed and, not surprisingly, a few years later I found myself at the Army Parachute Training School at Nowra where I proved to be a keen, though not very good, parachutist. I passed and was recommended for employment as a paratrooper (as opposed to being recommended for future promotion to 'stick commander' or 'parachute jump master'). It was the Army equivalent of 'very good, dear'.
But I loved parachuting, until I hurt my knees one too many times and generally got a bit older. The fun of flying around for an hour or two at low level, experiencng air-sickness inducing lurches, followed by the chaos of being pushed out the door of a hercules by 30 other adrenaline-charged traps behind you eventually lost its gloss. Like I said, the Army can take the fun out of anything.
So do we do these things for the moment? For the rush, rather than the reality? I don't imagine Robert particularly wants to get a job as a sherpa (or whatever the African equivalent is of climbing up and down a mountain every few days). I asked him if making it to the top fulfilled his expectations.
Sh*t yeah. In hindsight, and without remembering the pain and discomfort, I’d do it again! It’s like childbirth! I probably won’t do it again, though, as I have other priorities. It was a huge physical and mental challenge, which I survived. Again, James & Sean were vital in this. We were the first three in our group up Mt Meru behind the guide, and we three overtook the guide to be the first three to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro. I had to show the boys that I was still up to it.
There are some things we all want to do before we die, just so we can satisfy our curiosity and craziness. I'm quite keen to try base jumping, although I have two reasonably valid excuses not to, namely: 1. It is illegal, and 2. From what I've seen of base jumpers I would have to get a mohawk and several piercings. I don't have enough hair for a mohawk and I wouldn't know what to pierce.
When I think about (legal) parachuting the things that turn me off doing it are the pain and the discomfort, and the fact that, well... I've done it, and don't need to ever do it again as long as I live (not for my army work, as I am quite deskbound in that respect, and not for sporting reasons because it wasn't that much fun).
But then just the other day Mrs Blog mentioned that her very young and fit personal trainer said he had never been parachuting and was keen to try it. "I'll take him," was my instinctive reply.
"Not you will not!" the small but vocal Mrs B said.
Which just made me want to do it all the more.
What about you, Legion of Fans? Do you have a mountain, literal or metaphorical, you have or would like to climb, or some other adrenaline-inducing (ie stupid) pursuit you have or would like to do?