That fourth morning on the mountain, I awoke to a chatty and eager group of kids. Little had changed in our circumstances. We were cold, dirty and still at 14,000ft – a long way yet from home – but the mountain was behind us. In the girls’ bunk room, packing seemed to take twice as long as the previous two days. The girls jostled and laughed, bantered and squealed.
“Hannah, wake up!”
“Who’s got my sleeping bag cover?!”
“What’s for breakfast?”
“Somebody jump on Hannah! She’s still asleep!”
“What are you going to do when you get home Alli?”
“Stay in my bed all day!”
“Aahhh! Who threw their socks on me?!”
“Is Hannah up yet? That girl can sleep through anything.”
I moved slowly too that morning. My face was hot with yesterday’s sunburn and my muscles stiff after the night’s rest.
We set out on a path that meandered along the edge of a ridge. Below us, beyond the edge of the ridge, fluffy clouds hid most of the flatlands. The walking was easy and the group held together for the first several hours, kids joking and bantering amongst themselves.
As we came over the ridge, the landscape began to change. The rocks became larger, the Seussical tufts of long grass reappeared, and small, rocky streams trickled between them. The descent got simultaneously rockier and muddier, and the group began to spread. We tried to put the slow-moving ones at the front in order to set the pace of the group. After an hour though, tensions began to flare. The ones setting the pace felt the pressure of the group at their backs, and those forced to slow down chaffed under the restriction. Finally, when the pace-setters were close to tears, we switched the ends and allowed the group to separate into a faster front-end and slower back-end. I was happy to plod along with the chatty girls at the back. They laughed and giggled as they slid through mud and jumped off rocks – as if the new abundance of oxygen had gone to their heads and made them giddy. Maybe it was the sunshine or the thoughts of home.
We descended below the cloud-line and took a last look at the peaks unveiled. We would not see them like this again.
By about noon, the landscape changed yet again as we descended into a moss forest. Though the moss on these trees is not quite as dark or hefty as “Spanish moss” in the southeast, walking through it reminded me of walking under the canopy roads of Florida.
As the forest became thicker, so did the clouds. The rain began just before we reached the weather station service road. The air was warmer though, and had lost its bite.
On our way down the road, we passed several porters headed back up to help the two girls who were struggling with the descent.
“How much futher?” the kids asked.
“You are almost there.”
“How many more kilometers?” they asked again.
“Not kilometers now – just meters. You will see. You go around this corner and then another corner, then you are there.”
I just smiled to myself. Four days on the trail and the kids still hadn’t learned. Ask our Kenyan guides for distance estimates and you may as well double it. It’s better not to ask. Just keep going.
We arrived at the final lodge sometime between 2:00 and 3:00pm – just as the rain began to intensify. The cooks at the bunkhouse had pasta and soup, hot chocolate and tea ready for us. The fast group had already arrived, eaten and boarded two Land Rovers headed for the park gate. Our small group changed into drier clothes and ate while waiting for the last four students to arrive. I sat on a bench on the porch, chatted with Bill and Jon, and watched the rain for about an hour. My face was still hot, and my muscles even more stiff than when I had woken up this morning, but it felt great to be warm, dry, and still.
The last four students arrived just as the rain relaxed. A few minutes later, the Land Rovers returned to take our group down to the gate. The rain had made a good mess of the dirt road and I had to keep the kids from screaming in the driver’s ear when we slid to one side or the other.
At the gate, we loaded up the school bus and headed into town where we would spend the night at a beautiful lodge. Hot showers … real beds … clean clothes … and a busload of teenagers who now would now be clean and have their own rooms. How do you chaperon that when you’re sunburned and spent? I felt a bit guilty for bailing and heading to bed early, but I was thankful for the other chaperons who were willing to do lights-out duty.
Tomorrow we would be back to Nairobi … back to the life that I had not thought about in the last three days. I thought of my desk at school, my empty fridge, the friends and family I would need to call. I tried to guess how many emails would have piled up in a week, and none of these thoughts excited me. Too much had happened this week – too much that had nothing to do with the normal side of life. How would I fit them together?