Kilimanjaro #1MTClimb4Peace UPDATE

Greetings friends! I wanted to give you a detailed update on the end results of our fundraising climb up Kilimanjaro. Thank you all for following this journey, for supporting our team and me personally! I can’t thank you enough.

We climbed 6 months ago… I still feel like I am reeling from it all. Still processing it all. But I received a wonderful email this week with updated reports on the funds we raised, and the programs those funds are supporting. Most importantly, real women are receiving support, healing and hope through these programs. In a world full of bad news (all day every day it seems), this is GOOD news.

(Note: If you want to read more about our climb, I am going to be filling out the #1MTClimb4Peace page with reports, blogs, articles, etc. Just click the #1MTClimb4Peace tab in the top menu for more!)

Here is a little story to wet your appetite…. from a Congolese woman named Deborah, a survivor of sexual violence:

My name is Deborah Ngorore, I am 26 years old and I have one child born out of rape. I am from Ntamugenga village in Rutshuru territory and I grow cassava and maize to support myself and my child. In February 2015, when I was in the farming place in the process of cultivating, two armed men met me and told me that if I try to shout they will kill me. They both abused me. 

When I got home, I told everything to my husband thinking he would help me, but instead he kicked me out of the house. A few months later, I realized I was pregnant. It really ached to keep a fetus without knowing who the father was. 

During the delivery process I had complications of childbirth. They ended up transferring me to a qualified hospital but it was too late. I unfortunately developed a VVF. During that time, I stayed there as I didn’t have any means to go for medical treatment.

I would later learn through volunteers who were sensitizing the local community that I was in that there was an NGO helping people like me. I did not hesitate to come and see them. May God bless you as you think of the most vulnerable women, as from now on I have recovered my smile. 

Deborah - Photo courtesy of World Relief.
Deborah – Photo courtesy of World Relief.

I have blogged about it in detail on my other website, Please click on the following image to be taken to the site.


Living a new and improved story… thanks MPC!

I am feeling incredibly nostalgic, emotional, proud, excited, emotional, incredulous today.

A year ago, this month, I got off the couch. I thought it was just so I could climb munros in Scotland like Sam Heughan did. I thought I was probably going to fail (again) at the C25K program I was starting. I didn’t have a lot of hope or confidence in myself.

But apparently there was enough of something (desire? desperation? hope?) to ignite a flame that has yet to burn out. (Sure, it flickers and looks like it is going out sometimes… usually when I am lounging on the couch again, with pizza and chips scattered around me. But it still doesn’t go out.) One small success after another of not failing, of not falling back into my “old ways” led me across the world and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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(click on the image to go to the recorded episode)

Last night, I was interviewed by a life and business coach, Mark Schall, in New York on a radio show called “Mark My Words.” The first half of the show focused on my personal couch-to-kilimanjaro journey (basically the content of this whole blog), and the second half was about my time in the Congo meeting Esperance and the broader cause of trying to end violence against women in warzones. I was a nervous wreck going into it, but quickly began to enjoy being able to talk about the things that I was most passionate about and was actually surprised when we ran out of time and didn’t even talk about actually climbing Kilimanjaro. 🙂 I said UM and UH and YOU NOW about 1346 times, but other than that (and some bumbling that I am trying not to kick myself over) felt really good about the interview.

And talking through my story again just made me all the more grateful for this time in my life, and for the “players” that have contributed so profoundly to the changes that took place over the last year.

Outlander. Sam Heughan. My Peak Challenge. Peak Warriors. Hiking. Mountains. #C25K. One Million Thumbprints. Esperance.  CrossFit. Kilimanjaro. ALL GAME CHANGERS IN MY BOOK.

Here are some topics from the interview that I feel need a bit of expounding… 

On becoming a fangirl** at 36 – I would have never in a million years thought I would become a fangirl. Of anything. I have always been a movie buff since a child, but never really got into the YA series of books and shows that had a significant fan following. So imagine my surprise in January of 2015 when I fell into my first fandom, Outlander, at age 36. Today, though, I wear that label with pride because of how much this experience has enriched and changed my life. I don’t think other fandoms are quite as full-service as ours (though I wouldn’t know otherwise). Sam Heughan has definitely outdone himself in using his relatively overnight stardom and platform for good. And I am the direct beneficiary of making a whole new group of friends (a support group, really) with a common love for all things Outlander, Sam, and fitness/health.

**And by fangirl I do NOT mean hyperventilating-frothing-out-the-mouth-plowing-over-children-animals-and-grandmas-to-get-to-see-or-touch-sam-or-any-other-human-being kind of fangirl (of whom there are many of this variety apparently). I mean mature, fun-loving, whisky-drinking women of all ages and stages who happen to be great fans of Diana Gabaldon’s books, the Starz Outlander show and/or the actors (Sam, Tobias, Cait et al).


And just for kicks and giggles, here are my (shameless) top 3 fangirl moments and memories: 

  1. Sam commented on a couple of my posts in the private MPC Prep program Facebook group. This is serious fangirling fodder. He and John Valbonesi are considered our “coaches” and we (all 3000 + members) get giddy with excitement when either of them comment or like what we share. When I wrote about the tattoo I wanted to get (quite an emo post), he commented with a “Just perfect.x” and that made my day. We all have such deep and profound respect and appreciation for those guys creating the MPC program and taking the time to encourage and challenge us to new heights and goals… and to living a much better life story.
  2. After summiting Kilimanjaro with the 2014 MPC flag (lent to me by the BAM Strength girls), Sam commented with a congratulations in the Facebook group and then tweeted my summit photo and congratulations.*drops dead* I remember being in the Tanzanian hotel post climb in the one area of the hotel that had spotty wifi at best and saw that he had liked my tweet about summiting which made me “squee” (fangirl internal screaming). And then the wifi went out. And when it came back on, my phone was blowing up with all these retweet and like notifications on Twitter (I have like 300 followers so this was not normal). My friend, fellow climber and fellow fangirl, Joy Beth, silently screamed across the room from me when she saw his tweet. It was an amazing moment. 🙂 FullSizeRender 13 FullSizeRender 14 IMG_6408 IMG_9290
  3. Earlier this month, many of my fellow fangirl (see above description of fangirl) friends were planning to spend a long weekend in NYC for the Tartan week, Outlander Season 2 premiere and the Tartan Parade. I knew that after such a long trip to Africa, my family probably wasn’t too keen on me checking out again for a few days, but I did manage to talk them into letting me take a long day trip up to the city for the parade. Sam was going to be the Grand Marshal of the parade and I knew so many friends going. It was going to be so much fun. A friend and I hopped on a bus at the crack of dawn and landed in rainy, cold NYC in time to walk around and take in all the Outlander promotions… costumes in the Saks Fifth Avenue windows (absolutely mind blowing work by Terry Dresbach) and the Outlander S train between Grand Central and Times Square. Whoever came up with the marketing idea to outfit an entire train out with Outlander promotional images and decor should get the biggest freaking promotion of their life. Just brilliant.  12973309_10153541013306765_1930227453776901946_oIMG_7199Before the parade started, I got a text from one of my friends asking if we wanted to march with her in the parade with Laphroig (arguably Scotland’s best whisky and also a sponsor of the parade). YES. I knew we would miss out on seeing Sam march by, but I thought, “When will I ever have the opportunity to march down 6th Avenue in NYC with thousands of Scots?!?” (answer: probably never) Laphroig was an absolute joy to march with. They outfitted us with t-shirts, hats, flags and shots of whisky to toast before we marched. It was seriously one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. The energy and camaraderie of this community of Scots and Outlander fans was pure perfection. We DID get to see Sam up on the promo bus at the end of the parade route. We cheered him on and he cheered us on. And then a group of us dashed off to a local pub to get warm and dry. After our meal, my friend and I walked back to the bus stop, and slept all the way back to Maryland. Fantastic day! IMG_7218  12473958_10153541024976765_6735910866565210822_o 13002514_10153541025106765_3029383857711589827_o 13007169_10153541026396765_6135287682164066417_n IMG_7262

On the powerful nature of a support group when trying to change your life – I have been so grateful for the MPC support groups I have become a part of in this process (namely the Peak Warriors). I have never been a part of a support group of any sort before now. But as I reflect back on why I was able to meet goals and overcome obstacles this time around, I realize that it was probably largely because of these groups. Both groups have been the safest and most uplifting and challenging (in the best way) of groups I had ever encountered online.  When you have a group of 500, 800, or over 3000 that are mostly women, you just wonder how “great” it can really be, because most of us have seen how nasty adult women (and men) can be online. Well, these two groups (the MPC Prep and Peak Warriors) have been quite abnormal. Women truly celebrating other women and cheering them on in their goals, successes, milestones and achievements… empathizing with and supporting one another in their failures and struggles and even challenging each other towards greater goals and successes. You simply don’t find this online anymore. It is a gold mine and I have been the beneficiary of so much love and support I can hardly stand it at times. Fortunately for me, I live in an area where there is a large local representation of Peak Warriors and other Outlander fans so we have had many happy hours, hikes, parties, dinners, events together in real life. While I was climbing Kili, a group of Peak Warriors were climbing a mountain in Maryland in solidarity. Truly amazes me.



On the power of storytelling in the work of advocacy and activism – I was able to share Esperance’s story in the interview. And then the story about meeting Esperance and watching and photographing her and Belinda (founder of One Million Thumbprints) reunite. I could have talked about the issue of violence against women in conflict zones in terms of numbers and statistics. UN reports. But who is going to resonate with that? Next to no one. Its just noise at this point, online and offline. Big, huge global issues that don’t directly affect me will remain big, huge and DISTANT global issues unless I can relate or connect with the issue in some way. And that is where the power of storytelling is going to literally change the fabric of humanitarian work, advocacy, activism. When I tell you about violence against women in warzones in the context of a woman’s personal narrative, her story, you will most likely connect with the issue. She is human. You are human. She is a mother. I am a mother. You have a mother. When we see each other through the lens of a shared humanity, we start to listen, to see and to respond from a level of empathy and understanding that numbers and statistics will never be able to create. Esperance shared her story with us, with me. She gifted me with her story so that I would “tell the world.” All I can do is keep sharing her story in hopes that the mothers and grandmothers and daughters and sisters of the world will see themselves in her pain and her courage and will lean into these big issues for the sake of our shared humanity.

IMG_0235 IMG_0253 IMG_0317 IMG_0329 IMG_0307 (all photos of the legendary Esperance, whose courage and story has launched an entire movement of peacemakers and advocates working to end violence against women in warzones)

I know that my story isn’t anything truly extraordinary. I could tell 10 stories right now about people on my Kilimanjaro team as well as people in the MPC program whose experiences and transformations would truly blow your mind. Extreme weight loss, beating cancer and other debilitating illnesses, overcoming severe demons of the past and emerging with more strength and fortitude than ever… and on and on. But the point isn’t whose story is the most extreme or jaw-dropping, is it? The point is that we are all LIVING A STORY. The point is that we get to share and celebrate our stories. We get to help and support one another to live the best stories we can. And when there are those among us whose stories are not being told (but desperately need to be), we get to step up and use whatever platform, whatever opportunity and privilege we have to amplify those voices and stories.

So what kind of story are you living?

What stories are you sharing?

Whose voice can you amplify with your privilege and platform? 




10 Things No One Tells You About Climbing Kilimanjaro

This is part of a series of posts about the #1MTclimb4peace charity climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 8, 2016 (International Women’s Day) with One Million Thumbprints. Please click the category #1MTclimb4peace to see all of the posts in the series. 

You remember that MOU? How I make no promises to share anything coherently, linearly, or chronologically from here on out? Ok, just making sure. Let us continue.

**Disclaimer: Below, you will find that I am brutally honest about climbing Kilimanjaro. You may scratch your head and think, “Why would anyone in their right mind want to climb that mountain?” Why, indeed!?! Ha! Although I have no immediate inclination to ever do it again, I wonder if it is like childbirth…. the farther you get from the experience, the less brutal you remember it being?! Who knows. Having said all of this, I am SO glad I was a part of this particular trip and team. We climbed for a myriad of reasons… many of which we had just met face to face in the DRC. We climbed for personal reasons (and walked away changed human beings). We climbed to amplify the voices and the stories of our suffering sisters living in war zones around the world. And getting to the top of that mountain, together, was worth every single, brutal step. Personally, the climb would not have been worth it, without the camaraderie, support and shared purpose and vision of the One Million Thumbprints Climb for Peace team. With them, this experience was truly life changing and actually enjoyable (clearly…. since I just got a tattoo to prove it!). And I have absolutely no regrets. But I still would have appreciated knowing the following 10 (+1) things ahead of time.**



1. #kililips – I woke up on the morning of Day 4 with a lower lip about 5 sizes too big. WHAT THE….? No one told me this would or could happen. I was not mentally prepared. Over the next 3 days, nearly half the team got their own #kililips. We assume it has to do with altitude issues and/or sun exposure??!! No one has yet to adequately explain it to us. But it was a thing. A really uncomfortable and somewhat self conscious thing. (although as soon as you looked around and saw 3 others with lower lips larger than life itself, you didn’t feel quite as self conscious). 12841174_10153390840926497_3601925566592157440_o(a teammate’s actual lip one morning)

2. Diamox  –  the altitude sickness prevention medication, makes you drowsy. So, when the guides suggest taking a double dose of it (relax, its well within the normal dosage of the medication) right before you start the midnight 8+ hour trek up Kilimanjaro, just know that its like taking a Benadryl or two and then putting on all the clothing you have and going out into the pitch darkness and walking at the slowest snail’s pace you can possible go while still moving forward… straight up a mountain. Diamox is good, and I am thankful I took it. Falling asleep, repeatedly, while walking up a cliff in the pitch darkness, was not so good and just a little, teeny, tiny bit terrifying.

3. Toilets – Whatever company you go with… pay the extra money for a toilet tent. It is still primitive. But holy toilets… for those with any gastro issues, after a long day’s trek or on the backside of summit day (i.e. when every muscle and bone in your entire body is screaming in pain), it is pure  luxury  necessity to be able to sit on a toilet rather than squat over a hole.

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4. #kiliskin – Ok, so you pack and pack and pack everything you can think of that you could possibly need for 6+ days on the mountain. Everything but sunscreen, that is. *smile* Luckily you have 13 other friends who did not make this mistake. So you diligently lather up each morning with the 30-50SPF creams. And you still get fried to a crisp. F R I E D. As in your ears get so burnt they split open. And your lips split and your skin has raging sun blisters. All of which mean that about 5-6 days later, you are a walking reptile, shedding flakes of skin (in all sizes and shapes) everywhere you go, and especially on all of your clothing. For those of us whose go-to mountain uniform was all black, this was more of a problematic issue. And if you happen to be of Asian descent (as two of my friends on the team are), this will be a potentially traumatic experience as your first and only sunburn/blistering/peeling experience. (i will refrain from posting a photo of this phenomenon – you are welcome.)

5. Distance – So, technically you know how long your trek is. You read all the day-by-day distance and climate zones you will be going through. It sounds exciting and adventurous. At first. But, as in most things, reality doesn’t really translate accurately from projection. No one tells you that you end up walking nearly a half marathon AFTER you summit. Yes, the euphoria of summiting is amazing and fills you will energy and excitement to spare. But the minute you start down the mountain and the pain in your knees, feet, toes, back and lungs kicks in, the euphoria makes a quick exit. All you can think about is getting back to basecamp and either diving in your tent to get horizontal, or collapsing in a chair to get off your feet. So you push it, through the pain (and in my case, through a hail storm!) down the mountain to base camp. Along with a hot cup of tea you are greeted with “Good job! Now repack your backpack and walk down to the next camp… just a few more hours.” And all you want to do is cry.




6. Summit Day – It is horrible. Really, I am just being as honest as I can. I found precious few who would honestly describe the day, so I am going to go there. As stated before, you start the midnight trek exhausted, and then add a dose medication that makes you literally fall asleep on your feet. You have read all about “Pole, pole!” the Swahili phrase, “Slowly, slowly.” But you don’t really understand HOW slowly until summit day. I mean, you have gone pretty freaking pole on the previous days (some of which you are thankful for, some of which you think is crazy). But summit pole is a whole different animal. I don’t think I can adequately describe how pole you go… just imagine the slowest you can possibly move and then know that it is slower than that. I don’t say this to knock the system or the guides. Our guides got all 15 of us up that mountain, so I have faith in their methods. I just wasn’t mentally prepared. Because of how slow you are moving, how dark it is and drowsy you are, you actually fall asleep walking. Over and over and over. It was terrifying once we got to the steep switchbacks. Terrifying. And mentally very hard to deal with. I just kept thinking, “This is the most miserable I have ever felt…” When you summit, all becomes well again in your soul. Euphoria. Adrenaline. Tears. All good things. And then you start down. And the pain kicks in. I didn’t have knee problems until coming down the mountain. My feet and toes and knees and quads and back and shoulders were screaming in pain. UTTER MISERY. And those last “few hours” walking to the next camp down the mountain were the hardest few hours of the whole trip (in my experience). I wish someone could have recorded me walking into our camp on summit day night (not base camp, the next one down)… I was close to crawling because my legs and feet hurt so badly. I literally could barely move. I collapsed into my tent, skipped dinner, grumbled and complained to my tent mate for some time and nearly cried myself to sleep. We started climbing that day at midnight. I did not collapse into my tent until almost 8pm that night. There were about 3 stops during the day for anything more than 5 minutes. Brutal. Utterly, completely miserable and brutal. (but worth it, remember?) Oh and guess what? You have to walk 12 more miles the next day…. This news will make you cry. Or scream. Or hit someone.IMG_6350

7. Sleep – So, guess what? You can’t take sleep aids on the mountain. No benadryl, ambien, xanax, or anything. This was a real issue for many of us on the trek. You know how much energy you will need day to day, and you know you need precious sleep and rest. But sleeping on the hard ground in a tent isn’t something your bad self is used to…. thus, there will be a lot of sleeplessness. I can’t speak for the whole team, but I felt that in the end, people got what they needed, even if it didn’t seem like it. There was much angst in the beginning over the lack of sleep, but towards the end of the journey your body just takes over. When I literally collapsed into my tent on summit day night, I started to cry thinking about having to get up at 6 am and walk another 12 miles to get to our vehicle that would take us back to our hotel (and a bathtub). I thought it would be literally impossible, physically, considering how much pain I was in. But sleep, although fleeting on the mountain, is incredibly healing. I can’t tell you the amount of times someone was sick, spent, in bad shape and a nap or a night of sleep seemed to restore health to their muscles, hearts and minds. I know it did for me. I woke up on Day 6 and although sore, wasn’t in screaming pain. It also helped that the walk was a beautiful trek through the Tanzanian countryside. Trust the process. Sleep will come when you need it…. and it will heal you in ways you never expected.

8. #kilitoes – So, many of us have come home with toe…. issues. Some are classic “marathon toes”, but some of us have some mystery issues with our toes. Mostly the right toes. I have yet to figure this out, but the fact that several on the team are experiencing this makes me think you need to know about it. Personally, it’s the toe next to my right big toe. It doesn’t hurt, there is no pain. There is also no feeling. But I can feel it when I touch it. Weird? Crazy? Yes. One teammate described it as feeling “detached from my body.” Yes. That. Just felt like you should know you might have weird toe feelings (or lack of feelings) after the climb. Knowledge is power. IMG_1869(my toes on day 1 of the climb. again, because i want you to come back and read this blog, i will refrain from posting post-climb toes. you are welcome.)

9. Climate – I researched as much as I possibly could about the weather on Kili. And the overwhelming response was “It is unpredictable. Be prepared.” I am here to testify to this fact. We came prepared for it to be so cold we couldn’t see straight. It was not. We had mostly clear blue skies and sun for most of the trek (which also contributed to #4 above). Some clouds and a few drops of rain came in and out a few times, but nothing sustainable or more than just a few minutes. Until summit day. We all summited Gilman’s Point in perfect clear blue skies and relative warmth. I summited with nothing but one Under Armor cold gear base layer shirt on. But 2 hours later, just as we were approaching the Uhuru Peak summit, the clouds has rolled in. And with them hail, snow and rain… for hours. I walked down the mountain in a whiteout… fog, hail, snow. It was crazy. By the time we started walking to the next camp, though, it was clear blue skies again. And the day after we got back to our hotel (day after the trek ended), it rained for 2 solid days. We looked up at Kilimanjaro as we left Tanzania and it was covered with a distinct layer of white. It is truly, truly unpredictable. Good luck with that. IMG_2349 IMG_2376 IMG_2434 IMG_2600 IMG_2590 (these 5 images were from day 3 on the trek) IMG_9308 IMG_9369(first summit and 3rd summit 2 hours apart) IMG_9259 IMG_6414 (standing on top of the world and then coming down the mountain in a white out – 2.5 hours apart. also, it looks like a level, straight road ahead. not so. it is nearly straight down, just doesn’t show up in the image.)

10. Landscape – Ok, there are endless images of Kilimanjaro and the treks and various routes. You see all of this. But do you really SEE that you are actually walking across MARS? Because that is exactly what it feels like from Day 4 on. There is nothing. No vegetation. Just dirt and scree. You see all of this, but it does not compute in your brain until you are walking, for hours and hours, across no-man’s land and you feel like you are on an alien planet. I tell you this because in my past experience, hiking treks were always full of beauty…. you know, like hiking in the Rockies in Colorado, or the Pacific Northwest or the Alps. There is beauty everywhere… at every turn, vista and lookout. NOT SO ON KILI. I think that is one of the reasons summit day is so hard… you are summiting a mountain on Mars. The only beauty you see is when that precious sun emerges and warms you up (soul and body) and you see the clouds below. But other than that, its lots of dirt and rocks. Just be prepared. The first and last days of the trek are breathtaking in the rainforest and low alpine zones, which is a very redeeming fact on the tail end of a Kilimanjaro trek. IMG_9245 IMG_2857

11. Guides – No one tells you how amazing they really are. No one. Sure you can read the reviews and such, but if you luck out and get the kind of guides we had, you will be blown away at the quality of care and the work they put in on your behalf (meaning you personally, as well as your team as a whole). They get to know you by name, early on. They watch and learn about your health and how you are adjusting to the climb. They are like walking therapists when you find you think you can’t do something they have come to believe you can do. They whisper strength and encouragement into your ear (and soul) when you need it the most. When they tell you they will get you up and down the mountain safely, they will. And they do.  Pick a good company. Do your research. And trust your guides. Pay them well. Talk about them afterwards. We could not be more thrilled with our experience with The Africa Walking Company (search tripadvisor or google for reviews. We booked them through Africa Travel Resource). IMG_2603 IMG_9400 IMG_9486 IMG_1842 (From the top: Abraham – lead guide, AWC group, Asha – amazing cook, Lucy – assistant guide)



What did I miss? What threw you for a loop? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments. 

Coming soon…. “Packing List for WOMEN climbing Kili”, and “Top 10 things/gear/gadgets that got me up and down the mountain successfully.” And eventually…. the actual day by day climb. 🙂

UHURU – an epiphany at 19,341 feet

This is part of a series of posts about the #1MTclimb4peace charity climb and my #MPC2016 challenge up Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 8, 2016 (International Women’s Day) with One Million Thumbprints. Please click the hashtag #1MTclimb4peace to see all of the posts in the series. 

As most of you know by now (and by most, I mean the wonderful 7 of you who subscribe to this blog 🙂 ), our whole team summited Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 8, 2016. Statistically, 3 of us were not supposed to make it for one reason or another. We beat the odds, and all 15 summited Kili at the Gilman’s Point summit (with some truly incredible stories to boot!). There are 3 summits along the rim of the top of the mountain. Some paths take you to Gilman’s Point first, others to Stella’s Point and the last summit is called Uhuru Peak.



I did not know what Uhuru meant when I stood in front of the sign at the peak. A group of 6 of us had continued along the trail past Gilman’s to try to make it to Uhuru before bad weather came in. As soon as the sign was in sight, our guide said, “Go ahead and run if you want… no more pole pole.” I literally ran to the sign. I was euphoric. My heart was about to beat out of my chest, but I was giddy with excitement. We all took our photos, cried, hugged and just a few minutes later  our guide said, “Sorry, we have to go now, the storm has come.” And we booked it down the mountain in a complete white out (hail, rain, snow, fog). But that is a story for another post…




(when I ran to the sign and took a selfie because no one else was there to take the photo yet 🙂 )

It wasn’t until the next day, our last day on the trek that I found out what the Swahili word Uhuru means.


Have you ever had an experience where a word or phrase jumped out and just grabbed you at a soul level? Perhaps you pick a word each year and it really defines your journey for that time… Perhaps something happens and that word or phrase helps you hold on when life seems to be crumbling around you.


This was my word.

Personally, climbing Kilimanjaro was a journey of freedom for me. This whole blog is a testament to that journey.  It has been an intensely personal journey of becoming free FROM some things and free to BECOME something new. This is the beauty of participating in a community like My Peak Challenge, where the challenge to get fit and healthy permeates all parts of our lives… emotional, spiritual, mental, physical.

This past year, I have become free of unhealthy patterns and thoughts (I can’t do it, I am not a runner, I will never finish this, I can’t climb that, I won’t be able to breathe up there), unhealthy beliefs (about faith, God, myself, my purpose). And in the process of getting free from those things, I am becoming something totally new. I am healthier than I have been in years. I have accomplished goals and benchmarks that that old me would have given up on a long time ago. I have pursued dreams and attained them. I have a newfound sense of worth and purpose and calling. I (physically and mentally) can and do hard things for the sake of others. I am now living a legacy that I feel good about leaving my girls. (Please hear my heart… this is not coming from a place of pride or arrogance, but of transformation and deep gratitude for the changes in my life.)


(this was the first drawing I did of the tattoo.)

So, this idea of uhuru, of freedom is deeply personal and meaningful to me.

It also represents the past few years of my social justice journey. About 6-7 years ago, I started learning about human trafficking and slavery. Since then, social justice issues and passion has very much been a part of my life and personal journey… from starting the Do A Little Good website, to hosting fair trade holiday shopping events, so hopping on planes and flying to places like India and the DRC to document and share stories of freedom and hope and dignity in the face of intense suffering.

Climbing Kilimanjaro with One Million Thumbprints was an act of pursuing the freedom of my sisters who live in the war-torn countries of the Congo, South Sudan and Syria/Iraq… freedom from violence, shame, despair. We long to see women around the world free to live with value and purpose, in dignity and in safety. That is why we climbed. For uhuru, for peace. 

When I came home, I realized I wanted to do something that would literally engrave this word, this concept of freedom on myself. So, I engraved it on my skin.

My first tattoo.


Mountains: If you have read this blog from the beginning, you know how much the mountains mean to me. They are one of my happiest of places. Always have been. And it was Sam Heughan’s munro images on Instagram that literally shook me out of my numbing life existance onto this journey of freedom a year ago (almost to the day… April 1). The three peaks are representative of the MPC logo and the role that community has played in my life and transformation over this past year. They are also representative of the 3 loves of my life… my three little girls who are watching me, learning from me.

Uhuru: I drew this word out in my own handwriting, which is way messier and harder to read than the tattoo artist’s handwriting was. But I asked her to trace my handwriting because this journey of freedom is seldom neat and tidy and more often messy and hard to follow.

Rivers: The lines on either side of uhuru represent another happiest of places for me… the river. I grew up on rivers and streams and I would rather be in a river than just about any other body of water. I love the sound, the feel, the look. I love that they are in constant motion, moving with purpose with a destiny in mind. They are refreshing.

I chose to have this put on my wrist so I could look at it each day and remember… Remember the past, the journey, the accomplishments, the adventure (MPC, Kilimanjaro!). Remember where my soul finds rest and peace (mountains and rivers!), and where I have yet to go (more peaks and valleys) on this journey. Remember my calling and purpose (to pursue freedom for myself and others).

Getting the tattoo was actually a deeply spiritual experience. I didn’t expect that. I never thought I would get a tattoo (just never had the desire), but now I can’t imagine not having this symbol on my body.

Again, I am so, so, so incredibly grateful for this experience and journey… all of it. I am so grateful to be on the path I am on now. I am actually excited about life, about the future and all the possibilities it holds. Reminds me of a verse in the Bible that I used to laugh (cynically) about, but that I can actually hold with hope now. Proverbs 31:25:

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
    and she laughs without fear of the future.

Tap, tap – Anyone still there? Can we have a MOU?

This is the first of a series of posts about the #1MTclimb4peace charity climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 8, 2016 (International Women’s Day) with One Million Thumbprints. Please click the hashtag #1MTclimb4peace to see all of the posts in the series. 

I have one question – WHERE DO I EVEN BEGIN?


Ok, more like a million questions:

How does one boil down the most intense, full of life and adventure, emotional 2.5 weeks (in 3 countries) into a neat linear package of blog posts? Do I start with our time in Rwanda at the Kigali Genocide Memorial? Lots to say about that… What about the whole crossing the DRC border at night and then 3 hours of flying over dirt roads littered with potholes and ruts to a village up country (with a military escort?!)? What about the faces and stories of the women survivors of sexual and gender based violence? There is much to say about that. How about that first look at Kilimanjaro? Do I start with Day 1 and work through Day 15? (Ha!) Do I start with Summit Day and lots of WEDIDIT WEDIDIT WEDIDIT’s? Or how about that picture of a hot bath full of shower gel bubbles that I got into 3.5 minutes after arriving at our hotel?

Do you see my dilemma? I have been sitting on this for about 10 days now, mulling over my strategy and plan (or lamenting the lack thereof). Lots of friends are asking, “So, how about them photos and stories??!! (hint hint, wink wink)”

So, let’s just settle the fact that I don’t have a plan. It’s going to come out how it comes out. Is that cool? It might not be sequential or logical, really. As long as we both understand that, I can start writing, processing, posting.

Successful blogging strategy vs. how I actually process and write:


So, if we have a clear memorandum of understanding between us… let us begin.


Couch2Kilimanjaro – Tomorrow is the day!

This will be a super short post, but just wanted to check in….

Tomorrow is the day it all starts. Day 1 of 6 days on the mountain. Tuesday, March 8, 2016 is the day of reckoning… my attempt to summit this giant.


We just got to Tanzania this morning after 3 of the longest, hardest days of my life, I think. We went to Rwanda and to the DRC to visit the very World Relief programs that this climb is fundraising for. I am so thankful we did it. So thankful. But we now carry more weight with us up that mountain. Not the physical weight of too much in our packs… but the emotional, mental, spiritual weight of all we have just been given in the DR Congo and Rwanda.

We met with women survivors of sexual based gender violence, who were so happy to share their stories with us and who ask us to tell the world about the violence that is rampant in their villages and country. We met members of local Village Peace Committees who are experiencing and facilitating peace in their communities and with each other without having to bribe officials who do nothing for them. We met women in a Fistula hospital in Goma, DRC. We drove through some of the most abject poverty I have ever seen (and I have seen a lot). We drove through a war zone (I now know the difference between the sound of firecrackers and of semi automatic gunshots – not aimed at us, but aimed in the air to try to get a car to stop so the bandits could loot it).

I held the hand of the 5 year old daughter of a fistula patient who was sitting on her mother’s bed… not immediately realizing that the 5 year old was also a patient. She had been raped just last week. 

These are the women, the stories we are carrying up the mountain. These women have something to say and we will do all we can to amplify their voices and continue to advocate for a better, more peaceful life for them and all of their children. No 5 year old should be a patient at a hospital specializing in rape victims. Ever. Anywhere.

And so tomorrow, we wake up, load up our bags and packs, try to swallow our fears and anxiety and start walking.

Thank you for following this journey with me. If you want to learn more about the organization I am climbing for/with, please click on the One Million Thumbprints button on the right of this page. Also, if you want to follow us in real time, check out the One Million Thumbprints Facebook page!

I am so utterly thankful for the privilege and honor to make this trek… for the women and girls I just met in the Congo, and for myself.

Want to climb Kilimanjaro? With your camera? For women?

(This is my #couch2kilimanjaro story. Follow along by chapter: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6)


I can’t really remember how this conversation first went down in real time. Was it on the phone? Over coffee? Email?

What I do remember is this.


My friend Belinda sat me down at some point and asked me to consider joining the growing team of women who would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in early 2016 with One Million Thumbprints. And not just join, but fulfill the felt need of a campaign photographer/storyteller.

So let me get this straight… 

Climb an epic mountain? For a cause I am already very passionate about? As the climb/campaign photographer? To share stories of dignity and hope and courage?


Dreams do come true. They really do. Sometimes they come true with no effort of your own, just luck, fortune, blessing from Above. Other times you work hard for your dreams, and it pays off. In spades. 

Belinda told me that she had been watching me over the last few months… running, climbing, training – dedicated to improving my health and fitness. She said that if my doctor gave me the green light (asthma wise), she would be thrilled if I could join the team as the team photographer. I am pretty sure I cried.

So, yes, this opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro is a gift from Above on so many levels. It is also something I worked very hard for, even though I didn’t know what “it” was.


I am so very, very thankful for this opportunity. I get on the plane in 3 days. We sit with the very woman who inspired this movement in 7 days. We start up that mountain in 10 days. We stand on the roof of Africa in 14 days to proclaim PEACE for women experiencing the violence of war… on International Women’s Day.


And I really need to pause and say something…to my Outlander/MPC people: 

Outlander, Sam Heughan, My Peak Challenge, Peak Warriors… these are the people who got me off the couch less than a year ago. They were the inspiration and the motivation. And now they are the loudest cheerleaders in my “squad.”

Throughout this journey, my MPC/Peak Warrior “fanmily” has been the most supportive of this adventure/goal/dream by far. Perfect strangers have continually expressed heartfelt encouragement and support and even financial donations! I have been brought to tears on several occasions already by the people who have rallied around me at this time. People from all over the world (Norway, Germany, USA, and elsewhere), all walks of life, on various MPC journeys of their own. People who take the time to comment and email and message their best wishes and go-get-em’s!

Local MPC friends have even scheduled a “solidarity climb” on the weekend we will be heading up Kilimanjaro! They are literally going to “walk with us,” up a mountain.

I am profoundly grateful that I fell into this “fandom.” It has quite literally changed my life in the best of ways. I aim to stand on the top of Kilimanjaro and hold the MPC  #BAMflag with the greatest pride and the deepest gratitude for helping me summit my mountain.

I would absolutely love it if you would follow along. I will be posting, blogging and the like at a few places for the team. I am hoping to post as often as possible here, but Instagram and Facebook might be the best way to track with us.

1MT follow

Color Vibe – a #C25K success story

(This is my #couch2kilimanjaro story. Follow along by chapter: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4, Chapter 5)

I started the “Couch to 5K” running program on April 1 2015. It took much longer than the prescribed 9 weeks of training for me to hit the 5K mark. Over that summer and all the traveling, I did not keep up with my 3x a week running. But I still wanted to test myself, to see if I could do what I set out to do with the #C25K program – run an entire 5K race without stopping to walk.

So I signed up for the Color Run in Baltimore. Actually it was the Color Vibe and I was jazzed that there would be some loud music and dancing involved. I talked a childhood friend into signing up with me as well. This meant I really HAD to do it, now. Accountability, and all.

September 2nd was the date. Because of my lack of consistent running I really didn’t think I was going to be able to run the whole way. I kept thinking through scenarios… ” I could just stop when I need to and then keep running so I know I actually RAN the whole 5K,” or ” I will just run until I can’t and then walk… this is still a ‘win’ for me.”

I was already giving myself an “out.” I had never run a “race” before. Ever. 

So my friend Heather and I got up at the crack of dawn (a little groggy from a mini Outlander viewing marathon the night before, to be honest) and drive north. We met the masses, collected our bags of color chalk to party with and just waited to start. I think we were in the second wave to head out.


By the way, when I say “run” or “jog” you must understand what that actually means for me. I really should just refer to it as “shogging,” because it is truly a cross between a shuffle and a jog. Very slow. Painfully slow. Faster than walking. Mostly.

We started out at a brisk shogging pace and eventually found our stride. I had never run more than a mile at a time. Ever. This “fun run” was a big deal for me.

And guess what? We didn’t stop. And I didn’t walk. We shogged the whole 5K. I don’t know what our time was. It didn’t matter to me. I was in this for the finish line.

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And when we crossed that line, covered in a rainbow of color chalk and pumped up but the music and dancing? I felt like I was at another mountaintop. Another summit. Another goal crushed. Another step towards more mountaintops.

This was another goal I didn’t crap out on. I was 6 months into a lifestyle change that was truly paying off for in more ways than I could know. I started the journey with just a flicker of hope that “this time” I would succeed at changing my lifestyle and getting my health and fitness back. And I was really doing it.

Dancing around in that cloud of chalk was a very proud, and defining moment for me. Maybe someday I will be in it for the time, the competition. Not this time. Completion was the goal and the prize.

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It was also a defining moment for someone else watching me… Someone planning a climb up Kilimanjaro to raise funds and awareness for women experiencing the violence of war… Someone in need of a female photographer to join the team and capture the story…

Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina – my first mountain

(This is my #couch2kilimanjaro story. Follow along by chapter: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3, Chapter 4)

My first mountain….

Three years ago, I started taking my three girls on long, cross-country road trips each summer. In 2013, we drove from Maryland to Colorado to Wyoming and camped in the Great Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. It was an epic journey on so many levels. The summer of 2014 took us from Maryland to Prince Edward Island (Canada) to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and back. And last year, we drove from Maryland to Texas and back. These adventures are as much for my sanity and survival strategy as for the actual travel.

On our way to Texas this past summer, we stopped in North Carolina for a few days. My mom, “Grammy”, joined us and we explored the NC highlands. We happened to rent a cabin just a few miles from Grandfather Mountain, one of the most popular tourist sites in the state. There is the “Mile High Bridge” and two visitors centers on the mountain. It is absolutely gorgeous. I started researching hiking trails when we got there and found one called the “Grandfather Ridge Trail.” It had rave reviews and said it was a “strenuous” hike.

I was ready to test myself physically. I had said I wanted to climb mountains, right? That was what had gotten me off the couch 3 months prior, and I had been steadily working towards that goal. I had participated in some local hikes in Maryland, but nothing with a mountain top involved.

However, some problems arose from the get-go:

  1.  I had no one to hike Grandfather with. My mom and my children were not physically able (or interested) in participating in this hike.
  2. I had a specific time constraint… I had to get up and down the mountain by dark as per the rules (and common sense). I did not have a head lamp with me.

I decided that I would be fine hiking alone and that I would just try my best to get off the mountain by dark. I had a cell phone with me that I was sure I could find service at some point on the trail if needed. In fact, I felt better about hiking alone. I wanted to do this at my own pace, my own way. This was going to be a big test of my endurance and ability.

And so, we meandered up the mountain via vehicle, did the mile high bridge together, visited the animals at one of the visitors center, and then my mom and girls kissed me goodbye and wished me good luck. I had a general idea of how to get to the trail and what path I was going to take down the mountain. I had water and some snacks.


Some nice woman offered to take a photo of me at the trailhead sign. I was feeling super confident and excited about it at that moment.



I figured with a name like “ridge trail” that since I was already so high up the mountain it was just going to be a short climb to the “ridge” and then a scenic jaunt along the ridge looking out over the mountains.


It was at least 2+ miles of going up, up, up… and then up some more. And not just up a trail. Up a face of a rock with a cable. Up another face of a rock with wooden ladders. Scrambling up over boulders and up through caves.

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It was easily the most physically challenging 3-4 hours or so of my life thus far. (I have had a very, very easy life, I know) At every new ladder, new face of something to scale, I thought “Maybe I should just go back and call mom to drive up and pick me up at the bridge….” But then I would grit my teeth and slowly climb hand over hand, rung after rung and get to the “top” only to see that there was something else to climb. And then something else.

Finally, at some point, I did reach “the top.” Somehow, some way, I did it. I hadn’t done any strength training at this point. No CrossFit… just 3 slow jogs a week. It was incredibly difficult, both mentally and physically.

But the top… the summit! It took my breath away (what breath I had left at that point).  You can’t be at any vista in the North Carolina highlands and not think of Jamie and Claire Fraser. I thought of them at every viewpoint on this hike. How fitting. Diana Gabaldon’s characters had been the seeds that had germinated over months and emerged, gloriously, into this unforgettable moment for me. Truly. 



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Somewhere near the top, I met another solo lady hiker and we joined up to head back down the mountain together. I have to say, it was nice to have the company at that point. She also knew the trail so I didn’t have to figure it out on my own.


We walked, slid and chatted all the way down the mountain. And we arrived at the base trail head right at dark.

I limped to the car where my mom and my three watching girls were waiting for me. I had not been so physically exhausted in years. But my soul was soaring. And I couldn’t stop smiling.  I had conquered my first mountain. The summit, the peak, made the journey, the pain, the fear,  all worth it. I must always remember that.

And I knew, then, that this journey I had started in April was the right one for me, and was a lasting one. Mountain tops were my destiny. 


Postnote: The next day? I hurt from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet something fierce. I don’t know if I have ever been that sore in my entire life. But each wince reminded me of such a huge victory. This mountain trail may have been a breeze for some people, but it was my Goliath at the time. And I conquered it. I was on my way…

Um, what about Kilimanjaro?

~ brief intermission ~ 

Kilimanjaro is coming.

I promise. 

It’s just that it was/is a result of the journey I started months and months before…


I often wondered, “Why did it work this time and not the other times?” I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that many of the other failed “get healthy” or “get fit” attempts were coming from a place of LACK. I didn’t like how my body looked, I didn’t like the size of my clothes. I didn’t like how I felt. There is nothing wrong with feeling this way, of course. But  the problem was that I became my own worst enemy when I did try to get fit/healthy/lose weight. I didn’t like myself, and when my eyes stayed on ME, my failures became insurmountable. So when I didn’t complete the run, or lose the pounds, or whatever, I beat myself up even more and then threw the towel in. I failed again therefore I labeled myself a failure. It was all about me and my lack of being able to do what I thought I wanted.


(photo: on top of Old Rag in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virgina, 2015)

The difference this time around? I had my eyes set on something beyond myself. I had a goal. I was looking UP THERE, or OUT THERE and not at myself. I decided that there was something I wanted more than self loathing. I decided it was a worthy goal to work towards. And I decided I could do it. And that I would do it.

I firmly believe this is the power of the whole MY PEAK CHALLENGE phenomenon. People are actually succeeding at things they have tried for years, decades sometimes because they have their eyes on a CHALLENGE, a GOAL, a TARGET. And to aid in that process, there is an entire support component that is just the boost that most of us need to hold on and keep moving forward. I keep reading the stories and successes and I am so encouraged and inspired.

Munro bagging was my goal. My eyes were set on the mountains. And finally, finally I was able to succeed at my fitness goals. I even found profound spiritual significance in the following verse from the book of Psalms 121: 1-2:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills,
    from where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.