I made it from the lowest to the highest!

Attitude is really everything. And ever since we started talking over email, Kyle Henning and me, I have liked his attitude to life and adventure. He is a raw diamond and very honest. And he just finished his first Expedition in success at the top of Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro. I asked him to reflect on his Expedition. Once again, an interesting read.

I made it from the lowest to the highest

by Kyle Henning

Low2High: Africa was a human-powered, solo expedition through east
Africa from the lowest point on the continent (Lac Assal, Djibouti –
155 meters below sea level) to the highest (Uhuru Peak, Mt.
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – 5895 meters above sea level). It started on
January 18, 2011 and ended 68 days later on March 26. I bicycled
2980km from the shore of Lac Assal to Marangu Gate in Kilimanjaro
National Park, then trekked 38km to the summit. The total distance
traveled was 3018km, and an elevation gain of 6050 meters.

Those are the numbers. The raw data. Statistics. But what did it feel
like, after so many days cycling alone through Africa, to stand on top
of Kilimanjaro? Everyone, Mikael included, has been asking me this
since my return. Sadly, at that moment, I felt very little emotion. My
hands were cold, my body exhausted, and some aggravating
gastrointestinal issues were getting worse. I just wanted to get off
of the mountain. I took the obligatory summit photos with the
tell-tale sign marking Uhuru Peak, I rolled some video for the
documentary which I’m not too optimistic about, and in a gesture of
tawdry symbolism, placed some salt I took from Lac Assal in the snow
on the summit. Then I immediately turned around and started
descending.

It’s weird, looking back, that reaching the summit felt so
anticlimactic.
The final days on the bicycle were exciting, knowing
that the mountain was close. Even my dad sounded really excited that I
was off the bike when I called home after my final day of riding. The
first few days of ascending the mountain were great as I could see the
summit looming overhead. Then to actually stand there, after so much
work, I felt naught. It’s kind of sad.

I do think that there is a logical explanation. I am not a robot, but
at that time my body was working so hard just to keep moving and keep
alert that emotions were suppressed. I had to keep active to stay warm
and eventually get back to safety. I was in some kind of survival
mode.

After descending, I was so exhausted that I just ate food and went to
sleep.
Finally, about 36 hours after summiting, I was drinking a cold
‘Kilimanjaro Beer’ in the town of Moshi, looking up at the mountain
thinking ‘Wow, I did it!’

That’s when it all hit me. Memories from the previous 2 months flooded
my head. All the good and bad feelings came pouring back. I thought
about the lonely day in southern Kenya fixing my bicycle in a field,
literally in tears, wanting to go home. I thought about the terrifying
wakeup I received from two men with assault rifles while camping in
Djibouti. I also thought about the first time I saw Kilimanjaro with
my own eyes from Point Lenana on Mount Kenya, and the Tunisian man who
gave me dinner and a bed for the night while his own country was in
chaos.

Then I thought about the summit, and then end of my journey. I never
thought this moment would actually come. I’d wanted to quit more than
once. If nothing else, at least cheat and hitch a ride. But I didn’t.
I finished my expedition my way, and with integrity. Other than one
bridge in Ethiopia where a soldier with a rifle told me I had to cross
by car, I cycled or walked the entire distance. I seized the
opportunity to raise some money for a cause I believe in, and now that
charity has an extra 2,300 British Pounds that they wouldn’t have had
otherwise. I’ve met people that I’ll remember forever.

I feel like I’ve really accomplished something special. I never
intended this trip to be solo, but now I’m glad it was. I didn’t just
explore places I’ve never been, I explored myself. New parts of my
personality. New emotions. I had to rely on strangers. I had to put my
trust in people without knowing if we even understand each other,
pantomiming and using makeshift sign language to communicate.

Reaching the summit was a victory, yes. Raising so much money for
charity was possibly an even bigger victory. Looking back in my
journal to a random day and remembering how good I felt just to be
alive and on the road may be the biggest of all. I loved this
expedition. The tough parts never overshadowed the great parts, they
simply gave me new appreciation for better times.

Maybe this journey was never about the summit. Summit Day doesn’t come
to mind as I reminisce. The days on the bike, meeting people, working
hard, and enjoying nature are the moments I remember. All the small
triumphs combined made this one of the best times of my life.

Already I’m getting questions about what comes next. Another
expedition? Not necessarily. I just had a conversation with a friend /
cyclist in Switzerland asking me if I feel lost, or without purpose,
now that the ride is over. Yes, to an extent, but I’m also looking
forward to spending some quality time with my neglected family this
summer. Even if I’m not on a bike or acclimatizing on a mountain, I
think I can find adventure in everything I do now. I’m suddenly a much
happier person, and my curiosity for life is strong. I’ve learned that
it’s not the summit, but the days in between that truly matter.

Follow Kyle’s blog – http://low2highafrica.blogspot.com

Donate to the New Day Children’s Centre –
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/low2highafrica

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