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Mt. Kilimanjaro (Day 1): The Day of Cramps

I started my menstrual cycle, “OF COURSE! No way I ju— yeah, of course!” I screamed internally. Honestly, I knew months ago, as told by my tracker, that I would most likely be on my menstrual cycle for the climb. I’d hoped that by some miracle I would start early and be on the tailend by the time we started on the trail, but not such luck. “Aight, I guess we’re doing this, Lee.” Side note: In addition to never really having been backpacking or camping, I’ve never dealt with my cycle while on a multi-day climb. For anyone that I just made uncomfortable, just breathe, I was the one who had to climb while on my cycle; I survived and so will you. Plus, there isn’t a disastrous period-nightmare moment during the climb; I just don’t want to neglect this part of my journey. I also, want it to serve as encouragement for folx that avoid going hiking or being active while menstruating.

We had gotten a late start that day between fueling the bus, buying snacks, and loading up all the gear. Once we arrived at Kilimanjaro National Park, we sat eagerly as a park ranger told us about the conservation efforts and climate change impacts. He left us with a few words I’ll never forget, “you are all now ambassadors of Kilimanjaro.”

Afterwards, we began walking through the old growth montane forest remembering to stay pole, pole or slowly, slowly. We filled the air with songs and laughter. I was given the trail name “Jingles” after my love for commercial jingles and music. I found myself mesmerized by the trees, the moss, the flowers, the spiderwebs, everything in sight really. We were treated to our first sneak “peak” of the snow capped summit. See what I did there?

Before we knew it, we were beginning to lose daylight and had to quickly equip ourselves with headlamps to finish the remainder of the hike. We anticipated being at the camp before sundown, so we were short a few headlamps. Without skipping a beat we staggered ourselves as evenly as we could to ensure everyone had enough light to hike safely. We fell into sync with one another communicating each obstacle as we faced them. “Watch the gap,” “another gap”, “watch the step up”, “gap”, rang through the forest as each person spoke. I dubbed it “trail brail” and giggled to myself. I actually think the only time anyone tripped was when we tried to sneak a look at the stars, which were unbelievably bright and undisturbed by light pollution.

We hiked to camp both exhausted and anxious to hear news about our teammate Wandi who had fallen back earlier during the hike. She was having trouble holding fluids and was being guided by two expedition guides and teammate Rosemary. I get chills thinking of the worry that washed over me and I couldn’t have squeezed her any tighter when I finally got to hug her. She was exhausted, but in good spirits and excited to see us. After showering Wandi with love and support, we each took to our tents. As Brittany and I crawled into our tent and began setting up our sleeping bags, my legs began to cuh-ramp! I’m talking like muscle spasms at the slightest bend of the knee. I remember thinking to myself, “if this is how exhausted I am after day 1, how the hell am I going to do this?!” I reminded myself that despite the cramps and pains, both in my legs and menstrually, I made it to the first camp. And I was proud of that.


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