The dust has settled metaphorically, and physically it has been washed off after a week of one of the most demanding experiences of my life. I’ve said goodbye to all ten of my newly found tribe members, and I am once again left solo in a country that was once foreign, but now holds an incredibly momentous moment in my existence.
Tanzania is a country I had never thought of traveling to. I had never dreamt of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free standing mountain that stands at 19,341 ft / 5,895 m tall. I didn’t know where it was, how tall it was, or what it would entail, but when a friend mentioned it to me, which then lead me to mention it to another friend, I found myself standing at the base of Africa’s highest point less than 36 hours later.
If you had asked me why I decided to climb one of the world’s largest volcanoes that takes you through 5 different climates in the matter of a few days, I wouldn’t have had an answer for you. To be honest, up until this point right now, while writing this piece, I don’t think I fully knew why I decided to push my body, mind, and soul through one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. What I do know is that I told the universe what I wanted, and it delivered, as it always does, so I said yes to life, and ultimately this adventure.
As I slowly begin to process the incredible feat I have just accomplished, my subconscious thoughts are summiting their way to my consciousness, and my hike’s ultimate purpose is becoming clearer than the cloudless blue skies that I saw at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. As I often realize, the journeys I find myself on are less about what I see, but who I meet along the way, and this adventure proves no different.
When I quieted the excuses as to why I couldn’t take part in this adventure, and agreed to go on this once in a lifetime experience, I didn’t know any one of the ten human beings that I would end up sharing the next week with. However, as we hiked, ate, slept, and shared a poop tent together, I began to understand why the universe brought me to this transformative mountain, where the element of fire would push me to proliferate a metamorphosis of my ambitions, dreams, and desires.
Kris, Ben, Jeff, Jon, Emily, Erin, Sierra, Hollis, Dani, and Adam are names that may mean nothing to you, but to me they represent people that will forever be a part of my journey, and who woke me up from a long dream come true. In getting to know these ten extraordinary people, I found myself sharing my story, listening to theirs, and in more ways than they will ever know, discovering truths about myself that I don’t know I would have admitted to myself, if it had not been for our time together.
Each one of these superheroes acted as a mirror; forced me to look deep within myself; and realize that I have recently been coasting in life. Writing this down, and knowing that my intentions are to share this publicly, forces me into a level of accountability that I have not felt in a very long time, and quite frankly, scares me. However, I know I must say this for my own peace of mind, and because I know so many of you will relate to what I am about to say.
I am not as happy as I want to be, or at least I wasn’t.
Over the past few years, I have found myself living out my dream, but I now understand my dream, all dreams should, has evolved, and what I thought I once wanted is not necessarily what I now want. I’ve achieved the dream of living a life that is free of most restrictions and allows me to be beyond independent. I’ve created something from scratch that is purely mine and facilitates a lifestyle I have always wanted. I’ve made incredible friends around the world, who I can say are my family. I’ve done away with false notions of security, and have matured into an adult that understands how insane it is to think we are ever fully secure, especially because of money. Conversely, I have finally found myself in the most comfortable place I have ever been financially, and while it alleviates more stress than I frequently allow myself to process, it’s created a dangerous comfort zone where a lack of growth is present.
As someone who grew up in a family that was evicted from every family home we ever lived in, I say this with complete gratitude and appreciation for the position I now find myself in, because I truly know what it is like on the opposite side. However, Africa as a whole, has been beyond humbling in a way that I could have never imagined. I’ve never been so aware of my own skin color, my privilege, and my gender. I’ve been aware of these things, but Africa has truly pushed me outside of myself to see myself, and further recognize certain things I often don’t have to think about because of where I live, and the privileges that innately are gifted upon someone who is white in a first world country, especially white men. I’ve said this a lot over the past two years, but I think a lot of gay white men forget that we are still white men, and how much privilege comes along with those other two identifiers. Yes, we still have plenty of hate, discrimination, and unjust behavior directed towards us, but I don’t think enough of us understand how much harder it is once you remove the white or male card.
This experience, and seeing everything from the lavish night life of Nairobi to going inside the largest slum in Africa, Kibera, with an incredible local Kenyan woman who lives there with her 6 children, niece and nephew has been beyond humbling, and has facilitated some essential epiphanies.
I’ve always subconsciously knew I needed to visit Africa, but since my 800 mile hike along the PCT, I’ve felt a conscious burning need to make my way to here. From the expats to the locals, every person I’ve met in Africa has forced me to look deep at my own narrative, and question who I am, who I tell myself I am, and who I want to be. It’s a process I was not fully prepared to marinate in, but one that I know I must move polé polé (slowly slowly in Swahili) through with the utmost intentions as I continue this new decade of life.
And it is exactly this concept of intention that has become even more profound and prolific in understanding the next step in my life’s plan. I no longer feel like a kid, who has no idea what they want, and where they are going. Yet, I am more aware now than ever that being an adult doesn’t mean the adventures have to stop, and that I have to “grow up.”
Because what does it even mean to grow up?
Rather than grow up, I’d rather evolve up, and take what I’ve learned thus far to enhance the next chapter of life. I no longer feel unsure about the things I fundamentally want, and I refuse to apologize for finally finding my confidence in who I am, speaking my truth, and continuing to spread a message of love, peace, and questioning the authority that many of us have been fed when it comes to western culture. Over the past few years, I’ve traveled deeper into the world, and thus my own identity, which means I’ve been forced to question notions surrounding what it means to be gay, or as I now prefer to say, queer, as I believe this is far more encompassing.
For a long time I’ve felt detached from the partying side of gay culture, and after dancing the night away in Madrid at Pride, which was an incredible experience, but reminded me that I’ve outgrown the need to see and be seen. I actually rearranged my travel plans to skip other Prides and festivals as I wanted to experience cities in their truest sense, not for special occasions that are specific to one weekend. This doesn’t mean that I won’t partake in festivities around the world, but it does mean that any sense of fomo I’ve been carrying around since I was a bullied kid, and left out when it came to making Friday night plans, has been exfoliated off of my truest truth. It is a slightly overwhelming feeling, but one that also feels beyond freeing.
I’d rather trade in late nights, circuit parties, and traveling to the same destination over and over with the same gay crowds for my person, who is also ready to venture to other parts of the world, where we will be forced into culture shocks that electrify our souls in the most important of ways. I’d rather trade in another photo of myself on social media for a picture of something else that makes my heart explode with joy and passion, but receives less likes. And as I recognize this in myself, I want it to be clear that I am not judging anyone who wants things differently than me, I’ve just finally come to feel ready, truly ready, more than I’ve ever been to be done dating, and find my one and only, and really start my life with someone else. I’m beyond ready to say goodnight to someone every night, and have that someone be the same person. I’m ready to sit in bed and discuss the little things, the big things, and the little things that become big things with my lobster. I’m ready to get married, and maybe be a parent, and give a little bugger a better life than the one I had while growing up. I’m ready to push my mental stimulation, and possibly go back to school, so I can better help the world evolve into the place I know it can be. I’m ready to learn again, and expand my thinking beyond the things I know I know, and find out more of what I don’t know. I’m ready for my 30’s, and what many people I’ve met have explained them to be.
It’s wild to sit here and write this all down. It’s even more wild to fully process that the ten people on my trip triggered all of this in my thinking because I know they have no idea they have done this to me. It’’s overwhelming to understand these fundamental life shifts, and in many ways know I have to pursue them without any guarantee of achieving these goals, but the idea of working really fucking hard to make them happen is exciting, and if the next 30 years of my life are anything like the past 30 in terms of growth, understanding, and spiritual awakenings than I say, “bring it on.”
In this one week, I’ve seen a grown man in the fetal position look like he was about to die, but push himself to the top of one of the world’s highest peaks because he so badly wanted the “Roof of Africa.” I’ve seen a couple smile and make each other laugh like it was their first time meeting after 12 years together while stuck in a tiny tent and having their bodies betray them. I’ve seen a beautiful woman break free from an addiction she doesn’t have, but has to live with, to find if she is addicted to a love that she knows is unhealthy for her own life’s dreams. I’ve seen sisters share the shirts off their backs to make sure their common goal of reaching new heights and discovering new things about themselves was achieved. I’ve seen a grown man grin from ear to ear because of a heart felt note his beloved gave him to read when he made it to the summit because his girlfriend knew he would, and wanted him to know she wanted to be there for the next adventure. I’ve seen cousins get sicker than sick next to one another, but carry out a family tradition of drinking Sambuca at 19,341 ft in the air to carry out a family tradition. I’ve seen a man hike his own hike and make it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro on his own because that’s what he needed for his own journey. I’ve seen a 23 year old show maturity and leadership in a way that many people twice his age lack, so that he could be a positive role model and butt of jokes to lift some of the hardships that come from hiking Africa’s highest point.
In this one week, I’ve seen every struggle I’ve had thus far, and the answers to why we all push our bodies, minds, and souls to new heights even when we don’t know why we are hiking. I’ve seen my past, my present, and my future, and I couldn’t be more grateful to know that life is continuing to be more perfect than I am often aware of.
To me, Mt. Kilimanjaro was just some random thing that existed in the world before this week. However, as I sit in a barebones hotel room by myself with my laundry hanging up all around me because, as a child that grew up poor, I still can’t bring myself to pay the $10 it would have cost to have someone else do it, I am so supremely aware that I am moving into this next phase of life with more direction than I have ever had. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I found the reminders I will need as I journey through my 30’s while hiking the final 250 meters in elevation, and at my lowest point out of the entire week, a mantra that came out of nowhere and makes more sense than when I first started chanting it to myself, “I can. I am. I will.” I truly know more now than ever that these words will guide me and remind me that I can, I am, and I will achieve whatever I decide to in this next phase.
If you’ve managed to make it to his final moment than I hope you too remember that you can, you are, and you will do whatever it is you dream of. Just remember it is going to take dedication, persistence, and letting go of every excuse you can think of to make your dreams become your reality. Lastly, to Kris, Ben, Jeff, Jon, Emily, Erin, Sierra, Hollis, Dani, and Adam I can’t thank you all enough for being yourselves and sharing your lowest lows and highest highs with me, it truly was an honor.