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If It Does Not Challenge You, It Will Not Change You…

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Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise. We were in the “heather zone” and still had 5 days of travel to reach the top…

Dear friends Julie Kennon and Caroline Trost hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro in February, yes they did. I can’t say that I’m dreaming of this particular “vacation” for myself (!), but I’m impressed by their fortitude – and their beautiful friendship. I’m thrilled for them to stop in at Bacon this morning!

Hi Julie and Caroline! Thank you so much for sharing some photos first…

4 days to go, camp with a view…

The itinerary described the Barranco Wall as a “rock scramble.” Well, to someone who does not rock climb, it was a Lot of Rocks. Do not look down, as it is very very steep behind you.

Caroline on the Kissing Wall on the Barranco Wall. You have to hug it to get around it, while you are walking on a tiny ledge. Many give it a kiss as they are so thankful to get past it.

Head guide Pendaely Lauwo and Julie. His grandfather led Hans Meyer to the peak in 1889.

Taking a short rest on the way up, way above the clouds. The peak in the background is Mewenzi, one of the three volcanic cones that make up Kilimanjaro.

We’ve made it past Stella point, put on cleats to walk on the snow, and are almost there!

We made it!!

What an adventure!! What’s your favorite memory of the trip?

Julie: The day of the summit! We got up early and saw the full moon and the sunrise. We started at around 15,000 feet, and hiked up switchback trails to get to Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet. It’s a day that you hope your body cooperates, because until you’re there, there’s no way to predict how altitude will affect you. (We’d been training on the Percy Warner park red trail for months, but the highest I’d been before was Baldy Mountain at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico at 12,441 feet). The day was sunny but very windy. It really was just one step at a time for 6 hours. The last hour of hiking was much flatter, and we put on cleats to get through the snow. Seeing the Uhuru Peak sign with flags whipping in the wind was so exciting. We got there when it wasn’t crowded so we could take pictures and enjoy the view of the glaciers. After an hour back down, we got a full, hot lunch from our guides, and it was amazing. I was so impressed that they had brought us plates of food at 18,000 feet.

After lunch, we took a different route back – very steep path on loose, tiny very unstable rocks. Most of us fell at least once on the way down. The cooks had celebratory juice waiting for us when we got back to camp, and it was the best I have ever had.

Caroline: Gosh, I’m not sure if I can choose a favorite – there are a lot to cherish. But I agree with Julie – the summit day was definitely the most memorable. We began hiking to the summit just before dawn during a full moon. The sun started to come up in the east just as the moon began to set in the west. It was really magical. After that, the summit day was not so fun for me, as I started to really feel the effects of altitude – bad headache and terrible nausea. But I made it! Mostly by following right behind Julie and taking one step at a time…. (That and singing, silently inside my head, 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, over and over again.) And I probably won’t forget our head guide, Penda Lauwo, telling us: “If it does not challenge you, it will not change you.”

Smaller favorite moments were sitting around camp in the afternoons, just hanging out with everyone, including our guides, laughing and enjoying the incredible scenery; our first glimpse of the mountain when the clouds finally parted on Day 2 of the trip; climbing the Barranco wall.

What did you learn about your friend on this journey?

Julie: Not sure if I learned anything new, but I was reminded of all the fun we have travelling. It had been a while since we had gotten to go on a trip together. How many people want to go camping with no shower for 9 days? Caroline has always been adventurous. She studied in France junior year of college with trips all over, including a trip to Morocco that she did not let her family know about ahead of time. The postcard she sent (this was in the 80s) should have taken a week to get home but magically got to Nashville before Caroline was back to France. Her dad got so worried. But with Caroline, there’s no need to worry.

Caroline: Julie is truly unflappable. But I already knew that! She smiles most of the time, except when she laughs – a deep, hearty, full-throated laugh laugh. I think maybe I had forgotten how funny Julie is. And she absolutely is not going to be pushed around. I knew that too! She is just a very steady presence. And she, too, is always up for an adventure!

What did you learn about yourself?

Julie: Uncertainty is scary. I was getting stressed on the first couple of days, worrying about making it to the peak. Our guide, Penda, would check our oxygen saturation every morning and evening, and it was making me nervous that it might read low- as if I had any control over that. I have a horrible “white coat syndrome,” ironic for a doctor. Ha. The third day we had such a good long hike that I forgot my doubts. Exercise is a good way for me to reset my brain.

Caroline: I had never climbed above 14,000 feet before going to Tanzania, and I learned that I am never going to attempt any other climb above about 16,000 feet but that I’m capable of pushing past feeling terrible to finish what I started. I did a lot of back-packing and camping and communal living when I was in my 20s, so I didn’t so much learn as re-learn that I am just fine wearing the same filthy clothes and not showering for an indefinite period of time.

Did the trip change you? What is the point of travel? Maybe most of us won’t be traveling abroad – or very far away at all – for a while…

Julie: My sister asked me if the trip was life altering. I said it was life affirming.

Kilimanjaro had always been a thought, like “Maybe one day…”. I’m so glad that Edith Trost Kirkland decided to organize the trip for her 50th birthday. It was a unique challenge, and reminded me of the kindness in our world and all the beauty that it has to offer. It was also a reminder that we are not entirely in control. Everyone in our group of six made it to the peak, but we were fortunate, as many people don’t make it – through no fault of their own, they just get unlucky in that moment and have to turn back. So you have to be open to some disappointments, last-minute changes, and be willing to cede control when you’re travelling, which I think is not very common in our daily lives.

Caroline’s answer is perfect – I’ll let you read hers. FYI, she studied Swahili before we went, and the guides were so impressed with her conversation!

Caroline: I don’t know that it really changed me but this was my first trip to Africa and one of my first trips to a so-called third-world country where many people are very, very poor. I really loved trying to get to know the Tanzanians we met while we were there. They are incredibly diverse culturally, since the country is made up of people who identify with over 150 tribes or ethnic groups, all with different languages, cultures, and traditions. Surely that is the one of the points of travel: to help us appreciate the great diversity in the world, along with the things that make us similar.

Empathy is another by-product of travel. I have been really concerned about the Tanzanians during the pandemic. We have stayed in touch with some of our guides via WhatsApp and Facebook, so have been able to follow how things are going a little bit. A huge portion of the economy there depends on tourism dollars, especially tourism from the U.S. Many of the porters who work on Mt. Kilimanjaro support extended families on the pay they get working on the mountain. The rainy season has just ended and the tourism season should be starting now, but no tourists are coming into the country to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, likely for the remainder of 2020 and at least for the next several months. I worry about food security there (and here in the U.S. for that matter) and how people will make ends meet. And of course, Tanzania is just one of many countries in that situation.

Let’s move backwards in time. To the origin of your friendship. When did you meet? How long have you been friends?

Julie: Caroline moved to town from Tuscaloosa our junior year in high school. I was amazed at how many people in Nashville she was related to — she has so many cousins. We really bonded on our Harpeth Hall Winterim trip to France in January 1982 (travelling!), when we went to garage parties and met cute French boys.

The summer before senior year, we waited tables together at Shoney’s Restaurant. Remember Big Boy? Our polyester brown zip-up dresses with the wide yellow collar and pantyhose were stylin’. We each got to wait on Minnie Pearl, which was exciting, and she was a very good tipper.

I also remember visiting Caroline in Montana one summer in college. She was working on a cattle ranch, and we helped with hay baling, calf castration, and made some kind of jam. We have had a lot of fun adventures and experiences together!

Caroline: Yes, hard to believe we’ve been friends for almost 40 years!!!! And I think it might have been chokecherry jam? I don’t even remember that part of your Montana visit, but I do remember some parties and some kissing of cowboys! As for Shoney’s, that brown-polyester experience might explain why Julie always wears cute clothes now! That was a bonding experience for sure!

Anyway, it was really fun when we were young that Julie’s dad was a commercial airline pilot and she could travel stand-by at the drop of a hat. That was back when every flight wasn’t oversold so flying stand-by was actually feasible. And Julie was always up for traveling. Julie mentioned the France trip we went on when we were in high school, but we also both studied in France during college, Julie for a year in Montpellier and I for a semester in Strasbourg, so we were able to travel together some in Europe too. I remember a particularly great trip to Belgium, to visit the family of a friend of Julie’s, and being introduced to Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate!

Julie drove over Christmas morning in 1984 (nice bathrobe) to say goodbye to Caroline, who was heading to Montana for the rest of Christmas break.

Fill in the blanks:

J: “Caroline makes cooking look easy even when she has grown or made all of the ingredients (she even makes her own butter!).”
[C: My butter-making phase was VERY short-lived!]

C: “Julie is always nicely dressed even when she’s on safari!

          *

J: “Caroline is really good at speaking up – I always have admired that about her, especially when I was too shy to do so. Caroline is not so good at staying still (unless she’s reading) – she has many pets to care for and hobbies to pursue.

C: “Julie is really good at just about anything she puts her mind to. Julie is not so good at going downhill. Not fast anyway. Too many past knee injuries! And she did this trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro anyway – which involves just as much downhill as up – because she is not going to let a little thing like a few knee surgeries get in the way of a good adventure!”

*

J: “If Caroline were a weather pattern or event, she would be the warmth of spring. She’s got an adventurous energy that brightens those around her.”

C: “If Julie were a weather pattern or event, she would be a slow-moving front. She’s a force of nature.”

*

What did you like to do together a lifetime ago – that is to say, before the Time of Corona?

Julie: Book club, gardening and hiking.

Caroline: What Julie said. She helped me plant daffodils this spring, which I would never have done if she hadn’t come over with a bag of bulbs and her own spade!

How are you staying connected now?

Julie: Through book club, which has been with Zoom. Real phone calls. We have not been on a hike in the park lately. When we got back from Kilimanjaro, I took a hike break, and then social distancing started. 🙁

Caroline: Pretty much the same way as everyone else – phone calls, texts, zoom! It has been weird not hiking with Julie almost every weekend!

You both love to read. What are you reading right now?

Julie: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (she won the Pulizter in 2006 for March), Fate of Food by Amanda Little, Nutshell by Ian McEwen, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

Caroline: Okay, I never watched a single episode of the “Game of Thrones” tv series, but, right after it ended, I started reading the book, A Game of Thrones, which is the first in the George R.R. Martin series, A Song of Fire and Ice, on which the tv show was based. I’m now on Book 3 and I can’t put them down. And they’re over 1000 pages each. And actually I switch between reading them on the Kindle and listening to them on audio, so I can keep listening even while folding laundry and doing dishes.

[Julie: See, she stays busy even while “reading”!!]

What are you watching or listening to? TV/podcasts/music…

Julie: We watched all of “Tiger King” on a rainy day in April – the kids still talk about it. I say it’s interesting enough to watch at least the first few episodes to see what all of the fuss is about – it’s a show I won’t forget. I’ve been watching “Succession” too, which I thought was really good. And then “New Girl”, “Brooklyn 99”, and “The Last Dance” with the kids.

Caroline: Before I started binge-reading/listening to the Game of Thrones books, I binge-watched the Australian series “Offspring”, which was great fun.

I can’t seem to do much of anything in moderation these days. One of my favorite podcasts is from APM Reports, “In the Dark,” especially season 2, about the trials and tribulations of Curtis Flowers, a black man in Mississippi who has been tried multiple times for the same murder that he probably did not commit. It’s amazing journalism. I also really like Popular Science’s podcast, “The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week”.

How has your work changed in the Time of Corona?

Julie: A lot of radiology studies are elective, so we had a big drop in patients in late March and throughout April. But we never completely shut down because some patients needed follow-up. I haven’t worked from home because, as a women’s imager, I need to be at the hospital. After being at home for quite a while, though, there was a day in late March that I was soo excited to go back to work. Now things have started to get back to normal with people coming in for routine checkups and screening mammograms.

Caroline: I’m working from home, but the work itself hasn’t changed really at all – I’m still writing and researching as a staff attorney for the federal district court. But now I can go to work in my bathrobe if I feel like it and I get to have my dog, Roscoe, with me all day.

What’s your best advice for people trying to stay sane?

Julie: Give yourself a break. That list does not have to get done today. Enjoy the down time.

Caroline: Ditto. But it has also been key for me to make lists and cross things off the lists and try to feel somewhat productive.

Let’s wrap up with a few speed dating questions…

Favorite beverage in the Time of Corona?
Julie: Coffee in the morning. Wine in the evening. An added bonus of having my bartender daughter home is that she makes a mean Mojito.
Caroline: Yes, totally depends on the time of day! Hot chocolate in the morning, darjeeling tea for a day-time pick-me-up, and wine in the evenings.

Favorite snack?
Julie: Cake! Brownie bottom cheesecake, carrot cake, root beer chocolate bundt cake, strawberry shortcake. I have been baking a lot.
Caroline: I am not a snacker, but early during this staying-at-home period I managed to clean all the left-over cookies and candies people had given me for Christmas out of my freezer.

Favorite time of day?
Julie: Late morning, since I’ve been sleeping in and staying up late when I’m not going to work. I don’t usually follow the news so closely, but I’ve enjoyed reading the NY Times and Washington Post with my coffee.
Caroline: Morning, waking up with no alarm (my gift to myself while working from home). Or maybe 5:00-ish, when I can stop work and have a glass of wine, or maybe take Roscoe for a little walk (while listening to whichever Game of Thrones book I’m on).

Most annoyed by…
Julie: The stories I hear about customers yelling about not wanting to wear a mask. Don’t go to that establishment if you don’t want to follow their rules.
Caroline: Honestly, the people who say they have completely stuck by their normal routine of get up early, exercise, shower, dress, put on jewelry and make-up every morning, even though they are working from home. (Okay, I’m also impressed by their will-power, of which I seem to have none right now.)

Most encouraged by…
Julie: The flattening of the curve. Now to get through the fall.
Caroline: I don’t know that I’m encouraged by it, and it already seems to be picking up, but I’ve really loved the minimal traffic when I have had to get out.

*      *      *

Julie Kennon is being honored as Harpeth Hall’s Distinguished Alumna of 2020. “It’s about time,” grumbled one friend at our book club. We laughed. We’re thrilled for her.

And I’m so happy to feature my two beautiful book club friends today.

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