There’s only one thing I write about on January 11th now, and this year is no different. However, what I will do differently is share something with you… today, I am going to publish an excerpt from my book-in-the-works.

Here, then, is the opening of To The Roof Of Africa – I’m Totally Going to Cry – the book form of the blog I wrote last year as I traveled from sea-level to 19,340ft on the rails of a roller coaster. I did it all for charity, to try and raise $10,000 for the Delta Hospice Society in an effort to pay them back the huge debt I owe them for helping me, and those I love, get through the cruelest of tragedies.

Please feel free to make comments or, if you like, send me a private email (nomoremountains@gmail.com).

This one’s for you, Bin… as always.

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I am going to climb a mountain. Well, I’m going to walk up one, anyway.

I haven’t done anything like this before. In fact, I can probably count the number of times I’ve gone hiking, and I know that I haven’t been camping more than half a dozen times in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I know what I’m getting into. I’ve watched videos about climbing this mountain. I’ve submitted questions about the climbing of this mountain to semi-popular websites. I have bought (although not yet read) books about this mountain. I feel about as prepared as someone who listens to a song on the radio and then starts hiring roadies to prepare for a karaoke world tour.

I was actually supposed to fly to Tanzania in the fall of 2006. My then-husband and I were going to spend a month in Tanzania, traveling and experiencing something altogether new to me. He had been living and working there, and I was set to join him as he began his vacation time. I’ve always been one to pre-plan and micro-organize, so I set to packing weeks in advance. I went to the Travel Clinic and had all my inoculations done, and was doing a bit of research on my upcoming journey so as to help alleviate some of my fears about the trip. And then, days before a plane was going to take me halfway across the world, I answered the phone.

With my bags semi-packed, and my inoculated arm gone numb, I picked up the phone with a customary hello, to have my then-huband return my salutation with, “I’ve canceled your flight to Africa”. Giving my head a quick twist, I managed to drop the word ‘what?’ into the phone. “I’ve canceled your flight to Africa”, he repeated sadly, “I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come here right now”. Then he asked me for a divorce.

Our marriage hadn’t exactly been the dream relationship we had both hoped that we would find, but the idea of divorce wasn’t in the cards for me. I figured that whatever happened we could work it through, but thinking solo doesn’t fly in a partnership. We were both working professionals, and our combined income led us to have a lot of dreams and ideas, with plans for this year and next summer, and the following winter. But once we split, my meager income wasn’t enough to take me much farther than the Greyhound bus depot.

For the next two years I struggled through my separation and divorce, wishing to god it would just all end so that I’d be free to stop crying and dissecting my futureless future. I bought a small condo, stuffed the Divorce Furniture into it, and then promptly set about to hating everything. I was stuck now, forced into staring at my pointless posessions, including a map of the world that repeatedly mocked me each time I walked by it. I was tied down by a place I didn’t want to call home, and the ideas I had about traveling the world would forever be mere memories now. There was so much I’d never see, and it broke my heart. I knew for certain that I’d never see Africa.

But in August of 2010 I am going to fly to Tanzania, Africa and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I will be doing it as a way to raise money for the Delta Hospice Society. The Hospice holds a very special place in my heart, and it is my absolute honour to take on this journey to fund raise on their behalf. Let me tell you why…

In January 2007, Kirk Holifield was murdered in a drive-by shooting. In a case of mistaken identity, Kirk was killed simply because the truck he was driving looked similar to the truck owned by a known, targeted gang member. Kirk had done nothing wrong, and he had committed no crime, he was simply driving home. Kirk was a new father, and the husband of my best friend.

Early in the morning of January 11th, 2007, Elli Holifield got a knock on her front door. Stumbling half-asleep through the darkness, she opened the door to what every person fears will be on their doorstep at that time of the morning: a somber looking policeman, and a Victim’s Assistance volunteer. They entered her home and told her that a man fitting the description of her husband had been found slumped over the wheel of his pick-up truck, shot multiple times. As my friend tried to understand what she had just been told, she also began frantically making plans to get to the hospital.

The policeman’s phone rang.

Kirk had died in the hospital when attempts to revive him were not successful. When he hung up the phone and looked at Elli, she knew what his next words would be, and she didn’t want to hear them. The officer compassionately relayed the message from the hospital as Elli sat there, shaking her head and blocking out what she could.

Lost, she slowly stood and walked to the front door. She opened it, went outside and dropped to her knees in the snow in the front yard. She didn’t feel the cold. She didn’t feel the pain. She didn’t feel it when caring hands lifted her up to bring her back inside. She felt nothing, because all she could think about was how her ten- month-old daughter would now be forced to go through life without a father.

Father. Oh god, no. Kirk’s parents have to be told.

Elli was adamant that she would be the one to break the news to them, not the police. She called Kirk’s father, and asked him to come over to see her. It was early morning, but Elli’s father-in-law never even hesitated when he said that he was on his way. Bill had no idea what he was going to be told, and Elli had no idea how to tell him. She had about three minutes to figure it out.

Bill pulled up to the house, and seeing a police cruiser in the driveway, ran inside. He found Elli sitting on the sofa, and a uniformed officer sitting gently on the coffee table across from her. Elli stood, took Bill’s hand and led him to the couch. Before he could ask what was going on, Elli gently told him that Kirk, his only child, had just been murdered. He wasn’t expecting that, and after whispering a cracked ‘oh my god’, he looked straight at Elli and said, “this is going to kill Michelle”. Elli knew he was right, Kirk’s mother was going to shatter. They went together to tell her.

That night, Elli was witness to instantaneous anguish, and watched as a lost husband tried in vain to keep his wife from an immeasurable destruction. It’s something that will haunt a heart forever. Nothing was ever going to be the same again, and now an insurmountable journey to heal was before them, one they were forced to take. I stepped into this frozen moment late that afternoon, and for days, I watched as my best friend tore out her hair and fell sobbing on the floor, wracked with agony and anger. She had so many questions that I couldn’t answer, but I don’t think she would have heard me anyway. I became a protective vulture, trying to kill any other negativity that dared to come into her space. I wanted to be the wall that everyone had to get through, and though I made people angry, I’d do it exactly the same way again.

We were all just simply lost. Like water thrown into spitting oil, new torments hissed and spat at us. There were so many directions we needed to go in, and we were being pushed in every way at once, but we didn’t want to go anywhere at all. Advice poured in from well-meaning people who simply had no idea what to say. They told us to ‘stop crying’, to’ stop thinking about it’, to ‘move on for the sake of the baby’. That only served to add guilt to our grief, our confusion, our hatred, and our hope. People were trying to tell us which path to take, but it felt like they were just throwing guide books at us, leaving us with stinging welts. Going in one direction made somebody else mad, and changing course offended someone else altogether.

In a few days, The Delta Hospice Society stepped in to tell us that they could be our gentle guide if we needed them. They were patient, kind, and most importantly they let us all know that they were there when we were ready. They waited, never pushing us to ‘get help’ or to ‘go talk to someone’. They didn’t rush us out of ‘denial’, or tell us to ‘just not think about it’. They allowed us to ‘dwell on it’, to question, to rage, and to cry. And weeks later, when we were finally ready for them, they were still there.

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Four years later, The Delta Hospice Society is still there. Talking to us when we need it, reminding us that it’s ok to remember, and it’s ok to forget. I climbed a mountain for Hospice, and I did it because it was the biggest way I could think of to say ‘thank you’. But no mountain is ever big enough, and no words are ever true enough.

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