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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Sep 132011

As I flew from Amsterdam to the Kilimanjaro airport, I looked out my window of the KLM 777 marveling at the stark contrast of the brown islands against the deep blue of the Aegean Sea. Edges. My (almost) next to the last climb of the 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are Everything had begun.

I had met two of my teammates, order Jeannie and Joe, illness at Schiphol as they journeyed from the US, now we were on the 8 hour flight to central Africa.

I have now seen “edges” on almost all the continents. Sometimes easy transitions from one level to another, others are sharp contrast with dangerous and abrupt changes. Similar to life itself. Edges; changes.

As I stared out the window, being a bit antisocial to my row mate, I dwelled on this fact – transitions; edges are what makes life interesting. Traveling on a flat, straight road is often when drivers nod off – boredom, nothing interesting to occupy the mind. On a curvy, mountain road; you stay awake; alert to every change not wanting to risk losing control – enjoying the slight anxiety that comes with a bit of uncertainty; a bit of danger. While tiring, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I see the white crashes of waves hitting a small, empty island in the Aegean; a boat large enough to leave a huge wake visible from 31,000′ is evidence of its strength as it moves from one tiny island to another. A bridge for the edges.   Six hours to Kili.

Our KLM plane is filled with people going to climb Kilimanjaro, perhaps a safari. How do I know? Pants with pockets positioned just above the knees, hiking boots, packs as carry ons; a look of nervous anticipation in their eyes as they glance at the other passengers. They are taking the curvy road.

A comment on my blog tells me of a recent summit of Kilimanjaro, his success. But he also tells me it is “harder than advertised”, a challenge; some rough spots along the way to the goal. I appreciate the words of caution. Nothing in life is to be underestimated; that is when we make mistakes, take things for granted; climbing mountains, in relationships.

The plane crosses the Sea and enters the edge of North Africa; Egypt. Cairo is to the east hidden in the haze. This view is so different – a blinding blur of tan sand with one small road marking the transition from coast to inhospitable desert. An amazing sight. I glance back at the clarity of the deep blue ocean water. The contrast is thought provoking. Four and half hours to Kili.

Losing your memory is an edge none of us want to experience. Nothing exciting or interesting about that. It is not a choice but what life brings to some. Not of their choosing, not of their practices. Why; is uncertain at .

I looked deep into my mom’s eyes as I showed her a picture of herself and her 8 brothers and sisters one day. I asked her, “Can you tell me their names? Well of course I can.” She said confidently and began. “Sue, Nada, Carolyn. I’m not sure who he is. That’s Bill I said softly. Why yes it is.” she responded.

Then I pointed to her, my mom; Ida sitting in the middle of her brother and sisters. “Who is that?” I asked, not really wanting to hear her response. “Well, let’s see.” She said and moved a bit closer to the picture.

Edges. Memories lost. I look out the window again. More desert. It will be this view until we approach more fertile land near the equator. A blank landscape of endless nothingness. Or is it? The people who live there may differ with me.

On days when I thought my mom was lost; days I thought I couldn’t reach her, I would relax a bit myself. I would tell her a joke, point out the mundane and ask her a silly question; sing a soft song in my awful voice; hold her hand. She was there. Just like nomads in the desert, she was comfortable in her own world. It was my job to connect to her, not the other way around.  I was her guest.

As I climb Kilimanjaro, the edges will be pronounced. Rising over 18,000 feet above the flat Savannah of Tanzania, it is a stark transition. The multiple microclimates mark edges unique to this volcano – a jungle, a flat grassy field, a rock wall, glaciers, a snowy summit. Each transition tells a story if I listen carefully. I need to open my mind, clear my head and listen to what I am being offered. I will.

And on the summit I will see the flat expanses knowing that it is not empty, wasted land but filled with life; filled with opportunity, open to possibilities. I will be Kilimanjaro’s guest. 1 hour to Kili.

And then we arrived.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

Comments on/from Facebook

  6 Responses to “The Edges of Kilimanjaro”


    Beautifully written and so evocative. Thank you, Alan!
    Climb on, safely.


    Alan,you always get my attention at some point with a heart felt view of family.I recently spent time with my 91 year old grand father who can’t see or hear to well but still can remember that he is a marine from the 442nd airborn Div. and parachuted in world war two landing behind enemy lines.When memories go one losses most of what life held.My heart goes out to you and your unstopable climb for altzheimers.Its is helping a lot as your followers are passing the word a long our way through this life of changes.(edges)Thank you again Alan!!


    Forgot to say: Have a safe, successful climb and journey!


    Reading this, I remembered a meditation I did right after I found out my brother’s situation had progressed to him having to be placed in a home for Alzheimer’s s: I was underwater in a lake covered with ice and snow; the lake was in a valley of snow covered mountains. As I looked up through the ice and snow, I could see the mountains but not clearly; everything was in a haze, a fog, nothing was clear or sharp. That gave me my understanding of the fading memories of Alzheimer’s: It’s still there, but it just can’t be made out.


    Enjoy the journey Alan! I made a donation of .01 a foot for your Kili adventure. I just got back from the summit of Kilimanjaro as well. I brought a team of 29 along with me this time, including my 79 year old father who summited Kili with me in 1993. Our 2011 Leap Of Faith climb was comprised of 10 people with MS, 4 with Parkinson’s disease, and 14 with big hearts, who came along as companions to help each climber every step of the way.
    22 of 29 made the summit, and the rest got nearly to the top. It was certainly more difficult than when I was younger, but a great climb none the less. Enjoy the view from the top of Africa. Say hello to your mom when you are close to the heavens. All my best to you now and always, Lori


    Alan….I think you may have Brook and his wife on your climb with IMG…he climbed Lhotse when we were on Everest. Say hi to him and have a wonderful climb.
    “Climb on one day at a time.”