September 20, 2019
My alarm screamed at 4 AM, my daily wake up time. However, this morning was different. I had gone to sleep around 11 PM after having a get together with friends. I proudly smoked ribs for 7 hours, and served up moose steaks. It’s only natural to pair these things with beer and scotch. I went to bed with a foggy brain, and its fair to say I woke up groggy. I rolled out of bed to prep some coffee and skim through my gear list for Ecuador once more. Everything was where it should be.
I threw together a few luxuries for on the mountain — earplugs, Qtips, WA Pack Out Bars, Sport Beans, and extra batteries and headphones. I found myself laughing at the thought of how different life on expeditions and life at home is. I showered and squeezed in last minute work on the laptop. Admittedly, its hard for me to leave my computer and work behind because playing catch up always lingers over me. I threw bags in my “mom non-mom car” and loved on Cooper, my Rhodesian Ridgeback, once more before starting the 3.5 hour drive down to Denver International Airport.
The crisp, cold air finished waking me up and I expressed my gratitude for the change of season. I like to think of the freezing temperatures as a gift. The drive went by quickly as the roads weaved in and out of the valley. If you followed along with my Aconcagua climb, then you know how I feel about doing the duffel bag shuffle. Yet again, I found myself kicking and dragging knock off Nepal North Face duffels big enough that I could fit in to. In these moments, even the wind was pissing me off as sweat beaded on my back.
Luckily, the bus driver watched my bags as I found a cart. There was no way in Hell that I would be carrying both bags in by myself. I checked in no problem, and found my way to a cafe so that I could put stamps on 100 post cards to be sent out for my real estate advertising. I ate, nursed a headache with a brown ale, dropped off my post cards, and got comfy at my gate. Once we boarded, that’s it. That’s all we did. Boarded.
We sat at the gate for an hour and 45 minutes because one of United’s vendors were MIA. We couldn’t take off without services being provided on the plane. The clock was ticking. The rest of the ROMP crew in Ecuador and those on the connecting flight to Quito waited for updates. Ya know, the flight that Micah (videographer), Joel (fellow veteran amputee), and Rebecca (ROMP supporter), and I were supposed to be on. The Houston to Quito flight was already boarding while we were in the air. The Quito flight was delayed until 640 PM, and we landed at 628 PM. There was a chance… like one in a million.
LP (ROMP Queen) messaged the four of us inbound to Houston to not lose faith and to rush to the other gate no matter what. I was seat 7D and the angel of a woman sitting next to me blocked traffic, so I could make my shitty attempt at running from the C terminal to the E terminal. My skin and clothes became damp with humidity and sweat, the absolute worst feeling. I dodged commuters, wheelchairs, bags, and of course, the aloof passengers wearing face masks that never fail to stand in the way as they stare off in to space.
I made my way to E21 only to see the electric blue sign that read, “Boarding Closed.” My phone lit up with messages. There wasn’t much to do, but reschedule. Via the app, we were able to get on a standby flight on 9/21, and confirmed on 9/22. That wasn’t going to cut it though — we have climbs to get to. After standing in the customer service line for an hour and watching people from all backgrounds throw massive temper tantrums, we were up to the counter. Using only but the best negotiating strategy (don’t be an asshole at customer service), the four of us managed to get on flights that would have us arriving in Quito the night of 9/21.
We grubbed down on some airport sushi, a bold and optimistic decision, then made our way to the taxi line to get to our hotel. Many thanks to a family friend for coming through to make rooms at the Four Points by Sheraton in Houston happen — you’re the real MVP! All we wanted now was to sleep and shower. I was asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.
September 21, 2019
Rebecca’s alarm went off around 430 AM as she and Micah had to be on the shuttle at 5 AM for their flight. Selfishly, I am glad I managed to get booked before Micah and Rebecca. They have two layovers, one in Panama and one in Bogota, while Joel and I only have a layover in Panama. Basically, Joel and I got to sleep another two hours. My alarm went off at 630 AM, which I responded to by smashing the snooze button until 7 AM. Again, I used a shower as a means to wash the exhaustion off.
I told Joel that I would meet him downstairs at 740 AM for breakfast — that was a lie. I dried my hair and ran down to the gym to squeeze in a quick twenty minute circuit before having to sit on a plane for hours. I met him at 750 AM and we decided to avoid the 8 AM shuttle, and just hop in an Uber. We shuffled through the TSA dance and made it to the gate in a breeze. To our surprise, we actually boarded on time out of Houston and WE TOOK OFF! We were Panama bound.
Once in Panama, I had a serious bout of dejavu. I tried to figure out when I was in that airport before, as we maneuvered through what seemed to be masses of people who had never traveled before. Joel and I tried to find a spot where we could get a little authentic food, but turns out if you stay in the airport, you are in fact still in America. Margaritaville it was. We killed two hours, and had another four hours on the horizon. I’m quite thankful that Joel is willing to speak Spanish, since I am still building my confidence in trying to communicate in the local language.
Rebecca and Micah managed to get themselves on to our flight to Quito instead of having a layover in Bogota — and they wound up in business class. Lucky dogs! We found them comfy in the premier lounge, and joined them. Admittedly, the open bar was quite tempting and I indulged in some red wine to knock out on the next hour and a half flight. After chatting Rebecca up for what seemed like hours, we made our way to the gate.
We boarded, and I passed out almost immediately. About half an hour in to the flight, I woke up to the flight attendant towering over me offering me a burrito. Naturally, for airplane food, it tasted like the $.99 special from the freezer aisle. It was a hard pass and I closed my eyes again. A rough, wobbly landing woke me up in Quito. With Joel and I both missing legs, the airport staff allowed us to cut the line at customs. Joel got put through the ringer with questions, while I simply received a stamp in my passport (that’s rapidly running out of visa pages).
When we met Rebecca and Micah at baggage claim, they already had my massive bags. I was relieved for a number of reasons — mainly that I would have all of my adaptive gear to climb and that I wasn’t the one trying to drag those big bastards off of the carousel. While I was thankful, my heart sank quickly as bad news surfaced once again on our wild travel adventure. Rebecca was missing both of her bags, while Joel and Micah were missing one each. As 1015 PM rolled around, three of our four man team had their missing baggage paperwork done and we were loading our four bodies, carry ons, and the body bags that we had on hand, in to a taxi that was the size of a Dodge Neon.
The cab driver was a great sport as his car whined through the uphill roads and we maxed out at 60 in a 90. The winding roads again rocked me to sleep and we pulled up to the Selina hotel. LP and David greeted us with our sorted gear. Walking up to LP, I felt an overwhelming sensation of gratitude. She has worked really hard to make this trip and project come to fruition. I wish I could have helped her out a little more, but hopefully one of these days I will be able to lend more of a hand. She is a tough woman, with a heart of gold. One day I will convince her to let me join her on the river.
The rest of the ROMP crew who had already been in town kindly divided themselves up in to other rooms so that we wouldn’t wake them up. Rebecca and I once again found ourselves as roommates. I am beginning to think that the universe just wants us to be friends. The room was fairly comical with bunk beds, and two single beds. We debated just getting super close and going straight for the bunks. Through our exhaustion, we found everything funny to include the massive snot ball that she found on her duvet. I admired the way she flipped over the blanket and crawled in to the bed like a boss. I educated her on the life changing ways of ear plugs made for small ears, and we both passed out.
While it has been a rough couple days of travel, I counted my blessings — the three people around me and the team behind making this trip possible. Rebecca managed to keep a smile on my face. Her honesty and openness about life, and willingness to listen was the start of our bond. I am looking forward to spending some time with her on the mountain and in Colorado. Never fails to impress me how some people come in to your life, and you instantly know that they will be there for a very long time.
September 22, 2019
Sleep was short lived. It was easily midnight before we got some shuteye. I wasn’t happy when my alarm went off at 530 AM. I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling as I listened to Rebecca brush her teeth. I won’t lie, attempting to back out of today’s training/acclimatization hike crossed my mind. I told myself, “I ain’t no bitch,” and rallied any way. It took me a while to wake up, well beyond meeting the team and the bus ride to the gondola that we would take up to the start of Rucu Pichincha (15,696 feet).
We stepped off a little after 9 AM and the groups naturally floated off in to groups relative to their personal speeds. It was a lovely rolling climb. I was in between groups moving at my own pace, and wrapped up in my thoughts. One of the guides from Cumbre Tours, Darwin, walked along side me. He was great and knowledgable about the surrounding areas, but I found myself rolling my eyes as he repeatedly told me to slow down or attempted to give me advice on my prosthetic. Considering he didn’t know my background, I shouldn’t have been annoyed.
Eventually, Darwin fell back and I cruised along. Another guide joined me and I appreciated his curiosity for where I have traveled and climbed. Talking and singing along, I wasn’t affected by the change in altitude. Kionte, a fellow Marine amputee who I was actually in the hospital in San Diego with, joined me. For the next couple of hours, our group of three remained the same. We moved quickly along the hard packed route and I stumbled through some of the brush, my standard procedure.
When we made it to the scrambling sections, I excelled. I love using my hands, climbing, and going on all fours. We pulled ourselves over the steep, rocky sections and before we knew it, the high I was riding was gone. As soon as I saw the scree and soft sand, my smile turned in to a solid resting bitch face. It was time to keep my head down and grind it out. Kionte and I trudged along, swapping stories, goals, and dreams to distract us from the suffer fest of taking one step forward, and sliding two back.
As we passed a sign that read “20 minutes out from the summit”, the terrain changed back in to what I loved and we were at the summit before we knew it! The last section actually reminded me a lot of the summit push on Aconcagua. We all cheered and embraced at the top of Rucu Pichincha. Photos were snapped with the group and with strangers who were inspired by our work. The majority of the group made it to the summit when Karl (the lead guide and well known insane speed climber) asked if I wanted to break at the top or keep moving. I gestured my hand for us to just head down. David and others on the descent chanted the word, “Fuerte.” Stupidly, I thought they were just making the observation that it was cold, but I was informed that they were in fact calling me strong.
At the base of the shit show sand chute (say that five time fast), Estefania, the amputee climber from Mexico City that The Kirstie Ennis Foundation sponsored to get here, offered to let me pass her. I had been watching the way she moved throughout the day and asking for updates on her from passerbys. I stayed behind her for a bit on the trail, and asked David to adjust her knee so that I could show her how to ride her knee down. We have the same knee and I know how terrifying it can be to learn it, but I also know how valuable it is to understand it and how big of a tool it can be once used correctly.
Adjustments were made and advice was dished out. I had to remind myself to wind my neck in because I was so excited to share my knowledge and experience with her. I was afraid I was going to overwhelm her as I fired off thoughts, and decided it was best for me to go ahead and attempt to help her once on the asphalt. I ran ahead solo, and eventually my second guide caught up to me. I was on cruise control and hauling ass. Onlookers even commented on my speed. I passed Pam and Julie, fellow ROMPers, and sped down. During the last thirty minutes of the descent, my partner in crime, Kionte, and Micah caught up to me.
It was clear that we were all tired, but I just wanted to get down. We met up with the first wave of ROMP climbers and we were advised to stand in the gondola line. Rightfully so, because during the hour of standing in line, I was a zombie and sleep walking. The gondola ride was warm and the sway made it hard to keep my eyes open. The bus ride to the hotel was fairly quiet. Once back to my room, I let the hot water run down my back to alleviate the pain and threw myself in to bed for a power nap before team dinner.
Dinner was loud with more than 20 of our team at a nearby Italian spot. I was impressed with everyone’s energy and social interaction, as I sat in silence just wanting to eat. We filled our bellies with a set menu of salads, and variety of delicious pizzas. My glass of white wine made my eyes heavy and I excused myself as soon as the team announcements were finalized. Back in the room, I tucked myself in at what must have been 9 PM. While my body wanted to sleep, my brain was in full auto as Rebecca and I went back and forth with our outlandish, random pillow talk. We discussed everything from Thomas Cook stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers to relationship history. Between that and it being 100 degrees in our room, its no wonder I couldn’t sleep.