“Umewahi kata kutoka Voi to Malindi, ukipitia Tsavo?” He nods knowingly.
I’m explaining to a KWS guard, the loneliest road I have ever been on. Reliving, through conversation, a trip I took in college. Broke college students attempting to save on costs, we decided to take a shortcut to get to Malindi. And for a long long 6 hours, traversed through Kenya’s backside.
He shakes his head and quickly offers another story in answer. He has been to Tsavo. For work. And the loneliest place to be is up on a hill. An OP he calls it. An observation post. Where he and a colleague reigned over the savannah, acting as sentinels against poachers.
“Warembo hukuja huko?” I ask cheekily.
Everyone laughs at that, and we continue with the hike. Grateful for a momentary break, that offered a welcome respite from the steady beat the hike offers.
I am on what must be my 10th hike of the year. And I should be coming close to my 30th hike with Let’s Drift. A community of hikers and outdoor lovers whose hearts beat, if for nothing else, adventure.
We are on the southern side of the expansive Aberdares reserve. Precisely, the Gatamaiyu forest. My boots are ankle-deep in mud. But my heart is fluttering. Partly from exhaustion, and partly well – from joy. We’ve been hiking for hours now. I’ve been doing this long enough that I no longer need a watch or phone to keep track. My legs do that for me. A tingling sensation starts off at kilometer 6. Replaced quickly with a full-on buzz at kilometer 12.
“Unalipa ndio utembee?” Some of my less adventurous friends ask.
But how do you explain, a feeling, an emotion – in words?
That this is no longer merely an exercise in fitness. It is almost like that feeling when you fall for the first time – in love. When you are still inexperienced, and you know better than to fall fully when there is no one to catch you. So, you fall, fully, carelessly. It matters not if your partner likes you back, you love them. And your love is enough.
Hiking up a nasty, steep mountain offers a similar emotion. I went up the Ol-Oroka ranges recently. A nasty set of hills that are careful to hide its secrets. Every time you think, or imagine that you are at the summit, another hill emerges. Until your legs are worn out. And your physical heart has adapted to beating at a steady 77 beats per minute, and not the usual 60. But Lord, when you get to the end.
And Kenya and its landscape lay out a buffet of sights. To the left, the Ngong hills. Teasing you to go to it, and attempt to clumber through them. To your right, the Rift Valley. Its enormity raising anew a belief in God and his creation. So much so, that your spirit begins to sing;
“Ni nani kama wewe Jehoooovah?” And the mountains echo back. “Nani kama wewe!”
So why do I “lipa ndio nitembee?”
Partly for the views. But mostly for that feeling. When I am atop a hill or a mountain. And the “runner’s high” is fading off. When’s its just me, and my tired legs. And that feeling of joy, and confidence comes rushing in – that I can do whatever I put my mind to.
Even if that thing is conquering mountains.
CJ Gicheru is a writer, storyteller, author, reader and is secretly into finance.
He writes about love and loss on his blog and his social media handles.
He is also a published author with a book – When a Strange Called & Other Stories – an anthology published by CJ and friends.