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Author of Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town http://tinyurl.com/owdwvrp I write about travel and adventure from my home in California and from Africa. I've sailed a catamaran from California to Hawaii, trekked in the Himalayas, worked as a construction manager on a bridge project in Zambia, hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, (http://bootsbedouinsandabridge.blogspot.com/) and traveled in over 100 countries and all seven continents. Indie Book Award Winner for Best Memoir of 2012, New York Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, Travelers Tales Solas Award for Best Travel Writing Honorable Mention for My Gambian Husband. Indie Book Award Finalist - Best Travel Book 2013. BOTYA Honorable Mention 2013 - Travel Essay. Member of The Explorers Club since 2013 You can follow my current 2013-2014 expedition across Africa, this time in a 1973 Land Rover Series III 109 on http://teresaokane.blogspot.com/ and on facebook https://www.facebook.com/safarijema

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Moses Had Buns of Steel

We started our climb of Mt. Sinai just before midnight under a full moon. We knew it would be cold at the top so along with sleeping bags and therma-rests we carried warm clothes in a backpack. About 30 minutes into the climb the moon illuminated a Bedouin and a camel beside the trail. “Take camel?” he asked, and pointed in the direction of the summit. “Very steep!” It didn’t take long before I regretted my decision to decline a camel ride. It took us just under 3 hours of constant climbing and ceaselessly increasing elevation to get to the top. It never leveled off, not even for a few feet. “Boy! This trail is very steep!” I huffed, quoting the Bedouin. The last stage was brutal because we had to negotiate 750 rough-hewn granite steps, part of an alternate route called the Steps of Repentance totaling 3750 big steps. My lungs felt as though they would burst and my glutes were screaming.
“Moses must have had buns of steel,” I gasped to Scott. “Spin to win”, I reminded myself out loud.

I had spin to win going in my head for the entire climb - it’s what got me to the top, I’m sure. I think spin to win whenever I am faced with a physical challenge that brings me to the brink of quitting. Our wonderful friend, Peter Marcus, whose life was prematurely taken by cancer four years ago, taught it to me. We were on his Gabriola Cycle and Kayak Oregon Coast cycling trip – 400 miles of mostly gentle hills, but uncommon head winds. Anyway, one particularly cold and misty 70-kilometer day, everyone else had arrived in camp but a fierce head wind had slowed me down to such an extent that Peter had come looking for me in the support van. He rolled down his window and watched me struggle along at a slow but determined pace. Both of us knew that I would decline a lift to the campground. “Spin to win”, he said with a smile, meaning, no matter how slow you go, keep your legs moving, keep spinning, and you will reach your goal. It was Peter’s mantra that helped me on tough days on The Camino and it’s what got me to the top of Mt. Sinai.

Though we had begun the hike in over 90-degree heat, by the time we made it to the top we were freezing. It was 2:30 in the morning, and the sweat that clung to our bodies just made us colder. At first I thought it was a high altitude mirage but just below the summit appeared a tiny teahouse lit by a single gas lamp. Through the “to go” window we bought a hot chocolate and rented camel blankets (so named because of the smell) from the thin but heavily robed and turbaned man inside. We found a spot to unroll our therma-rests out of the wind and tried to name all Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not freeze to death,” was my contribution. Out came the thermal underwear, jeans, down sleeping bags, and the camel blanket to keep us warm while we slept a few hours until sunrise. Absolute silence fell over the mountaintop. There were only 10 of us, all part of the African Trails Nile Expedition, who slept on Mt. Sinai that night. Not one of us could remember all Ten Commandments.

At 5 am we wrapped up in our camel blankets and hiked a little higher to watch the sun rise. Soon we began to hear voices coming from below. We looked down to see a stream of over 300 pilgrims, mostly Russian, climbing the 750 steps. Once again I was struck by the devotion of the faithful, a theme of this trip it seems. But mostly it made me very glad that we hiked up alone in the middle of the night. I began to dread the hike back down since over 300 of us would be descending at once. Shivering, I wrapped the stinky blanket tighter around my shoulders. I looked over the jagged peaks and down into the barren valley where Moses’ people waited to hear what had been revealed to him and thought about all those who had left their footprints there before me. Suddenly a woman dressed in a down coat, warm boots, and furry hat came into my view.
“I got one!” I said to the others. “Thou shalt not covet!”

Scott and Tris


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