Last winter a good friend sent me a link to a story about the Curvy Kili Crew, a group of twenty plus size and fat-identified womxn who are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for International Women’s Day 2019. I’ve long identified with and participated in the Fat Activism Movement and was super inspired by their politics and the goal they set for themselves, together. Because the hike was full, somewhere in a bit of a daze I signed up for a waitlist for the *next* fat climb and forgot about it. Months later, I got an email from the Crew’s enigmatic and knowledgeable leader, Christa from Travel Fearlessly, saying that lo and behold a spot opened up and I was off the waitlist. I was going to hike Kilimanjaro.
For a number of personal and political reasons, hiking Kilimanjaro or any major trek or peak has never been on my list. But once I accepted the encouragement of my family and friends, and did the research about working conditions for porters and the company leading the trek, I knew I just had to go. Reconciling my decision with the extreme cost has been a major challenge. Because I’ve lived in cold or snowy climates for so long, I already had so much of the gear, but still had to buy quite a few things like boots and poles and a new backpack, let alone some more clothes, accessories like gloves and buffs, and a lightweight, winter-rated sleeping bag. The trip, itself, is also expensive and the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar has made the whole thing a huge investment. I ended up taking on extra work to foot the bill and am grateful that was an option for me.
What’s I’ve found really cool about taking on this project and setting this goal for myself is that I was immediately ready to get going. I started working out in earnest at my favourite local gym, Tight Club Athletics, and going to yoga and bodywork specialists so I could begin to work through my life-long chronic pain and past sports injuries. I also started to go outside more and with more intention. I knew early on that I should try to simulate the 77km distance and the 3945m elevation gain. I’m honestly terrified of altitude sickness and wanted my brain to know how the hike would challenge my body so I could be more prepared mentally for the trek. So, with lots of planning using Stephen Hui’s 105 Hikes in and around Southwestern British Columbia and my Alltrails pro account, from October 1st-8th I tackled mostly new-to-me trails in the Vancouver area.
Originally I had planned to simulate the actual day-to-day distance and elevation, but after a dicey day in a thunderstorm when I turned around on the Sea to Summit trail in Squamish (the gondola also stopped running and the slick sections didn’t have the ropes or chains the signs and guides said they would have) I decided to just aim for total distance and elevation gain. This meant that I was able to shift my plan a little bit to fit it all in. I started to see my training week as a mix of getting it in and just getting outside, which meant that while one day I did three hours of loops in Lynn Valley in and around groups of tourists (12km, 706m gained that day) another day I hit the highway out to Manning Park and completed part of Snow Camp in the first snow fall of the season. But, as the week went on, my pace got slower and grumpier. Completing trails began to be a whiney struggle and I felt like a total bummer. Even on seemingly easy trails where happy families would be hopping along, here I was, a fat, sweaty woman with bitch face. When people’s only interaction with me was when they passed me on a trail, it was easy to work through what I thought they were thinking about me: Why can’t she just have fun outside? What’s her problem? Why is this so hard for her? Maybe if she lost weight this would be easier for her.
It’s easy to dismiss these thoughts as my internalized fatphobia, but they were affirmed on my summit day when, sick with a fever, a group of awesome friends and I headed up the Grouse Grind toward Goat Mountain. It took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to get up the Grind, a 2.9km, 2,830 steps and 853m gain slog up the side of a mountain that many, many Vancouverites do for fun or dates or whatever. With my poles and my grunts, as this was now my 47-50th kilometre, I was subject to people saying to my face, “at least you’re doing it” and “whoa, good job” or commiserating with me because they, too, were having a hard time. In a few of these unwanted interactions I would let them know this was the peak of my training and their 2nd kilometre was my 48th and this was just the way it was going to be: exhausted and grumpy.
After the last hike was completed and I sit in my car drinking my recovery beverage bawling my eyes out I was so proud of myself for getting through it and for my community of friends who came with me or who supported me with their words throughout the week. For me, the simulation was a friendly reminder that I can set big goals for myself and that I am likely to achieve them. That even if anxiety and fatphobia and misogyny make me feel like I can’t participate in outdoors culture/community, I have the strength to make space for myself. That I’ll be able to ask for and receive support in ways I didn’t expect. That my body will outshine its capacity when I didn’t think it could even get me out of bed and the door at times. I pushed myself mentally, emotionally and physically and became so intimate with my edges. And those edges will held like armed arms and reminded me of all of the things that got me to and through the week. Sara Ahmed said, “Don’t get over it if it’s not over”. During the simulation week I relearned that this isn’t over. There is so much work to do to make outdoors culture inclusive of all bodies and their intersections and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do even the smallest amount of this work.
All of my hikes during the simulation took place on the ancestral, unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and Sto:lo nations.
Read more about the Curvy Kili Crew here: https://fabuplusmagazine.com/the-curvy-kili-crew/
Follow the Curvy Kili Crew on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/curvykilicrew/