Five life lessons through climbing Ngong Hills

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Five life lessons through climbing Ngong Hills

The chilly cold can be scary, as you climb the hills. But the chirping and shrieking of diverse birds soon lessen the fear and warms the body. Besides, there is the humming of up to 30 turbines of wind power and planes; as they make a turn to land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Nestled on the footsteps of Ngong Town, about 25 km, southwest of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, Ngong Hills Forest is a sight to behold. Myriad and varied exotic and indigenous trees such as pine, cypress, sandalwood, acacia, croton dot the seven hills - with the highest peak being 2460 meters, above sea level.

The word 'Ngong' is an anglicization of a Maasai phrase 'enkong'u emuny' meaning rhinoceros spring. The name is derived from a spring situated near Ngong Town.

I started climbing and hiking the hills about a year ago, after the prodding of a friend. He was incessant, as I tried to find excuses not to join him and his family. I made several sore attempts before I eventually scaled the last hill. And there are several life lessons I learned in the process:

1. The Mandela power. The anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, says; “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” I made several attempts to climb all the seven hills within a day. Quite unexpectedly, my lungs felt as if they were bursting and the sweat was akin to immersing my head in a bucket full of water. With a friend, Jared, we made an effort to ascend and descend the hills every Saturday morning. And even when I completed the ascent, I realized I had to descend! I became exceedingly exhausted. But realized that just like in other endeavors in life, I had to trod on. I have to keep fit physically and mentally. I have a family to take care of. I have monthly bills. I have acquittances and friends, that I need to keep the rapport burning. In essence, every day I have to face challenges. There will be always hills I have to climb. Many steep hills.

2. Walk past the impossible. Elon Musk’s biographer Ashlee Vance, in his fascinating book: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, writes that Musk does not believe in the existence of the word ‘impossible’. Vance, writes that space and electric cars enthusiast and investor makes (and made) colleagues, fellow investors, and his staff shudder on how he turns what seems to be impossible to accomplish, be a possibility (on so, so many occasions). For instance, many thought he was crazy when he initiated SpaceX in 2002, with the ultimate aim to colonize Mars. Additionally, in a ‘surreal-like’ venture (impossible?), Musk plans to build a city of one million people on Mars, by 2050. The Climbing Ngong Forest Hills, seemed impossible to me, slightly more than a year ago; but not presently. As one reaches the peak of hill two or three, he/she comes to the realization that the next one is much steeper! Unabashedly, I was challenged and inspired by elderly people, briskly and devotedly climbing past me (most of them without walking sticks!).

3. Be a Shoe Dog: You may need Nike shoes to climb Ngong Hills! One of my favorite books I have ever read is Shoe Dog, a memoir by Phil Knight, the effervescent founder of Nike; one of the world’s leading multinational corporations that specializes in the production of footwear, apparel, equipment, and accessories. As a 24-year-old, after completion of his bachelor’s degree, Knight traveled to many countries, and cities, including Kenya. In this enchanting book, he describes Shoe Dogs as “people who devote and immerse themselves wholly to the making, selling, buying or designing of shoes ... men and women who toil so hard in the shoe trade that they think and talk about nothing else.” Ultimately (after many false starts, and heartbreaks), Knight became a Shoe Dog! I have embraced physical fitness. Walking for at least an hour daily; not necessarily climbing Ngong Hills (I live in Ngong town). On some other days, I do exercises in the house. Just a small space suffices. Sit-ups, press-ups, push-ups for about 45 minutes, daily. Maybe one day, I might become a Fitness Dog! I also do a lot of writing; mostly as a blogger for different individual and organization clients. So soon, I could become a Blogger Dog.

4. Back off the excuses: Nick Vujicic, an Australian American, was born without legs and arms due to Phocomelia (a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs). Among his hobbies is surfing and being adroit at swimming. He has written over ten motivational books. I read Life Without Limits some years back, when I was very low emotionally. And I still reflect on the immense lessons from the book. It is written by an extraordinary man on how to accomplish extraordinary tasks. What is your excuse? Being too busy to exercise? Too busy to call or text relatives or friends? You are not qualified for that job, or lack of capital to start a business? Go the extra mile, do the extraordinary. Acquire a new skill, despite being too busy, frequently (not only when you need a favor!) call/text the people in your life, and find out how they are doing. Do not wait for their death, for you to be the most visible and vocal mourner at their funeral.

5. Be persistent, and never give up: “Sometimes the training is so painful that I want to give up,” says Sir Mo Farah, in Twin Ambitions – My Autobiography. Mo Farah is a British long-distance runner, and arguably the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history. His feats are a gem: he is a 2012, and 2016 Olympic gold medalist, in both the 5000 m and 10,000 m. Sound easy or far-fetched? Mo Farah has a consistent, and rigorous training schedule. He trains hard. He did not register remarkable wins at the onset of his athletics career. His amazing success has been gradual. Whenever, I go climbing or hiking in the hills, the image and words of this great runner flashes through my mind. His smile (or it is concealed grimace?) flashes through my mind as I sit at my desk hitting on the keyboard of my laptop (sometimes for up to 10 hours a day). The hills have a maze of foliage that is intertwined along some sections of the hiking trail, which makes movement a hassle. Similarly, pebbles and rocks on some sections make movement somewhat an uphill task. But how are some runners, who train on the trail able to effortlessly jog, and even sprint on this terrain (uphill)?

The power of heights. There are magnificent and serene views of Ngong and Kiserian towns and the great Rift Valley, from the hills. The sight of Kiserian dam waters, farmlands, and interweaving roads. The utter calmness. Go hiking at Ngong Hills, and as Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it's done.”

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