As part of the preparation to do the Rwenzori climb, my friends and I have done several long walks once every two weeks since the end of January 2015. The idea for the long walks was on advice from a friend of mine who climbed the Rwenzori last year. He said that in order to build our stamina and endurance, we would have to get used to walking long distances.
Our first walk on January 31st 2015 was a four and a half hour walk, and most of us that walked that day had aches and pains in our legs for the whole weekend – and this was despite the fact that we went for massages after the walk. Looking back now, it’s amazing how many of these we’ve done so far – we’ve walked to Kisubi, a town along Entebbe Road, we’ve walked the whole length of the Northern Bypass, we did the seven hills walk in Kampala, we walked from Nsambya all the way round to Salaama Road, to Munyonyo, then back through Kabalagala to Nsambya again and so on. What I notice is that with each long walk, the pain in the legs decreased (at least for me), from two days, to one day, to half a day, to one hour. We have generally acclimatized our bodies to walking for four to four and a half hours non-stop.
So this weekend, given that we are going to climb Mount Elgon in a week’s time (as part of our preparation for Rwenzori), we decided to up our game and walk for six hours. Two weekends ago, we did a two and a half hour walk in Mabira forest and while there, we learned that there is a six hour walk. We then promised to go back to Mabira and do the longer trail.
Our D-Day for the six hour walk was yesterday and we reported to Mabira Forest bright and early. We were at the NFA office by 7 am, we paid the trail fee (30,000/- for East Africans), we were introduced to our guide Onesmus, and then we started the walk. Even though we had done a forest walk two weeks ago, this one felt quite different and more challenging. Apart from being much longer, we walked through slightly more difficult terrain. There was quite a lot of mud on the trail, and try as we might, there was no way of avoiding walking right through the mud. We walked through a section that still had dew and our legs got wet. We also had to be on the look out for the dreaded red ants! You don’t want one of those getting into the inside of your trousers, walking up your thigh and biting you in you nether regions!
The trail we did takes you from the NFA office in Mabira, all the way to Griffin Falls. The falls were small but beautiful. They are only spoiled by the foul smelling water, which is on account of the waste that is dumped into the water by one of the sugar making factories in Uganda. After walking to the falls, we then walked back though the forest to the clearing and walked for 10 kilometers on one of the roads that passes through the forest. The walk from the NFA office to the Griffin Falls is about three and a half hours long, and the walk on the main road is two and a half hours long.
By the last hour of the walk our feet were aching and we were walking by auto pilot. One of our friends had to take a Boda Boda ride back to the NFA office when her boots became too uncomfortable to walk in. By then she had done about five hours of the walk. I too wanted to take a Boda Boda back. My feet were killing me and I felt like they were blistering. What kept me from taking the bike was that as a leader, I never want to ask my team to do something that I will not do myself. And since the rest of my team mates were walking, I decided that I too needed to finish the walk. In order to get through the walk, I had to talk myself through it. I reminded myself to focus on the finish line, I told myself that the day was going to end, and this walk too, would be over, and so on. It was by grace that I made it to the end.
Our guide, Onesmus, behaved like the classic Mukiga he is. Not wanting to discourage us about the long journey ahead, every time we asked him how far we still had to walk, he would say that we were near the end, that we didn’t have far to go. About an hour later, we would then ask him how much longer we had left, and he would repeat the same words. Many people that are used to walking long distances, often give directions that make it seem like the end point is quite near. For them it often is, but not for those that are not used to walking such distances.
All in all, the walk was fun, we laughed a lot, shared snacks along the way, sang songs to keep our morale up, and told stories. The whole walk for me was a major lesson in not giving up – and it’s not always easy not to give up. I am grateful to the team that we looked out for each other, we encouraged each other, waited for each other when we had to take breaks, and generally supported each other to get to the finish line.
Thinking back to the time we first started preparing for the Rwenzori climb, we’ve come a long, long way. We still have about two more months to go, but the mountain is nearer than when we first began. We are taking one step at a time towards our goal, and it feels good.