Sitting in the departure lounge at O'Hare, waiting for our flight to Amsterdam (after a 7-hour bus ride from Des Moines with Heather Creighton wearing her blue wig). I'm traveling with some of the coaches, their spouses and a few other staff; Coach Creighton and the team are flying out of Minneapolis. Tomorrow morning we'll all meet up with the Mexican contingent in Amsterdam for the 9 1/2-hour flight to Tanzania.
All of this has been a bit surreal — and it is just beginning. It's hard to believe this journey will end tomorrow night in Equatorial Africa, not one of my usual flights to D.C. or Florida.
Just getting to this point has been a long journey as well: three months of training at 5:45 a.m., three days a week with Lindsey Anderson, the performance enhancement director at Physiotherapy Associates (and Shawn Johnson's fitness guru); an hour a day (most days) split between inclined treadmill and Stairmaster with my backpack on, loaded with two gallons of water; and running (which I've been doing for 30 years) whenever I can.
My wife, Maddy, has been a saint accommodating this insane schedule on top of the usual demands of my job and her many responsibilities, including taking Gus (our one-year-old Goldendoodle) out at 5 a.m. while I stumble off to work out. All of this will help getting up the mountain, but altitude tolerance is an unknown for everyone — even if you made it up once with no problem, the next time can be different.
But most of all I, like everyone else I think, cannot wait to immerse myself in the newness of a place I've never been before, to engage with new ways of thinking about the world, to find out what we — the United States — look like from another vantage point in the world.
No matter how many places I've been over all too many years, the excitement of traveling never fades. I'm sure that all of us will come back changed by the experiences — the people, the views, the mountain — as well as the intellectual, emotional and physical challenges we’ve put ourselves through.
But first I have to try to sleep jammed into a coach seat for 9 hours ... and that's only the first flight!