While the mortals among us spent the winter break at our parents’ house, hanging out by their high schools, watching TV with our grandmas, or learning to drop the H-bomb at our local pubs, a select few HBSers found another path – a path that led them straight to the mysterious peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. After realizing that five of these brave souls were members of New Section D (the Nudies), the largest representation of any section, I came to the conclusion that there really must be something unique about the residents of Aldrich 108. Was it something in the air, a lesson from a professor, or the fine cherry-paneled furnishings of the classroom that sparked the curiosity of these daring minds?
I decided to sit down with these individuals – Cas Schneller, Jessica Freireich, Steve Westerback, Mike DeMichele, and Keenan Klinger – to hear the real story. I picked their brains and pressed for their inspiration, their motivations and their goals. Was it Kola, the founding father of all HBS section presidents, challenging them to reach greatness? Or perhaps it was Fin 1, where an NPV analysis proved the social returns of adventure were, in fact, positive. Make no mistake, this story is more than the usual ‘exploit by spoiled HBS kids’ or the standard ‘singles excursion’; rather it was a lesson on life, leadership, camaraderie, and how a surprising source of inspiration came, quite literally, from the classroom.
NG: Alright, folks, let’s start with the question everyone is asking: Mike, seriously, I’m looking at this picture and I have to ask what were you thinking wearing that Willy Wonka outfit on the trail?
Mike: Nikhil, I chose to save myself thousands of dollars by wearing my girlfriend’s hiking outfits.
Cas: Sure Mike, but you forgot to factor in the cost of dignity?
NG: OK, guys, thanks. But besides the opportunity to wear women’s clothing, what motivated the rest of you to join the trek?
Cas: I’ve done some hiking before and felt a little pressure to try something different outside the country. I guess this pressure could have come from my fianc‚e. I think she wanted to go to Vegas or something.
NG: No need to go further, Cas, the attached picture is worth a thousand words.
Mike: For me, it was pretty clear that putting chess, reading, investing and energy on my classcard was getting me nowhere – not with the ladies, nor with my credibility in the classroom. The cost of the trek paled in comparison to my expected increase in popularity.
Keenan: I wanted to experience the wonders of Kilimanjaro and honestly just get some fresh air. Unfortunately, I would have to compromise that second goal – I should have known better than to bunk with Mike.
NG: Yes, I have heard that acclimating to the altitude can be pretty intense – blindness, nausea, headaches are all unavoidable. And Mike, judging by rumors of a recent ban from the mountain, it seems your gastrointestinal issues, which I assume were altitude related, became legendary on the trail. Did anyone else experience problems – of this magnitude – adjusting to the mountain?
Steve: Yes, I had headaches and vomited a couple of times. I also noticed that the new climate made Keenan’s eyes tear up a lot. He told me it was the altitude and could only be cured when he looked at letters from his mom. I felt bad for him but with some group hugs, we were all ok.
NG: Ok, let’s talk about preparation. Many of our Harbus readers – if they can figure out a way to tape Oprah and Jerry Springer – are contemplating the trek to Mt. Kilimanjaro next year. For their sakes, can you tell us how you prepared for the rigors of the trip, both physically and mentally?
Steve: I started to prepare, then injured my iliotibial band (aka, gluteus maximus for those not familiar with medical terms), so I basically did nothing. Obviously, this wasn’t a good idea, so mentally I had to take it to the extreme; I prepared a comprehensive mix of the most inspirational showtunes ever made. I am sure many have already discovered the motivational powers of the Friends, Perfect Strangers and Facts of Life soundtracks. For me, they saved my life.
Jess: I went a little nuts and basically attacked the stairmaster – I think we all did, except for Cas who was convinced that Striptease Aerobics was the only way to train for Kili. I also ran with a knapsack up and down my street. Although it started out as a dare following a section night out, it became my core workout routine.
Keenan: I did a little hiking back home in Georgia. If you’ve seen the movie Deliverance, you know that those mountains have their own mysterious qualities.
NG: No need to go further, Keenan. Jessica, being a vegetarian, did you ever feel that you were at a disadvantage given that you wouldn’t be able to eat people in an emergency situation?
NG: Alright, let’s talk about Section D. You all know that your section was the most represented on the trek. Do you have any theories on this? Also, did any of your section experiences help you out on the trail?
Steve: Absolutely, Nikhil. As I climbed the mountain, I used my newly acquired knowledge from TOM to pace myself. For example, I did not want to risk becoming a bottleneck to our team’s progress. So I boosted my personal output rate by decreasing idle time. I also pondered extensively why water purification tablets were ranked so low in importance during LEAD’s Subarctic Survival Exercise while they were absolutely vital to our hydration program on the mountain. As for why Section D was the most represented section, I can’t be certain. Oh wait, yes I can: after sweeping the soccer tournament this year we definitely deflated the aspirations of the other sections. Looking ahead, I am a little worried that, armed with our new Section D band Delta 6, we will continue our dominance over the rest of HBS.
Cas: To be honest, I also thought the Subarctic Exercise was quite instructive on the trail. For some reason I kept fearing getting wet. Thanks to some insightful comments in class by Dave Battle, I never forgot that critical phrase: “if you get wet, you die!”
Jessica: From my perspective, it was a typical LEAD lesson on how important it is for a team to establish rules and build trust – right from the start. Normal people just wouldn’t understand what I am talking about, but things like going to the bathroom in a designated outhouse, projectile vomiting competitions, when to have sherpas carry you – all carry enormous potential for conflict. We were all at our Best Selves.
Keenan: For me, it was the classroom. The cherry-paneled interior, the moveable chairs, the beerman that takes our orders between classes – I guess I just felt spoiled and that it was time to challenge myself after sitting in the lap of luxury for a semester.
NG: And finally, a question I am sure our readers want to know: Did any of you find true love on the trail?
Jessica: Maybe, but I couldn’t get him a visa so it’s not worth talking about.
Keenan: Yes – it came every morning, when I was finally able to leave my tent and breathe.
NG: Bravo Keenan Klinger, thank you for such a profound life lesson that we all can put in our pocket and chew on for days to come. And thanks again to the rest of the Section D trekkers – Mike, Steve, Jess, Cas – for providing a contemporary illustration of leadership and courage.