Heather on Mount Kilimanjaro in 2016
A Plan and a Promise
When her parents would bring her hiking and backpacking as a child, Heather loved the travel aspect of it all. But the active components? Not so much. Years later, you could say things have changed.
Back in 2016, Heather’s father decided he wanted to climb Kilimanjaro.
“It was something my Dad always wanted to do, so it seemed right that we climb it together,” Heather said. The different terrains and climate zones of a unique mountain like Kilimanjaro were an inspiring force behind their climb. As she and her dad started to get excited for their adventure, Heather’s Mom helped by doing all of the planning for her husband and daughter.
But as the climb approached, Heather’s mother fell ill, and eventually, passed away.
“Before she passed, she made me promise I would still go. But my Dad no longer had the heart for it.” And so, the adventure that had started as a father-daughter trip, was now a solo mission for Heather to complete, as she had promised her mother.
Onward to Uhuru
In June 2016 Heather joined a Thomson Safaris 7-day Machame trek. She knew nobody else, had never been above 14,000 feet and had never been to Africa. But with her dad, husband and son cheering her on from back home and her mother’s promise echoing in her mind, Heather’s trek was surprisingly smooth sailing.
“[Not knowing anybody] made me get out of my comfort zone and talk to everyone. I really feel like I became part of the people and culture. By the end of the trip I had become good friends with the others in the group and the porters (I still talk with two of the porters and two of the other clients now).”
Heather says she was lucky enough to not feel the effects of altitude and felt better and better each day. “Everything went so smoothly and it was such an amazing experience. I was excited to wake up every morning and climb.”
As for biggest challenges? “Eating all the amazing food!” She joked. “I’m a small woman and the guides were concerned I would lose too much weight, so I was always being given seconds or thirds. The bread we ate is something I will never forget though – it was so delicious. I also loved the morning porridge.”
But even feeling motivated, energized, and well fed along the way, and even with “perfect” weather at the summit, reaching Uhuru Peak was still packed with emotion.
Heather at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro
“The summit was very emotional. I was elated that I had fulfilled my promise to my Mom. But not having my Dad there was bittersweet.” That bittersweet moment, and the whole journey leading there, left a lasting impact.
“Going to Africa alone, and climbing Kili with strangers, showed me what I was capable of as an independent woman,” Heather said. “I am stronger than I think. And having the right attitude can make such a difference.”
Finding a New Goal
Balancing family life and race training with her son and husband on Mount Lassen
But Heather’s story doesn’t stop there. That kid that never loved the active component of traveling with her parents is now an endurance athlete, and since standing on the Roof of Africa, she has gone on to push herself further and further. Heather has climbed Mount Rainier, conquered several technical routes on Mount Shasta, and completed 50 and 60K races.
You may have even heard of Heather’s most recent adventure. This past year, she competed in The World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. The television series, hosted by Bear Grylls, premiered on Amazon Prime this August, and is a revival of the show which aired 1995-2002.
Trailer for the World’s Toughest Race
Heather’s team (Team Regulators) was one of 66 teams of four aiming to cover 417 miles in just 11 days. The very appropriately named race required a range of skills to be used over different areas of the islands. Paddling in open ocean, white water rafting through ravines, long treks through dense forests and rock climbing up waterfalls are just some of the challenges the teams faced. Not to mention, contestants could only navigate using a map and compass, and were pressed to meet time limits on each leg.
To put it into perspective, Heather’s Machame Trek on Kilimanjaro was roughly 43 miles. Just in the first leg of Eco-Challenge alone, Heather’s team covered more than double that. In legs three and four, there were two separate 31 mile treks. Needless to say, it was no walk in the park.
“It was broken up into five sections and all of them were tough,” Heather told us. “Day became night. Night became day. We hardly slept, ran out of food at times, and really learned what we were made of mentally and physically. Between cuts, infections and hallucinations, we never knew what would be next. But as a team we supported each other and helped one another in any way we could.”
Heather racing in Fiji
Between the lack of food (especially that bread and morning porridge), challenging weather and health struggles, this was a far cry from her perfect-weather, well-fed Kilimanjaro climb. But Heather says it was all those past adventures and treks that helped her prepare for Fiji.
“Past adventures have taught me to keep the end goal in mind, but just to focus on the immediate task at hand. Physically, long treks and sleepless nights were extremely beneficial as I prepared for the Eco Challenge.”
Eyes on the Finish Line
Heather and her team on the show
Thanks to all that preparation and experience and the right attitudes, Heather’s team was able to finish the race! Of the 66 teams competing, only 44 completed the 471-mile course from start to finish, including Team Regulators. Given the incredible challenges and difficulties they were up against (hypothermia and tropical storms – just to name a few!), and considering they were a rookie team facing off with professional athletes, finishing is a monumental feat and a significant accomplishment!
Heather agreed, saying, “I am so proud of our team for finishing. Our goal was to finish as friends, but we were able to finish as family. I will always be tied to my team members and would do anything for any of them!”
Heather and Team Regulators in Fiji
Next year’s Eco Challenge is set to take place in Patagonia. Heather and her team have applied and are hoping to be selected again. This time around, instead of a racer, Heather will be the assistant crew (TAC) for her team, joining them at the end of each leg with much needed supplies and food. If they’re selected, we’ll be cheering Heather and The Regulators on just the same, though!
When asked what the best parts of the Eco-Challenge was, Heather gave us a surprising answer: “I loved the physical aspect of the race!” Of course, she also loved getting to see Fiji and meeting the amazing people who live there.
For anyone else who has recently climbed Kili, but hasn’t done much else since? Heather’s advice is to set your sites on something new:
“Use your success to drive you on to the next challenge. Find a new goal – especially one that scares you! And crush it. Believe me, you will. Keep going, never give up, and find/fuel your drive!”
You can watch World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge: Fiji on Amazon Prime. After just one episode, we think you’ll be just as impressed with Heather as we are! Hongera sana, Heather!