Last week my wife Ellen and I headed out early one morning for a walk in the neighborhood. As we stepped onto a relatively level portion of Beauford Drive—reportedly the steepest street in Austin—three adults appearing to be in their early thirties were coming toward us dressed in full, serious hiking gear, including heavy boots, bulky backpacks, and a walking staff in each hand. It is not uncommon to see similarly dressed hikers puffing up from the bottom of Beauford Drive, or mountain bikers, or runners working on their endurance.

As we approached the hikers I said, “It looks like you’re getting ready for a serious climb.”

A tall, lean woman turned her head toward me as she kept up her brisk pace and with a huge smile that crackled with excitement, she said, “We’re going to Kilimanjaro!” And off they went to descend the steepest part of Beauford Drive.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (photo credit).

A truer test of their fitness for Kilimanjaro would be on their return hike back up to the top of Beauford Drive. Our walking schedule didn’t synch with theirs, so we didn’t get to greet them on their return to the top.

Now I’m imagining those three intrepid hikers heading up the side of Kilimanjaro this week. They may still be practicing here in Austin, but they may be in Tanzania on their long-dreamed-of trek. They may be listening to “Africa” on their iPods, the rousing song by the group Toto in the early 1980s, a song since revived in a completely new way by the Slovenian a cappella choir, Perpetuum Jazzile. Their YouTube video starts with the choir simulating an African rainstorm.

Click here for their spectacular version of the song.

Kilimanjaro is the tallest peak in Africa at 19,341 ft. (5,895 m). The slopes of the mountain allow walking to the summit, rather than a technical climb. Some estimate that more people have died hiking up Kilimanjaro than have died on Mt. Everest, which is attempted by far fewer people.

Those three people we met last week preparing for Kilimanjaro seemed to know the level of fitness they required for the big trek in Africa. I hope they get to experience the rain and its meaning from the beautifully evocative lyrics of “Africa” as performed by Toto and later by Perpetuum Jazzile.

We wish them well. We’re with them in spirit. We can almost feel their excitement, their exhilaration, their exultation at the summit. We can almost see them there now.

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