I can’t believe Vern and I will have been married 21 years this October. I still remember our first date and what I wore. We were married six months after our first date.

The first time I heard about Vern’s desire to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, we were in the office of our financial advisor. We were filling out a “Dream Book.” ¬†They asked the question:¬†“What are the top three things you’d like to do in your life?” I couldn’t come up with anything. I had already done so many things with Vern, taking me out of my comfort level. Vern didn’t even hesitate, he wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I didn’t even know where that was!

We were vacationing in the Keys the year Vern made the decision to go forward with his climb. Vern was paddle boarding when he caught a wave and his knees gave out a bit. He thought at that time, I better get serious and start making the plans for Mt Kilimanjaro. I still didn’t think it would happen until he sent the invite letter to all five of our kids. Two of them accepted. He shed tears of happiness and I shed tears of fear. As you can guess, I am the worrier of our family.

Climbing Kilimanjaro had always been in the back of his mind ever since he was a child. At the age of 61 he finally completed this challenge with our two daughters and their husbands. He had both knees replaced, the first 20 years ago, the other 21 years ago.

I watched our two grandkids, Julie and Justin’s children. I don’t know what I would have done without them. They were the distraction I needed. Every night I was able to talk to Vern. Sometimes it wasn’t as clear but we had contact.

The night he made the climb, I kept the phone under my pillow. It would be 2 a.m. our time when they reached the top and climbed down to their resting spot for a few hours. They all made it, all five of them. We were both in tears! I have never been so proud of all of of them. Kili changed them. The relationship they had with their guides and porters is one they will remember forever. They trusted them with their lives. Without them, they wouldn’t have made it.

So…our next family challenge is to climb Mt. St. Helens in July. There will be 13 of us going, five of them our grandkids. I’m not going to let fear stand in my way. I’m starting my training now!

By, Irene Jones