Clinic Stories

That Guy

While visiting Tanzania and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro were memorable, a fellow hiker gave the trip an unexpected flavor. Barry made his presence known as soon as I registered. An email announced “Hey everyone. This is going to be the trip of a lifetime. I want to set up a WhatsApp group so we can discuss the trip and ask each other questions.” His email was adorned with his professional information, a dental office in Baltimore, extolling his contributions to healthier smiles.

I joined the group and his questions started immediately “Are people renting or bringing a sleeping bag?” It was Sunday morning, and responses and more questions followed, interrupting a busy workday. By Monday morning I deleted the WhatsApp account.

My flight was delayed, and after sleeping one night in JFK Airport, and the next two nights on planes, I arrived in Tanzania, was picked up at Mount Kilimanjaro Airport and driven directly to the mountain. My gear did not arrive so I had to make due with a combination of renting, scrounging from lost and found and doing without. Since I arrived a day late, the rest of group had already started. When registering at the ranger station - name, country, age and profession - I saw the dentist registered as “Doctor”.

Heading out with just a porter and far behind the crowd I arrived at the first camp just 40 minutes after my group. I met Barry, decked out in a custom T shirt "Team Barry" with a picture of Mount Kilimanjaro and the number 19,341 for the height of the mountain in feet. He had turned his hike into a fundraiser, raising over $17,000. At dinner he displayed laminated cards with Swahili words and phrases so he could speak with the locals. He asked what I did for a living then complained that vets get a lot more than he does for a teeth cleaning. I said nothing but someone else pointed out that in animals the cost includes anesthesia and is not a fair comparison.

Barry then settled in on asking questions to the group - "When you sleep in a sleeping bag, do you wear your clothes?" and others revealing an appalling lack of forethought. He didn’t lack for equipment. While I was involuntarily traveling with very little gear, Barry was a walking North Face catalog. So far it was obvious he spent his preparation on peripheral aspects – printed T shirts and Swahili flash cards – and not on hike planning. More evidence was on the way.

I shared a tent with the trip organizer and learned that Barry had been contacting him for 10 years about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and that the date of this trip had been moved to accommodate him. This hike was not a flash of middle age crazy.

By the second day Barry’s conversation focused on how he was unable to maintain his hygiene standards though he flossed and used a battery operated toothbrush. (One of the most important questions before starting a long distance hike is - How many days can you go without a shower?) When talk turned to how we trained for the hike Barry said that while he had run a few marathons 25 years earlier, a bad knee prevented vigorous preparation.

Day three brought altitude, rain, then snow and everyone was soaked. At dinner Barry dejectedly threw in the towel, announcing that he was cold, tired, wet and finished. When asked about the fundraiser for his hike he commented “I never said I would finish the climb, just that I was going.”

We reunited with Barry and three others who dropped out after we completed our hike. When we got to a lodge I spent hours catching up on email in the lobby. “Man, aren’t you going to shower? You really stink!” he asked. “I’ll get there. First things first.” At dinner the comments continued. “Didn’t you shower? You still stink.” I had showered but had no clothes besides what I was wearing, the same clothes I traveled and hiked in.

That night I rinsed my clothes in the sink and let them dry overnight. This did not blunt his remarks. He told me I needed to sit in the back of the safari vehicle because no one wanted to be near me. Meanwhile he sat in the front seat showing off his cutting edge technology to our impoverished driver - “See I can talk to my wife and she can see us. Look at the sun coming up Honey!” I think the driver would rather have me sitting next to him.

After a couple of days in the Tanzanian wilds we went our own ways. When I reflect on the trip, it will always be animated by Barry’s presence – That Guy.

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