Wanderings through life, landscapes, and occasional loopiness. So pull up a log and have a bit of a sit-down ’round the virtual campfire.

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I think a lot about journeys. All kinds. Metaphorical. Physical. Spiritual. I think about the paths we take when we make the decision to explore the borders that define us, whether internal or external. I like the idea of testing our limits, of pushing against them and through them, and seeking some kind of truth beyond a boundary’s edge. And I like that sometimes, the body and the mind coalesce into a single topography and for a moment—maybe only a flicker in time—you know exactly who you are and where you stand.

I was thinking these things when I read an account about three Italian POWs who, in 1943, embarked on a journey that tested them to the very depths of their physical beings and the darkest corners of their souls. Life in Camp 354, located at the end of a rail line in the Kenyan Highlands, reflected the torpor of the blazing African sun. Life as British captors wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t life. Felice Benuzzi later wrote that “people in prison camps do not live. They only vegetate.”

Trapped within the confines of a World War II camp, thousands of miles from home, Benuzzi merely existed—not lived—for nearly two years until one day, toward the end of the rainy season in 1942, the perpetual clouds that blanketed the surrounding mountains parted and for the first time, he saw the glacier-laden summit of Mount Kenya—17,058 feet—in its entirety. And the mountain sent its message. On my granite crags and treacherous face, it seemed to tell him, you’ll find purpose.

Benuzzi, who had climbed the Julian Alps as a boy, flared to life and enlisted two climbing companions. Eight months later, the three walked out of the sweltering camp past the drowsy guards, as if on their way to work in the nearby fields. They retrieved their makeshift mountaineering gear from the pit in which they’d kept it buried all those months while preparing for their trek. And they set out, the three of them, to climb Mount Kenya.

The most amazing thing about this journey was not that they made the decision to do it. We’ve all had those “I did it because it was there” moments. It was that they made the decision knowing full well that they’d return to the prison camp and face punishment for escaping. And return they did, sneaking back in the same way they’d left, managing to acquire a hot meal and a bed before getting tossed into jail. A prison within a prison, though the British commandant appreciated “the sporting effort” of the Italians. And Brits do laud that kind of thing. I can imagine the commandant shaking his head as he clapped Benuzzi on the shoulder in that universal gesture of commiseration. “Well done, chap. But we’ve got to play by the rules.”

And I thought about why they’d returned, after tasting the sweet, cold air of freedom on the face of a forbidding peak, understanding pragmatically that they were out of food and couldn’t have made it another thousand miles to neutral Portuguese East Africa. And I thought about the fact that they didn’t actually make the summit of Mount Kenya proper. Two struggled nearly to the top, gasping in the thin air, battling a brewing storm. Forced to retreat, they collected their companion and instead staked their homemade Italian flag on the mountain’s third highest peak, Point Lenana. As Benuzzi sat in his prison cell following his two-week excursion, he imagined some nights that the whole thing had been a dream, and that Mount Kenya spoke to him, telling him that no, they did not conquer the mountain. Instead, they reconquered themselves.

Therein, I think, lies the essence of a journey. We don’t really set out to “conquer” something, though we use that term when referring to feats that involve geographical interaction. What we’re doing is seeking ourselves, looking for the key to who we are, where we begin and end, and nowhere does that become more apparent than at the absolute limits of physical and mental endurance, at what we think is a breaking point but proves otherwise when through the clouds, we see another peak, another forest, another river. And for a moment—a barest shift in a sun-cast shadow or a ragged breath drawn on an angry winter peak—we are whole.

To read “Escape to Mount Kenya” by Matthew Power, go HERE. Thanks for hangin’ on the edge here with me.

Check yer luggage and

keep it real, yo.

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