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Bellingham Author Finds Inspiration in Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mar 30, 2021 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

Bellingham author Jeff Belanger

By Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer

Jeff Belanger’s new book, The Call of Kilimanjaro: Finding Hope Above the Clouds, is a little different from his other endeavors—it’s a memoir based on his experiences climbing the mountain. You might know Jeff from his books about the paranormal, legends, history, and folklore. A Bellingham resident, Belanger is the author of 16 books (all but 2 about the paranormal), host, writer and producer of the Emmy-nominated podcast “New England Legends,” and writer/researcher for the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. His newest book, The Call of Kilimanjaro, was published in March through Charlesbridge Publishing. Jeff has presented many times at the Bellingham library and developed a devoted following in this area.

“An honest and engaging account of one amateur hiker’s journey to spiritual transformation as he climbs to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro,” reads the book description. After his brother-in-law Chris passed away, Belanger made the decision to take the trip of a lifetime, both in honor of Chris and in pursuit of clarity about his own life and goals. The Call of Kilimanjaro is a day-by-day record of Belanger’s ascent to the peak of Africa’s highest mountain.

By turns contemplative and irreverent, joyful and thoughtful, boyish and wise, this is a book for all ages—from 10 to 100—and a memoir for armchair travelers with an interest in spirituality. By example, Belanger teaches us to take stock of our accomplishments, eye the lofty goals we’ve placed in front of ourselves, and push higher than we’ve ever dared, turning an honest eye toward past, present, and future, through the end of life and beyond.

While the memoir about Jeff’s eight-day hike might seem very different from his previous books, Jeff sees a natural transition. “When you cover [paranormal] subjects, you delve into all kinds of things like travel and spiritual topics. You can’t thoroughly explore ghosts and legends without letting it seep inside of you and questioning your own sense of spirituality and place in the universe,” he explained.

While he believes his core audience will understand the spiritual experience that came with his journey, he’s hoping to find a new target audience as well, in people who relate to being in their mid-life and still making and reaching goals.

“The hope is that people find some inspiration in it,” Jeff said. “Even if you don’t want to climb Kilimanjaro, we all have some mountain we want to climb, metaphorically speaking.” While any goal can be considered a mountain, Jeff thought it was fun that his mountain was a literal mountain, with all the physical challenges that entailed.

It’s hard for Jeff to pinpoint when his journey began, because the mountain had been calling his whole life. “I took Swahili in college,” he laughs, and he’s been a lifelong hiker. Losing his brother-in-law to cancer had a profound effect on his life. Chris was only forty-four when diagnosed, and Jeff became close to him in the two years that Chris fought the disease.
“He and I got a lot closer as he was going through this process,” Jeff explained, “and we talked a lot about death and dying.” Seven months after his death, when the opportunity presented itself to climb Kilimanjaro for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), Jeff jumped on it.

“Yes, I’m in,” he said, without hesitation. He further explained: “Sometimes the universe lays something out for you on a platter. When you look at all the signs, you can’t possibly say no.” From there, he became singularly focused on fundraising, getting into shape, and hiking. He was connected through the LLS with the team they put together. His coach, Sherpa Tom Calderiso (who is also from Bellingham), helped the group train and prepare. While Sherpa Tom didn’t get to go with them, Jeff is full of praise for his guidance.

After committing, Jeff dived right into fundraising, reaching just over $17,000 of his $19,341 goal (one dollar for every foot of altitude to Kilimanjaro’s peak), and he’s hoping to make up the difference with book sales. Over three hundred donors sponsored him, and he printed their names and carried them in his backpack along the way as inspiration. The journey resonated with people, he said, and he had fun with the fundraising.

“That was really inspiring. I would look at that list every night in my tent.” A tent, by the way, that he hadn’t exactly looked forward to. Though he’s a natural hiker, Jeff is not a camper. Eight days without showers or beds or Wi-Fi was difficult, but it was all part of the experience.
“It was just you and the mountain, and there was no other way,” he said. He also remembers how cold it was on the mountain, and he credits Sherpa Tom with helping him learn how to layer and take the right equipment.

As a goal-oriented person, Jeff forced himself to slow down and enjoy the experience. He had brought a new camera and took over 1,600 photos, many showcased in his book. After a couple of days, he finally began to settle in to being disconnected from the world, and instead reconnected with that wide-eyed kid inside himself that looks at the world in wonder. One of the best takeaways was just to be unplugged for over a week and experience something profound.

Jeff’s advice for those with their own mountains is that you can’t climb a mountain; it’s too high. “But you can take a step,” he said, “and then another step. And those steps will start to add up.” Mountains, like goals, can be intimidating, he said, using the example of writing a book. While a whole book might be too much, you can write a sentence, and a sentence can become a paragraph, which becomes a page, which, with other pages, adds up to chapters, “and suddenly you realize you can do this.”

He advises that the summit is not necessarily the ultimate goal, which was one of his biggest takeaways of the experience. Once you’re at the top, which, in his case was only a 15-minute stop, you’re only halfway there. “If you can’t come down and get back home again, it’s a waste. You have to be able to get back home.”

“The summit is really never the goal. It [the climb] really, truly is more about the journey.” The life-changing experience didn’t happen when he reached the top, but somewhere along the way, and such can be said about many goals. “Somewhere in that forty-two miles of walking, this transformation happened.”

While he has no plans to climb the mountain again, you just never know what the future will bring.

Jeff will present the book for the Bellingham Library via Zoom on Monday, May 3rd, at 7pm. Registration will begin April 1st at BellinghamLibrary.org. For an autographed copy of the book, send an email to [email protected], which will email back the first chapter of the book (a PDF file), with a link to buy the autographed book for 10% off and free shipping. Autographed copies can also be found at “An Unlikely Story” bookstore and café in Plainville.
Links to purchasing The Call of Kilimanjaro: Finding Hope Above the Clouds can also be found on Belanger’s website, JeffBelanger.com.

 

 

 

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