Friday, February 20, 2015


Gorge: My 300-Pound Journey up Kilamnjaro by Kara Richardson Whitely

5 out of 5 stars


Kara knew she could reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. She had done it once before. That’s why, when she failed in a second attempt, it brought her so low. Struggling with a food addiction and looking for ways to cope with feelings of failure and shame, Kara ballooned to 360 pounds. Deep in her personal gorge, Kara realized the only way out was up. She resolved to climb the mountain again — and this time, she would reach the summit without waiting for her plus-sized status to disappear.

Gorge: My 300-Pound Journey Up Kilimanjaro is the raw story of Kara’s ascent from the depths of self-doubt to the top of the world. Her difficult but inspiring trek speaks to every woman who has struggled with her self-image or felt that food was controlling her life. Honest and unforgettable, Kara’s journey is one of intense passion, endurance, and self-acceptance. In Gorge, Kara shows that big women can do big things.

A raw story? Try blisteringly raw story. Have you ever sat with someone who had no problem recounting an embarrassing personal story that you would take to your grave had it happened to you? That's what it's like to read Kara Richardson Whitely's book. 

I read it because she didn't wait to get to the perfect size before going after what she wanted, which happened to be climbing the largest free-standing mountain in the world. All I want is to wear a shirt without sleeves.

The blurb says she failed her second attempt at hiking Kilimanjaro, but the story goes into greater, cringe-worthy detail.
After gaining more than half of my weight back after the first Kilimanjaro climb, I was there for the second time in hopes of dropping pounds, but I really should have done that before arriving in Marangu, the village at the base of the mountain. This time, instead of taking a hike as a celebration, the trek felt more like a condemnation. 
I looked back at my duffle bag, which was just as stuffed as my size twenty-eight jeans. I had packed the same things as last time, ignoring the fact I had gained seventy pounds while pregnant and in the months after life with my daughter. I hesitated in terror. 
Wait, did I even try on my pants? I remembered sticking both pairs in the bag, trying to ignore that size 3X might not fit me anymore. The last time I wore them, they were roomy, and I needed to use the canvas belt woven through the waistband to keep them up. 
A moment of panic set over me as I unzipped my duffle bag, its contents nearly spilling out of the overstuffed sack. My heart pounded. I may be about to set off on a seven-day journey on a mountain without proper pants. I was sure I’d lose fifteen pounds while hiking, but that didn’t matter before everything started. The two pant legs swished together as I held them up as if in prayer. Please let these fit. Please let these fit.
The pants didn't fit. She ended up paying someone $5 to split open her second pair of pants and sew them to the first. Then she went to her room and ate the gallon of chocolates she bought for the kids she would see along the road to Kilimanjaro. On the first day up the mountain, she kept burping up chocolate. On the 2nd day she vomited, which tasted like chocolate. On the third day her legs couldn't take her another step farther, and she was forced to turn around 3 miles from the top. She was there to raise money for orphans of AIDS, by the way.
Back home, I told my friends and family that I had picked up some kind of stomach bug, but I knew the real reason I had failed was that I was unprepared. I had gone from being at the top of Kilimanjaro to the low point between two mountains--the gorge.
She came prepared for her 3rd attempt, even though she was the butt of jokes and stared at wherever she went.
There was something about taking on a cause such as this and announcing it to the world. It was a way of crying out. Please, I’m good. Please see me as something other than the three hundred-pound blob that I am. Please know I’m worthy. I am kind. I am motivated. I’m not the lazy stereotype you picture when you see someone encased in a mountain of fat. The charity climb was, in part, a way to give myself a gold star—a way of feeling better.
The woman bleeds onto the page.
I heard Kenedy, our head guide talking about me, “Mama Kubwa” or “Big Woman,” and I knew he was laughing at me. I knew, as I listened to his grunts and groans, that he was mimicking my sounds on the trail. At first, I was mortified. I wanted to hide in my sleeping bag and not get up. Then, I was mad. I wanted to unzip my sleeping bag and go tell him off. But what would I say? Maybe I was a laughing stock. Let them have their fun, I thought. I am an oddity. I can do this, I whispered to myself again and again until I fell asleep. The next morning, I kept hearing that laughter in my head, those unseemly grunts and groans. Was I that ugly? Did they feel disgusted by the mere sight and sound of me? I felt humiliated and angry all over again, but we needed them to get us up and down this mountain safely.
I struggle to finish nonfiction, but this is one memoir I was able to read without putting down for months at a time. I don't know how someone who is an avid nonfiction reader would rate this book, but I gave it 5 stars for two reasons. One, I actually finished the book. Two, I loved that the ending didn't talk about a miraculous 100-pound weight loss. She still struggles with her weight. She still has problems with food. She just doesn't let that stop her from living her life--most of the time. She is honest throughout the book, even with the ending.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your kind words about Gorge. They mean the world to me. - Kara Richardson Whitely


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