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Love on a Mountain: One Author's Story

Hey, outdoor romantics: Has Val-Day got you dreaming up ways to impress your heartthrob? Try inviting them out for a walk. Up Mount Kilimanjaro, for instance.

Lisa and Daniel on their wedding dayIt worked for Daniel Dorr.

Dorr, author of the well-reviewed book Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa, is a self-professed regular guy who loves outdoor adventure. He one day realized he also really liked a girl he originally met in Japan in the early 1990s while both were college exchange students. Nonromantic buddies at first, they went their individual ways for 10 years after leaving Japan but reconnected when they discovered they were both living in California.

Daniel and Lisa had their first official date in Laguna Beach. Over coffee Daniel popped the question: Wanna climb Kilimanjaro?

Lisa said yes. That triggered a sequence of events that turned into the subject of Dorr's entertaining love story—love for adventure, travel, new cultures, people from far-flung corners of the world and that one special woman who ultimately became his wife.

Kissing Kilimanjaro, from The Mountaineers BooksDorr will make presentations at REI's 2 Pittsburgh stores this week—Feb. 17 at REI Settlers Ridge and Feb. 18 at REI Pittsburgh, both at 7 p.m., both free and open to the public. Dorr will also appear at 4 Bay Area stores in March: Saratoga (March 21), Berkeley (March 22), Corte Madera (March 23) and Mountain View (March 24).

Dorr's photos and storytelling will explain how people like him, a typical REI customer, can will themselves into accepting a major outdoor challenge such as climbing 19,340-foot Kilimanjaro, the "everyman's Everest."

Dorr, now a Cincinnati resident, marketing executive and 40-year-old father of girls ages 5 and 3, shared some thoughts about the romance of adventure and his own personal romance with Lisa with The REI Blog:

Q: Flowers and fancy dinners are traditional techniques men use to impress women.  Why did climbing, and climbing Kilimanjaro, become your preferred method for making an impression?

A: Honestly, it wasn’t really a well-thought out plan. Kilimanjaro is one of those places I, like many people, had always dreamed about seeing but never quite got around to. On our first date we were sharing our hopes and dreams for the future and Lisa mentioned Kilimanjaro. Looking into those deep brown eyes I was ready to impress her any way she suggested. If she had mentioned dog-sledding in Antarctica I probably would have said yes to that, too.

Q: Before heading up Kilimanjaro, had the two of you climbed together previously? 

A: No. I was a weekend warrior, backpacking in the Sierra Nevada and rock climbing around Northern California for a few days at a time. But Lisa was a complete novice. She had grown up in Hawaii and had little experience camping, backpacking, hiking or mountain climbing. So we took a mountaineering class on Mt. Shasta together to learn some of the skills and get some experience together.

Daniel DorrQ: What led you to believe that a pretty serious climb would further or deepen your relationship with Lisa?
A: Being smitten, I guess I probably wasn’t thinking a lot at this time in our relationship. I just wanted to share my passions with her, and learn more about hers. When I visited her in Laguna Beach she shared with me her love of the beach, the ocean, the tidepools and sunsets. When she visited me where I lived, in San Jose, I shared with her my love for Yosemite, rock climbing and the beauty of the outdoors. Kilimanjaro was a chance for us to explore our joint passion for travel, new cultures and new places.

Q: You both failed to reach the summit during your climb together. Lisa turned back at 16,000 feet, and you hit the wall at 18,000 feet (see pages 126-137 of the book for details). Did the fact that you did not reach the summit diminish her interest in you?

A: One big lesson Lisa got from this adventure was that for her, the journey was more important than the destination. In the end, the summit wasn’t that important for her. She just wanted to enjoy the adventure. My failure didn’t impact our relationship in any real way except that Lisa began to see over time that I had a bit of a competitive nature with myself and a need to push myself. We both learned a lot about each other on the mountain.

Q: But you later tried again on your own and summited?
A: I went back almost 3 years later, in January 2005, with some friends and other climbers.  Lisa didn’t join us on the mountain. But she did meet us when we got down, and we all went on a 6-day safari together.

Q: Lisa wasn't interested in climbing again?

A: When I make presentations like the ones I'm making at REI, the more competitive people in the audience struggle with the idea that she turned back or wonder why she would not want to go back again. For her the journey is just way more important than the destination.

Q: How does engaging in a challenging outdoor adventure as a couple influence a romantic relationship? What are the pros and cons?
A: I’m no relationship expert and can only really talk about what it did for Lisa and me. One of the fastest ways I’ve learned to get to know someone is to travel with them. You have to make decisions together, suffer through confusion, ambiguity and frustration together. In one moment you might have to overcome a challenge like navigating public transportation in a foreign language. In the next moment you’ll be relaxing together looking at beautiful scenery or meeting new people.

Shared adventures and intense experiences have always brought me closer together with my good friends. But it’s also exposed cracks and faults in other relationships. For me personally, the outdoors is core to who I am; it’s the beauty I see in the world and how I recharge and reconnect with myself. Lisa shares that core passion. If she didn’t, I don’t think things would have worked out as well as they have.

Daniel atop KilimanjaroQ: Do you think you would have convinced Lisa to marry you without a Kilimanjaro attempt?

A: I hope so. We got engaged 2 months before we left for Kilimanjaro. I proposed to her in Cathedral Grove of Muir Woods in the shadow of the giant redwoods. Kilimanjaro didn’t make the relationship. But traveling together, being together nonstop for almost 3 weeks, definitely brought us closer together and helped us form a strong foundation for our future relationship. We still look back on that time together fondly.

Q: What's your advice for outdoor-loving people who have hopes of winning over a romantic interest? What role does, or could, the outdoors play?

A: It's been my experience that people who love the outdoors have a real passion for life, as do people who like to travel and explore the world. They bring that passion into their relationships in a very positive way.

I wouldn’t presume to offer anyone else advice on romance. Maybe it was fate for me, maybe just luck.  Who knows? My experience is that the relationships that have had the strongest connections for me are those that are closely connected to the things that are core to me. Nature and being in the outdoors, traveling and seeing the world is who I am and what I do. Doing that with others has made my relationships with them stronger because we not only share a common, significant experience but because we have a shared respect for each other before we ever hit the trail.

Posted on at 6:28 PM

Tagged: Daniel Dorr, Kilimanjaro, Kissing Kilimanjaro, The Mountaineers Books, Travel, adventure and romance

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I stumbled upon this book while looking at the suggested reading on Whittaker Mountaineering's and RMI website. I then watched the online YouTube video and ordered the book to be shipped to my local B&N's bookstore - the store did not carry it at first but now I see that there are two additional copies. I bought the book and read it within a day or so. It was great and inspiring for sure. For someone like me who has a tremendous appreciation for the outdoors and who originates from Africa originally, this book kept me wanting me to keep on reading. A must read for any outdoor enthusiast.

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