Dave and Brenda Tenison, of McMurray, liken their 18-year marriage to climbing a summit — it takes work, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And they would know.
The Tenisons returned last month from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa. It was six days up and two days back, 43 miles and an elevation of 19,341 feet. Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, and it was the first Brenda had ever climbed.
“I’d do it again,” she said. “I had never done anything like that before, so now I know I can do whatever.”
Dave, general manager of the Perryman Company, had been mountaineering, rock climbing and ice climbing for decades.
“I was worried she was going to hate me,” he said. “But she impressed the heck out of me.”
She’s been impressing the heck out of him since the first day they met in August of 2000 at a NASCAR race in Michigan. She lived in Michigan, while he lived in Pittsburgh.
For their first date that September, they agreed to meet in Chicago, as Dave was in town for a machine tool show. The one condition was he had to pay for her to have a hotel room, which was very expensive and difficult to find considering the convention in town.
“Dave was a gentleman, and it was the most expensive first date he’s ever had,” she said.
“But actually,” he responded, “it was priceless.”
They were married eight months later.
Dave proposed to her on Christmas Eve that year, and exactly 19 years later to the day, they started climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Living on the mountain for eight days was more difficult than the actual climbing, Brenda said, with getting little sleep in tents on rocky ground to not being able to bathe. They started their hike in rain forest conditions and ended in arctic weather and high altitude air quality. They had a guide and porters to carry the majority of their food and supplies.
Parts of the climb were also very steep, slippery and looked more like rock climbing than hiking. These portions were terrifying to Brenda, she said, but she was determined to not be the reason they had to abort the climb, “especially since this was his dream,” she said.
“I was in my 20s when I said I would climb Kilimanjaro someday,” Dave said. “Two years ago, at 58, I decided that I wanted to use this as a goal to get in shape and be young at 60. Overall, it exceeded my expectations, but it was tougher than I thought.”
The couple trained together for a year, hiking areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. They even used weighted vests while hiking the hills in their own neighborhood to condition for the trip.
That training paid off on the sixth day of their climb, or “summit day.”
The couple rested in the afternoon and woke up at 11 p.m. to start a six-hour overnight hike to the summit, Uhuru Peak — the tallest peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was very dark, 15 degrees with 20 mph winds.
“That’s when all the frozen rock and ice and snow stay frozen,” Brenda said. “Once the sun hits, it could melt and start falling on you. All the way up, you’re trying not to get hurt, you’re trying not to rip anything, you’re trying not to get any digestive sicknesses and be very careful. Once we hit the summit, it was complete relief.”
The Tenisons completed their hike on New Year’s Eve, and soon after used it to raise money for Washington City Mission, where they’ve been volunteering for years. They set up a GoFundMe page and campaigned for people to donate to the City Mission a penny per meter of their hike. So far, the campaign raised more than $1,400.
“We wanted to make it more than just a climb,” Dave said.
“There are similarities between climbing a mountain and recovering from addiction. Climbing a mountain is like step by step, and recovery can be taking it minute by minute.”
The Mission’s chief development officer, Sally Mounts, called the Tenisons “phenomenal supporters,” since Dave serves on the Mission’s board of directors and Brenda has led several galas and events.
“They are also very generous donors, and this climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro was a special way to blend their passion for City Mission with their love for travel and adventure,” Mounts said in an emailed statement. “We knew they would reach the top. They accomplish everything they set out to do, and then some.”
The Tenisons are already planning their next adventure.
They’ve been traveling together for 18 years with a goal to see all seven continents and all 50 states. They each have five continents under their belts and Brenda needs to visit 14 more states to reach their goal. The only state Dave has yet to see is Hawaii.
“It’s not all flowers and rainbows,” Brenda said. “There’s a lot that goes into having a great marriage — it is a climb. We think marriage is the best thing on this earth.”