Five days a week for the past eight months, 58-year-old Keith "Jake" Jacobus has put on a brimmed hat, sunglasses and a long-sleeved shirt, strapped on a 20-pound backpack (well, he started with 10 and worked up) and ignored the stares of strangers as he trudged in soft sand away from the waterline from St. Pete Beach to Pass-a-Grille and back again.
The sand is so deep, he had to empty it out of his sneakers two or three times during each hike. When he stopped to do that, he reapplied sunscreen and took a gulp of the electrolyte water he carried with him.
He didn't rest on the sixth and seventh days, either. The wealth management adviser and vice president with Merrill Lynch used them to squeeze in workouts with a trainer at the gym and 90-minute trudges up and down the stairs of his St. Pete Beach home (wearing the same backpack loaded with 20 pounds of diver weights).
All of this in preparation for a seven-day hike on the other side of the world, a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, the snow-capped dormant volcano that rises from the East African Plains in Tanzania.
"The training is brutal," Jacobus said. "I'm not scared, but it takes an enormous amount of discipline. It's a trip to experience things I've never done before. Every cell in your body gets tired.
"The summit day is the hardest. We leave at 1 or 2 a.m. and walk in the dark with headlamps so we can be at the crater at sunrise."
Jacobus, who wants to climb all the major mountains of the world, has made other fabled, although less grueling, ascents, including a 2011 hike up the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.
He said he was inspired to climb Kilimanjaro by an article in the Admiral Farragut Academy magazine about three former students who climbed the mountain in tribute to a female friend and fellow student who died in a helicopter crash during a Navy training mission. They had all planned to climb together one day but they ended up going without their friend. They stopped along the climb to read letters written to her by friends and then, when they reached the top, burned them and spread the ashes.
"I'm doing it because I'm a little crazy. I want to show the kids at school that I can do it," he said. Jacobus, a 35-year resident of the St. Petersburg area, is active at the school that his younger son, Scott, attended and sits on its board of trustees. Scott, 23, who is completing his master's in accounting, will make the climb with his dad. It's more than a father-son bonding experience.
"Jake would like to show him the discipline it takes to be successful in the business world is similar to the discipline in preparing for and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro," said Jacobus' wife, Ingrid. "There are parallels between building a business, running portfolios and climbing mountains."
Father and son sometimes train together for the upcoming 39-mile climb — "It's not a technical climb, just walking," Jacobus said — and figure out ways to ward off the most common ailments of high-altitude climbers: edema, altitude sickness and blisters.
Twelve hikers, a guide and two porters per climber will start their ascent in a jungle and end up on a glacier and then come back down again. The climbers carry most of the items needed ("What to pack," Page 8) but the porters pack and carry the heavy stuff: the climbers' warmest clothing, sleeping bags, mats, food, cooking fuel, emergency oxygen tanks, first-aid kits, satellite phone, tents, a mess tent, a toilet tent, trash and all of their own gear (which, Jacobus said, is not much).
"All of our porters will be part of the Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project, which serves to improve pay and working conditions for the porters. I think that is important and one of the reasons why I chose Alpine Ascents to lead the trek," he said.
The climbers will get their water from streams, filter it and then add purification pills. They will also keep up their stamina with energy bars.
So, how much does this all cost? The airfare, clothing, supplies, guide service and the climb itself?
Jacobus gave a puzzled look when asked. He acted as if he didn't want to reveal the amount, but the head-shaking and eye-rolling that accompanied his response said there's a good possibility that he — purposefully — hasn't figured out the exact total cost himself yet.
Well, ballpark, it comes out to . . . a lot. The climb itself is $6,000. Round-trip airfare from Tampa to Tanzania is about $3,000. It's recommended that climbers bring about $500 in cash — U.S. dollars, please — to tip the porters and guides from the local Chagga tribe. And that $9,500 doesn't include the supplies and other incidental expenses that anyone who has ever gone on vacation knows aren't so incidental.
"Let's just say I could buy a small house for what it cost," he said.