Traveling the World With Your Own Bathtub

Robert Dowling has hiked Kilimanjaro and through Peru's desert carrying his bathtub.
Robert Dowling has hiked Kilimanjaro and through Peru’s desert carrying his bathtub.

One man and his bathtub!

By Robert Dowling

The 45 kg bathtub is named after Sheila, an American woman the author met in South America.
The 45 kg bathtub is named after Sheila, an American woman the author met in South America.

Truth can be a strange bedfellow. I was once asked what I wanted to do before I die.  As a young, 23-year-old guy I closed my eyes in a flash and I saw myself in a bathtub on the mighty Amazon river.

Moving on 25 years I found myself in Iquitos, Peru looking for my bathtub. Then I found her and proceeded to solo sail in her down the River to Brazil.

However my journey was cut short and I returned to Ireland in one piece minus the bathtub.

Climbing Kili with the Bathtub

Over a period of nine years I returned and searched for her, finally last year my efforts were rewarded and we were united. From there she went to Tanzania to start her next challenge the world’s highest free standing mountain Mount Kilimanjaro.

My family and friends had hoped I would forget the whole love affair with this bathtub and get my act together, however my dreams would show me to push on no matter how crazy some would feel this all was.

Arriving in Tanzania with the bathtub to follow a week later, I recall my hour long drive to lodgings. The taxi man said to me “look out your window there is Kilimanjaro!”   I proceeded to poke my head out scanning the sky before me all I could see was a far off white cloud in the dark of night.

“That’s no cloud,” said my driver “that’s the snow peak of Kilimanjaro!”  My breath left my body ! Dear lord my inner fears came to the surface, is it possible can a human carry so much weight on his back to the top?

Sleep was far from my thoughts as the inner demons had a party. At 57 years old with twice the weight allowance that the professional young porters carry, my bath weight is 45 kilo, a massive load never before has anyone attempted such a feat I was assured by my new found friends there in Moshie.

I found all the advise was to forget my plans and enjoy the holiday. After so much work planning and focus not to mention the financial cost over so many years could it end here.

I had many a sleepless night waiting for the arrival of my bath which I named Sheila after a woman I met in the jungle,I fell in love with a beautiful New Yorker –I stuck her picture on the inside of the bath to help motivate me while on the mountain.

Dowling holds a photo of the woman he named the bathtub after, Sheila.
Dowling holds a photo of the woman he named the bathtub after, Sheila.

A Team of Porters and Guides

Day one was intense, with my own personal team of two guides, seven porters and we set off much to the amusement of local porters and fellow climbers.

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Here was a much older man with a bath on his back climbing the Rongai route on the eastern side of the mountain and also the longest route some 41 kilometer in length.

I was aware of the need to show only confidence as I climbed with the luck of the Irish and our ability to see humor in all things,I set a fine example of a man with passion and pure bullheadedness.

My foot just followed one another, my inner thoughts were ‘Dear Lord give me another step another yard then take a break.’ Trying not to look up to what is before me but to look back to what I had just achieved was my mental mantra, that also this no top no Sheila the woman why holds my heart.

I was  simply amazed to what my body was doing especially with the younger generation of climbers having problems with a back pack of five kilo. During the climb i was called the Lion by the porters, a true mark of respect. Camping at night alone with the whispers of the porters as company in the background,  my body would feel some healing a ripple of energy would shoot up and down in rapid succession.

I was in a serious place a step from inner collapse to give up and go home in one piece.I feared a seizure or a heart attack. My inner guidance was to continue and trust in the process.I feared the last final push to Gilmans point on shifting sands a 45 degree slope miles of pain before me.

A future goal of Dowlings is to travel 4000 miles up and down the Andes in Peru with the bathtub following this route.
A future goal of Dowlings is to travel 4000 miles up and down the Andes in Peru with the bathtub following this route.

Low Oxygen

Day four final base camp high altitude, low oxygen, my appetite was gone, energy level critical. We set off after the first group of climbers left at midnight. I recall walking the three steps to the gringo toilet my legs were like lead no sleep no food however some hope.

My two big mountain guides lifted my bath up onto my back strapped me up and we were off. In the distance the head lights of the fellow climbers were like an ant trail before me glowing in the dark. Moving with Sheila on my back by torch light was a experience I would not wish on anyone.

Three hours later with the rising sun warming my body rising above the clouds I started to lose my eyesight in my left eye a sharp pain in my head and my lungs screaming for air. I moved like a snail my life force was going fast I could feel it,

My main guide popped his head under my bath looked me in the one good eye and said to me this, you can not die on this mountain you have to much good work to do in the world.

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Thinking of my Son

Robert Dowling

I thought of my beloved son Mark who passed on four years ago and how easy it would be to join him a few more yards perhaps, then my thoughts went to my other son Colin and Sheila the woman. My project in the Amazon river for the children all my goals.

With hand gestures Sheila was removed from my back gasping for breath and the pain shooting over my weary body I looked to the beautiful sun rise a red glow above the clouds with Mawenzi mountain below me.

I made a decision to allow another day we would come down and leave my bath behind a boulder to return later that night. This we did a tough decision to return but I had no choice, following morning with some help last couple hundred yards we reached first peak Gilman’s point on top of Africa.

The team took her back down as I had achieved my goal. There are two more peaks on the mountain, however it’s better that I am alive to move forward with the next challenge so we called it a day ( in the bag)

The long walk down was a joy in comparison my thought on my next challenge the Bolivian desert salt flats some 4000 square miles on foot with my Sheila behind on a two wheeled cart. Having left the bath in Tanzania and returned back home to Ireland for some rest and training. However life has its curve balls hitting me face on.

Sheila my bath has gone missing yet again, stolen in Africa with all my equipment I remain in a place of readiness for a sponsor and a miracle.

I believe in both and the universe with its wonder and beauty. The journey continues.

With passion and self belief we are bigger that we give yourself credit for. As for the woman I wait for union where ever she lays her head lies my heart.

Robert Dowling continues his quest for more adventures hiking with his bathtub.  Find out more about him at his website


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