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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 9 December, 2019
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A Dublin man has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (with a bathtub on his back)

Robbie Dowling says the experience pushed him “to the abyss, and then some”. His next adventure sounds even more daunting…

shutterstock_128193347 Source: Shutterstock/PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek

RECOGNISE THIS? IT’S Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest peak in Africa. Which means it’s very high indeed, 5,895 metres in just its socks, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

To those souls more hardy than TheJournal.ie, the 48 km (30 mile) route to the top apparently isn’t actually all that bad. Until you get to the last day that is, when the final rapid rate of ascent sees altitude sickness preventing most people from enjoying their moment of triumph.

So that’s quite difficult then. Now imagine doing it with a 7-stone bathtub on your back. Because that’s exactly what Dublin adventurer Robbie Dowling has just done.

11703169_10153448659908948_3565327537181882485_n Sheila Source: Facebook

The tub, which Finglas native/Donabate resident Robbie affectionately calls Sheila, has been his companion on other madcap adventures also – in 2007 they sailed 500 km (375 miles) down the Amazon river together.

“It was a very proud moment for me and for Ireland,” 57-year-old Robbie tells TheJournal.ie regarding his Kilimanjaro adventure.

But would I do it again with Sheila? Hell no.
It took me to the abyss and then some. And life is for living, not enduring.

He says Kilimanjaro was a “worthy challenge”.

The desire to give up was a constant battle day by day. The heat inside the bath with no air circulation was almost a heart-stopping event.

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Higher up there was wind which helped, but then the altitude became a bitter enemy. Less oxygen carrying Sheila was a nightmare for me, so yes the thought of giving up was a reality, particularly alone in my tent at night.
Reaching the top and looking at the peaks was a joy to behold after five years planning though. I have to thank my advisers Sandra and Frank (of www.tembotamu.com) also – without their expert advice the whole thing may never have happened.

Robbie is currently enjoying a well-earned rest in Africa before embarking on his next venture – to circumvent the salt flats of Bolivia, on foot, and again with Sheila the bathtub in tow.

DSCF0628 Source: Facebook

That has to happen in October to avoid the rainy season.

“It would be a disaster pulling my bath and stuff in water,” says Robbie.

I need to raise €6,000 to get Sheila to the salt flats from Africa so I’m hoping to attract a sponsor, be that corporate or private. I’ve sold all I have to get through Kilimanjaro, my possessions now are Sheila the tub, my camera, and my backpack.

The trek across the flats will see Robbie sporting a tracker unit so people can follow his progress. Because he will be alone for two months, walking 12 km per day and towing Sheila behind him on a specially-designed cart.

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No man has ever circumnavigated them. I suppose it’ll be a miracle, pulling a 150 kg load including my Sheila.
But I feel I have the passion to do it.

So where does Robbie’s need to push his limits come from? And why a bathtub?

Sheila came from a mental flash – I was 22 and I was asked what I wanted to do before I die. I just had an image of standing in a bath on the Amazon river, so that’s where she came from.

Sheila was in fact stolen after Robbie’s Amazon cruise, only to show up again in Colombia three years later.

It was while searching for her that Robbie came across Jazmin, a young paralysed child resident in a centre that he had raised funds for.

jaz Robbie and Jazmin

My heart opened seeing her on the floor of a mud hut unable to walk. From then the journey changed for me – I just wanted to help her and other children.
She died Christmas Day 2012. I made her a promise that her life and suffering would have meaning and that I would build a medical centre in her name. This was and is my motivation, to keep that promise.

So where will it all end for Robbie? Will he ever be adventured-out so to speak?

“I don’t think so,” he says. “I have a gift to go beyond the point of reason, and the passion and self-belief to confront my inner and outer demons.”

And will Sheila ever retire? It must be tempting to take her off the road and finally use her as God intended, ie for a bath.

“I see myself and Sheila doing motivational workshops and raising funds for the centre,” he says with a smile.

I don’t think I could bring myself to have a bath in her, she’s too much of an icon.

Robbie’s charity Amazon Children aims to improve health and care facilities for disadvantaged children living in the region. If you wish to donate, or read more of his story, you can do so here.

Read: A bridge and a boat are set to get some famous Irish names

Read: A giant killer whale has been rescued after beaching itself

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