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For Pikesville-raised Becky Perlow, path around world winds upward to Mount Kilimanjaro

For Becky Perlow, the next destination looms 19,341 feet above sea level. The goal? Reaching the top of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, located 3 degrees south of the equator and deemed by many the highest free-standing and "walkable" mountain in the world.

That's easier said than done, but Perlow's father, Howard, said he thinks his daughter will make it.

"When she sets a goal, she usually finds a way to complete that goal," he said.

Since 1991, Kilimanjaro-goers have been legally required to climb with a guide, so Perlow, 26, is hitting the hillside with the travel organization Adventures Within Reach and three other climbers, excluding the guides.

She will be accompanied by a CNN co-worker of nearly three years, Laura Koran, also 26.

They begin trekking the Machame Route, also known as the "Whiskey" route, on Tuesday and plan to reach the top at Uhuru Peak five days later, the ideal time to take to the mountain.

Koran's father, Donald, is the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda, which borders Tanzania, and she said she had been meaning to get out there to visit her parents.

"So Laura approached me several months ago and said, 'I want to hike Kilimanjaro,'" Perlow explained. "And I said, 'Me, too!' So I said, 'Why not? Let's do it!'"

"I've always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro but never really had anyone who wanted to do this with me," Koran said, laughing.

But Perlow is always game for adventure.

"I've always been an adrenaline junkie," she said. "I say I'll try anything once. So I've scuba-dived with sharks. I've jumped out of a moving airplane. I've bungee-jumped off one of the tallest towers in the world that you can legally bungee-jump off of."

Part of the dream

Kilimanjaro is just part of a larger goal for Perlow, who was raised in Pikesville and now lives in Washington: She wants to visit every country in the world.

"I got the travel bug, I guess, when I was 14," Perlow said. "My parents had taken me to Kenya and South Africa on a family trip. … That might have been the first time I traveled internationally. … I loved it; I loved every second."

So far, she has been to 25 countries. By the end of her upcoming trip to the continent where she discovered her passion for travel, that number will have risen to 30.

 “From [Kilimanjaro], we are going to Kigali in Rwanda, where we’ll be visiting Laura’s parents. We’re going to be going to the rain forest there; her parents will be giving us a bit of the tour. And I’ll be going to visit the gorillas on my own. After Kigali, Laura goes back. … I’ll be in Zambia for three days, then Botswana for a day and a half, then Zimbabwe for two and a half days ... then home” on March 4.

But the goal to visit every country didn't just arise out of a young girl's family trip to Africa; it surfaced, as well, from her father.

"I do truly read 10 travel magazines a month," Howard Perlow said. "But I don't get to all those places in those travel magazines. … [Becky] knows it's always been a dream of mine."

That's why he's happy to do what he can to help his daughter attain her goal, although he readily acknowledges his jealousy. Becky Perlow said her mother — "my slightly overprotective Jewish mother" — is also very supportive.

"They let me travel the world when I was 18 by myself in hostels with a backpack and, you know, my passport," she said.

During that trip, Perlow was accompanied by longtime friend Leigh Walder, who grew up and went to school with her in Baltimore.

Walder called his travel partner a "perfect travel companion. … She took me to places I would have never thought to see, and vice versa."

They've been on two major trips together — one to Europe, where they visited Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Czech Republic and England; and the other to Asia, where they explored Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

"Where I would have overslept until 12 in the afternoon after a night of partying, Becky encouraged me to wake up at 5 a.m. to view the sunrise over Angkor Wat [in Cambodia] — a vision that I will never forget. On the other hand, where Becky would have gone to bed at 10 or 11 p.m., I made us go out in the Golden Triangle section of Kuala Lumpur to party with the locals, which we still laugh about today."

Perlow said she doesn't want to miss memories like those on her Kilimanjaro trip.

"I get so caught up in documenting things all the time, as a journalist, just as a person," she said. "You don't want to forget anything, but then you completely forget to just experience and live in the moment, so that's kind of what Laura's going to be helping me with."

With Koran as Perlow's travel companion, Walder thinks his friend will have an "excellent time climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. ... I only wish that I had the time to join her."

Because neither Perlow nor Koran has experience ascending a peak like Kilimanjaro, "We're both going to have our ups and downs, and we're both going to need each other to help push each other up," Perlow said.

Perlow said she hopes her and Koran's travel personalities work together as well as hers and Walder's have.

"We have very different personalities," Koran said. "She's very energetic and optimistic, and I'm more the realist with a little bit of a cynical edge."

But, Perlow noted: "We just mesh."

"Whereas we're both very confident, strong-willed women, she's a lot more realistic and I'm a lot more … with my head in the clouds, you know, anything can happen," Perlow said.

Perlow is not naive, though.

"Aside from dying," she joked, she's concerned about her physical abilities and capacity to remain positive when she's feeling exhausted.

But "I think my worst fear is that I don't finish it," Perlow said of the climb.

Baking bread, breaking barriers

In August 2010, Perlow was in Mongolia for two weeks, riding horses and experiencing the culture.

She was staying with strangers for a few days, and aside from their translator, no one spoke the others' language.

This is easy with kids, Perlow said — she brings simple toys, and they connect almost instantaneously.

"With adults, it's much harder," she said.

"While I was sitting down with the women, they were teaching me — nonverbally, of course — how to make their bread."

Being Jewish, Perlow said she comes from a background where baking traditional Jewish bread, challah, is a common activity.

She spoke of teaching the women in Mongolia to braid bread, as she had been taught with challah, and said she'd never forget their faces when they figured it out.

"I think some of my favorite memories of traveling are the ones where you just break barriers between people," Becky said. "I loved … that we were doing it without so much as speaking a word of each other's language. And that we could connect over something so simple as baking bread."

Of his daughter, Howard Perlow said: "I think there's just an interest to see the world. … It's never on a fancy scale; it's getting into the nitty-gritty of the country she's visiting, meeting the people."


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