July 27, 2013
So the bucket list hike begins tomorrow and I feel as though I could write a book about all the emotions careening through me. I’ve worked myself into a bit of a tizzy of anxiety, because it’s going to test my physical limits AND be freezing each night. I don’t feel prepared—and yet I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be.
I’ve read countless bloggers who trekked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and most agree that it’s stop-on-the-trail-and-cry difficult at times—and all say they did, in fact, eventually finish and that it was worth it. Knowing that I will wish I could quit—hourly—leaves me anxious. Knowing temps will drop to freezing in our tent atop the Andes Mountains in the midst of winter mortifies me. Knowing it all seems ultimately doable despite my intense discomfort and lack of athleticism comforts me.
So that’s me today: scared and excited.
If I never step out of my cushy comfort zone and go toward my dreams despite fear, I’ll miss out on some of Life’s BEST.
Ready or not, here I come…
August 12, 2013
It has been over a week since we returned from hiking in Peru and I have not been able to write a word.
Not. one. word.
Somehow it feels writing about it will diminish the size of those gargantuan mountains and the breathtaking beauty of what we saw and experienced there.
Yes, I felt faint when I looked at them and it wasn’t just the high altitude. No picture or words will capture their splendor—or the struggle and sheer thrill of nature and Life victoriously merging. Each and every time I glanced up, even in the toughest moments on the trail, I felt joy that surpassed awe. Seriously.
IT. WAS. SPECTACULAR!!
And, yes, the challenge for someone who’s not an athlete was tough. The entire trek wasn’t a struggle, as I feared, but Day 2 definitely had its moments!
Hmm. Truth be told, each day had its moments.
At times, that was more than I could muster. As our team of 15 continued what seemed to become a vertical climb to the highest pass nearly 14,000 feet up and the air heaved through my lungs with the effort of thrusting one more boot forward, I chose to stop.
More than once.
And so I would eye the nearest protruding rock—anything wide enough to support my arse and backpack—and slough myself down onto it.
And attempt to breathe.
Each time, it worked. Just yay. My gasps would soon settle into a steady calm and, as I eyed most of the rest of our group stopped above to catch their own breath and, at times, wait for me, I would grasp my walking poles and launch, again.
Carlos, our head guide, gave the group a pep talk that was inspirational—and felt transparently aimed at me.
“If you feel you must stop, keep it short,” he suggested. “On some treks, we don’t permit our teams to sit. We’ve found that, when people begin to rest, their breaks get longer each time. First you sit, and then you get lazy the next time and want to lie down. To get where you’re going, you must keep going.”
While it seemed good advice, I knew I wasn’t capable of going any faster. Every break felt like a lifeline.
And yet, as we continued, I began to force myself to honor his advice. I did still sit, because it seemed I caught my breath faster that way, but I didn’t linger. Exhaling instead of inhaling each step upward seemed to help, too.
Sometimes—more times than I should probably confess—I talked myself into plodding farther by envisioning myself as a mule.
Yes, you heard right.
Mules don’t get all keyed up about the road ahead—they just keep going, steadily placing each step on the flattest ground and trudging forward. Maybe they think of the food at the end or the whip behind, but when all is said and done, they just go until they don’t. Oh, and sometimes they act like an a**.
That was me: At times stubborn (ha), but putting distance behind what was and moving toward what I wanted to believe could be.
The only way to make it happen was to make it happen.
My dreams don’t always come true, but this one did.
One step at a time.
When I didn’t think I could keep going, I would plant my pole, breathe, and take another step.
On the day of the steepest climb, the final 50 steps were the most grueling. I could already see my son and the others perched along the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, eying my unsteady ascent.
I so wanted my son to be proud and not embarrassed that his momma was last. I could feel the prize nearing and, still one grueling step at a time, I planted my poles. And breathed. And climbed. And planted my poles and breathed and climbed. AND PLANTED MY POLES AND BREATHED AND…
I HIT THAT TOP STEP!
Tears still spill down my cheeks each time I relive that moment of HOLY CRAP I DID IT!! My son was there to hug me and the rest of our team was cheering each other and high fiving and celebrating the incredible views at the peak.
Each Life has a few high points that stand out as beyond special—this was one of mine that will be tough to top.
So was waking up two mornings later in a tent with an incredible panoramic view (that felt earned after conquering two more rugged passes) of snow-capped mountains—on my 50th birthday.
The beauty (and morning chill) was breathtaking and all I could do was sit atop the highest point, hug my knees and smile.
My grin grew even bigger when our entire team of Peruvian porters, who all grew up together in a little Andes village, gathered and sang happy birthday to me in Spanish with that crazy raw beauty as their backdrop.
There is so much about the entire experience that I hold dear inside me and wish I could share. Indeed, I’m grateful to those who have written through the years about the minutiae of their trek experiences, because it helped me prepare mentally and physically. But somehow I just want to sit with my memories a bit longer and process them. There was so much to savor and I wanna hold it all tightly in my mind so that not a moment fades.
It was real, right? I didn’t imagine it?
It’s true that I lagged behind our group the first two days of the trek. And then I moved to the middle pack on Day 3. By Day 4, I felt positively energetic, striding just behind the Kiwis and my son, who led the way the whole week. I arrived at our final goal as one of our lead hikers. (Can you say miracle?)
The combination of descending altitude and increasing fitness gave me just the burst of adrenaline that I needed to stagger up Oh my God! staircase. (Yes, our guides say it’s really called that. I wish I had the videos of Doc and Carlos trying to beat each other’s time racing up this last bit of insanity before we reached the Sun Gate. Hysterical – and impressive!)
Thank you Carlos and Ricardo with Andean Treks for being impossibly patient and gentle as you eased us into the rigors of the Inca trail. We know that we got the ultimate professor in Carlos, whose steady history knowledge and flawless English delivery wowed us all. Ricardo, you became a quick friend with your thoughtful ways and cheerful personality. Thanks for not using your whip too often at the back of the trail!
Meg, John, Stina, Jamie, Katie, Ron, Mike, Doc, Barry and Daniel, you were the perfect trail companions. Amazing that it’s possible to grow a family in a few short (well, long) days, but we did. It’s good to know my family tree now includes New Zealand, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Florida, London and Peru. Let the road trips begin!
Shout out, too, to the tireless porters and chefs, who carried the weight of our camp upon their backs, literally, day after day across miles and miles of rugged terrain, and then pitched our tents and cooked our meals (gourmet – and how is that even possible?!) before we finished each day’s trekking. It seemed inconceivable that they could do ANY of that.
Thanks especially to my husband, who gave me this birthday gift of a lifetime, and awesome son Corey. Despite our physical capabilities being dramatically different, Jim never left my side and I’m not sure I could have done it without his quiet and steady encouragement. He was sick for a couple of days, but even when he felt better and could have surged ahead, he stuck right beside me. That made the trek even more meaningful to me.
Having a few days away, in a world so different from our own, with my 18-year-old son was a dream come true. The trail was an opportunity for him to have fun outdoors and challenge himself (only a little bit—he is in awesome shape) along the way. As always, I was proud of his cheerful and social personality, relaxed ways and independent spirit. Corey heads off to Auburn University this weekend to launch his own adult life and I couldn’t be prouder of him or more grateful for each moment of our time (and life) together. He hasn’t had a perfect momma, but I’m pretty sure I have the ultimate son.
There are inside stories not yet told, of toilet tents (and flashlights – ahem, John), drugs (legal) and extra backpack/duffel support (thanks, Doc!), privileged seats in the meal tent (haha Kiwis), bug spray, sunscreen, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. (You were right, Carlos.) Yes, tales of perfect weather, coca leaves, wakeup tea, wet clothes, sick bay, baby llamas, wet wipe baths, a reality TV star amongst us, fascinating Incan history, remarkable ruins, the world’s largest hummingbirds, bananas foster flambé, Peruvian Independence Day, main vein laughter, guinea pig appetizer, Pachamama toasts, the reclining breast, Milky Way moments and sleeping bags built for one. How oh how to tell it all?
And then, of course, there was Machu Picchu. What—have I not mentioned IT, yet?
Oh good heavens.
I haven’t even gotten started. Maybe this WILL be a book someday, after all.
I just lived the foreword and it was a doozy.
[To see my entire Peru album, go HERE. Flickr puts the most recent images first, so you might wanna scan to the end and start there. Thanks for coming along on my journey with me!]