Cheryl Lewis » Cheryl Lewis

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  • I’m a mom of two teenagers and the wife of an amazing man and, at heart, a loner who doesn’t like to be alone. Some days, I want to jump on the bed and laugh joyously and, other times, I can barely suppress the temptation to crawl under the bed and hide from the world. Bi-polar? Nope… just a girl! Truly, if I wasn’t me… me, the one whose path veered, no CAREENED wildly from what I envisioned as a kid instead into disarray and dysfunction and, at times, even self-disgust… if I WASN’T me… I’d wish I was! I am exactly who and where I am meant to be … right here with you!

One Step At A Time

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.

One step.

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.

Breeeathe.

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.

One step.

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.”

Snort.

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.

Photo credit: Mike Warrington

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.

Photo credit: Mike Warrington

 

 

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!:)]

Meg - I’ve cried at work before, but never for this reason! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Cheryl Lewis - Meg, miss you and our time together on the trail so much! <3

Carlos of Peru - These Magic experiences are possible only when the right people meet in the right place at the right time…don’t you think so?…the INCAS did.
Very inspiring words Cheryl, just don’t wait too long to write a book, i think you have the SOUL to do it.
Sincerely.
Your forever Peruvian friend.
Carlos.

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It’s Time.

So I began to wonder why we wait until we get cancer or our health begins to fail to plan the year of our dreams.

I mean, really.

No one would fault you, if your life’s calendar was suddenly running out, should you plot those final months to include your most treasured destinations. Cramming in each bucket-list item would make perfect, albeit desperate, sense.

Not enough money? We find it, don’t we, when the chips are down?

But, when no medical threat is looming (at least to the best of our knowledge), somehow it is regarded as irresponsible to spend our time exactly where we most want to be, doing what we dream of doing.

I’m bucking the system.

Next week, I’m having a milestone birthday and so, at the beginning of 2013, I proclaimed this the Year of 50. This, you see, would be the year of always saying yes.

Should someone ask…

I vowed in advance I would just say… “Yes.”

So, when my sister asked me to join her on the annual trip that honors her son lost far too young, I said yes. We had a marvelous time at the beach.

When the beach retreat that serves families who have kids with cancer asked if we could pitch in this summer, the answer was again yes. We met wonderful people and worked our butts off, laughing all the while.

When our church requested our presence as counselors at the high school beach retreat, we jumped in. Nine hundred students on one quarter-mile stretch of beach and up all hours for nearly a week? No problem.

Hang out with friends from Germany at our cabin? Absolutely.

Take my sister away for a week at a friend’s lakehouse? Yup.

Travel with my husband on business to New York City? Yes, please.

There has not been one time this summer that I’ve dreaded one wonderful thing ending, because something new and exciting lay just ahead, each and every time.

Say it with me:  Yes.

Oh, I could have buckled under the loaded questions my husband began fielding. “Doesn’t Cheryl ever stay home? She always seems to be somewhere else. Must be nice.”

Um, yeah. It is.

I’m finding that it’s always nice when you honor your intuition. It knows what you need most. This year, I needed to breathe. And laugh. And see and do, surrounded by those I love so dearly, while my health is at its peak. I’ve achieved most of my career goals, my kids are grown, nest is empty and heart is stoked.

“What about work?” you ask.

Well, as the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. For most of my life, I’ve carved out work that suits my personality and passions. As luck would have it, I’m a writer and there just may be a book in all this. In any case, I saved and planned ahead.

No matter what, this has been the year of my dreams and I wouldn’t trade anything for it. My time in the disaster-relief nonprofit world proved the world is full of courageous souls who have clarity and live joyfully despite little money.

Every year won’t look like this. But, when I die, you can be assured that I reached for my dreams—and LOVED fulfilling them. The credit is not all mine – it has taken a village at times but, most of all, each yes.

Next week, I will celebrate my fifth decade of living. Oh, the walls could talk. But on this birthday, there will be no rooms—only a tent on the steep side of a Peruvian mountaintop.

Yep, tomorrow, a new adventure begins—perhaps the most challenging (and exciting) of my lifetime.

It’s finally time.

::deep breaths::

Tonight, we carefully fill our backpacks with the barest (lightest) essentials (for me, that is two changes of clothes and my precious, albeit somewhat-heavy camera gear) and reassure ourselves one last time that our passports are valid and accounted for.

By tomorrow night, we’ll be in Cusco, Peru. On Sunday, we’ll step onto the Inca trail to trek for five, sometimes-grueling days along ancient steps to Machu Picchu. It has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

[Photo credit: Google Images]

All I know is those mountains are STEEP, the air is thin and I’m no athlete.

So yeah, I’m pretty nervous. Even what will surely be thrilling can also be scary as the unknown.

But my 18-year-old son and husband, both of whom are plenty fit, will be tugging me along and helping me to achieve my goal. I’ll also feel you there, rooting for me.

Oh the celebration we’ll have at the top at sunrise on my birthday!

[Photo credit: Google images]

My greatest wish for your next 50 years—or however many you actually have left—is that you will say yes to your dreams each and every day.

Your Life depends on it.

 

 

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Happy Year of 50!

 

And so begins the year of 50!

Oh sure, you can also call it 2013 and even the year of the snake, if you love reading the table mats at Chinese restaurants.

But this will be no ordinary 12 months. In July, God willing, I will celebrate—and I do mean CELEBRATE!!!!­—my 50th birthday and I am psyched!

I’m not certain why God has given me this long to hang around on earth, since I’m not exactly the best steward of the many gifts he included during upload to my mom’s belly.

Seriously. I look around at those who died far too young and am baffled at times that the lottery keeps smiling my way. The list of things I don’t do right is long.

Last week, for instance, I visited my sister and came across the cute sterling ring my niece had inadvertently left behind. I slid it on my finger and wore it throughout my stay. Quite frankly, if my sister had not reminded me TWICE to take it off before I left, I would have headed home with it on my hand. It looked great there! I’m sure that, eventually, I would have returned it to my niece—unless she forgot about it.

Did I mention that I’m nearly 50 and tempted to steal from a teenager?

I’m also lazy at times, am a chronic procrastinator, can’t seem to stay organized, don’t make nearly enough time for my friends, cuss like a sailor on occasion, and toss pistachios back into the bag when their shells are locked tight. Let ‘em be someone else’s problem!

Just between you and me, I think God is curious to see how I’m going to turn out, so he lets the angels step between me and disaster (sometimes self created) at times.

This year, they might need their A game. I’m ramping up for some serious adventure!

In July, I’m planning to hike for 5 days to Machu Picchu in Peru with my husband and son, who will have just graduated from high school and will be stepping into his own future. I’m beyond excited and plenty nervous about my capabilities.

To prepare, I’m dragging my fanny off the sofa and onto the jogging trails so that I can run (haha, yeah right, I’ll run—think stagger) a half marathon in March. Pretty convinced that will be in no way be good for my health!

Pretty sure something cool’s gonna happen in Montana this year, too.

During 2013, all bets are OFF and the sky is the limit!

I also want to giiiiiive! Which brings me back to my list of flaws:  Sure, I show up and do things for others because it helps people, but holy cow, it’s also this lifetime’s headiest drug!! I am utterly addicted to how I feel when in the nitty gritty of being there for someone else. I don’t have much money, but I don’t have to work a lot, so I have puhlenty of time!

Oh dang. Which cycles me back to those gifts God gave me in the beginning. Despite my ability to create beauty through words and photographs, I don’t do nearly enough of either.

Did I mention this is the Year of 50?

Here are just a few of my plans!

50 published images.

50 published blogs.

50 authors. (Haha. OK, five.)

50 acts of kindness.

50 healthy habits.

50 adventures. (If I get the chance, I’m taking it! Do the things you fear the most FIRST!)

50 notes to friends.

50 notes to strangers.

50 learning opportunities. (Study! Grow! Learn!)

50 volunteer moments.

50 shares (beginning with this one: http://bit.ly/ImbaLove)

Seem like a lot? Yeah well, so do the years that God has inexplicably given me. Time to show Him my thanks by living joyfully!

Stay tuned—the Year of 50 has begun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bittersweet Goodbye

It has been quite a ride.

For eight months now, I’ve worked alongside tireless men and women who spend their waking hours (and quite a few dreaming ones, too) unraveling ways to help those impacted by natural disasters.

Getting the job as communications manager was a dream come true.

Ever since I felt compelled (truly, it was a compulsive, HAVE TO GO urge) to trek to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, my life has been different. Meeting Markenley and being part of the movement for change in a young boy’s future gave me new eyes. Instead of seeing what I may not have, the sheer abundance all around me is apparent at all times.

It made me hunger to do more.
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