November 12, 2016
Today was a hard day: physically, mentally and emotionally.
On Friday we started our trek to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail. Despite being up late the night before, stressing about my heavy bag, I had energy and spirits were high among the group.
Today was a bit different, though; we were tired and cold at 5:00 in the morning, and we knew we had a big day ahead of us. Our guide Rumi had warned us it would be the first of two difficult days. We had to hike 11 kilometers and a cross a 4,200 meter pass, which is perfectly named Dead Woman’s Pass and is 1,800 meters higher than Machu Picchu itself.
Rumi and his assistant guide Nick do a great job of motivating us and breaking up each day’s trek with smaller, more achievable goals. At the same time, they don’t sugarcoat anything to make us feel better, essentially giving us false hope. “It’s the Andes, there is no ‘flat’ here,” Rumi says with his ever-present giggle and big smile.
Rumi was right. With exception to the 45-minute decent from Dead Woman’s Pass, it was all uphill and all very steep. It was very slow going for everyone, with lots of breaks. As we got higher and higher, the air got thinner and thinner, making it very difficult to breathe.
Once again our guides did a great job of setting expectations and motivating us, helping me fight the mental challenge of whether or not I could actually get through this trek. We still have 2.5 more days, and I’m still dealing with a bum knee after falling on it in Lima and getting kicked by a horse in Cusco.
Needless to say, I made it to the top – second among a group of 13 travelers, nonetheless. I was weak and gasping for breathe as I took the last few steps to look over the other side. As soon as I did, I was overcome with emotion. Not only was the view incredible, but I was also so happy and proud to have accomplished the feat. I smiled a big smile as tears welled up in my eyes.
As I sat wiping my nose and tears, finally catching my breathe, I saw an older man breaching the top. We had past him on the trail earlier, and I remembered hearing he was from Colorado. Turns out, he’s walking the Inca Trail with his daughter, who bounded up the stairs next to him. She had already reached the top, but she had gone back down to make sure he was doing ok and to hike the last part with him.
Seeing the father and daughter and their obvious strong relationship was both beautiful and heartbreaking, both inspiring to see and difficult to see. Just as I had pulled myself together, the floodgates opened. I thought about my dad and how I’d love to do something special like that with him, but would never be able to. I can’t even share this experience with him through stories and photos over coffee or a meal.
Seeing the spry young woman and her aging dad conquering the ferocious Inca Trail together was so beautiful and powerful, but all I could think about was how much I missed my dad.
I spent the next 20 minutes sobbing and reflecting, while watching the rest of my group reach the top and congratulate each other. I was so proud of all of us, but I needed to be alone – alone being only relative, considering there were about 40 other people up there.
Later I introduced myself to the man and told him what an inspiration he and his daughter were. His name is Ron, he’s 72 years old and he lives in Telluride, Colo. If he can complete the Inca Trail, then I can. He had his daughter by his side, watching over him and cheering him on. Even though my dad can’t be here with me, I’d like to think he’s watching over me and cheering me on, too.