[…In February 2015…]
Talia: Hey, do you want to travel to Machu Picchu in the Fall with me?
Char: Hell yeah!
Talia: Do you want to hike the Inca Trail to get there?
Char: What’s that? How long is it?
Talia: It’s a 4-day trek. 26 miles.
It’s hard to believe that last week I was in the middle of the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding time of my life. Little did I know that it would end up being one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life! Ever since I returned from Peru, I’ve turned into a nagging ambassador of the Inca Trail. I keep telling people, “You should do it. Everyone should do it. It will change your life. You will come back a different person!”
Before this, I had only accomplished a few “hard” hikes. Colorado is a mountain playground and I had certainly explored a good amount. And, I’d like to think I’m outdoorsy. But I’m not like, outdoorsy. I had never even hiked a 14er before this trip. [which is like a Colorado prerequisite if you’re a native] The first two days we had hiked a grueling 21 miles [3 extra miles due to road construction and our bus had to drop us off in the middle of God knows where] At the end of day 1, everything hurt. Everything! And do you know how hard it is to go to sleep in a tent when every muscle aches and you can’t feel your feet and your back is raw from carrying 5 liters of water and you know that tomorrow will be the EXACT same thing but worse? It’s hard.
When I agreed to this trek, I was not prepared for the struggle. At all. I don’t like the gym and I did not train nearly enough. We knew the first two days would be the most intense. Each day consisted of waking up at 3:00 – 4:00am, hiking 12 -15km, average of 8-9 hours per day, and grasping every ounce of positivity because you had no idea how much harder it was going to get. The Inca Trail was demanding and has forced others to quit within the first two days. But not us. We were smiling from ear to ear at the end of day 2 [if you can believe it]. We had survived Dead Woman’s Pass [nearly 14,000 feet in elevation], climbed another 13,800 ft. pass immediately after, and we celebrated that the most difficult part of the trek was over! You don’t get an overwhelming feeling of victory like that too often. So when you’re standing on top of the world in the middle of the Andes, dancing in the clouds, and your best friend is right beside you, and your tour guide is calling you “chica muscles” – Pinch. Your. Self.
Nothing can explain the emotions I had during those first two days. Being at the top of the second pass and staring out at the first pass in the distance – it’s terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Talia and I were in awe of what we had just done and where we were. And we were only halfway to Machu Picchu! I’ve been kicking myself for not taking more photos of those two days of stair-master hell, but the thought of having to repeatedly dig my camera in and out of my pack was painful. Thinking back, I’m actually glad that my camera stayed put. I was fully present in every painful step, climb, stretch, gasp of breath, sore muscle, blister, and mosquito bite. The struggle was real. And at the end of day 2 when Talia and I were sitting in our tent reflecting on our 48-hour obstacle, barely able to move, we had to at least pat ourselves on the back. [while whining for a full body massage]
Two days down, two days to go. Come back for Inca Trail Part II!