The Four Moments I’ll Remember Best

by Jeannie :: Friday, November 6th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I have no idea how to fit all the stunning moments of our four-day, 28-mile Inca Trail hike into one short (or, um, relatively short) blog entry. It’s all too much really—the incredible views of the Andes at every turn, the Incan history, the ruins, the camaraderie among our group of hikers.

So, I’ll just tell you about my four high points.

Inca Trail: Day One and Two

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Just happy to be here!
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Our group, ready to hit the trail.
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Where we going?
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Gus and our guide Virgilio talking about climate change.
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Never know who you'll meet on the trail.
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Could there be a troll under this bridge?
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Mom and Jeb (oldest and youngest of the group) bringing up the rear.
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This is our route. Yikes.
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Relaxing at first night's campsite.
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Playing New-Zealand-Rules UNO with Kim and Wayne.
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Have stick, will poke.
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We made it!!!
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The long and winding road.
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Mmmmmm. Water!
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In the cloud forest.
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I see you Dad.
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The calm before the storm (the last rest stop before the hike to Dead Woman's Pass).
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Let's see, Daddy pushes this button.
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They keep coming, and coming, and coming.
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A high five from Virigilio.
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Gus' turn at the top.
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Celebrating our accomplishment together.
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Nothing (not even exhuastion) keeps Gus from a good book.
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Speaking of exhuastion......
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Relief after making the second high pass on day two.
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Are we there yet???
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Amazing: Still smiling after 11-hours of walking.

I DIDN’T END UP AS THE DEAD WOMAN.The most difficult part of the hike was over Dead Woman’s Pass, elevation 14,200 feet (mas o menos). That came on Day 2 and all along I knew it was going to be a challenge, I just didn’t understand how much of a challenge. Day 1 was relatively easy going at a reasonable altitude (8,000 feet and up, which was OK since we were acclimated to 11,500 feet in Cusco). However, toward the end of that day we started a pretty steep uphill for about an hour. I really felt the strain and knowing that the next day was going to be even more strenuous, I began to get worried.

The first night, camped out in a tent (Gus in a tent with Robb and Jeb with me), I didn’t sleep well, even though my body was tired. I began to worry that I’d overestimated my abilities and my stamina and maybe Robb and I were expecting too much of the boys.

On the second day, we hiked up for 4 hours straight. Our guides let us have our last official rest stop on a grassy meadow with llamas roaming around. A couple of entrepreneurial women were selling cokes and candy to the stream of trekkers who were making their way up the trail (200 trekkers are allowed on the trail per day). Not normally a Coke drinker, I downed one quickly, knowing I’d need any boost I could find because I could see how far above me was my goal—the pass.

As we started back up the trail, Jeb hung back with me while Gus and Robb pushed ahead. Jeb was feeling really tired and we worked out a system to make the hike a little easier. We’d go 100 steps then stop, rest and I would give him 2 Skittles. 100 steps, 2 Skittles. Again and again, gaining ground little by little. Because Jeb hadn’t washed his hands in a while, he told me he didn’t want to touch the Skittles, so I just popped them in his mouth—giving the impression, I’m afraid, of an animal trainer rewarding some trick.

Somewhere close to the top, Jeb got a spurt of energy (maybe it was all those Skittles). Really, I think it was partly because he saw Robb at the top waving at him. And partly because he saw Gus just ahead, plugging along. Suddenly Jeb started sprinting—or as close as you can get to sprinting at that altitude. He passed Gus right near the top and I heard people calling their names. “Come on Gus. Great job, Jeb.” (Because they were the only kids on the trail, they had become known by many people along the way.)

I tell you, hearing people cheering for my sons and seeing the boys accomplish such an incredible feat—climbing this mountain—was a bit overwheliming. I started crying. I was so proud and relieved. Of course, the other reason I was crying was because I was really straining my body. I felt about 80 years old as I made my way closer to the top. The boys making it up gave me a boost, but it wasn’t quite enough. I was trying to psych myself into pushing harder. I couldn’t compare the task to a marathon, since I’d never run one. All I could think of was childbirth. I just kept telling myself: I delivered 2 babies. Breathe. Breathe. I can do this. I can do this.

And I did. Scowling and teary-eyed, I arrived on top to cheers from Robb and the boys. Actually, I put out my hand and had Robb pull me up the last few steps. When I recovered a bit, I could smile again. And then I smiled a lot.

A MASSAGE TO REMEMBER I’ve had lots of massages in my life (spoiled girl that I am), but none was better than the one I had on the evening of Day 3. On that day our tour company set up our tents at a pretty civilized camping spot. (Civilized in that there was electricity, showers (lukewarm but showers nonetheless) and a bar! Plus, they offered a leg and back massage. Naturally I had to have one, but the surprising thing was that Gus wanted one too. How could we deny him after what he’d done. He had sort of twisted his ankle on the first day and was having some trouble on the downhills on the second and third days. (Those downhills, of which there are many, are killers on the calf muscles, knees and thighs.)

So, Gus and I went into the little massage room together (with bathing suits on) and not only did I LOVE this reward after three days of hiking, I loved watching Gus. He had his face down in one of those massage face holders and afterward he said that he saw a big stain on the floor as he was looking down. “I kept seeing different figures in the spot; I think it’s from people drooling.” And then: “Mom, I think I drooled too.” Sure enough, I looked down and saw a fresh drool spot. I think that meant he enjoyed his massage.

WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANT TO HEAR FROM YOUR CHILD We were blessed on this trek with great weather (only one day of some light rain and one night of rain) and with great people in our group of trekkers. The other 10 people in our group were from all over the world—U.K. South Africa, Canada, New Zealand—and the boys really took to all of them. We played cards every night in the dining tent that our tour company set up (our meals were incredible, by the way.) The boys loved playing games and Jeb especially became crazy for cards.

On the last night, it began to rain after dinner, and we ran to our tents. Jeb got into his pajamas and asked me to play some cards with him. I was so exhausted and at first said no. But then, I reconsidered. As I was dealing cards on our tent floor under the light of a headlamp, Jeb said, “I’m so happy.” I looked at him, so adorable sitting there hugging his knees and wearing a floppy stocking cap. “I’m just so happy,” he repeated. “It’s raining outside and we’re in here safe and warm, playing cards and having fun. I don’t know why, but I’m just so happy!” As they say in the commercials: Priceless.

WHEN REALITY MATCHES YOUR DREAMS On the fourth morning, we were woken at 4 a.m. I opened the tent and saw the full moon and a clear sky except for a few thin clouds. (“The sky looked like those Halloween drawings,” Gus said.) All of us in the group had been hoping for good weather on the morning we arrived at Machu Picchu (it often can be socked in with clouds) and it looked as if we were going to get it. After breakfast we hiked for 2 hours. Even though my legs were terribly sore (despite the massage), I moved at a face pace, spurred on by the knowledge that Machu Picchu was so close.

We would arrive first at the Sun Gate which was on a pass up above Machu Picchu and was the entrance that travelers would have used during Inca times, as they arrived from Cusco. It was about 7 a.m. when our guide pointed up at one last uphill. “That’s the Sun Gate up there,” he said. I scrambled up the stone steps behind Sarah, a woman from the U.K. who had long dreamed of seeing Machu Picchu. At the top, we only had to turn one corner (around a stone pillar) to see the ruins spread out before us. “Are you ready?” I asked her. “We just turn this corner.” She nodded and we both went together.

There it was—bathed in morning sun, more majestic than any photo I’d seen (and who hasn’t seen a lot of photos). The weather co-operated by placing one wispy cloud in front of Wayna Picchu (the smaller peak you always see in the photos behind the ruins). I was so elated—maybe as much by the site of these glorious ruins as by the realization that finally the walk was over.

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