“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.”Frank Herbert
“Sure, I love to hike,” I said over the phone, not realizing that I had agreed to one of the most challenging treks in the world.
My idea of hiking at that point was skipping around an urban park in Florida, with well-maintained paths and only minutes away from the nearest Starbucks or hospital.
It was a Friday afternoon, and I was on the phone with my best friend as we discussed an upcoming trip to Peru, with one goal in mind…to see Machu Picchu. Without realizing it, I had agree to something that looked easy; it was about 7 miles (11 kilometers) with the first day doing most of the trekking and the second day getting to enjoy the sights and sounds of the ancient city.
Not so, first, you are walking high in the Andes, and if you are like me, who comes from the land of gators and only one classified mountain, the altitude alone is enough to make you lose your breath. Second, you are carrying a backpack – and everything you are going to need up those mountains. And last, and this is the reason I will continue to curse the Incas to hell—they love stairs. Everywhere you go, there are stairs.
I am the person who gets winded running up and down the stairs at work.
I have a theory that the reason Machu Picchu was never conquered was because of the stairs. The Conquistadors took one look at the stairs and said, “Nope, not going to happen.”
While most of my group was seasoned veterans of both the mountains and the backpack, I was slowly going along at a snail pace in the hopes of not to pass out and be one of those tourists sitting at a bar in Aguas Calientes nursing their altitude sickness and disappointment with a Pico Sour.
It was rough, sweaty, and at some of the points, I had to wonder what I was thinking. Then we hit the Sun Gate, or the stairs leading up to the Sun Gate. As I looked at the 1,000,000 (or it seems like that) stairs that jutted up high above me and mocked me as if to say, “You silly European! You will never conquer me! I am unconquerable! I HAVE STAIRS!”
My stubborn European pride wasn’t going to have it. I gave my backpack to Guyo (the guide) and monkey-climbed those stairs as he and two other guides stood at the bottom laughing. It turns out they had a bet that I was going to pass out at the stairs. But I did it, my dignity in ruins and the realization I had crawled my way to the top!
As I stood at the Sun Gate, I realized something – I have fallen in love with hiking, backpacking, the challenges, the hardship, and being this close to nature and far from civilization.
There is something about it, the feeling of connectivity that one gets when one is out among the creation and the creators that cannot be described. The Norwegian call it frilusftsliv, and the other Scandinavian cultures agree it is something wonderful.
I was standing there looking down at a City that was over 500 years old and thinking, wow…I just discovered something wonderful and it wasn’t the city (that was amazing too).
A journey…or a trek, as hikers call it.
I am still learning a lot about myself and the world around me.
Growing up and living in Florida, I never appreciated the land or its unique ecosystem. But a trip thousands of miles away would open my eyes to what was around me.
Florida is more than Mickey Mouse and beaches. It is ancient cypress forests, mazes of mangroves, crystal clear spring water, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and more critters than you can count.
When you discover that the place you call home still has magic, then you realize that the world has it too.
I joined a hiking group, read up on this new and exciting world, pack and repack my bag and set out to learn about this place and the others.
We miss all the miracles of life around us in our busy lives, but if we paused for one second, strap on a pack, and head out, we soon discovered what that magic is.
I am still trekking along, having missteps and adventures, getting lost and found.