Today was a hard day: physically, mentally, emotionally.
Despite the energy and excitement we had on Day One of the Inca Trail, today was different. We were tired and cold and had a big day ahead of us. We had to hike 11 kilometers and cross a 4,200-meter pass, aptly named Dead Woman’s Pass.
While our guide Rumi has been a great cheerleader, there was no sugarcoating: “It’s the Andes, there is no ‘flat’ here,” he’d say with his ever-present smile and infectious giggle.
Rumi was right. With exception to the 45-minute descent, the trek was all uphill and very steep. My asthmatic lungs, bum knee and tired muscles took turns projecting thoughts of doubt into my mind. At times I wanted to give up.
But needless to say, I made it to the top – second among 13, nonetheless. I was weak and gasping for breath in the thin air as I took the last few steps to look over the other side. I was immediately overcome with emotion. Not only was I taken aback by the incredible view, but I was also so grateful and proud to have accomplished the feat. I smiled a smile nearly as big as Rumi’s as my eyes welled up with tears.
As my breathing steadied and sobs subsided, I saw an older man breaching the top. His daughter bounded up the stairs next to him. She had already summited, but had gone back down to check on him and hike the last part together.
Seeing them share this moment 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 how I would love to do something special like that with my dad, but would never be able to. I wouldn’t even be able to share this experience with him through stories and photos.
Seeing the spry young woman and her aging dad conquering the mighty Inca Trail together was so powerful, but all I could think about was how much I missed my dad.
I spent 20 more minutes sobbing and reflecting, while watching the rest of my group reach the top and celebrate together. I was so proud of all of us, but I couldn’t bring myself to join them.
Once my tears dried – for the second time – I introduced myself to the man and told him what an inspiration he and his daughter were. His name is Ron; he is 72 years old and from Colorado. 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 by my side, I’d like to think he’s watching over me and cheering me on, too.