Last week, my youngest nephew, Ethan and I took our trip to Peru. We were hiking the Inca trail for 4 days ending our journey in Machu Picchu. Little did I realize how challenging that would be … physically, mentally and spiritually.
Each day, we hiked an average of 10 miles over a stony path, which was either basically up stairs (literally) or down stairs (literally) – all at a minimum of 10,000 feet above sea level. Sometimes, my stride was not long enough for some of the stairs. So imagine being on a Stairmaster for hours/miles at a time continuously setting a steady pace at the highest altitude you have ever been.
Hiking for that length of time – not a problem. Climbing stairs, up and down – not a problem. Sleeping in a tent on a small pad for 3 nights – not a problem. Not showering for 4 days – my ultimate limit and yet not a problem. Being at an altitude of over 10,000 feet to 14,000 feet above sea level – this was the problem. I developed altitude sickness.
Our journey began with an overnight stay in Lima then traveling on to Cusco for two days. This was to acclimatize us to the altitude of 11,000 feet above sea level. Trust me, two days were not enough. Touring around Cusco, catching our breath as often as we could was just the beginning of the challenge that was to be faced.
On day 3 of this 8-day journey, we began with a bus ride to our starting point for the Inca trail. This day was to be the easiest day of the 4-day trek. Now Ethan, at 19, was not daunted by the trek. He was easily taking this trail of an upward climb with seemingly no problems. I, on the other hand, was finding some difficulty with all the stony stairs that our group was climbing. Easy, my foot! This was the thought going through my mind and yet, I did so with a smile.
Then day 2 began – the most difficult day. This day was to take us up to the highest point of our journey – 14,000 feet above sea level. The stairs become more often and more difficult. This is when my altitude sickness started in. I became winded and nauseated with some light-headedness. Milagros, our guide, was there with me to keep me motivated and to make sure I didn’t drop dead at any moment, I am sure. At one point, I literally didn’t think I was going to make it.
I had hit a wall!
I know you have been there just as I was … maybe it was a personal wall or a professional wall. That time where you wondered how you were ever going to survive whatever was going on personally or professionally.
From this experience, I learned three things that kept me going.
- My commitment – I had made a commitment to my nephew that we, together, would make this journey. With this commitment to him, I also made a commitment to myself to do this. This was foremost in my mind. If I gave up, then I would be disappointing him and myself. I don’t give up!
- Pushing myself past my comfort zone – I am in pretty good shape. Yet, how do you train in Chicago for the change in altitude. I had no problem with going down or on steady inclines. My problem was with the upward (almost straight up at times) stairs that seemed like the Stairway to Heaven! I kept pushing myself by repeating in my head … “slow and steady wins the race” along with “baby steps will get me up the mountain”. Digging deep down inside myself with my mantra were the only things that pushed me beyond my comfort zone and on to my goal.
- Accepting help – Milagros, our wonderful guide, suggested that she carry my daypack for me. Not that it was extremely heavy, yet it would be one less weighted item for me to struggle with at this time of need. At first, I began refusing her help – normal for most people as we find it difficult to accept help in our time of need. Then I recognized that in order for me to survive this trek, I needed help. So, on the upward portions of the trail, I accepted that help. I didn’t see this as a failure, I saw it as a means to an end as my commitment to Ethan took priority.
The other two days of trekking were not as bad as the first two. I got better and soon began to carry my own weight, so to speak. This has been the greatest physical challenge that I have faced in my life. There have been many other emotional challenges that I have faced and have forged through. It was only with having had those emotional challenges in the past that helped me to make this very challenging physical journey.
So, now, when I face a daunting task in my professional life – where will my next client come from, what steps do I take to continue my revenue growth, etc. – I know I have what it takes to make the journey. I just remember my mantras and the success of having reached the pinnacle of the mountain.
On the last day, Ethan asked me if Mt. Kilimanjaro was our next adventure. He has a great sense of humor!