Don’t you love Facebook memory posts!? The memory post of my trek to the Incan city of Machu Picchu popped up in my feed. It made me laugh as I remembered the good times on the trip. But also, because it reminded me of type 1, type 2 and type 3 fun. Have you ever heard of this concept?
To explain briefly, type 1 fun is having a super exciting time as you are doing something…like snow skiing, surfing, or riding roller coasters (IF you love roller coasters as I do). Type 2 fun is an event or activity that is a challenging and tough but at the same time fun. Again, like having fun riding a roller coaster but when you never really liked roller coasters before. Type 3 fun is that sort of happening which is basically brutal during the event, but upon looking back, sometimes after a few years and many beers, you think, “yeah, that was fun.” Epic adventures with unexpected occurrences sometimes fall into this category. Think about the movie The Hangover. Classic type 3 fun.
Anyway, my ten-day trek through the Peruvian Andes to the Incan cloud cities of Choquequirao and Machu Picchu is a classic type 2 fun adventure. It could have been different though – a type 3 adventure – if I didn’t have the guts to get back up on my ass.
Most people I know say they are going to travel when they retire, but long ago I heard a story about a work associate who waited until after he retired to go on his dream scuba diving trip to the Maldives. As the story unfolded, I learned that he had health issues during the long flight from his home in California to his dream destination. He was not able to scuba dive and he was medically evacuated home. This tragic story forever altered how I balance my work and vacations. I don’t wait. Many years later, I read Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4 Hour Work Week, and it reinforced my belief to travel now. In his book, Tim discusses the value of taking sabbaticals and mini retirements. Preaching to the choir, in my case. I wholeheartedly believe that more people should take sabbaticals if not mini retirements.
Today, I’m known for my adventures. And hiking through the Andes to the Incan cities was quite the epic: nine days of trekking through Choquequirao to Machu Picchu along the Salkantay and Incan Trails at high altitude in extreme environments that varied from parched, dry forests to wet, bug-biting rain forests through cold, high elevation valleys and over glacier covered passes.
What they don’t tell you when they say ‘trekking through the Andes’ is that you aren’t merely hiking through the mountains. You are hiking OVER the Andes. You hike from say the Apurimac River up thousands of feet to the top of a peak and then back down to the Rio Blanco! From a riverbed to a peak and back down. Repeatedly. Did I mention at high altitude? And, low OXYGEN?! On day 2, we crossed the Apurimac River in a basket and hiked up 99 switchbacks for 5 hours before lunch.
This trek is a challenge for the most fit let alone the untrained even with a guide service who provided pack mules for gear and meals. Our guide was Joel Antony Huaman Aimara with Apus Peru. I cannot say enough about Joel and Apus Peru. If you go, I highly recommend using Apus Peru! Joel is a descendant of a Quechuan shaman and is more at home in the mountains than anyone I have ever met. Struggling in the high altitude in hiking boots, leaning on poles, we counted, “one step, two step, breath step” while Joel flew from the front to the back of our group of six hikers wearing only his tennis shoes while carrying a pack. Each night, my daughter and I would ask Joel about the next day’s trek. How long are we hiking? How high are we going? Joel, bless his heart, would tell us that the trail was “pretty flat.” It never was. We started to call it “Peru flat,” which we figured is about 30 degrees. Usually up. Don’t get me started on what is considered steep!
Unfortunately, I was not in my usual tip top shape and I felt it immediately in Cusco’s 11,154 feet altitude. Exhausted from working full time while completing my master’s program full time, I was unrested, unacclimated and ill prepared for the extreme nature of this trek. This had dire consequences.
On day 3 of the trek, my nose started to run. Torrents. I had caught a head cold probably from the long plane rides from Orlando to San Salvador to Lima then finally to Cusco. I made it to camp on day 4 and it was clear I was very sick. I hit the tent early to try to get ahead of the cold. Day 5 included hiking up from our camp at Rio Blanco to Victoria Pass, an elevation of 14,900 feet, and then down into Yanama Valley.
I was pressured to give up and ride, but I refused until we reached the base of Victoria Pass. I was stuck. Miles from the nearest village. No roads. Nothing. My only recourse was to get up on the spare ass and ride. Now you might think that riding the ass is the easy way to go, but I will tell you that the trails are so slippery and steep that being higher on an ass is WAY MORE scary than trying to hike. The ‘good news’ for me was that the spare ass was in training and had never had a pack or a passenger. The thought was that he would not be as ornery as asses can be (yeah, I went there) and he would be gentle. And he was for the most part.
I climbed on the ass at the base of the pass. The trail was a foot wide, steep and littered with boulders. As we gained elevation, the ass was having a hard time climbing the trail. As we approached the midsection, the steepest part of the trail where the cliff fell away steeply, i.e., NOT Peru flat, the ass stumbled on a boulder and I bounced down his back and landed (THANKFULLY) on my feet with a sudden stop.
Surprised, I froze and looked down the cliff and then at the ass’s ass and he in turn swung his head back and was staring at me. We were both in shock and didn’t know what to do. His handler, the amazing Carciana from Yanama Valley, came back to assess the situation. Not only did I not think I could get back up on the ass on the trail, I didn’t think he could climb up the trail with me on his back! I begged Carciana to let me hike up to the peak. Slowly, the ass and I climbed boulders on the trail and wound around switchbacks until we caught up with the rest of my friends and our two Canadians (For an amazing time, always have 2 Canadians on your trip. #lifeadvice). Once we cleared the pass, I could see Yanama Valley below. I slowly hiked down to our campsite in the valley relieved to have completed the day.
But it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to make the challenging day 6 through Yanama Valley and up over Yanama Pass at 15,000 feet and beyond to Saint Theresa. Unfortunately, I was too sick to continue hiking. After the previous day’s fall, I rode with much less fear. And I think the ass did too! Thankfully, the day of rest was enough for me to regain strength to hike the remaining days to Aguas Caliente and Machu Picchu.
When I used to think about the trip, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of defeat for having to ride the ass. But after logically assessing what really happened, I realize that skipping one day of a ten-day hike is not a big deal. If anything, getting back up on that ass taught me I could persevere and solve problems. I apply this rational to new dilemmas now. I don’t let minor failures block me from succeeding. You shouldn’t either. When faced with an obstacle, get back on that ass and make an opportunity.
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