What the hell was I thinking? I am going to die on this mountain. Clinging to the damp rock ahead of me, I lifted one foot slowly in front of the other as my breath rasped deep through my lungs. No matter how hard I sucked in, there was just not enough oxygen to satisfy my body. The rain continued to pelt down as my group and I rose higher and higher into the Andes. It was day two of the Inca Trail, and I was fading fast.
If you had told me a few months earlier that I would be participating in a four day hike, consisting of extreme altitudes, bad weather, and eight hours of vertical climbing a day, I would have laughed in your face. I consider walking to the subway sufficient exercise, and never even took advantage of the complimentary personal training sessions when I joined my local gym. To say that I am not an athletic person would be a huge understatement.
The Inner Battle:
Instead of preparing myself for this experience, I simply shrugged it off. To this day I still have no idea why I was so cavalier about the entire experience. Unfortunately as soon as I slung my backpack on and started on down the path, reality came crashing down.
I. Couldn’t. Breathe.
Even my thoughts came out in short, jagged spurts. Then the anger hit. What am I doing? There is no way I am strong enough to make it to the top of that next peak, let alone the entire mountain! I contemplated quitting.
Mind over Matter:
The second day of the Inca Trail, known as Dead Woman’s Pass is hailed as the hardest day of the entire journey. Yet as I took those first steps onto the trail, I knew I wouldn’t even be able to think about day two. The first 20 minutes were silent, save for the sound of labored breathing and even footsteps. Just simply walking is hard, when you are up 12,000 feet above sea level. Too tired to focus on my anger, I decided to concentrate on each moment, each step, one foot placed firmly in front of the other.
In the moment, something shifted. Instead of hating myself, fighting off the anger bubbling deep inside, I began to live in the moment for the first time in my life. My eyes followed the flight of the butterflies, dancing just ahead of me. I took an entire memory card’s worth of cloud pictures. I stopped for a moment to just stare in awe at the postcard view right in front of me. I was in the middle of the Inca Trail, and I was going to make it.
Just that thought alone, knowing that I could actually do this, was liberating. My anger dissipated and was replaced by a sense of elation. As I mentally skipped up that mountain, my body followed slowly and steadily, one step at a time.