How could I possibly have more reflections to write about? Well, my friends, it was a 4 day hike and I was mostly hiking by myself (due to being super slow) so I had a lot of time to reflect and talk to myself. Out loud sometimes. No, I am not kidding.
If you missed the other post with reflections on my trek, you can read it here. If you didn’t miss it or otherwise can’t be bothered to click the link, read on for this fresh episode of reflections :).
Begging For Oxygen
I never thought the day would come that I would literally beg another human being to give me Oxygen. But it happened. On day 2. It was a struggle to breathe at that altitude, especially with a heavy hiking pack. I had tried everything- deep belly breathing, resting often, drinking water. Nothing was working. Then I remembered the tour guide was supposed to have a first aid kit on him which should contain an Oxygen mask.
A mischievous side of me suspected there really wasn’t an Oxygen mask or the Oxygen mask didn’t work. I kept remembering watching Everest and how sometimes the hikers had to use Oxygen masks and I thought, if anything, it would be cool to use an Oxygen mask.
So I put on the most pitiful face I could muster and asked Jaime for Oxygen. He looked confused. I was like Aha! There is none. Let’s see how he will get out of this one. He said “Omobola, you don’t need Oxygen. If you needed Oxygen, I would be able to tell from your face”. Now, I don’t know if that is true, if he would be able to tell from my face, but I decided to take his word for it. I don’t think I had a choice. He asked if I had a headache or if I was feeling dizzy. I wasn’t and I decided to be honest so I said no. I didn’t suffocate so he must have known what he was talking about.
I never found out if there really was Oxygen but I never asked for it again. I spent a considerable amount of time imagining what it would feel like to really need the Oxygen.
During the hike, I made some major decisions. The biggest was probably whether to purchase a bottle of Coca Cola or a bottle of Powerade. I pondered this for several minutes. It was indeed a great decision with potentially grave consequences. Not only was it a money issue- soles were running low, but it was also at the very last place I could purchase anything on the trail. It was day 2.
If I bought Coke, it would be such a great treat for me. Coke is a treat to me any day, any time. The sugar would give me energy, albeit temporarily. I just love the feeling of those carbon bubbles in my throat. But then there’s the crash post sugar.
If I bought Powerade, I would replenish my electrolytes, get more energy, but I also know from my experience with training for races and the races themselves that Powerade type drinks do a number on my GI (gastro-intestinal) tract. This means stomach pain, farts that vary in loudness and foulness of smell, and maybe even an emergency #2- which is something you absolutely do not want on the inka trail.
Immediate gratification won- and I bought a Coke. It was worth every soles I spent on it.
Other ‘major’ decisions included how much water to pack each morning. Water is heavy- heavier than you think. If you pack a lot of water, you likely won’t be thirsty but your pack would be heavy. Your energy goes to carrying the water instead of hiking. Too little water, and you may die of thirst.
Other hydration related decisions- if you drink water too frequently you will need to pee often. Bathrooms weren’t plentiful or easily accessible. But if you drink often, your pack weighs less quicker :). And it was especially difficult for me to make these hydration related decisions because I couldn’t actually see my water. I was using a CamelBak hydration pack which was in my hiking pack so I just had to guess at how much water I had left. It was either that or taking my pack down every few hours to inspect my water and then putting it back on.
So while others were pondering major life decisions like whether to quit their jobs, purchase a house, start a family, or move across the world to pursue their dreams, I was pondering what drink to buy on the inka trail :).
Support of Loved Ones
When going through tough times, the support of loved ones is critical and potentially life-saving. This was made manifest to me on the inka trail. My group had 5 tourists total: 2 couples and me. The 5th wheel. I’m kind of used to this, being the odd numbered wheel, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal- as long as the couples maintained an appropriate level of PDA, which they did. No one likes awkwardness and awkward eye contact during awkward moments. At least, I don’t ;).
But I tell you, there were times where I would have given anything to just have a familiar face, a loved one, a friend, a family member at my side. Speaking truth to me. Encouraging me. Holding my hand. Talking to me. Telling me jokes. Making me laugh. Reminding me of great memories. Praying for me. Looking out for me. Passing me snacks. Zipping up my backpack. Waiting for me. Telling me it’s ok to cry. Resting with me. Reminding me to put on sunscreen (this happened).
I am all for being independent and standing on my own two feet and traveling alone to foreign lands. But on this particular hike, a partner would have made a difference. Obviously, I still made it to the end but if you are considering doing this hike, strongly consider doing it with someone you love (and [hopefully] loves you back).
That being said, my team members and tour guide did provide ample encouragement during the hike and were a huge help.
As if one needed any more proof that the porters and cooks on the trail are amazing, our cook baked us a cake on one of the days. A cake!! Without a kitchen. Just a stove. And it tasted great. It even had frosting :).
The porters carried the tents, the tables and chairs, mattresses, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, food, and gear for hikers who paid for this service. Some of these porters were really old- I met one that was about 60! And- they hike so fast- sometimes they even run, usually downhill. And they don’t even wear any special kind of hiking shoes- some wear just sandals. Amazing!
The food was also very good. Several courses per meal- salad, soup, mains, dessert, tea, snacks e.g. popcorn. They even catered to my lactose intolerance. They were superhuman.
There came a point during the hike I said to myself “I have suffered enough. I will not work out or run for the rest of the year once I make it safely off this mountain!”. The trek was that hard. I figured I was ‘paying it forward’. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with this thinking because one of my group mates said something similar.
He said he wasn’t setting foot in the gym for the rest of the year and not only that- he was going back to smoking and drinking beer once he got off the mountain. He figured he had earned that ‘privilege’. In fact, he made plans to grab a beer- or two- with a friend (and potential business partner) he made on the trail!
It was probably just our heightened emotions talking. At least for me. I ran the same week I got back home.
Swallowing Your Pride
I don’t consider myself a proud person (maybe this is the first sign of a proud person.lol). But seriously, I don’t. But I believe everyone has at least a tiny bit of pride in them. I had to swallow quite a bit of it on the hike.
It was day 2. The hardest day of the trek. Have I mentioned this before? Probably in my previous post? Anyway, it was the day of the very steep ascent to 13,000+ feet (4000+ meters for my SI unit friends) and … it was just hard.
Mostly because of lack of oxygen. So breathing was hard. And everything pretty much falls apart after that. To help out with this (I had been told by several people how hard it was going to be and I actually pulled my tour guide aside the day before and asked him to level with me. Can I survive this??? He looked at me and said perhaps I should consider reducing the weight of my pack. And that’s what I did.) I reduced the weight of my pack by 4 kg for the day at the cost of 50 soles. Well worth it. I wish I measured what my backpack ended up weighing after that but, minor details. Every ounce could be felt!
So anyway, I was already low at this point- energy level, oxygen level, morale, very thirsty, mentally drained …but I kept going. Step by step. Then resting to catch my breath. There were times my legs were trembling so bad, I thought I could not possibly take another step. Can you believe my tour guide had the nerve to tell me not to rest for too long (I think he said 2 minutes max)- he had good reason though, so my muscles didn’t get cold.
So I was already miffed about not being able to rest too long. I had to keep track of my breath, water intake, oxygen, fluids, energy levels, and still not rest. Life was hard at that time. And then I made the mistake of remembering that it was Thanksgiving day and all my friends were eating Turkey, getting fat, and generally having the time of their lives.
I kept going. I could see Dead Woman’s Pass right there but no matter what I did, it kept moving farther away. Coca tea hallucinations maybe? So I rested. I figured I would get there at some point. Eventually. Then Jaime (tour guide) caught me. *facepalm*. I must have looked really terrible because he said “Give me your pack, I will carry it for you to the pass”.
I was aghast. “No, you already have your pack, you can’t carry mine too”, I said. He basically said ‘I’m a boss, I can handle this’. To be honest, I wasn’t really concerned that he couldn’t handle it. I was just trying to hold on to whatever was left of my ego. It was bad enough that I had paid someone to carry some of my stuff, bad enough that I was the last one in the group, bad enough that he caught me resting, and now he wanted to carry my backpack for me?? Noooooo. I had to preserve whatever was left of my dignity. My pride.
Who was I kidding?? I was weak and I knew it. I needed help and I knew it. It would be much easier to get to the pass without my backpack and I knew it. It made me think of how Jesus asks us to cast our burdens on him. How Jesus says his yoke is light and he will give us that instead. How Jesus asks us to receive help and salvation that he freely gives to all. And how God’s will for my life was not to die on the inka trail on Thanksgiving Day 2016. Also, it was a lesson in humility.
The tears rolled down my cheeks as I swallowed some of my pride handed my pack to Jaime. Apparently, I still had some pride left.
I wish I could say from that moment on, I sprinted up the mountain to Dead Woman’s Pass. I wish I could say all of a sudden my lungs received abundance of Oxygen (maybe due to improved posture from not having the burden of my pack on my back). I wish I could say I received [divine] energy from above to get to that pass.
Instead, a few more tears rolled down, I wiped them, and hobbled to the pass. I was still slow. I was still the last. But when I got up there, I saw my team mates and they were cheering me on. I still didn’t smile- or maybe I smized. I just collapsed on the ground and processed what had just happened. I am not a dramatic person but I thought to myself ‘yo, I legit almost died on this trail!’.
Everyone was taking pictures, celebrating their success. But I just sat there, trying to breathe, refusing to take pictures, angry at myself, disappointed at my display of weakness. Minutes later, when we were about to continue on, I got over myself. I told myself: I earned this. I made this win. Sure, I had a little help- but who didn’t? I put a smile on my face, got my picture taken, and thanked the Good Lord for his mercy upon me.
These pictures were taken literally 7 minutes apart- Left: immediately after I got to Dead Woman’s Pass where I was still angry at myself and holding on to the sliver of pride I had left and Right: after I had gotten over myself and started to celebrate my win :).
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I think that’s enough reflections for now :). I need to focus on editing my videos so I can upload a vlog of my entire trip!! I’m excited to share that with you all :).
Subscribe to my blog, if you haven’t yet, so that you will be *first* to know when I publish a new post :).
Hasta luego, amigos!
Header Photo: The Lost City of the Inkas (Machu Picchu) in the distance. View from Sun Gate. Photo by O Thomas. November 2016.