#brightestsmile – Machu Picchu

Recently I was given a blogging challenge from junomedical, “Which place or moment during your travels made you smile brightest?” and one moment after a four day trek with no showers to Machu Picchu clearly stood out against other memories.

It was roughly 9 years ago now that I added Machu Picchu to the list of places to visit. We were at the office and I was standing in the hallway of the engineering area where Elizabeth and Laurie were discussing how Elizabeth just completed the hike to Machu Picchu. We googled some photos of the journey and I fell in love. Oh love at first sight, it happens to me oh-so often for adventuring. There’s an overwhelming pull to see beautiful things with my own eyes. This thirst is a feeling that I’ve never been able to quench.

But I insisted on making the hike. Four days, twenty six miles and a max altitude gain of 13,828 ft., I wanted to know that I could do it, to make my mind match up with my perceived fitness. I wistfully dreamt about this trip for 9 years before I finally came to the realization, “What am I waiting for?” With that thought and a whim, as most of my trips are done, I booked the trip.

Flash to near the end of the hike. We had already made it through Dead Woman’s Pass, which was the highest point of the Inca Trail and the hardest part of the trek. I was the 3rd to last person of my group to make it up the mountain the day before. But today we would reach the city amongst the clouds, today I would get the view that I lusted 9 years for. With roughly 3 hours of sleep per day on this journey and 6-8 hours of hiking per day I was tired but driven by the fantasy of how I would feel when finally meeting that epic view I fell in love with.

The view from Dead Woman's Pass

The view from Dead Woman’s Pass

Earlier in the day our guide explained today’s journey to the finish line. As we all were heading at different paces,  he mentioned how he would trail the pack. He also let us know that at the very end there were 2 major staircases. 

Amanda, Dylan and I took off first and would never see the rest of the group until the finish. Because of my fear of heights I was determined to be in the front of the pack and far enough away from the other hikers so that I could take each cliff at my own pace and not feel rushed. In two particularly hairy cliff-sides I paused and wondered if anyone would be able to hear me cry for help if a slip should occur, but I pushed through hugging the walls of the mountain. Fear is temporary, but regret is forever.

When I finally reached they stairs, the steps on the second staircase were so narrow that only half my footbed could fit on each step. I stared up at it feeling sore and exhausted, took a deep breath and just thought to myself, “Ok if you can make it through Dead Woman’s Pass then this is the last challenge. You can do this!” With an debilitated sigh I piled on through. At the top was another upward hill, but at the end I could see people standing in the Sun Gate.

The final stairs!

The final stairs!

Knowing that Amanda and Dylan would be there ahead of me I trudged on to meet them. When I finally reached the top a flurry of tourists fresh from the train into Machu Picchu were carelessly taking selfies near the ledge. I pushed past them soaked in sweat and covered in dirt. I didn’t see Amanda right away, and then I finally found her amongst the strangers. Heading over I was dying to tell her something… and I begun with “Is it just me? Or…”

She finishes my sentence, “It’s a little anti-climactic.”

This is the view from the Sun Gate. Meh.

This is the view from the Sun Gate. Meh.

Yeah. Machu Picchu kind of looks blah and lame from the sun gate. We hiked furiously for 4 days and… it’s blah. Then we each sighed and laughed with our brightest smile. That was the best part of the trip. Traveling miles from home, navigating an incredibly challenging hike, meeting a bunch of strangers who would become friends, and then here in this supposedly mystical place feeling like the view that we were dying to see was nothing special. But the feeling of doing all this, getting to the end and having someone to share the exact same sentiment with, that was priceless.

Or should I say “Meh-chu Picchu”?

P.S. In all fairness as we got down closer to Machu Picchu it was just as majestic and beautiful as expected. The llamas were super friendly, posed for photos, and Machu Picchu was relatively empty compared to the next day when we had more time to explore the city.

At the end of all epic hikes one must have Haribo Gold Bears!

At the end of all epic hikes one must have Haribo Gold Bears!

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