If you’ve ever uttered the words “Bucket List” or “Carpe Diem” and then settled back into your armchair, this blog is for you, my friend. For those of us over fifty, it can be daunting to get out of our comfort zones–or, less charitably, out of our ruts, even if we want to travel. In this upcoming series of posts, I’ll describe in detail our epic trek along the Salkantay Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu. It was exhilarating and exhausting, but eminently doable. If you are thinking of a trip like this, but haven’t quite gotten past the armchair stage yet, I hope to alleviate some of your fears and concerns, give some pro tips, and ultimately persuade you to:
STEP ONE: DREAM IT
My seatmate on the plane home from my trip to Mexico was an absolute delight to talk to –an accomplished lawyer-turned- artist, (which was serendipitous, as I’m a lawyer-turned-writer), and a keen traveller. During our enthusiastic conversation about places we’d been, I found out she had taken one of my Bucket List trips–hiking through the Andes to Machu Picchu. I spent the better part of the flight asking her question after question about this not-for-the-faint-of-heart adventure.
STEP TWO: DARE IT
Her glowing description of her experience convinced me that this was going to be something Steve and I would do. Someday. When I was ready. So when I got home, I breathlessly described it to Steve in detail and said we should do it. Someday. When I was ready. Well, if you’ve learned anything about me from reading this blog, it’s that I place little faith in the concept of Someday. Clearly, I needed to give myself a stern talking-to:
As I said here, I am much more the ‘carpe the hell out of that diem before any more diems pass me by’ type than a Someday type. But the thought of preparing myself for the level of fitness required to successfully hike through the Andean mountains at dizzying altitude for days on end was a daunting prospect. Yet the alternative–waiting too long and then not having the knees or the heart to do it–was even more unthinkable. It was never going to get any easier as we get older.
So I said to Steve (who is far more fit than me), “I may never be ready, but we should do it anyways.” So we booked it.
STEP THREE: PLAN IT
We had heard great things about Mountain Lodges of Peru, so we planned our trip through them. They have a great concept: you hike the strenuous trails during the day, but at night, you don’t have to camp in a tent. Instead, you sleep in comfortable lodges with cozy beds, indoor plumbing, hot showers and gourmet meals. This really suited our fit-for-fifties-but-no-longer-interested-in-sleeping-on-the-ground lifestyle. The trek, while it covers the same terrain, is extended by a day compared to some of the other camping-style tours that attract a younger clientele, so you cover a bit less ground each day and have a bit more recovery time built into the trip.
STEP FOUR: TRAIN FOR IT
Once we’d booked, there was no going back. We had to get ready. I am not going to sugar-coat it. It took me a year to train for this trip. I cycled, ran, and swam regularly. I also worked with a personal trainer, doing exercises specific to the trek, including lots of incline training on the treadmill with a heavy backpack and lots of time with the Stairmaster. Steve and I took many long hikes in the woods. We even climbed a mountain in Seoul, South Korea, in preparation for hiking in the Andes.
Even more impressively , Steve trained for and ran the Berlin Marathon just six weeks before our trip to Peru! Running a marathon, especially a World Major like Berlin, was one of Steve’s bucket list items, which he accomplished with his signature blend of preparation and determination. This, and some of Steve’s other ‘run tourism’ will be the focus of a dedicated post at a later date. It was a happy coincidence that he was able to do it in advance of our Peru trip, as he certainly was well-prepared for the rigours of the trail.
And yet, we both agree that the seven day trek along the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu was still the hardest physical activity either of us has ever done. But, oh, so worth it.
We would like to give a proper shout-out to our fantastic personal trainers and friends, Chris Fice and Jacquie Reid. I worked out with Chris once a week and Steve and I ran with Chris and Jacquie’s run groups. We simply would not have been fit enough to do this trip without their expert help and encouragement.
STEP FIVE: DO IT!!!
Watch for upcoming posts–and feel free to ask any questions! I’ll try to answer them, as I tell you about our time in Cusco, our days on the trail, and some tips in case you decide to take a trip like this. “Someday.”
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