I’d been wanting to go to Machu Pichu for a long time, but none of the plans worked out. When I saw the REI Peru trip advertised, I immediately signed up, but still had to be approved. A woman called to assess whether I was up to the degree of hiking difficulty. I told her I was 83, in good shape, that I hiked regularly, sometimes up to 14 miles. She signed me up but, given my age, she said I could not do one of the hikes that involved climbing two peaks of 14, 700,’ that I would do the alternative hike. I tried to change her mind by telling her I’d climbed Wheeler Peak in Taos, which is 13,100,’ but this had no effect. I wished I could participate in the two-peak hike, but she made it clear it wouldn’t be possible.
Before visiting Machu Pichu, we were scheduled to hike in places tourists don’t go. The hikes were challenging and invigorating, the vistas incredible. Most enjoyable was meeting children who regularly hiked down the mountain to go to school, and then up to go home, which filled me with admiration. We gave them oranges and apples and were rewarded with “muchas gracias.” I was able to engage with them, speaking basic Spanish, which made me happy.
The day of the two-peak hike I managed to leave my bottle of electrolytes in the van. By the time we hiked to where we were going to divide into groups doing the easier and harder hikes, I was feeling shaky. I told the head guide. He beckoned me to come with him. Much to my surprise, he mixed up a packet of electrolytes in a quart of water and told me to drink it. All of it. I’m accustomed to sipping, not gulping, but I could tell from the way he watched me, I’d better just do it.
As the groups divided, I started to move toward those doing the easier hike. The head guide stopped me. “I heard you say you wished you could do the two-peak hike.”
I nodded. “I do, but the woman who vetted me said I couldn’t, that it wasn’t possible.”
He shook his head. “You can do anything you want to do.” I looked at him., astonished. He pointed me toward the five people waiting to do the two-peak hike. “Go. I’ll be right there.”
More than a little dazed, I joined the group. Everyone knew my age, that I was at least 20 years older than everyone. They didn’t bother to hide their doubts. I kept the words of the guide in my head, took my place, and, with the others, started up.
It was hard going. Very hard going. But I remembered what a mountaineering friend told me. “When you’re breathing hard, blow three hard breaths out. That will get rid of the carbon dioxide and you’ll breathe easier.” I focused on my breath. I put one foot in front of the other. I kept up with the group. When we got to the top of the first 14,700’ peak I was ecstatic. I felt like superwoman.
When we started down toward the second peak, one of the hikers protested, “Why are we going down to go up?” The guide laughed. “You signed up for two peaks, not one. To get to the second you have to go down. And we did go down. Steeply down.
We started up toward the top of the second peak. The guide set a slower pace than he had when we went up the first peak. No one complained. I practiced the breathing. Like the little engine that could in the children’s story, I kept telling myself, “I think I can. I think I can. And then, there we were, at the top of the second 14,700’ peak.
This time I stood off by myself, feeling as if I were in a holy place, filled with gratitude and a quiet sense of joy. I saw the guide looking at me. I grinned and bowed. He bowed back. I might be 83 but I wasn’t too old to fulfill a wish.
Have you fulfilled a wish that seemed impossible? If so, what was that like?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.