People do pilgrimages for a variety of reasons. Some go for the adventure, some for the tradition. There are those who have religious reasons and some with no religious connection at all. There are as many reasons, more reasons even than there are pilgrims doing the walking. Some walk, some ride bikes. Others use public transportation all the way to the destination itself. I have a whole passel of reasons I want to do it. 1) I like to pick adventures that challenge me and are epic…to me. 2) I love the ceremony and tradition of the Catholic Church and want to further get back to my Catholic roots. 3) I have neglected my spiritual side for some time and want to reconnect with it. 4) I want to walk more days than I would have had I not flown out from Base Camp in 2012.
When I was in Nepal, I had my first experience walking day after day
mostly alone (aside from my wonderful Sherpa, Mane who spoke little to no English). It was a wonderful experience, no noise but the sound of my boots to the trail, the wind coming down off the highest mountain on the planet, and the slow, ambling ring of yak bells. The Camino, as most people refer to the Camino de Santiago, will be a mixture of that isolation of Everest; the tea houses of Everest will be somewhat like the villages and Abrugues at the end of the days, and then the culmination at a place I really, really want to see. In the Trek it was Base Camp and sleeping on the Khumbu Glacier. Here it will be the cathedral, the mass, and the thought that the relics of an Apostle just might be there.
I do not pretend to have all the answers. Some would think it silly to flay from Las Vegas all the way to Madrid just to take a bus to Leon and then walk 200 miles. Others think it is sacrilege not to do that. So to each their own. I am excited by the fact that in my 50’s I can continue to battle through health issues and creeping up in years by planning meaningful life adventures for myself. But I also invite all of my friends, with all of their various positions and opinions to follow
along with me. It is 23 months before I set out. And in the mean time I have big things to do: a little knee replacement in April, a couple trips to the top of Mount Charleston, Half dome, maybe another run through the Narrows, a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, lots of 5ks, 10ks and half marathons and just a bunch of training. This thing is more internal than external. I read all the time that the walk is very transformative. I felt that in Everest. Look hard enough at the things you do and you can learn new things about yourself.
Getting involved in the Camino de Santiago and various communities associated with it has reinforced the fact that we all judge. Even telling others not to judge is….well…..judging. I have read several posts in the last couple of days in which the poster posits an idea, whether snobbishly looking down on others for using taxis or bag service, or whether simply asserting our way as better than the way the poster has done something….it is all judging. After all, if we read something and draw a conclusion in our mind that we know a better way, or that what they poster has said they did is not up to snuff, we have judged them. Of course no good case of judging would be complete if we didn’t make our position regarding things very clear in our own post. I am guilty too. We rest on the idea that God says “Judge not lest ye be judged”. But does that mean we are never supposed to judge? I say resoundingly NO! We make judgments that God would be very happy with every day: whether to be nice or not, whether to help someone, who to vote for, when to speak or not to speak, what to pray for, and on and on. In a Christian world view that holds to a pretty dogmatic stance that there is right and wrong, it is hard to also apply a layer of in between in appropriate areas. If I am walking the Camino and I see people with lavish luggage who appear healthy laughing it up and taking the last bed in the Albergue whilst I am arriving dog tired, blisters on my feet, back pack nearly worn out…I am likely going to make a very uncharitable judgment. It is human nature to want things to be fair. And it seems people who look well healed and refreshed taking the last bed is not fair. We don’t live in a fair world, we live in a fallen world. Sometimes we just have to understand that and make the best of what we can do rather than grumble about the things we cannot change. After all, our grumbling only effects us, not the “offender”. Not to mention the guys with all the luggage and a ride may have gotten gifts or worked extra jobs to buy nice things for a once in a lifetime trip.
I was in Nepal and was in and amongst the hard working Sherpas. Most were farmers who guided and ported and shepra-ed for extra money. They lived a simple life and people back home thought they were poor. They judged them by an American living standard. But they were not poor and it was sort of ethnocentric and condescending to judge them that way. Here in America it is not uncommon for people to work multiple jobs to better their families. We are not unlike them.
I was in Peru and found myself ill-prepared and unable to do the hike I went there for. One of the people on the tour took me aside and said “I knew when I first saw you that you could not do this hike so just bow out so our hike isn’t ruined.” I was appalled. I had taken most of this body all the way to Mount Everest but he judged me by my looks. Furthermore, I would have done nothing to ruin the hike of anyone else. But these are the things we deal with when we choose to interact with others. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. I did bow out and made other plans during the core of the hike. When we all reunited at the top of Machu Picchu, I had been happy and transformed my misfortune into a wonderful trip anyway. He was miserable, grumpy, and glad to be done. He could say he did it. I could not. But it didn’t seem like he experienced it. I wanted to experience it and will one day. None the less he did achieve his objective.
Not all of us approaches things the same way, and that is ok. We can have an opinion about that, but it does not invalidate the other’s approach. Most especially when it is a matter of ones experience in an activity. Some church people are very demonstrative in their appreciation of God. Others more placid. Does either of them experience God less? Different strokes for different folks. To each their own. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Live and let live. And lastly….embrace the differences…..
No time like the present to go ahead and see if the leg can keep up and do a 5k. So out to Lake Las Vegas we went to do a cool evening headlamp walk Calico Racing put on. It is the first 5k since I messed up the cartilage in my knee on June 3, 2015. Since then I had surgery and learned that at some point soon I will need to have the entire knee replaced. I was thinking in a year, but since have modified that to April 2016. There are a few methods to my madness. For one, my insurance year ends June 30, so with the surgery I just had and the knee replacement in one year, it cuts in half my out of pocket expenses for the replacement. That is because I hit my maximum out of pocket in a plan year. Another is it gives me less time to lose the weight I want and so more motivation to get on it now. I think the goal setting for the weight loss is enhanced by the shorter goal period.
So we got to the park for the walk. It was nearing sundown and a pleasent atmoshphere ran through the crowd. I noticed a woman with a race bib sitting in a camp chair and it occured to me that she was very large. Moreso than me. I felt bad that I thought about her that way. I put the information in the far corner of my mind and got in the back of the crowd to walk. And off we went.
The course was a tiny down hill and then up the entire first half. I had my walking stick and the knee felt just big and numb as it has since surgery. I reached up to test my light for when the sun finally dropped below the horizon behind the Vegas strip. Nothing. I had fresh batteries but had blown the bulb. I continued on anyway, not sure if I would turn around or not. Worried that I was looking for any excuse to quit.
As I topped a rather steep little section it was clear my fitness level was immeasurable. I looked back to see if anyone was behind me and saw nothing. I wondered about the woman in the chair.
My fitness app was working away and my walking stick from Hearst Castle was helping me along as I put one foot in front of the other. The sun was sinking and twighlight was upon us. The lights of the strip were beginning to come on off in the distance.
Soon it was completely dark and I had barely hoofed off a mile before the front runners had doubled back and were on their way in, headlamps bouncing like bright white balls in the darkness. I started to worry about the darkness. Right then, a group of three or four people approached lights and all. Just as we met they were shouting out words of encouragement and the woman closest to me grabbed my arm and put a light in it. I said I would find her and return it at the finish. She looked concerned and just said “keep it” as she disappeared into the darkness.
As I thought about her being my trail angel I wondered again about the woman in the chair.
About that time I could see a stationary becon of light ahead and knew it was the turn around station. As I arrived and took a glass of water, guzzling it down, I felt the going would be easier downhill. As I hugged the tight edge of the pavement so the runners from the longer 10k route could pass, it became clear the light I had recieved was a godsend. The edge was uneven and with the knee acting up I am sure I would have fallen at some point. There are good people in this world. She was good to give me that light. Whoever she is, wherever she is, thank you!
I moved much slower down hill, finding that my knee didn’t like it much. I passed the two mile mark and got just back to the top of that steep spot and saw the lady from the chair. Her walking partner had just sat the chair down and she sat down in it huffing and puffing from the work of getting up the steep section. I uttered some encouraging words and told her I hoped to see her at the next 5k. And I meant it!
Back to the tunnel and up the final stretch. My right calf and left hammie began to cramp. I fought off the cramps and plodded on, crossing the finish line with the worst time I had ever had. 25 minute miles.
But it was the start of getting back in shape. I didn’t bail, I didn’t quit, I didn’t give up. Just before I left, I ran into one of the people I had seen at the beginning with the lady in the chair. This was her third 5k in as many months. The first was well over 3 hours with the second being just over three hours. And she has another next month. It was humbling to hear about her dedication. We can all do this. We just have to want it more than we want our current situations.
After returning from Peru, having not been physically able to do the hike I really wanted to do was demoralizing. I felt I had failed. As much fun as I had, and as wonderful Julio made all of my alternative sites and walks, the simple fact remained that I.Did.Not.Do.The.Inka.Trail. Period. The weight I carried was too much. And I don’t mean the pack.
As 2014 rolled into 2015 nothing much changed. I went through the usual holiday activities and started the new year dedicated to 12 5k walks in 12 months.
They were to be place markers to measure progress between each one. As I headed off to Washington DC for work, I squeezed my May 5k in by doing a selfie stick photo walk through Georgetown and the National Mall. It was great. The business trip I was on was jam packed with walking. I was logging about 17,000 steps a day and I thought “what a way to launch myself forward!”
On June 3 we were taking meetings all over Capitol Hill. We had the Capitol, a meeting with the U.S. Supreme Court Clerk, a meeting at the Senate with Kelli Ayote, and a meeting at the DOJ with Deputy Attorney General Sally Bates. As the day wore on my left knee began to have a feeling as though it were ripping. It worsened. It held me back the remainder of the trip.
June, July, and August there would be no 5ks. As a matter of fact, an MRI revealed a tear in the meniscus. August 27th the knee was scoped and cleaned up. A lot. Left behind was a janky ACL that had been repaired in 1988 and what looked like a shag carpet of arthritis with intermittent bone on bone.
Some friends and I had already started on planning a 2017 walk on el Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I had a Spanish class under way and the walking goal was to go from Leon to Santiago de Compastela. That is 200 miles. And instead of beginning my my goal of over 100lbs. Weight loss with a “good as sorta 54 year old new” knee, I am starting knowing that at sometime between now and September 2017, I will likely need to ink in a total knee replacement. Ugh.
As I lie on my couch with the pups feeling sorry for myself, I decided to watch Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. I learned about it on the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook page. I “met” one of the co-producers there named Annie O’Neil. In watching the pilgrims struggle for their own individual reasons, I was particularly drawn to Annie’s walk. Maybe at first because I was at least familiar with her now. But seeing a normal sized person become nearly debilitated by sever knee conditions, yet for her to push through with no complaints was insuring and redemptive. I no longer felt ashamed of myself for Peru. Instead I felt my biggest failure was not in missing the trail……it was in missing the lesson.
I have a plan now. I always do, but I can only have hope and faith that this time, I can do it. That this time I can keep a promise to myself for all the right reasons.
I trained up to Aguas Caliente where I holed up in a small family owned hotel called Marco Wasi (House of Marco) in the middle of town. Nobody spoke English but all seemed to be ok and up to my room I went. It had been a great day of touring but I was sort of cold from the rain early in the day. I looked forward to my Thursday Night hot shower and some text messages from Seattle to keep me up on the Seahawk v. Packers game. I turned on the water and alas, no matter how long I waited there was nothing hot coming from the spigot. I put on the pajamas, cracked open some hand warmers and threw one in the bed, held the other in my hands to warm up. I could not complain, however because I knew that several miles away from me, on the other side of Machu PIcchu Maggie lie in a tent after a very hard day of hiking down 3009 stone steps in the rain. Steps that wanted to buck her off with every bend of the knee. Steps I was supposed to be enduring with her instead of luxuriating in a hotel room. So I settled in to getting updated scores from Kathlene, Kathy and Sonya and enjoying an old fashioned play by play call of the game courtesy of iMessage and the three of them. Ronald Reagan would have been proud of their exciting delivery of the action!
The next morning I got up bright and early and paced all my things. It was raining and the little girl at the desk walked b]me down to the bus. The steep walks were slick in the rain and I could only imagine what Maggie was enduring coming in on her final leg of the trek. I stopped at the bus and ducked in for a great south American coffee. They served me the steamed milk and the shots of espresso separately so I could pour them in myself. It was a nice time to sit and reflect on teh adventure as a whole. But soon the clock moved and it was time to take the 25 minute ride up the hill to the ruins themselves. IT was a great ride. No harrowing corners but quite safe and really very pleasant.
Once off the bus I simply awaited the arrival of the rest of the team, and most importantly, the arrival of Maggie. I was so concerned to see how she looked, hear how she felt. I had felt so ashamed that I had been cut from the team and had such feelings of having let her down and having deserted her. At the same time, I was so very proud of her for digging in and doing it. AND THERE THEY WERE! Maggie was sitting in the doorway to the restaurant which had not yet opened. She looked tired and wet and ready for some rest. But she smiled and we hugged and if she could make it three and a half more hours, we would be at the buffet eating and drinking and reminiscing. As we walked in to Machu PIcchu in the rain and clouds, it was an ominous eery feeling. We would not be getting all teh classic post card pictures of sunny Machu Picchu. Instead, we would be getting clouds circling around the ruins. Clearing in some spots, getting thicker in others. I am simply going to post seceral of the pictures for you to get the idea:
It was an amazing tour. All sorts of great sights and scenes.
So, as you can see, the grey came in and out around the ruins and it brought you back to a time where you could just feel and imagine the Inca with all his people there to serve him residing here and doing what Inca’s did. Their advanced civilization was amazing. The stone work, all without metal tools, was mind blowing. Carving, hauling, repairing, measuring and all of it with precision. The fact I could step foot on it was an honor as I gazed in awe and in wonderment.
We had done it. Maggie and I had set a goal a year before. While my adventure changed and I did not actually achieve my goal, I was to head home enriched by the things I had seen and the things I had learned from Julio. Maggie did it all. She took each step that the Incas would have taken to get there. She slept under the clouds and she walked through them. Stone step after stone step after stone step. And as we headed to have lunch with the boys before they headed home, I knew what it felt like not to summit, but to have joy for those who did.
It has been a couple days since I could blog so I will catch up on what you have missed. Thursday started with Julio arriving again and heading out toward the Sacred Valley. We went to Moray where there are a series if circles on terraces. The theory is that seeds were tested for flavor on each terrace to determine slight changes.
It began to rain and as we walked down to the bottom it was really slick. Walking up was slicker yet!!! But I got to the top, the rain passed and we headed out to the salt mine.
Now when I think of salt mines i think of deeeeep places in the earth and animals pulling carts of salt up to the surface. But this salt mine derives from a small spring that bubbles out of the side of a hill and people have little pools or sections to add wafer to, let evaporate and then scrape out the salt left behind.
After the mine we had lunch of hamburgers and InkaKola and then it was off to the train where I bid farewell to Julio and headed to Agua Caliente!
So we survived and tomorrow will arrive at the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. This is the second scheduled event for those of you following us and having this great interactive experience from the comfort of your own easy chair. This will represent 5 days of hiking and climbing. Sleeping in tents. Eating out over a fire. No showers. We will accomplish what we have worked so hard on all these months and it will be bittersweet to see the adventure winding down. So lift a glass whilst donning your IncaTrek 2014 shirt if you have one. Get creative. Group shots, individual shots, just photo bomb us and enjoy it with us. We have so enjoyed the preparations, the discussions, the talking with all of you about our adventure and we want to enjoy the day knowing you all enjoyed it with us. We will hear the high winds carry the clink clink of your glasses across the miles into the high Andes and we will thank you all! This, like the last event post, has been pre-launched so we could remind you to get your trek on with us. We will post all we can in real time, depending on the technology available!
POST PICKS AT:
Karen A. Whelan facebook page
WhelantTrek facebook page
or WHELANTREK on instagram
and PLEASE use the hashtag #IncaTrek2014
I slept in fits and starts and finally simply lie there awaiting my wakeup call. I packed for the day and met Julio and off we went for a day of awesome archeological site seeing.
First stop: Pikillaqta. This was an amazing civilization that preceded the Incas. The stonework was grand. The walls of the city extended as far as the eye could see. As many as 8000 people lived there at one time. The Wari as they are called and they were considered warriors. You also could see their method of lashing with leather as restored. There were a couple of crafts people there and I bought sone of their handiwork.
Our next stop was a little town called Oropesa “Capital Nacional de Pan” in which bakers spend the day baking fresh bread to be sold to people and businesses in Cusco. We went into one place where the bread was being baked in open wood fired stoves. As the boys raked out the bread into the apron of a man who was buying it you could not help but be envious of the availability of good, fresh non-preservative filled bread every single day. We got a couple of warm rolls to eat and were they tasty!!
The second archeological site we visited was Tipon. It was magnificent with aqueducts coming down from a main stream at the top of several terraces. We walked the stone steps and grass fields to the source of the water where Julio gave me an excellent Explanation of the Inca philosophy if life at all levels. The Inca were genius with their water engineering and stone work and this site is well worth the time.
It was a great day and now it was time for lunch! We stopped where they serve Chicharones!!! A great snack. Yes, pork rinds. That and roasted corn nuts followed by InkaCola, Cruzquenian beer and a plate loaded with corn, potatoes and ribs!!!! We chatted and ate and toasted Maggie on her conquest of Dead Woman’s Pass. I came away with so much more knowledge of Inca life and culture. I know I have said it before, but Julio is simply a wonderful guide chock full of knowledge just bursting out of him. And, at 11,000 feet I am still working pretty hard with this Inca pension for steps and high places.
We drove back yakking about the US and Peru and passing slow moving trucks. Then I showered and went to toast Maggie for her day of accomplishment, cresting close to 14,000 feet! Tomorrow: more archeological sites and then I train up to Machu Picchu!
So today was it. This was the day the trek was to begin for all four if us. After yesterday I knew what was coming. We arrived at our hotel in the Urubumba, and we gathered for a meeting. Julio was letting us know what was happening going forward. He then politely asked to speak with me. I appreciated that. But I wanted my teammates involved. I did not want them to think I had been dealt with unfairly. So I said lets talk here. Nothing you say will be off limits. I was given a couple of options. I wanted to be sure my decision did not impact the team negatively. We all paid to be here and accommodating me could sour the trip of the others. My words not Julio’s. In the end, since I knew how much impact even doing the one day would have, I decided I would walk to the checkpoint and get my passport stamped and say goodbye. It was hard seeing them go over the bridge and up the hill. We each hugged and when I hugged Maggie my eyes filled with tears as I gripped her. I felt I had let her down and as though I were abandoning her. I stood and watched as they crossed the river and climbed the hill our of sight. I was all alone. They were gone and I cried.
I turned to see Darwin our driver waiting for me. I huffed and puffed up the hill to the van. Darwin speaks no English. As we drove away I looked out the window. What beautiful country. I wanted to k ow more so started picking through my very limited Spanish and asked questions. Soon we were having quite the conversation. We spoke about dogs, family, work and sights along the way. He is a nice man and has a 5 year old boy who started first year of school. At one point I am not sure if I asked him to marry me. And he may think that Maggie’s husband is dead and that Maggie and I are married now. By the look on his face something big got lost in the translation!!
We arrived back to Cuzco and Julio was right at my door and we went into the hotel to hammer out details going forward. He had already gotten my train ticket to go up to Machu Picchu Thursday. Ingot a good hotel rate and we have archeological tours to do for the next two days. Julio is so passionate about his Inca heritage and it comes out in his knowledge as he explains things T the various locations we go. Once again, Mountain Madness is providing the best!
So by now Maggie is in her tent. She is sleeping out and I am Missing seeing her reaction to it all. But we each have three days of adventure to create before we meet again at Machu Picchu!
Don’t forget! Wednesday the 3rd of September is TOAST TWO AT DEAD WOMAN’S PASS. Maggie and I will have hit the high altitude mark of the trek and survived Dead Woman’s Pass. It will be a hike of ours up stairs hewn by ancient Inca workers. It will crest at 13,800 ft high and then we will go down a knee pummeling steep trail to camp. So get your shirt out and wear it Wednesday and take a selfie or a video that you can post at Facebook and toast us! YES toast US! IF you have no IncaTrek 2014 shirt…wear another shirt and toast us anyway! When you post at:
Karen A. Whelan facebook page
WhelantTrek facebook page
or WHELANTREK on instagram
and PLEASE use the hashtag #IncaTrek2014
We love the fact that you guys are following us and we cannot wait to actually SEEEEEE the posts. This very blog entry is prewritten and auto-posting so we are not writing this post in real time.