Training for the Trek

We never planned to hike to Machu Picchu. Really.

We’ve been talking about going for several years now, and in fact we sort of had it in mind to do as our 20th anniversary trip, which is next year. And when we talked about it, we most certainly put aside the idea of “trekking” there. It was inconceivable. While reasonably fit, neither of us are athletes. I’ve gotten winded climbing more than two flights of stairs at once. I’ve never even slept in a tent.

But earlier this year–around February or so–we came across a video published by one of the companies who organizes treks in Peru. The trek they showed didn’t involve tents or campstoves or sponge baths in rivers, or carrying a backpack the size of a dead body.

What it did include was still a challenge, make no mistake. Hiking 37 miles, crossing a mountain pass at an elevation of 15,200 feet, descending through a cloud forest, dipping toes into a glacial lake, and experiencing 15 different microclimates all in less than a week.

But there were comforts at the end of each day, too: a lodge with a real bed and a hot shower, cooked meals along the trek, mules to carry our stuff. All we would need to worry about was a daypack with layers for dealing with weather, and a water bottle. Maybe some blister bandages (actually, definitely blister bandages).

The more we talked about it, the more this sounded appealing, and would be the kick in the pants we needed to get ourselves in better shape, as we approach the half-century mark. We decided we’d do it next year, to celebrate twenty years together. That would give us plenty of time to “get in shape”, right?

And, we already had a whole different trip planned for this year. It was going to involve world class museums, grand architecture, wine tours, delicious food. I won’t bore you with the details, but as I was about to book the flights one day, the price literally doubled. Being the frugal Scot that I am, I didn’t book it. We waited to see if the price would go back down.

A few days later I said to Rob, sort of as a joke, “maybe we should just go to Peru this year.” And then as we thought about it, and talked it over, it just sounded right. It would mean getting in shape would have to happen a LOT sooner. And we realized that’s not a bad thing.

When we booked this trip, we had seven months to plan. We’re now down to two. TWO.

The most daunting aspect of this trip will be the altitude, obviously. Alas, there’s really nothing we can do to prepare for it. Even if we had the means to fly out to Colorado this summer (we don’t), those peaks are nothing compared to the elevation we’ll be at in Peru. Also, acclimatizing for a day or two a few months ahead of time would be meaningless; only regular training at altitude would be helpful. So that’s really out of our hands.

What we can control is regular walking and hiking, especially up and down hills. We have been walking 5-7 miles a day, on average, since March. We’ve done a number of day hikes this spring and summer. We live in very hilly city, and the streets in our neighborhood are actually quite steep in places, so doing a brisk up-and-down for about a half hour gives a decent mini-workout before or after work. We started doing yoga again.

As far as diet, we’ve made some small, sustainable changes there. We cut out processed carbs (pasta, white bread) during the week, and switched from white rice to brown. Rob gave up soda, I gave up milk or cream in my coffee (except for a rare macchiato on a weekend). I’ve learned how to cook cauliflower rice.

Has it all been enough? In nine weeks we fly to Lima. A few days later we’ll head to Cusco (11,000 ft elevation), where we will acclimatize for three days (two is the recommended minimum) before beginning the trek. And then…well, we’ll see.

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