January 24, 2023
Many of you know that I tackled the Khumbu Valley Trail in Nepal in December. What you may not know is that I am NOT a hiker. That said, I tend to trek only big stuff. Wait, what? I know that does not make sense. It started years ago when I lived in Colorado. With some friends, I conquered Longs Peak, a fourteener in the Rocky Mountains, without much preparation. I triumphed all the same.
I renewed my lack of hiking preparation in the fall of 2021 when I set out for a two-week adventure of a lifetime. I was officially in my fifties and felt there was no time like the present to push my boundaries and step outside of my comfort zone. You know, physical exertion, mental mind-bending, temperature changes, in-your-face nature, potentially dangerous and suspicious food, and anything that makes you wonder later why you agreed to be that uncomfortable in every way.
I was hesitant, to say the least because I was about to hike 26 miles to get to Machu Picchu in Peru. When I say I do not hike, I do not step outside my door on weekends with my hiking boots laced up to huff and puff to the top of anything. I live at sea level in a beautiful place with many easily accessible hiking spots, but I don’t hike. No excuses. I sort of like hiking. I mean, I like the idea of hiking. I do not go out of my way to make it happen or prepare in any way for it.
What do you do when you are about to push your limits? You lean on a friend, right? Surround yourself with support and inspiration, which is one of the things I love about Hybrid Fitness. For this experience, one of my grade school besties, Tammy, was joining me. Tam is the epitome of a spirited go-getter. Just what I needed! After 45 years, Tam knows me inside and out and has my back. However, she hikes. Like real hiking. Like all-the-mountains-in-New-England-every-weekend hiking. Compared to my apprehension, she was beyond ecstatic about this adventure.
I love to travel and have been all over the world. As I get older, I am less willing to suffer for the experience. I envisioned myself trudging along, far behind Tam. That is if I wasn’t sitting on rocks or the wet ground, gasping for breath and sobbing periodically. I pictured arriving at our camp as a sweaty, hungry, dehydrated mess. And in the morning, being so sore, I’d have to stay on the mountain forever to live in harmony with the local alpacas.
I am a Hybrid Fitness Coach. Coach is the keyword. I help others get the exercise they need, but there are more times than I care to admit when I don’t get the workouts I need. I haven’t been as consistent with my exercise schedule as I want. My nutrition is inadequate because I tend to have too many irons in the fire, and I skip meals. In my mind, this behavioral trend is a recipe for disaster. Not knowing what I had signed up for with this moderate-level Sacred Valley Peruvian quest, I questioned whether I was fit enough to check this off the bucket list. Summiting the top of Longs Peak was almost 25 years ago when my aches and pains were less, and my muscles were a hell of a lot more primed.
I had not been backcountry tent camping since b.k. (before kids). I was worried about my back after lying on the ground all night. I imagined tripping on the rock-strewn jaunt to the makeshift potty in the middle of the night in the blackest darkness. The temperature was a concern because I could only carry so much in my pack. Freezing after sweating from the exertion in the cold weather had me thinking there could be a possibility of never being warm again. I had no idea what the food and drink would be like, including coca leaf tea, sacred to the Incas, which has enough caffeine to shame Coach Brandon and Coach Ben. I purposely did not ponder the chances for any up close and personal conversations with unexpected critters as we intruded into their habitat.
Despite all of these thoughts running through my head, I survived. I did gasp for breath but took more photos than anyone else because I stopped to take in my surroundings. I was slow but steady and arrived at camp whole and happy each evening, except when the toe of my shoe caught the step and sent me tumbling down stone steps. I don’t think I’ve seen that color purple in bruises before. Smiling and laughing took the place of sobbing, and my gear kept me dry in the downpours and shaded my fair skin from the sun. I applaud the thin sleeping pad that did save my back from complete agony. My muscles were sore but in a why-don’t-I-hike-more kind of way. The food was pleasingly on the edge of gourmet. The now welcomed coca leaf tea kept me warm since I didn’t bring enough layers. On a trip to the privy one evening, I made a deal with a tarantula that we would stay on our respective sides of the stall. Coach Brandon would have loved that. Overall, everything went well, but that didn’t mean it was easy. It was hard and NOT a vacation. It was what the brochure stated, an adventure trek. However, after much toil, Machu Picchu is a wonder to behold with its terraces and carefully constructed stone structures dating from the 1400s. Completely magnificent.
After Peru, I thought I would be able to cross hike-something-big off my bucket list, but then my guide friend from college, Chris, offered to take me on a trek in Nepal this past December. He and his wife operate an adventure tour company (Far Xplorer) and spend much of the year in Nepal. Our trek would be the Khumbu Valley Trail towards Everest’s base camp. Not Everest itself. I am not altogether crazy. He said our walk would be mellow, with time to pause for tea, check out the local villages, and photograph the beautiful views. That sounded lovely. He was correct about the fascinating local culture and the stunning views, but the “walk,” as he called it, was a bit more challenging. I had flashbacks of Peru.
I thought that I would be more prepared after my time in Peru. I was partly correct. I was excited to hear that we would stay in lodges and not sleep on the ground. I imagined hot showers and comfortable, warm beds after each day of hiking. However, the accommodations were not heated and some did not have hot water. Brrrr! We had a few hours of sunny weather and blue sky each day, but after that, it was cold. Cold like see-your-breath, -4 degrees cold. Because of this, we didn’t hike as far as the Everest base camp. The lodges decided to close because of the cold weather (frozen pipes and all that). We heard it was -17 degrees at base camp, and some folks were taking helicopters.
My 56 mile adventure was incredible despite getting a terrible cold and expending thousands of calories trying to keep warm. The locals were friendly and willing to help as much as possible for us to feel welcome. The meals, mostly ramen vegetable soups, were delicious, and the lemon honey tea aided with my cold. Both helped keep me warm.
There were no tarantulas on this trip, but I took photos of rabbits, goats, cows, mules, sheep, birds, dogs, and cats, and the yaks were gorgeous. I also snapped footage of stupas, crazy Kathmandu traffic, an outside crematorium, prayer wheels, and the breathtaking scenery, including Everest. I can’t believe the grandeur of the Himalayas.
Similar to our fitness journeys, there are always many obstacles when traveling that can lead to surprising comprehension. Due to an issue with my visa for India, I had to stay in Paris for a day. I had a glorious time visiting the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and savoring a few French pastries. True heaven! Then on the way home from Nepal, I was sidetracked in India for a couple of days. I understand why the Taj Mahal is one of the world’s seven wonders. It’s romantically extraordinary in size, art, and architecture. It was an enjoyable way to end an arduous journey.
I share my hiking stories because I think it’s crucial to fold opportunities for exercise (mental and physical) into the pockets of the soul through experiences that entice human growth in character. Someone I greatly admire, Coach Beth of Beth Feraco Fitness says, “We can do hard things.” There were moments on all three of my hefty treks when I questioned whether I could take another step, stop shivering, drink enough water, eat new food, etc. Even though I did not prepare physically in any way for these adventures other than my haphazard exercise routine, I was fit enough to make it happen. I have memories of incredible places where I learned a lot along the way, not only about the places I visited but also about myself. I learned about things that I need to do better (more fresh air & a steadfast commitment to an exercise regime), things that I need to let go of (tasks that don’t matter in the big picture), and things I need to cherish more in my everyday life (family, friends, experiences).
I am moving forward with yet another deep appreciation for different people and places. However, I can say with conviction that I am crossing hike-something-big off my bucket list. Done, done, and done because I am NOT a hiker!
Cathy grew up in NH surrounded by a large, loving family, where she learned generosity and hard work. She now models that for her two children. She was inspired to become a fitness coach when searching for ways to become more healthy herself after a life-threatening illness.