It’s all in the Walk!!
I work as Centre secretary for the Newcastle Motor Neurone Disease Care Centre. The Newcastle Motor Neurone Disease Care Centre is part funded by the national charity, The Motor Neurone Disease Association, and we provide medical care and co-ordinate social and community care for MND patients in the North-East and North-West of England.
About 18 months ago the Motor Neurone Disease Association sent out a mail shot promoting fundraising events which were going to be taking place over the next couple of years to raise money and awareness of this dreadful, fatal disorder and the Machu Picchu event caught my attention.
So the mad idea of walking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru was born! I have to add at this point that 18 months ago I was overweight and no where near fit enough to undertake such a challenge but once I have made up my mind to do something I do it. I set about the task of getting fit and also devising a plan to raise the £2900 sponsorship money I needed to raise as part of the qualifying criteria.
The getting fit turned out to be the easier and the far more enjoyable part of the process. I started walking to work every day, attending the gym a couple of nights each week and dragging my best friend out on weekend walks. Although I have lived in the North-East for all of my 48 years I am still astounded at the beauty of the place and found some new and fantastic areas to explore and walk.
To raise the money needed I pestered and smiled nicely at people, held the usual raffles, with the help of my mum held dances, had a Cantonese Banquet night, did sponsored walks, quiz nights and the list goes on but I think the most un-enjoyable and totally silliest think I did was to go Zorbing (for those who, like me, have never heard of such a thing – basically you are strapped into a 30’ inflated ball and pushed down a hill, reaching a speed of around 20 miles an hour!). That event alone raised £150 so I can’t complain too much – although at the time I did!
Eighteen months seems an awful long time, but before I knew it I was flying down to Heathrow to meet up with 37 other slightly daft in the head people from all walks of life, all shapes and sizes, and ranging from people in their early 20’s to mid 50’s, but all with one common goal and that was to walk the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in aid of Motor Neurone Disease.
The journey there was long and tiring but at last we were in Peru and making our way to Cusco, the old Inca capital. What a beautiful city this was, full of culture and magnificent scenery. We had a couple of days to acclimatise, a couple of training treks to get us used to walking at altitude and a free day to explore the wonderful city and meet its fantastic people.
Then bright and early on the Monday morning we were up and on our way to the start of the Inca Trail. Once all the paper work had been done and the photographs taken the trek began. The pace was leisurely and the terrain flat on the first morning which lulled you into a sense of false security, however, just before lunch the steps started!!
Up, up and more up the very steep steps went. Little did we know at this time – this was what the trek was really like – steps up and steps down was the nature of the walk for the next 3 days.
You can’t really put into words the magnificence of the scenery around you. The weather was perfect (if not a little hot) during the day; clear blue sky and, unfortunately, not a breeze to be felt, but so peaceful and serene.
A slow steady pace was maintained and the camp site was reached 7 hours later.
I have camped in some rather lovely places throughout the years, but the view I woke up to the following morning was more than perfect!
I would like to add that, although it was hot during the day, the minute the sun went down the temperature dropped to -4º, so warm sleeping bags, hats (Peruvian style of course!!), gloves and thermals were the order of the day or should that be night!
The second day was the hardest, longest and highest climbing day of the trek which, by a horrible twist of fate, was my 48th birthday! The climb started as it had ended the night before, with steps. We climbed higher and higher only getting a respite from these when we stopped for lunch.
Now stopping for lunch turned out to be a wonderful treat for me. The porters (who run around the mountain like goats carrying packs twice their size and weight) had managed to get up the mountain (at this particular stage we had climbed 3600m) with a beautiful chocolate cream cake decorated with fresh fruit and a candle which played Happy Birthday!
What a surprise and a perfect treat for all of us as the afternoon’s trekking was about to challenge even the fittest of us in the group.
That afternoon we trekked to the highest point of the trail, ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. We were assured by the guide that this got its name from the shape of the mountain, not because a woman had actually died up there! Very reassuring! We climbed to a height of 4200m, lots of steps and very little air, so the going was long, hard and endless, but the top was reached! Because of the altitude and height it was very cold so we did not hang around too long. The decent commenced – yes you guessed it – more steps!
On the third day we ascended again to a height of 4100m and the views were breathtaking, clouds rolling in and rolling out just as fast.
Vast arches of mountains and trees, beautiful coloured birds and more varieties of orchids and flowers than you ever imagined.
There were even extra large beetles and spiders as big as your fist which were passed by very quickly just in case they moved!!
Although the climb was nearly as high as the day before, it was not quite as steep, so seemed easier! However the decent made up for it – 6½ hours of downhill, step after step after step!
You almost lost the will to live by the time you hit camp! Our last night of camping was great fun. A lovely meal, as always, supplied by the cooks and porters and washed down with some Peruvian red wine, then off to the bar – yes, a bar! Just the one drink to wish everyone the best of luck for the coming morning’s climb to the Sungate. It rained that night, the first on the trip, and when we woke at 4am we wondered if the early start would be worth it! But the gods were kind and the rain had stopped by 5:30am. We left camp and started on the last couple of hours climb to the Sungate. With the sun rising behind us and the birds singing overhead, it was as if nothing or anyone else in the world existed except ‘the gang’ with the same goal to make it to the Sungate then onto MACHU PICCHU!
It was as if we all had a new lease of life and the trek up (even though it was MORE steps!) seemed to sail by and before we knew it, we were there and Machu Picchu was before us in all it’s splendour.
It was a very emotional time for all, the end of our journey, the one common goal reached and the realisation of what we had all achieved.
Many of the people on the trek had lost a loved one to Motor Neurone Disease so the combination of what had been achieved, the preparation, and the shear magnitude of it all gave way to tears, hugs and kisses among the thankful crowd.
After seeing the sun come over the mountain and light up Machu Picchu (a sight which will live with me for ever) we made our way down the last of the trail to the Inca site itself. Words fail as to how it looked and how it felt to be there but I know it will be something I will never forget and feel extremely privileged to have been part of.
It was quite a strange experience meeting up with 37 people you had never met in your life and then spending the next 10 days with them, undertaking a journey which has changed many of our lives for ever. I just have to say there was something about this group – we all jelled and supported each other from the outset and not one of us dropped out of the challenge. Every single one of us (some a lot slower than others, like me!) made it to our goal – Machu Picchu!
This account was first published in the newsletter of the Newcastle MND Care Centre