The Lares Trek in Peru was both the hardest thing I’ve done, and the best thing I’ve done in my life. The Lares Trek is a 33 kilometre (or 34, or 35, depending on who you speak to) hike over three days (two nights) and reaches an altitude of 4900m above sea level. The hike begins near Lares town and finishes in Ollantaytambo, before taking a train to Agnes Calientes for the night and seeing Macchu Pichu. My experience of the Lares Trek, 22 months post hip replacement, is a personal feat I’ll never forget.
On a side note…
Goodness me! It feels good to be back at the laptop writing again! I haven’t posted in what, two months?! To be honest, it’s not like I haven’t been writing at all. Over the last couple of months on our traveling sabbatical, I’ve been quite content writing in the pages of my journal. I intentionally didn’t place pressure on myself to blog and after a break, I’m happy to be here. Documenting my experience doing the Lares Trek was a ‘must do’ for the sabbatical, so here goes….
Like many others who do the Lares Trek, the Inca Trail or any other hike that pushes personal capabilities and boundaries, this feat had its own significance for me. I wanted to challenge myself and re-gain belief in myself and what what I’m physically and mentally capable of these days.
The journey for me, started years ago. At the time of the Lares Trek earlier this month, I was 22 months post hip replacement. My post-op recovery of hiking whenever we had the time, pilates, yoga and barre classes, plus the previous five months working with an exercise physiologist worked together in preparation.
At 14 years of age, I was diagnosed with Perthes Disease in my left hip. I was a competitive, national level gymnast at the time, and back then, Perthes Disease and even hip disorders generally, were largely unknown nor understood. There wasn’t much that could be done by the way of treatment at such an age, so I had to just ‘live with it’. I carried on with life as normally as I could, even doing a three month overseas trip at 22. From here though, my hip – movement and flexibility, declined more and more rapidly, until I had enough. The pain in my hip would wake me up at night and I couldn’t enjoy a night out, or even a walk around the local markets. My hip was a constant source of pain, not only in the joint itself, but in my lower back and right knee too. I managed to hide most of it at work and from those not within my circle of family and close friends. I still had much to be grateful for, don’t get me wrong, but doing something became a matter of quality of life. I wanted my active lifestyle back and I knew that one day, I wanted to be an active Mum and have active pregnancies. I knew something could be done, so I sought it out. In 2014, I saw my surgeon in tears. Three years later, I’m a brand new woman. But coupled with my losing Mum 2 1/2 years ago, I had a way to go in regaining some self-belief.
Day 1: 9 kms
I started the Lares Trek optimistic. A slight incline for most of an afternoon. I replayed my exercise physiologist’s voice over and over again in my head- engage through the core, push through the heel. I was tracking towards the back of the group (of 18 year old whipper-snappers with too much energy), but I didn’t mind too much at that stage, enjoying the scenery and visits through the local villages.
We could take about 6kgs of gear in duffle bags, in addition to our day packs, and these were loaded onto mules and horses. Porters are generally not used on the Lares Trek. We packed minimal clothes, basic toiletries and our sleeping bags.
The food was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe the creations the cooks came up with in the middle of nowhere! We didn’t go hungry. Soups, pancakes and local dishes. And I fell in love with muña tea, an Andean mint tea that assists with digestion and coping with altitude.
We slept in tents at community campsites run by G Adventures. We rented small air mattresses and used our packing cubes filled with clothes as pillows. Though relatively comfortable for where we were and tired, for the life of me I could not sleep.
Day 2: 14 kms
I knew Day 2 was going to be brutal. After the briefing, I felt even more nervous and scared. I guess my mindset wasn’t the greatest from here. The plan was, starting at 7.15am and 3900m:
3 hours uphill to reach a lagoon
2 hours uphill to reach the summit at 4900m
1 1/2 hours downhill to lunch at approximately 2pm
2 1/2 hours downhill to camp
I’ll note here that I started the Lares Trek after two weeks with a cold and taking cold and flu tablets. The altitude played havoc with my sinuses and within an hour, I struggled to breathe but I was managing.
I went slow, tried to find my own pace between keeping moving and enjoying the scenery around me. The aforementioned ‘whipper snappers’ almost ran up the mountain and set a ridiculously fast pace. Because I wasn’t keeping up with them, despite my own limitations and setbacks, I felt like I was failing. I began to think I wasn’t good enough to be there and that I hadn’t done enough to prepare for the challenge. The guides would frequently ask me if I was ok, which added to my frustration. (though I understand it’s their job) I still found some determination. Whether this was out of mental toughness or an inability to ask for help, I couldn’t say. All I needed was to go slow. The guides reassured me that going slow and to enjoy was the way to do the Lares Trek, but each time they asked me if I was ok seemed to go against this. I felt like something was wrong with me.
What surprised me wasn’t that I felt this way, but that I was quick to believe all these things about myself.
The altitude took effect near the rest point at the lagoon at around 10.30am. My glutes had fatigued beyond reckoning. And I knew I was compensating with my quads and lower back. This ‘less than perfect’ scenario, falling short of my high expectations of performance wasn’t good enough. I had pushed and pushed but my head got the better of me.
I thought I was tougher. My husband thought I was tougher. The truth was, I felt the enormous weight of everything I’d been through over the last 2 1/2 years on my shoulders. I was ready to curl up behind a rock somewhere and cry.
In my slightly dazed, frustrated and fatigued state, I agreed to be put on a horse to the summit. I didn’t want to let the group down, despite letting myself down in doing so. I took the horse on and off for the remaining 1 1/2 hours to the summit. (Yes, the estimate was 2 hours but the whipper-snappers took less time.) I had to walk when the way was too steep and too dangerous for me to be on the horse. On the horse, I was first in our group’s procession and often alone with the spanish speaking horseman who led me. The horseman was a sweet and gentle soul, aged in his fifties and wore sandals. His hands were calloused but I took his hand each time I climbed on and off the horse. And each time, he’d put my feet in and out of the stirrups.
After everyone reached the top, we did an offering to Mother Earth, or Pachamama with coca leaves, managed a group photo before the hail and snow storm battered us.
The downhill trek to lunch and the campsite passed relatively uneventfully, apart from my stunning tuck-and-roll down the mud in the forest. No video, sorry. Luckily, I still had my poncho over me from the snow storm, so minimal damage was done.
That evening I beat myself up. I failed. I cheated. I didn’t complete the trek.
Day 3: 11 kms
An easy day, all downhill. A day for reconciliation and making peace with myself. My mind was left to wonder about, and conclude a couple of things.
- I may not have been a strong as I thought I was, but I am stronger for having gone through it. I now have a better sense of how far I’ve come post Mum and hip replacement; a better sense of my capabilities and who I am as a person. I may be beat down from time to time, but I always pick myself up.
- ‘Going well’ can only be measured relative to your own self. Every time my husband encouraged me and said I was ‘going well’, I didn’t believe him. (That was sh*tty of me, wasn’t it?) That was because I was comparing my progress with the young whipper-snappers. I was going well, relative to what was both for and against me. Each of us has our own story, our own set of circumstances and challenges. No one else can compare. So the next time you think you’re not going well in life, in career, whatever, re-assess by looking at your journey so far.
I may not have been a strong as I thought I was, but I am stronger for having gone through it.
I thought about the horseman and wondered, ‘what if he was sent by Mum?’ As a kid, my Mum would saddle her horse and lead me and my sister out for rides at her Dad’s property. She’d place our feet in the stirrups, ensured we were sat properly, holding on. In some way, I thought perhaps the horseman was Mum lending me a helping hand. Maybe she thought it was something she could do, being so far away. I hoped she was proud of me.
After lunch on the third day and before we all left for town and the train up to Agnes Calientes, my husband gave the horseman our remaining bag of coca leaves for looking after me. Locals chew coca leaves for extra energy. He took the bag gratefully.
I’d like say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone – family, friends, colleagues, for encouraging me on this journey and inspiring me to keep going. I wouldn’t have achieved this much without you all.
I’d also like to give a shout out to physio, Chris Brady, for referring me to the fabulous Dr Malisano; Stephen Boyd Physiotherapy, and exercise physiologist Rachel Evans and physio Flick at Inspire Health Services. Go team! Thanks so much.
Thank you to my husband for allowing me to use his photos in this post. 🙂