Step. Breath. Step. Breath. Pause…. Step.
I had come to hike the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu. As an archaeologist, I was fulfilling a dream I had since first learning about the ancient city in middle school.
Instead of living out a dream, I confronted my reality.
- The air is thin. (And so is my blood due to anemia, but I didn’t know it at the time).
- I am not as in shape as I thought I was.
- 14,000 feet above sea level is really, really high.
- Photos show me pale, unable to smile.
To add insult to injury, I developed food poisoning and spent the first night on the trail struggling to quietly crawl out of my tent to vomit in the nearby bushes. Multiple times.
Day two would lead us over Dead Woman’s Pass and I assumed that the pass was named for me.
Up until this point I had pondered turning back. Another hiker had after the first night due to extreme altitude sickness, and I kept wondering if I should do the same. But we had passed the half-way point, so turning back would have only prolonged my discomfort. I also really wanted to complete this hike.
On the final full day of hiking, I remembered that I had my iPhone with me. No cell service, but I had a playlist of all of my Disney soundtracks downloaded in iTunes. I pressed play on Day 3 and my reality changed.
As Rapunzel sang about taking that first step into an unknown world, I climbed a craggy staircase. As Pocahontas described the colors of the wind, I remembered to look around and take in the vegetation and the fog so I would have memories of more than my feet on dirt trails. As Hercules prepared to go the distance, I looked ahead to the end goal of this hike and reminded myself why I was there.
On repeat, my childhood (and some adulthood) heroes pulled me up the mountain. I cry thinking about how something so simple, a child’s song, gave me the strength to push on. Those voices singing about hope and dreams helped me remember to be present and get out of my head.
In the 8 years since we hiked the Inca Trail, Disney has given us a few more earworms. Between hearing Elsa describe my depression on an icy mountaintop and Moana acknowledging she needed to follow a different path my inspiration playlist has grown.
It calls me…
Just around the riverbend…
When will my life begin?
Whatever you need to do in 2020, may you find the strength you need. And if you think my whimsical playlist can help you, here is the link.