Inca Trail, 2007
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Led by the inimitable Solay and Leon of United Mice Outfitters, my mom and I undertook the four day, three night, 26-mile trek to Machu Picchu. I didn't keep a journal, but here's one potentially amusing story:
When we arrived in Cuzco, I had a bad cold. The discerning diagnostician may have even called it the flu. And so my plan was just to hang out with my mom at the back of our group, taking it easy and not licking or sneezing on any people or shared equipment.
On the first day of our trek, our guides passed around some coca leaves. "Don't worry," they reassured us. "They are just a mild stimulant to help with the altitude, and are totally legal."
So I tucked a couple of coca leaves in my cheek as I huffed up the legendary "Inca steps" (tall blocks of granite) on Day 1.
By Day 2, I was feeling a lot better—so much better, in fact, that I felt like running the Inca Trail. At the time, I was doing triathlons, and so it wasn't altogether unreasonable that I could keep up a good pace. Yet I found myself actually trotting with two young British men at the front of our pack.
For three days, at altitudes of up to almost 13,900 feet, I ran up and down the Inca Steps. Like a baseball pitcher dipping snuff, I kept a pinch of chewed coca leaf in my jowl.
The Inca Trail, Sayaqmarka, Wiñay Wayna, and Machu Picchu were all magnificent, and you can find loads of pictures here and here. But as impressed as I was by the architectural achievements of the Inca Empire, I was also pretty stoked by my physical performance. Although I had started the trail at a virally impaired crawl, I wound up running most of the thing.
When we got back to Cuzco, though, I went straight to bed, and didn't wake up for 19 hours. "I guess I'm not completely over my cold," I thought between fever dreams and gulps of orange juice.
It's a testament to my naiveté that I didn't put the pieces together until years later: I ran most of the Inca Trail not because I was some stellar triathlete, but because I was high on coca leaves.
TL;DR: Idiot ate too many coca leaves and ran the Inca Trail while recovering from the flu.