Walking the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is an 8-mile stretch of uneven terrain that leads travelers to the site of the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. Having recently led a group of fellow entrepreneurs on a trip to the Andean compound, I can attest that not only does the hike seem much longer than eight miles, but also that the experience was as emotionally profound as it was physically challenging. Upon my return from Peru, I reflected on all of the conversations, choices, and events that culminated in my standing at the Sun Gate.
The journey serves as an excellent study in the importance of thoughtful execution. Our group knew its purpose, having made the decision to hike Machu Picchu. We planned for months, anticipating the conditions, the physical demands, and even the mythical beauty of the ancient city. Determination and preparation could only take us so far, and now, after hours of travel and a day of acclimating to the altitude, it was time to walk “the walk.”
Throughout the day-long trek, there were defining moments: at each step, we observed, asked questions, and evaluated. Those moments created the narrative for our adventure. While resolve and planning certainly helped us reach our destination, the act of putting one foot in front of the other ultimately cemented the experience in our hearts and minds.
The Very Next Step
- What should we bring?
- Our first choice involved visualizing the journey ahead—and then packing only the essentials. In those instances, clarity of vision and direction made the decision making simpler.
- Who’s with us?
- In our small group of hikers, we had leaders, guides, and cheerleaders—and everyone played their part. The guys at the head of the pack set the pace, our experienced travelers made sure we didn’t over-do it, and my friend taking up the rear carried a boom box for morale. It showed me that in any journey, the people accompanying us make all the difference.
- Are we looking at the same map?
- In any major endeavor, the biggest challenge seldom involves capabilities, leadership, or even resources. Instead, it’s about negotiating conflicting personalities, agendas, and relationships so that we start each morning moving in the right direction.
- Embrace the discomfort.
- In the practice of yoga, students learn endurance through calm, quiet observation. They don’t fight discomfort. Instead, they step into it—and even let it wash over them. They notice it, acknowledge it, and then move on. On the Inca Trail, we were careful to observe and even enjoy the moments of fatigue or physical discomfort. It made the experience more complete—and the reward even sweeter.
- Pause to celebrate.
- Even my best panoramic photos couldn’t capture the spectacular vistas from the Sun Gate—nor could they record the intense emotions that came up in those few short steps. For the memory to truly embed itself, I had to stop, observe, and take in the sensations. It isn’t enough to simply acknowledge those moments as we continue to trudge along. We have to stop and savor them.
- Take the next step.
- Fast or slow, energized or fatigued, just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. Odds are, you will discover that the goal is much closer than you had thought.
- Don’t Give Up.
- Until we stepped through the Sun Gate, we had hiked 6.5 miles of challenging terrain—without so much as a glimpse of the citadel. We had done nearly all of the work with absolutely none of the reward. Now, only an opening in a brick wall separated us from a breathtaking view of Machu Picchu. With our very next steps, we would see what we had come to see. We paused, and then we walked through the gate. At that moment, the entire journey came into perspective—and it made the final 1.5-mile hike to the actual site seem like walking across the street.
We all find ourselves in this position from time to time. We’re well into our travel, and the destination is just around the corner—but it can still seem miles and miles away. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the goal and to get discouraged. When that happens, I find it helpful to ask a question that sums up our once-in-a-lifetime journey on the Inca Trail: