“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So…get on your way!”
– Dr. Seuss
‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr. Seuss is a childhood favorite of many. The book celebrates travel and exploration as a vehicle for empowerment and individuality, while simultaneously warning the reader about the perils of “The Waiting Place”— a black hole of ‘woulda, shoulda, and coulda’ regrets.
Admittedly, I have sometimes gotten stuck in that place and wanted to kick myself later. Like the time I spent my honeymoon lounging on a Caribbean beach that resembled Miami instead of exploring Indonesia—all because it was ‘closer’ and we were ‘exhausted’ from planning our wedding. “We’ll get to Bali next year,” we agreed. Sadly, my passport is still missing that Indonesian stamp. Or the time that I was invited on an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia, but I declined because my husband couldn’t get the time off from work and I felt guilty going without him. P.S. We are now divorced. P.P.S. I do not miss him at all, but I DO miss the cool stamp that is, once again, not in my passport.
Soon after, though, I got the opportunity to go on a Mountain Lodges of Peru lodge-to-lodge trek along the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. Before that, I had never gone on a hike that lasted for more than two hours, and my idea of trekking had been walking the twenty or so blocks to work after a big snowfall in Manhattan. I had no idea what to pack, and my first excursion to buy hiking gear at REI was daunting and subsequently humiliating as I saw the look of horror on the sales-hippie’s face when I complained about the scarcity of fashionable choices in women’s hiking wear.
But go I did—and I was forever changed. Yes, the landscapes are breathtaking: majestic, snow-capped peaks, an impossibly-hued turquoise glacier lake, cloud forest trails that felt shrouded in mystery, and of course, Machu Picchu. I still believe that I heard angels sing when I saw this amazing Inca citadel for the first time. (Not really, but they should’ve been.) The mountain-luxury lodges are first-rate: a welcoming staff, fine linens and other amenities, gourmet Andean cuisine (quinoa!), and outdoor hot tubs with ridiculously beautiful panoramic views.
My transformation, though, happened gradually and came from an unexpected source: Me. At the end of each day, our guide reminded us of where we had been and how far we had traveled. I’ll be honest: the altitude, aside from the terrain, is a challenge. At some points, I wondered if I could really make it, especially on Day 3 when I had to dig DEEP to find the breath and energy to conquer the final ten switchbacks that stood between me and the almost 15,000ft Salkantay Pass. Still, each hike along the trail came to represent another victory of my will over my logic, and of my spirit over my self-doubt. At the end of the trek, while we drank a cold celebratory Cusqueña beer and waited for the train to take us to Aguas Calientes, it occurred to me: I AM A BAD ASS. I had jumped completely out of my comfort zone and had not only lived to tell about it, but I had also accomplished something truly amazing.
“Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?” —
Lesson learned, Dr. Seuss, and your message is clear: It’s time to get outdoors, challenge yourself, and explore the planet! Where will YOU be in 2019? – Natalie Umbert, MLP Team