We survived the Inca Trail! For months, we have looked forward to this fantastic reunion planned with my (Bethany) sister Sarah and her husband Patrick. We booked our hike back in January and for months, Dave and I have been riding with anticipation toward this time with family.

It´s really impossible to sum up the entire trail in one blog post, and, as our guide said, ¨What happens on the Inca Trail stays on the Inca Trail.¨ So I´ll spare you too many details (some things are better left unsaid anyway!) and give just a general summary of our hike.

Patrick says, "Two thumbs up!" for the Inca Trail.

Day one was described as “easy,” and when I was slightly sore and tired by that evening, I knew I might be in trouble. Dave and I have never done any backpacking together (although he´s done plenty on his own), mostly because of my knees, so this was a completely new experience. The scenery along this part of the trail was absolutely stunning, and almost instantly Sarah was ready to burst into song with “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” Snow-capped peaks hovered over the grassy valleys where we made our along the varying ups and downs of the Trail.

Fantastic view on day one!

Day two was described as challenge, and that might have been an understatement. On the first night we camped at altitude of 3000 meters, but day two starts the ascent to 4200 meters almost instantly. For the first six hours of hiking, all we did was up, up, up. Dave and I were fortunate enough to have had a month of exercising at altitude to acclimate to the minimal amount of air, but Sarah and Patrick were plagued a bit more by the lack of oxygen. By the time we reached “Dead Woman’s Pass,” Sarah had a splitting headache and Patrick was significantly fatigued. But as soon as we started the descent, I slowed to a snail’s pace because of the balance needed on the steep stairs and the sharp impact on my knees. Fortunately, out of the four of us, Dave seemed to be feeling fine. We descended to camp and rested for all the free time we had that afternoon.

At 14,000 feet--Dead Woman's Pass. We made it!

Day three nearly finished us off! It was described as unforgettable by the tour company. Well, we´re not sure exactly what they meant by that, but there were certainly aspects of it that were, in fact, unforgettable. We passed by several Incan archaelogical sites and had spectacular vistas of the mountains and valleys as we made our way along. Perhaps the most unforgettable things were Sarah´s second splitting headache, my unbearable knee pain, and Patrick´s complete loss of appetite. Dave, on the other hand, was still feeling great. He even joined two other guys in our group in a trial run as a porter, the guys who carry most of the gear with the tour groups who hike the trail. These guys´ packs average around 50 pounds… whoa! Dave carried the pack for about an hour to the top of the second pass that day. Not bad!

At the top of another pass... before the painstaking 2800 stone-paved steps down the mountain. Yikes!

On day four, your guides wake you up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. to make a speedy getaway toward Machu Picchu. The goal is to make it to the ¨Sun Gate¨ by sunrise for your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. We succeeded, but were disappointed that the only view we got was of a heavy, misty fog! We found out later that is actually completely normal, so we´re not sure why everyone takes off running down the trail that morning, but that´s what happens.

By the time we got to Machu Picchu and followed our tour guide around for a bit, we were completely exhausted. Looking back, there were several sites we meant to visit that we missed because we simply were not running at 100 percent. But we did get our famous ¨postcard shot¨ from the top, which was high on our list of priorities!

The "postcard picture" or "money shot." And look who we found at the top! We had planned our meeting with Uncle Charlie, my mom's brother, who also happened to be traveling in South America. How fun is that?

War Eagle from Machu Picchu!

Even though the Inca Trail was brutal, we are glad to say we made it to Machu Picchu! No small accomplishment. And what better way than to do it with family? For Dave and I, it was our first official family gathering in our travels. What a blessing it was to share this time with Sarah and Patrick, and then to meet up with Uncle Charlie as well. It meant so much to us that they would come all the way to Peru to travel alongside us for a bit! As we prepare to hit the road again, we are dealing with some of the same feelings so many other travelers feel… just a touch of homesickness and longing for family. But we press on, knowing that though there is a great cost to live out our dreams, the cost of not living them would be greater.

Worth the hike!