The Inca Trail
Things I knew about the Inca Trail before I hiked it:
1. It's 26 miles over 4 days.
2. The highest point is at 13,000 ft.
3. Lots of tourists hike it.
Things I found out while hiking it:
1. In one day, you climb 3/4 of a mile over 6 miles.
2. There are 9,622 uneven, stone stairs (appoximately half up and half down)
3. Much of the trail at that elevation is cloud forest, covering the stairs in mist.
4. The fourth day you get up at 4:00 am and hike an hour in the dark over the slippery, uneven, stone stairs to watch the sunrise illuminate Machu Picchu.
In case numbers like ''9,622'' or ''3/4 of a mile'' are hard for you to conceptualize, I have prepared this brief comparison.
Forgetting for a moment that the stairs are slippery, unveven, jagged rock affairs ranging from four to fourteen inches in height, just doing the 4,811 stairs up would be like climbing from home plate to the nosebleed seats at Net Ass Coliseum about 40 times, or a stadium three times as high as the Sears tower. We did it in six hours and then walked back down the next day.
Some of you diehards may still be saying ''I do six miles on the stairmaster every morning. It's not so bad.'' And to you I say, ''so did I. But it's different at 12,000 feet.'' There is approximately 1/3 less oxygen at that elevation as at sea level. You could simulate this effect by punching five or six holes in a plastic bag and wearing it over your head during your workout.
The hardest part though is coming back down. We don't practice going down stairs much, so our muscles weren't up to the task, and we rolled our ankles and fell a lot. None of us could do stairs for a good four days after we finished. Katrina swears her calves are bigger for all this, but I believe that to be physiologically impossible. Since the bragging rights are severely limited by the stupidity of the undertaking, what I think we really got our of the experience is a sobering look at the durability of the human body (and some pictures, which I hope turn out well).