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What I Learned on the Trail to Machu Picchu

In 2019, my husband and I made plans to visit Machu Picchu in Peru, where our oldest son was living for the summer.

We had always wanted to visit Machu Picchu and hike the Inca Trail. Since our son was living there, we decided it was the perfect time to make it happen.

Life doesn’t always agree with your timing when you make plans.

In 2017, my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 non-smoker lung cancer. We knew he was sick when we booked our trip, but we didn’t know anything about the timing.

At the beginning of 2019, my dad’s disease progressed quite rapidly.

Towards the end of my dad’s illness, the majority of the time, I would sleep at my parent’s house in their bedroom to relieve my mother’s burden and help my dad with whatever he needed in the night.

This was probably one of the hardest periods of my life, just watching him deteriorate.

He always used to say that he just wished there was a door he could walk through so he wouldn’t have to suffer. But, unfortunately, there was no door. There was nothing I could do but watch him suffer and try to make him as comfortable as I could.

My dad passed away in May of 2019, and our trip was scheduled for June.

After he passed, I was certain that I was going to cancel our trip. Not only were my emotions close to the surface because of his death, but I was completely out of shape. I had spent the last several months spending every minute I could with my dad, with little to no thought of taking care of myself.

My mom, however, was insistent that we go and even said that it’s what my father wanted. So we went.

It was very emotional for me to leave less than a month after my father’s death.

I knew I wasn’t ready to hike the Inca Trail.  

Even though I had hiked Kilimanjaro, I knew the Inca Trail was a completely different kind of hike. It was a four-day, three-night hike that takes you on the Inca Trail all the way to the sun gate at Machu Picchu.

It was a 26-mile hike that reached 13,828 feet at its highest point. But the hardest thing about the hike is that you didn’t just reach the summit and then come back down. You went up and down a couple of times. You go up to go down, to go back up, only to go back down again and reach Machu Picchu at 7982 feet.

But even though I knew it was going to be hard on me, once we decided that we were going to go anyway I was all in.

I committed to myself that I was going to complete this challenge, no matter what.

Success is 80% mindset and only 20% skill.

I knew it was going to be tough, but I chose to be all in. When you’re facing any challenge, the most important thing to remember is that your mindset is, hands-down, the most important factor in your success.

Although my skills were lacking because of how out of shape I was, I was determined to finish the race.

The first day it was extremely hot outside, and it was all I could muster to get through it. There was no time for me to talk because I was huffing and puffing, completely out of shape.

On that first day, we saw a few people turn around and head back. But I was determined I was not going to look back. I told myself I was going to complete this challenge no matter hard it got and how slow I had to go.

We got very lucky in the group we were given as we hiked the trail. We were a little older, so they paired us (and our son) with a couple from Utah who was in their late 60s. They were incredibly fit, and we were all very supportive of one another.

We learned that slow and steady often wins the race.

Our goal every day was to make it to the campsite before the young people.

That may sound kind of funny and a ridiculous goal, but it worked.

Most of the groups were young college students. They would start their day taking off at a super-fast pace while we took off at our slow and steady pace.

Halfway through the day, we would pass the younger groups as they were sitting and resting, trying to get enough energy to continue on to the campsite before dark.

Our slow and steady speed kept us from wearing ourselves out. And we were always happy that we made it in before the young people.

It doesn’t matter how you get there—what matters is that you get there.

There were porters along the trail that would actually carry you to the campsite if you didn’t have the strength to make it.

I met one girl who was carried into the campsite, and she was completely mortified because of it.

As I sat there encouraging her, these words came out of my mouth, “You’re still here. You still made it.”

The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter how any of us got to the campsite. We all put in effort to get there.

And when you have put in the work and given all the effort you can, it’s okay to ask for help or to rely on others to help you get the rest of the way.

It’s not a race, and it’s not a competition. It’s an experience. And the journey to get to the finish line is going to be different for everyone.

But in the end, we all got to experience the majesty of Machu Picchu, and it was a powerful moment for all of us.

We are capable of so much more than we think.

I think back on that experience and, without a doubt, know that I was in really bad shape. I am amazed that I was even able to do it, with my fitness level and a bad knee that was swollen all the time.

Even though I had so many limitations, my mindset was such that I was able to do it. Plus, I knew my dad wanted me to.

Although it would have been very easy for me to turn around once I got there or to cancel the trip altogether, I was all in.

I knew that if I didn’t seize the moment, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

It was a test for me to see what I can accomplish and what I am capable of.

We are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Some of us may be facing really difficult challenges. But perseverance and not allowing ourselves to give up is an important part of every obstacle we face.

It’s up to us to make the commitment, put in the work, and achieve success.

You can accomplish whatever you put your mind to.

It was a very proud moment for me when I reached the finish line.

In the end, it was worth the challenge, and it was absolutely worth being all in to get there.

If you’re struggling to accomplish something that seems impossible, commit to being all in.

I promise that this mindset will make all the difference.

Meet Simone Knego

Simone Knego is an international speaker, award-winning author and two-time TEDx Speaker. Her work has been featured on ABC, NBC, and CBS and in Entrepreneur Magazine and Yahoo News. Her literary contributions have been honored by the National Indie Excellence Award and the NYC Big Book Award. Simone has not only summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, but she is also the heart of a bustling household with six children, three dogs, and one husband of 31 years. As the creator of the REAL Method, Simone continues to inspire and impact teams, fostering growth, and promoting self-discovery. 

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