I didn't know it yet, but I'd torn my right meniscus to shreds.
Four days, 26 miles, gear in tow, summiting a 13,000-foot peak—the Inca Trail is no marathon, but it's also no joke.
We had booked the trek through SAS Travel—naturally—a stellar tour company albeit with no connection to Cary, North Carolina. Despite a leisurely backpacker's lifestyle for a few months, I thought I had trained adequately for the jaunt.
While in Guatemala, I'd joined the Antigua Gym, a converted 17th-century Spanish Colonial house. Even in the open courtyard, tarps had been pitched and staked to a central mast like the big top of an itinerant circus, the now-quiet, centuries-old plaster fountain oddly the centerpiece of modern fitness equipment.
Despite my high-energy start, more than 4,000 miles spent on buses from Guatemala to Peru had tempered my fitness regimen. I knew I was in trouble when in Quito, Ecuador, I was out of breath just walking around town at 12,000 feet.
The trek itself was indescribable, up one mountain and down the next, winding along cliffs, bridges, worn stone steps, and muddy paths rutted from centuries of use. Hypnotized by the trail, placing one foot steadfastly ahead of the other like our pack mule companions, we plodded along, pausing only for photos, snacks, and jungle restrooms.
We wore rain ponchos at first, believing somehow that the ephemeral plastic would keep us dry—yet even during the few, brief rainless respites, the sempiternal fog cloaked ...