“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.” -William Blake
After two days of hiking with Alberth, Maria, and Tyler, they took off for the Santa Cruz trail, a 4-day trek around the Cordillera Blanca mountains. I had to stay behind in Huaraz because of work, but I wasn't two sad about it. There were tons of beautiful day hikes in the area and I was actually kind of excited to have some time to myself.
I was, on the other hand, very sad about the state of my feet. I had gotten new hiking boots as a gift before I left for my trip and had forgotten that with new hiking boots comes new blisters. The backs of my heels were raw. I could walk downhill in my boots no problem, but whenever I climbed they rubbed against my wounds and caused excruciating pain. Still, I wasn't about to not hike while staying in Huaraz.
So I decided to go barefoot. It didn't sound like a big deal. I'd hiked barefoot in Tahoe many times. But let's put this into context.
In two days I did two barefoot hikes: one to Laguna Churup and one to Laguna 69. The hike to Laguna Churup is 5 miles each way and consists of a straight climb from 12,000 to 15,000 feet. At one point you have to climb a 500% grade rock wall with nothing but rubber cables to cling to for support. Laguna 69 is another 5 mile trail with a similar altitude gain.
In two days I hiked 20 miles and climbed 6,000 feet... barefoot. On top of that I'd never been above 9,000 feet until about four days ago and the trails were both laden with small rocks and looked a bit like this:
So by now you are probably wondering, was it worth it?
I could write forever about how beautiful and inspiring the hikes were, but this is a blog, not a book, so instead I will give you these photos. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, isn't it?
I'm a strong believer that one of the world's greatest teachers in nature. Spend some time alone with her and you are guaranteed to learn a thing or two. So what did I learn from two days of barefoot hiking alone in Peru?
I learned that you are capable of more than you think. There were times during both hikes when the only reason I kept moving forward was because of sheer will power. My legs were lead, my lungs were gasping, but I kept walking. And I made it. Both times. Because I told myself I could.
During my first hike I met a few other hikers and they reminded my that feeling supported can change everything. They told me I was strong (and crazy) when they saw my bare feet and hiked on, saying they would see me at the top. Their faith that I would meet them there-shoeless and exhausted-helped me keep walking.
But most importantly, or at least most powerfully, my two days of hiking served to re-teach me that our connection with nature is the most powerful thing we have. Feeling the mud between my toes, wrapping the soles of my feet over rocks, smelling the wildflowers, ogling the view, jumping in the frigid lake... it all brought that important truth back to me in a glaring way.
Nature is more than just beautiful. It's everything. And without it, we are nothing. When I was out there on my own, a part of me was convinced that my legs were going to fall off and my lungs explode, but the other part of me was certain I would be just fine. Not because I believed I could do it, but because I knew I had the entire power of Mother Nature supporting me.
Usually when I hike alone I have a lot of time to think, but with a climb this intense all my thoughts were replaced with the pounding blood in my head. The most I could think was, "keep going, keep walking."
I was too exhausted to let my mind roam. I love my brain and I worship my ability to think critically about things, but sometimes it's necessary to shut our minds up. I've never been very good at sitting meditation (I mostly get agitated and want to move), but I know the importance of finding stillness. Because we need that stillness, that quiet mind, in order to really feel.
I found that stillness in the mountains of Peru. I reached the peaks and lay on the rocks looking at the sky, nothing between me and the clouds. My body worked hard to recover from the hell I'd just put it through and my thoughts were still at the bottom of the mountain. And in that moment I learned the most valuable lesson of all: we are all, always, infinite.