I’m not sure if I should call this month’s training update a training update, but my goal is to keep pushing myself. Unfortunately, the 2020 Chicago Marathon was canceled on July 15. Luckily, we have the option to defer our registration to another year in 2021, 2022, or 2023. I really want to do it next year, but I have a feeling only 1/3 of the registrants will get to do it each year. So, my training updates will continue in the future.
I’m bummed about the decision for many reasons, but mostly because I lost motivation. I was doing a good job running and was motivated. Now I’m not. I wasn’t going to write this update, but I need to do something to keep my going. I think that’s how most goals are – we need something to continue to work towards. To get there, we need to take little steps to lead us in the right direction. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what those little steps will be for me.
Make good food choices
Continue to run at least 3 days a week – build up a really solid 6-mile base
Do strength training – Pure Barre is opening near my house, and this is a type of strength training that I enjoy
I had to cancel my plane tickets and hotel. American Airlines gave me a credit for my ticket, which I know I will use in the future. Marriott almost didn’t refund me my $780 for the hotel room! Hotels are incredibly expensive that weekend, and I got a reduced rate if I did a non-refundable option. I was going to do the marathon, so I thought it was a safe bet…in February! When I called customer service to cancel, they told me they changed their adapted cancellation policy to end on July 5 – just 10 days before they canceled the marathon. I escalated to the manager who told me the same thing! Luckily, the hotel helped, and I wasn’t charged a fee. It was a very stressful situation.
Even though I’m not actively training for the 2020 Chicago Marathon, I am training for it in the future. If I do a good job with these four items, my general health will improve which will make it easier to run a marathon in 2021, 2022, or 2023. So here goes nothing! My next update will be Training Update 3 – and I can’t wait!
October 11, 2020, is the Chicago Marathon! I am really looking forward to this run and hope it won’t be canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. I am training like there is no chance of cancellation, even though I know that is still a possibility.
In June, I started training using the RunDisney marathon training plan. This is the plan is simple and steady. Just three days per week using short runs on Tuesday and Thursday with a long run on the weekend with increasing mileage. It is a longer plan than some because every other week you do a 4 mile “long” run, which helps me with my schedule and other commitments. Marathon training requires serious time commitments when you get to 10 miles and more! I used this when I did the 2018 WDW Marathon.
If there are too many days required, I get overwhelmed and can’t commit to training. If I cannot commit to 3 days, then I should not run the race. That being said, my goal is not to qualify for Boston or have an outrageously good time!
GOALS – Making IT PUBLIC
My goal for the race (saying this publicly!) is to finish in less than 5:30. This works out to be about a 12:30 pace for the entirety of the race. I feel like this is an achievable goal. I finished my first marathon in 5:52 at Disney. This means there were character distractions and more. I also stopped at the restroom more times than was necessary because I was nervous. The second marathon at Disney was awful! 80 degrees and 90% humidity are not what you want to do a marathon. It was so horrible. I finished that one in 6:46, so at least I know I can finish about that time with walking and character stops.
So far, my runs have varied. There have been ones where I felt strong and confident and others that have been dreadful. Humidity levels make a big difference for me. I just need to focus on getting the time on my feet those days. I feel like this is not normal for others, but I need to accept that it is for me. Maybe others feel this way, too, but it amazes me when I see runners running during lunch on a Southern, summer day.
If I did a really good job training, I would add in strength exercises and yoga. I definitely need motivation and guidance on this. In the end, I can’t wait! Only 117 days left!
It’s funny how interests and passions show themselves at a young age, but sometimes are not appreciated until later in life. In seventh grade, we had to take an assessment for various subjects and my top score was in history. I remember being upset about that because what can you do with history? If I had scored higher in math or writing, those at least had a practical application. I enjoyed history class, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought until after my first time abroad when I went to London in my sophomore year. It was here that history came to life!
Even though I will not have a career that is centered around history, and I think it’s hard to make a case for most people to major in the subject, I think history is a fantastic topic to study. Over time, I have come to appreciate that I can truly enjoy and experience what I spend time learning. The two areas I enjoy the most are American history and the history of the British monarchy. I love to read biographies and learn about life events through the eyes of leaders who impacted the world at that time. It isn’t surprising then that I added “Read a biography of every US President in order of term” to my list of life goals back when I was 20. I told a friend about this when I was 26, and she ended up buying me my first book on George Washington for my 27th birthday. I finally got started in April 2013.
My American Journey
Over the next 7 years, I had a fascinating journey learning about my country’s 232+ year history from the perspective of 44 different men. Each one has a unique perspective and their background gives insight into their decision making and handling of that moment in time. In my travels, I visit their birthplaces, homes, and libraries where I try to envision their daily activities and lives. It has become a hobby, and I am very appreciative of these men who sacrificed their personal independence to lead our country. In reading their stories, I do believe each person did what he thought was best at the time.
It is also possible that historians and authors tend to fall in love with their subjects while they research them, but I think that is because some people are misunderstood and once you learn their story, it gives you an appreciation of their decision-making process – even if you personally don’t like their decisions. I think this is how historians have come to view Hoover’s and Nixon’s legacy over time despite the initial reaction in popular culture.
My journey started with George Washington and ended with George W. Bush’s memoirs. As soon as President Obama publishes his memoirs, I will pick up with that. I said before that I read America’s history through the eyes of 44 men – the 44th I included was Confederate President Jefferson Davis. While not a president of the Union, he led half of the country through the Civil War and that is still an important perspective. I’m really glad I added that one. Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite, so I read all three books in Edmund Morris’s trilogy.
Selection and Evaluation
I selected books that were well researched and had generally strong reviews. Sometimes, I would get stuck and would default to the American Presidents’ Series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Sean Wilentz. Over time, as I read more, I was attracted to books by certain historians. Sometimes I chose an option because an audiobook was available (I listen to books when I run), other times it may be because I could borrow it for free from the library. All-in-all, I think I had a good assortment of books. I wanted to list them for people doing a similar journey to see what someone else chose to read.
How then do you evaluate a book? I tracked everything on GoodReads and was good about writing book reviews at the beginning, but then I stopped because I couldn’t focus long enough to provide the necessary detail. I did consistently rate them on the 5-star scale. Unlike fiction, biographies are difficult because are you rating the subject or the research/writing? In the end, I think you do both. It’s unfortunate for the author because some subjects have more documents, journals, and letters; others were given more challenges, which lead to a better story and abundant research. Unfortunately, William Henry Harrison will never have a single biography that is equal to a mediocre-quality biography on Theodore Roosevelt.
Books I Read
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
John Adams by David McCullough
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul C. Nagel
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands
The Forgotten or Unknown (America Moves West)
Martin Van Buren: The American Presidents’ Series by Ted Widmer
The Life and Times of William Henry Harrison by Samuel Jones Burr
A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent by Robert W. Merry
Zachary Taylor: The American Presidents’ Series by John S.D. Eisenhower
Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents’ Series by Paul Finkelman
Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents’ Series by Michael F. Holt
James Buchanan: The American Presidents’ Series by Jean H. Baker
The Civil War and Reconstruction
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour by William C. Davis
The Loyalist: The Life and Times of Andrew Johnson by Jeffrey K. Smith
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands
Industrial revolution and the building of america
Chester Alan Arthur: The American Presidents’ Seriesby Zachary Karabell
Rutherford B. Hayes: The American Presidents’ Series by Hans L. Trefousse
James A. Garfield: The American Presidents’ Series by Ira Rutkow
An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by H. Paul Jeffers
Benjamin Harrison: The American Presidents’ Seriesby Charles W. Calhoun
William McKinley: The American Presidents’ Series by Kevin Phillips
Theodore Roosevelt trilogy by Edmund Morris
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The World Wars
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by John Milton Cooper, Jr.
Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents’ Series by John W. Dean
Coolidge by Amity Shlaes
Herbert Hoover: The Life and Presidenciesby William E. Leuchtenburg
FDR by Jean Edward Smith
Truman by David McCullough
Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell
Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford by Scott Kaufman
Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer
Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands
41: A Portrait of my Father by George W. Bush
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham
My Life by Bill Clinton
Decision Points by George W. Bush
That’s it. Those are the books I read, but history is not finished. As time continues to pass, I will add biographies for the people who serve as president during my lifetime as time continues to pass. Eventually, President Obama will publish his memoirs, as will President Trump. What is interesting to think about is that I will be old before enough time passes for current and future presidents to be studied like the individuals I have finished reading. History is an ongoing adventure that doesn’t end – it is lived.
I feel like an imposter writing this because I am not a CFP, CPA, or have any certifications in finance. Even though I am not a professional, I love to read about personal finance. I am interested in investing and the markets at a high level. Friends and family know this, so I had a few of them come to me because they are nervous about how the markets are performing right now because of the reaction to COVID-19. I wanted to outline my perspective on this in a way that (I hope) isn’t overwhelming or intimidating. It is basic information that I think all people should know and maybe this downturn is the wake-up call you need to start that learning process.
At a high level…
Investing your money is important to build long-term wealth, which is something we all want to do if you want to “retire” one day. It is your money. It is your responsibility to understand these things. Spend time researching these things and constantly learning so you understand and can take control of your future!
This is because you want to use investments for the long-term. If you may take this money out of the market, that isn’t smart. Therefore, you should only invest money you don’t need to live day-to-day.
Types of Investment accounts
Assuming you are in control and planning for your future, you have a few options on where to invest. This is what I think people find confusing.
Tax-advantaged (meaning you get a tax benefit in one way or another)
Taxable (you will invest with your take-home money, so you already paid tax on it and will pay taxes on any gains you make. There are no tax benefits on these accounts.)
Let’s go a little deeper into these pots so you know what vehicles these include:
Tax-Advantaged: at a high level, these are mostly retirement plans. The government is giving you a tax advantage because they want you to plan for your long-term so they don’t have to. They are encouraging you by giving you a tax break. You may recognize some of these types of accounts (think of these as different pots):
401k: different types, but company sponsored)
Traditional IRA: reduces your taxable income now, pay taxes when you take it out
ROTH IRA: invest after-tax money so you don’t pay taxes on its growth
SEP: for individual entrepreneurs
Simple IRA: 401k for small businesses
403b: like a 401k for non-profit and government employees
457: deferred comp plan for entities listed above
Healthcare Savings Account (HSA): available to individuals with high-deductable healthcare plans to help them plan for their future healthcare needs
Taxable: these accounts are a regular brokerage account where you can buy and sell securities. If someone says they have mutual funds with Charles Schwab or that they just bought some Apple stock with their broker, then the likelihood they did that in a taxable brokerage account is high, but you can still do those things in your retirement pots.
What do you Invest in?
So you have your pots (and likely have many different ones), but what do you put in them? Regardless of whether or not there is a tax break, you can buy or sell different types of securities. (This is very basic, and I think what everyone needs to understand. Like all financial products, you can make this much more complicated.)
There are two groups of securities:
Equities: This is when you are buying ownership or equity in a company. Think about your house, you have the value of your house – the mortgage (liability). The remaining amount is your equity or ownership. Publicly traded companies allow individuals and institutions to buy a share of their equity to give them more capital to grow over time.
Fixed Income: This is a note or a loan that will pay out a fixed amount of interest/income over time. You may have government savings bonds – this is a type of fixed income. Your mortgage note is an example of this on a bank’s balance sheet, whereas it is a liability on your personal balance sheet.
How do I purchase securities for investing
There are a lot of ways that you can purchase securities, and it all depends on your risk profile, timeline to invest, and understanding of investing. For the purposes of this article, I want people to understand that you can buy any of the below items and put them in any of your pots. There are pros and cons of each, but this is where you need to learn, research, and feel comfortable with where your money is going. You can put any of these into any of the pots listed above.
Mutual Funds: These are a group of stocks (and/or bonds) that a firm will put together to meet various goals. You may have a group of stocks from all non-US companies which could be labeled as an “international fund.” Another one may be built with long-standing, stable companies (think Coke or Johnson & Johnson) for a “large-cap” or “growth and income” type fund. Another one may be made entirely of tech stocks that will fluctuate a lot since it’s a less stable industry, but it will likely see a lot of growth.
ETF: This stands for Exchange-Traded Fund. These have lower fees than mutual funds and can be made up of different types of investments. This review will give you a lot more information!
Index Funds: This means there will be lower fees since the stocks in this fund are built to mirror a certain exchange or index (like the S&P 500, a total stock market, FTSE100, etc.) There isn’t a lot of thought that goes into these because they are going to deliver what the market brings. That means, their returns will be what that specific market returns.
Individual stocks or bonds: You can also go to your brokerage service and buy individual options instead of the pre-packaged, already diversified options that are listed above. The general consensus is this is not the way to go for long-term investing as an index fund will outperform most individual stock-pickers’ success rates. Even Warren Buffett agrees.
What I do
I would never suggest someone copy me and my investment strategy because everyone has different goals and different levels of risk. That being said, I really enjoy hearing about how people invest and manage their money to see if there is anything I could do to improve my portfolio.
Currently, I house almost all of my pots at Fidelity because of their low fees and no commissions. People will also recommend brokers like Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and others. I use Fidelity likely because my first job ran our 401k through Fidelity so I know the site. As of March 2020, I have a rollover traditional IRA, a ROTH IRA, a trading account, and an HSA. I also have a trading account at E-Trade because that is what I used when I first started buying stocks during the 2008 crash.
Rollover traditional IRA: This is made up of all of my 401k contributions from my first job. I rolled it to an IRA because I didn’t need it in the 401k anymore. New money cannot be added to this account, so its outstanding balance is what it is. I just watch it go up and down. Since this is for the long-term, I invest in a total stock market index fund. Dividends get added in as the fund earns them, but I cannot touch the money.
ROTH IRA: I have been building this up over several years and was able to roll over my ROTH contributions from my first company into this fund. Since I paid taxes on it already, the government doesn’t need to track it separately. Since I follow the Dave Ramsey baby steps, I put 15% of my income into retirement. This is the first place I put my money. You can contribute up to $6,000/person each year unless you are older. I invest in the same total market index fund as my rollover IRA (FSKAX).
Trading Account: This is where I put any extra retirement funds and also have fun investing in stocks. I don’t invest a lot of individual stocks, but when the markets go south like they are now, I have a lot of fun buying poorly performing companies that I understand (currently airlines, cruise lines, a share of Disney, and such) that I believe will come back when the world recovers. This is not part of my wealth strategy, just something I do because I love doing it. It is an insanely small part of my net worth, but I love to watch how they perform. Any long-term funds are put into a total stock market index fund. Since this is a taxable account, I can pull the money out at any time. I may do this at some point to buy rental real estate.
Healthcare Savings Account: I decided this year that I should invest my HSA for the long-term, but I don’t think this is something everyone should do. I have been lucky because I have been generally healthy and have an emergency fund saved. Last year, I was able to have an HSA for the first time in a while, so I want to make the most of it. I plan to use this for the long-term, so I’m investing in a total stock market index fund for this. Once I get to age 65, I can pull this money out for anything without a penalty. Until that time, I can only use it for healthcare-related expenses. Later in life, maybe I will change this strategy, but for now, I’ve decided to use this as a retirement-like account.
Create goals. What do you want to accomplish in your future? How much money will you need to make that happen? You may not know the specific amount, but if you have goals, then saving for the long-term will be easier.
Know what pots are available to you. Do you have a 401k at work? Have you been contributing? Do you have accounts from a former job? Try to collect everything.
Read and learn. After you know where you are, learn more! This is just an intro. That new knowledge will help you go in the right direction.
Dopey 2020 is the ultimate challenge of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. This year, it was on January 9 – 12, and it was fantastic! I’m writing this a month and a half later, so I’ve had a chance to reflect and reminisce over the weekend. I’m going to share other details later, but I wanted to give the highlights of the weekend because it was just SO. MUCH. FUN!! Spoiler alert – I would do it again!
Wednesday, January 8
My friend Ursula and I traveled to Orlando on Wednesday, January 8. This year, we stayed at Pop Century again because of the location, price, and the new Skyliner. We had to go to the expo, which in the past has been so much fun. We learned that Wednesday expo is not the same as Friday or Saturday – it was awful. The expo was overwhelming and entirely too crowded. I bought a Dopey finisher shirt as a gift for Ursula to have if she did a good job (she did the same for me because – come on! You can’t actually buy it unless you finish!) We had a low-key day and hung around the hotel and Disney Springs – we had a long few days ahead!
Thursday, January 9
The first race morning (start time 5:30 am, wake up: 3:30 am) is a 5K around Epcot. The course is fantastic because you run around Epcot the whole time. This is the only race they don’t time; you just have to complete it. It was surprising how many families were there with their children. That must have been fun for them. They had 3 or 4 character stops and one of them was the Beast. I should have stopped, but I get so nervous by the long lines. If I was faster, then I would do it. Goals for the future!
I finished and got my first medal – Pluto! We were 3.1 miles down out of 48.6. I made a decision that I was going to get a picture with Dopey and my medal after each day, and I’m so happy that I did!
After the race, we went back to the hotel and showered. We spent the rest of the day at Animal Kingdom. Our stops:
Festival of the Lion King (awesome!)
Finding Nemo the Musical
Na’vi River Journey
(Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a pass to the Avatar journey, which I think is the coolest ride ever!)
Pictures with a whole lot of characters!
Friday, January 10
Day 2 and we were ready for the 10K. It was another early morning, but we met up with more college friends. Like the 5K, the corrals starts were towards the front, and we wore the 5K bibs. The course was very similar to the 5K but added in more highway running. While on the highway, the two Frozen princesses were on the overpass looking down where it was snowing! On the course, they even had Abu, the Monkey from Aladdin. It was really neat.
When we finished, we got an Oswald medal, which I promptly took to Dopey for another victory shot.
After showering, I headed to Hollywood Studios. I got to meet even more characters and saw:
Beauty and the Beast show
The Little Mermaid show
Played Toy Story Mania!
Toured the Disney Museum (saw in Oswald poster)
Went to Star Wars World
This won’t be a popular statement, and I have no credibility because I am not a Star Wars fan, but I hated that place. It was overwhelming and awful. We made a reservation for “lunch” months before at the “Cantina” but apparently, it’s just a bar. I was hungry! I won’t plan to go back there…
We spent the rest of the night at the hotel where our group hung out at the pool and a simple dinner at the hotel…we needed an early night.
Saturday, January 11
Another 5:30 am race start, which means that we had to wake up at 3:00 am. Luckily, the early mornings hadn’t bothered me yet. I think I was just too excited about the races.
The half marathon was a long one. My friends all did a great job! I didn’t because I walked; I was having back problems, so I didn’t want to hurt myself before marathon day. That being said, it was my worse time ever. On the bright side, I stopped for a picture with Lilo and Lightning McQueen & Mater. There were so many characters, but the half course is my least favorite. Epcot and MK were a blast to run through, but there is just so much highway. There’s no way to change that, but it was just blah.
At the end, we were awarded the Donald Duck medal! It is one of the best looking medals I have. We didn’t get to show it off in the parks since we needed to rest our feet. Instead, we walked around the boardwalk and hung out at the pool for the rest of the day. Two days down and 46% of the miles through; we needed a good night’s sleep.
Sunday, January 12
Marathon day was finally upon us! Disney moved the start time up to 5 am, but it was ridiculous because they didn’t end up starting until 5:30 am because of traffic. I think I woke around 2:30 am. That morning was the hardest to get going because I was tired and also nervous for the marathon.
This was a new marathon course from when I did the marathon in 2018. I liked the course a lot this year because we started running through Epcot which got us to MK around mile 10 instead of mile 6. It was nice to finish MK and be to the halfway point. The hardest part was after MK (around mile 13 to AK around mile 17). It was so long, just highway, and there was very little entertainment along the way. I thought they would have more characters there or the signs with jokes like they had in ESPN. But at least ESPN was GONE!
It was incredibly hot that day – around 85 degrees with 90% humidity. It was awful, and I was going slowly. I walked the beginning and ran through the parks. RunDisney decided to cut out Blizzard Beach at a certain point to reduce the course by 2 miles for people at the end. I was really lucky and got in before they cut it off, so I got to complete all 26.2 miles. Right before there was mile 19. I was done with the race and just wanted to finish. At that point, I blasted my workout mix and had a dance party until the finish line.
Because of the redirection, I actually caught up with Ursula, so I got to see her around mile 21 or so. I stuck with her and her new friends for a while, but then I just needed to finish. Dan Mott and his girlfriend met me at mile 25.7 with a margarita, so I had to go fast! I got it, and it was worth it!
Then I waited for Ursula to catch up so we could cross the finish line with each other. We did it and were relieved. 48.6% were complete, and we proved it by getting three new medals – marathon, Goofy Challenge, and the Dopey Challenge!
Our tradition is to celebrate a race at Epcot where everyone wears their medals and drinks around the world. We had dinner at the Bier Garten in Epcot since it was a good location for a group. We also got to walk around and do some rides and see characters. It was a nice night, but I was exhausted!
Monday, January 13
Most of our friends had left by this point, but today was our day to hang out in the Magic Kingdom and meet lots of characters. We started the day with breakfast at Be Our Guest with Belle and Beast. The food isn’t great, but it’s such a cool setting. Then I can’t even start on all of the characters we saw! We got a ton of pictures with my Dopey medal and rode some of the rides.
We ended the journey with the “Happily Ever After” fireworks show, and it just makes me so happy! This journey was definitely a “Dopey” fairy tale come true!
It’s hard to believe 2020 will be here in a few weeks. Every year the time flies faster, and I don’t know where it went. There are so many goals I want to accomplish, but I get distracted by the demands of work and spend more time on quadrant 1 & 3 urgent tasks than quadrant 2 important items. (If you haven’t read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey then you need to make that a goal this year!)
But how do I stay focus on the important and not urgent items? What are those for me? That is my goal for 2020. Historically, I have created checklists (I love checklists!) for each year to guide me and give me a purpose to the year. Sometimes those lists have been a little too long or complicated so I can’t accomplish everything. This year, I am going to go back to making a checklist and then use my blog to hold me accountable for achieving those things. 2020 will be used as a stepping stone to achieving the bigger goals I have for my life.
Complete the Dopey Challenge
Lose 30 pounds
PR the Chicago Marathon
Visit Australia (continent 5!)
Publish 4 posts/month on The Rosy Wanderer
Complete Google Analytics, Google AdWords certifications
Book African safari for 2021
Increase net worth by $30,000
Read 31 books
Understanding Goal Setting
The difficult part of the above checklist is that these are all lag measures – I have to implement different behaviors, habits, and mindset to achieve these 2020 goals. Health and general wellness have always been a challenge for me. Even though I am excited for Dopey, I didn’t execute my training plan well. Staying accountable is important – to my diet, to my budget, and to my commitments. In order for me to accomplish these goals, I have to find a way to hold myself accountable. That is the key everyone needs to figure out in their life.
Gretchen Rubin has four quadrants to describe our tendencies. I am an obliger, which means I’m worried about letting other people down but not myself. I wish I wasn’t like that, but I am. As an obliger, I view other’s requests as urgent even though they may be unimportant or even not urgent, but I am trying to please others. This then reprioritizes my goals for the day.
Even though I wish I didn’t prioritize other people, I do. For me to be successful, I need to use this tendency to hold myself accountable for achieving my goals. I am going to share my successes and setbacks here to keep me accountable externally.
For me to be successful, I need to plan out the lead measures required for me to accomplish these goals and find ways to make sure others hold me accountable for these behaviors. Or I need to make myself a priority in my life and stop worrying about what other people think! But it is probably a better bet to set up systems to play to my natural tendencies.
“You’ll hike for three days and then the next morning, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. It’s an incredible view, so you need to do it!” I would wager a guess that anyone who has “hiking the Inca Trail” on their to-do list has heard someone summarize the trip in this way. That’s what I had heard before I left. I read several books and researched blogs, but only one of them gave a glimpse into the challenge that is the hike to Machu Picchu. Thank goodness I read that blog post (which I, unfortunately, didn’t save!) to prepare myself that it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
Because I was surprised, I wanted to share those things that I think every Inca Trail adventurer should know before going.
1. You are going to Be dirty
For anyone who has been camping for multiple days in a row, this may seem obvious. I knew I wasn’t going to have a shower, but nothing could prepare me for how gross I was going to feel after strenuous hiking for three days. That’s why a hat is important and the porters bringing water to wash is a godsend. Not sure what you can do to prep for this…
2. Altitude can affect you even if you run
I knew altitude sickness was a possibility. When we met our group in Lima, our guide gave us a suggestion for a medication to help with altitude sickness. We got this at the drug store and took it just in case. The last thing we wanted was to ruin our trip because we were sick from this!
Before we left, I wasn’t worried because I had been to Tibet (around 12,000 feet). I was one of the only people in my group who didn’t feel ill – winded yes, but not ill. Well, that’s what happened this time, but with a lot more physical activity. I thought I was in better shape and had done a good job training for the Dopey Challenge. Needless to say, it didn’t help. I was still incredibly winded, which leads me to #3.
3. Dead Woman’s Pass is 13,828 feet high
That’s very high and it is not the same as hiking the same distance at a lower altitude. It is not a stroll in the park; it is challenging and you need to go slowly. I was one of the last in my group to finish, but our guide said we still made good time. It took us about 6 hours to make it up! The advantage is you have an incredible view from the top and then it really is “all downhill from there!” The better your endurance, the easier this should be, so just make sure you are exercising a lot before your hike.
4. You Won’t lose weight because the food is so good
When I pictured this trip, I thought this would be a great, healthy trip and that I would lose weight because of all of the activity. I also thought the food would be simple, but instead, we have gourmet camping food that would have been impressive if it was made in a proper kitchen. I was also hungry from all the walking, but I always left the table wishing I hadn’t eaten so much!
5. sleeping in a tent is hard
My assumption is that many Incan Trail hikers are not used to camping. I don’t think many people in our group camped regularly, so it was hard for most people to sleep in a tent. Personally, I didn’t sleep a wink. I didn’t think I would have a problem with this, but I did. No idea why. I suggest bringing Benadryl or something. I took this after our hike over Dead Woman’s Pass, and it was critical to my getting some sleep that night.
6. You can’t pack very much
You see people posting really cute pictures of themselves at the Sun Gate and along the trail. I have absolutely no idea how they do this. Maybe different tour companies have different packing limits, but porters have to carry all of the gear, so I can’t imagine there isn’t some type of restriction. Maybe some people are just normal and naturally cute. I give them kudos but there is no way I would be able to do that. I packed a variety of my long-sleeved running shirts and hiking pants. It really is all you need, and I don’t think anyone was judging us for our appearance! If they were, I really didn’t care.
I hope these tips are helpful for your trip to Machu Picchu! I hope it gives a little advice in resetting your expectations for the trip to make it even better.
The fact that I am writing a post about the food on our Inca Trail hike should be proof of how impressed I was! I’m not someone who camps, but I expected our food to be sandwiches, granola bars, smores, hot dogs, or something. In fact, I called G Adventures before the trip because I am a vegetarian, and I wanted to make sure they had options for me to eat. The nice girl who answered the phone assured me I would have more than enough options…
Most of this post will be pictures since I took pictures of almost every meal we had along the way!
We had lunch at a stop about halfway between the trail start and our first campsite. When we arrived, the porters had drinks for us while they finished preparing the three-course meal.
Our team had a good first day and were excited to get to our campsite. We always had tea time before dinner which consisted of crackers, butter, jam, and popcorn. The popcorn was always the star of the show. They had a variety of teas (green, black, orange), hot chocolate, and, of course, had coca leaves to make coca tea.
We woke early to get breakfast to prepare us for our long, grueling hike ahead. It was so much food! We all complained about how full we were, but once we realized how much energy we needed to complete the hike, I think we all appreciated the large breakfast.
We finished our hike before lunch, which is a good thing because there is no way I would have been able to eat on the way! By the time we had lunch, we were all insanely hungry!
Tea Time and Dinner
After we took naps, we reconvened for tea time and dinner. Even though we were still full from our large lunch, we ate it anyway. It was delicious. It was now time for bed.
This was probably the best meal, as it was a lot of food, but they made us a cake! I cannot understand how you can bake and ice a cake after carrying everything from our campsite, beating us to our lunch site, and doing all of that before we arrive. There are no words to express how impressed I was about this! What a surprise!
Tea Time and Dinner
I didn’t take a picture of my cheese sandwich on our way to Machu Picchu, but even that wasn’t bad! What I find most impressive was that the chefs made all of this food in a tent! I could barely make some of this in my fully-stocked kitchen, but they did it with items they had to lug from campsite to campsite.
Hands down, the food we had on our hike was the best food I had our entire time in Peru! I’m not sure if all tour companies have food this great, but I would say that is one reason to hike Machu Picchu with G Adventures.
In researching my trip to Peru, I decided to follow Instagram accounts to learn more about the country. I knew about the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, but I wanted to know what else we should see.
Something that appeared regularly on the feed was Rainbow Mountain. A beautifully layered mountain that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I didn’t realize how close it was to Cusco or that G Adventures had a day trip to see it. For $50 USD, I decided to sign up for the trip; five members of our group from the Lares Trek were also going before their jungle adventure. When I travel, I take the all-or-nothing approach. I might as well live it up while I have the opportunity! Just worry about recovery later when I get home; I never want to miss an experience.
Apparently, the hike to Rainbow Mountain used to be a very strenuous 6-day hike because of the altitude. About 3 years ago (hello, Instagram!), they opened up a way to drive there and hike a much shorter distance. It increased tourism to the area, and now these pictures advertise that Peru has more than Machu Picchu. It worked on me!
We took a 4-hour bus ride (so not really close to Cusco!) southeast of Cusco. It was very remote; there weren’t big highways and eventually, we were on dirt roads. Even though it was desolate, we did hit a traffic jam – of alpacas! I was asleep when we got there, but I’m so glad I woke up! It was the funniest thing because I think they are so adorable!
Once we parked, we had a 14-kilometer hike to the top of the mountain which reaches 16,500 feet! I had no idea it was that high. When I got there, I could feel the altitude and started to struggle at the beginning. I knew I couldn’t keep up with the group, so I paid around $20 USD to ride a horse. They didn’t explain that the horse didn’t take you all the way…
Once my horse dropped me off halfway up, it was time to keep moving. It was so cold but slow and steady. I met some Americans who joined our group and we just went slowly. I had no idea how strenuous the hike would be because of the altitude. Eventually, I made it!
We followed our guide and came down the backside. That was much better because it is a steep hike up and there were a lot of people. My whole experience in Peru convinced me there are trips when it is a good idea to have a guide. They know the local culture and what to do, which will really improve your trip.
Rainbow Mountain is quite a sight, and you can’t find many places like this in the world. It blows my mind to see these pictures and know that I made it there! While I still wrestle with whether this trip was a good decision, I at least have the pictures to treasure! This probably confirms my travel philosophy of taking advantage of every opportunity you have while you’re there!
Trekking to Machu Picchu is an adventure many people want to complete at some point in their lives. It was on my bucket list for a long time (can’t quite remember when I added it!), but it was more strenuous than I expected. Because so many people do it, I assumed it was easy, but as you’ll see, day 2 was a challenge for me!
My friend, Ursula, and I went with a travel company called G Adventures (full itinerary), and I can’t say enough good things about the trip. This company was recommended to us by several friends who traveled with them in the past. Communication prior to embarking could be better, but the actual hike surpassed my expectations. Packing is an important component to making any trip go well, and this hike is no exception. It is best to be prepared and pack light!
Day 1 – 2: Solo in Lima
Since this was our first visit to Peru, we thought it was important to spend time exploring the capital city, Lima. To save on costs, we booked an Airbnb where we could walk to Miraflores, which from my reading, was a safe place that was popular with tourists. The Airbnb was very affordable – only $118 USD for two nights! It was a nice apartment just outside of Miraflores. The host was very nice and helpful.
To get around Lima we either walked or took an Uber. We would go somewhere with Wifi then order an Uber on our phone. Our Uber trips were usually $3 or less because of the exchange rate, and I read it was safer to use this than getting ripped off in a local taxi. One day, we took a bus tour to see more of the city. The tour was enjoyable, and I would recommend it. The roads were just too crazy for our comfort level, and since I had not heard many positive things about Lima, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring the city.
You can read more details about our Lima explorations [here].
Day 3: Lima to Cusco
We met up with our tour group in Lima and flew together to Cusco. We spent a day touring Cusco together. Cusco is a big city. I expected it to be a small town, but it is massive! I think I thought it was small because it doesn’t have an international airport. We learned that Cusco wants an international airport, but the government will only let Lima have international flights.
After visiting both cities, I understand their concern. Cusco is much better than Lima, so if they had an airport, no one would visit Lima. Since that is the capital, they need people to visit there. I would suggest forgoing Lima if they ever have a flight to Cusco. Some people in our group booked a flight straight through Lima, which is another option. We changed our plans after the hike and stayed in Cusco because we enjoyed it more than Lima.
We stayed at Hotel Prisma and left most of our luggage here since we could only bring a light load on the hike. It’s really important that you pack correctly. Our tour company gave us a bag to use that the porters would carry. Everything else had to stay in Cusco!
Day 4: Sacred Valley & Ollantaytambo
The next day, we took a [tour of the Sacred Valley] and stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo. I loved Ollantaytambo. It’s an outpost town filled with adventurers going to or coming from the Inca Trail. A few of us hiked to Incan storehouses, and then we met our group at a pub before going to dinner. Just like in Lima, service at a restaurant is very, very slow. It took well over an hour to get our food. For an American, this is very annoying because we are used to servers trying to get you in and out. For some reason, I was always the very last person to get my food. Everyone was done eating before I got my dinner!
We stayed at a hotel called Hotel Inka Paradise, which was really nice and had a beautiful garden in the middle courtyard.
Day 5: Inca Trail – day 1
We took a 45-minute bus ride early in the morning to the start of the trail. We left our Scared Valley souvenirs at the hotel since we could only fill a small bag of 8 kg for the porters to carry. I had a daypack with important things and my raincoat. I was so incredibly excited! A few years ago, I recently started going “hiking” which I classify as an outdoor walk not in a neighborhood. I really enjoy doing that, but this would be real hiking! I was so excited!
We hiked for about 5 – 6 hours on the first day to our first campsite (I think about 9 miles). We stopped at a nice spot for a formal lunch that the chefs prepared for us. The meals were not at all what I would have expected. I would have thought they would give us a sandwich or a protein bar. Nope, it was a full out meal with three courses!
The Day 1 hike is very simple. There are no dramatic inclines or anything. It starts in a very desert-like landscape. It is very dusty, and there were lots of nats. You’re in the Andes, so you see the mountains all around you, as we walked along the river in the valley. There was a beautiful snowcapped mountain behind us the whole time.
Once we made it to our campsite, it was green and lush. We actually camped on someone’s farm, so there were all types of farm animals: chickens, dogs, horses, donkeys, and more. It was an idyllic place to stay. The porters had our tents set up when we arrived, so we went inside to change, and they brought us hot water to rinse off and coca tea. It was amazing!
After we changed, we had all of our team introduce themselves – both the travelers and the porters. It was really interesting to hear about where they were from. This is a very hard job, but it pays well compared to other things in the area. They do this week-in and week-out. They are away from their families, and some of them do this for years! I can’t say enough great things about these men and what they did to make our journey wonderful.
After our picture, it was time for tea. We had tea time after each day’s hike, and then we had dinner. This was a fun time to engage and get to know our fellow travelers. I was the only American, so it was really neat to hear from the others on the trip and their perspective and thoughts! We had an amazing group. After a wonderful dinner we retired to bed.
Day 6: Inca Trail – Day 2
This was the first time I slept in a tent since I was a child, and to say it went poorly is an understatement. I didn’t sleep at all! This did not set me up well for the hardest day – the hike to Warmiwañusca (or Dead Woman’s Pass). Essentially, we started our hike early around 6 am after a delicious and hearty breakfast. The hike started through the beautiful jungle with lots of greenery and flowing water as we ascended the highest peak of the excursion.
We hiked up, and up, and up. My friend, Ursula, did a wonderful job! She was speedy, though she said it was challenging. I was surprised by how difficult it was for me. Luckily, one of my new Canadian friends was moving at my pace, so we struggled together. At times, I had a very hard time catching my breath! I was really surprised since my Dopey training was going very well at that point. Luckily, our guide, Victor had “llama pee” with him to help. Essentially, this is a perfume that has lemongrass and other fragrances. You pour some on your hands, rub them together, clap your hands twice, put your hands over our nose and mouth, and then breathe in deeply. It helps to clear your nose and allows you to breathe better.
Getting to the top was a real struggle. We would take five steps then stop to break. Towards the top, I put some music on my phone so Tea and I could dance our way to the top. It’s the only time on the trip I listened to anything on my phone, but it was required! I felt rude, but I don’t think I would have made it without some country party songs. But we did it – we made it to the top which was 13,769 feet! That was the hardest part, but it was done!
We had a two-hour hike down, which was great. It wasn’t difficult at all. Around 2 pm, we found our campsite and were welcomed with cheers from our porter team. They let us change, gave us hot water, and then we had lunch. We had the rest of the afternoon to relax before tea time. I took a little bit of a nap and wrote in my journal where I wrote “Wow. We just finished Dead Woman’s Pass, and I’m about to become a dead woman!” Tea and dinner were nice (as usual), but then I took a Benedryl to help me sleep and went back to the tent for bed.
Day 7: Inca Tail – DAy 3
That Benedryl was a huge help and allowed me to sleep a little bit. We woke for breakfast (quiche) and then set out for what our guide said would be a beautiful day. He was quite right! Day 3 was my favorite day of our journey. Throughout the other days, we saw Inca sites (a lot of them!) in the distance, but we didn’t stop at them. This day, we stopped at several and saw many more. It’s amazing how vast the Incan empire was since I thought it was mostly just Machu Picchu before I arrived. Day 3 was the longest hike, but it didn’t have the altitude challenge Day 2 had. We hiked for about 9 hours and covered over 9 miles.
The views were just spectacular and we had a lot of pictures! At midday, we stopped for lunch and had a [feast]! On top of the feast, the chefs prepared a cake for us that they made in the tent. Then we kept on hiking where we stopped at another beautiful ruin with an amazing view of the valley.
Our campsite was very busy, as lots of groups camp in the area. We had a more simple dinner, decided we would have cheese sandwiches for breakfast so we could have more sleep, and then went to bed. It would be an even earlier morning…
Day 8: Arrival at Machu Picchu
We had to wake up at 3 am so the porters could pack up everything and move quickly to get the first train home. The trail doesn’t open until 5 or 5:30, so we had to wait for this. All of the groups lined up – I thought we were moving quickly, but it turns out there were lots of groups up even before we were! We were all hoping to get to the Sun Gate at sunrise!
It was dark for most of the hike, so you had to be careful about where you stepped and make sure you didn’t get to close to the edge. There are no railings on the trail – it’s every man for himself, and if you fall, that could be a very bad end. We hiked between 2-3 hours (about 3 miles) through the beautiful jungle. We had one spot that was basically climbing straight up a rock, but otherwise, it was an easy hike. Alas, we finally made it!
It was very cloudy when we got to the Sun Gate, and I was sad. We waited for the rest of our group to get there and was patient. At last, the clouds parted and we could see Machu Picchu in the distance. We made it! Another life goal was completed! We were tired and smelly, but it didn’t matter.
We took a lot of pictures and took our time getting down the mountain to the actual site. Once we got there, it was a madhouse! Since there is a train directly to Machu Picchu, many people come to the ruins through the town instead of on the trail. It is very touristy when you get there, so there was a cafe with food and, most importantly, coffee. All I wanted was a cappuccino, and I got it! It was glorious. I was smelly, but at least I had some caffeine.
There are lots of stray dogs at Machu Picchu, and we saw many dogs on the Inca Trail. As a dog lover, I wanted to be friends with them and take them home. Victor explained to us that tourists feed the dogs, so the dogs will follow them to Machu Picchu, and then they can’t get home. This is really bad because if they make their way into town, they will be killed since there are so many strays and not enough homes for them. It’s awful. He warned us at the beginning of the trip – do not feed the dogs. For anyone visiting, please make sure not to feed them; make sure they stay near their home.
Once we got ourselves together, we met with Victor and he gave us a tour of Machu Picchu. There are many theories of what Machu Picchu was – a religious site, a retreat for the Incan Emperor, and other theories. Before coming, I read a few books that said there is really no way of knowing what this place was, but it is important in the system because of its location and because the Spanish never found it. Victor believes that it is a vacation retreat for the emperor.
Once we saw everything, we endured the crowds and made our way to a bus down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, the neighboring town. This was the scariest bus ride of my life! You go down a curvy mountain on a narrow road with no guardrails. The Peruvians don’t have the same safety standards as America, so all I could do was pray for our safe arrival.
Thankfully, we made it down okay and went to a restaurant for a sitdown dinner and to say goodbye to our guides. The town was very lively – full of tourist and tourist attractions. They had a lot of restaurants, a large market, and the train station to take you back to Ollantaytambo.
The train was incredibly comfortable and had amazing views of the river! It was a 2-3 hour train ride. We got off the train and followed Victor through a busy area to our bus. The bus took us to our original hotel (Inka Paradise) to get our souvenirs. We loaded up quickly for the two-hour trip back to Cusco. We survived, and we made it! Most importantly, our hotel was comfortable and had showers waiting for us!
Once I finished the most amazing shower of my life, I got dressed and met up with several of our groupmates to go out for dinner and hanging out in Cusco to say goodbye. Several people were flying home the next morning, so we probably wouldn’t get to see each other again. In typical Peruvian fashion, it took FORVER to get our food. Four others and I finally left around 10 pm because we decided to embark on another very early morning excursion.
Day 9: Rainbow Mountain and Recovery
At 3 am the next morning, I went with five other group members to Rainbow Mountain. We took a four-hour bus ride to the start and then began our hike to see this amazing view.
We arrived back in Cusco in the early afternoon exhausted! I arrived back at the room to see Ursula lounging in bed reading. She looked comfortable and content. She said she had a great day visiting the markets and got a fantastic massage for under $30. There are massage parlors on every corner in Cusco (you need it after all of that hiking!), but with all of the choices, how do you know which ones are good and which ones may be a little seedy? Ursula found Relaxing Time Massage on Trip Advisor from its good reviews. I needed to know the details, so she walked me to the “spa,” and I was able to get a massage on the spot. This was absolutely the best massage I’ve ever had.
In the States, you make a reservation for a massage by type and time. You can have a deep tissue massage for 60 minutes or something – not in Cusco! It is possible it is because I can’t speak Spanish, but I said I wanted a massage and a girl took me to the private room.
I think I was there for almost 2 hours, and she worked out every knot in my body. It was absolutely amazing! The massage was 80PEN which is about $20 USD. I only had 100PEN cash, so I gave the full amount to include a tip since she did such a good job. I wish I had more because it was only $5 USD. What happened next topped that experience since tipping isn’t common in Peru. The masseuse was called out so I could give her the tip and she started crying. I wished so badly I had more cash because I don’t know how this impacted her life. It was very little to me, yet it meant so much to her. I will never forget that.
Ursula and I met up with our new friends Sarah and Jen for our last dinner in Cusco. We had dinner at Rucula, a fancy restaurant with vegetarian options. It again had wonderful, well-deserved reviews on Trip Advisor. After enjoying some girl time, it was time to head back and get a well-deserved good night’s sleep.
Day 10: Sightseeing in Cusco
On our final day in town, Ursula and I woke up naturally before heading downstairs for breakfast. We then walked around the city to take pictures, see the architecture, and visit the markets. I’m not a fan of markets, but we tried to find Pisco as souvenirs but then decided we probably wouldn’t drink it. Cusco is a lively, (I think) safe city. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or nervous like I did in Lima. Cusco has a lot of tourists, but it is also a big city where Peruvians live. We saw children going to and from school, people going to work, and just living their lives in general.
Around midday, we stopped at a coffee shop to people watch and sat in the square. Randomly, we ended up seeing a parade where people were dancing and playing instruments. We don’t know what it was for, but it was a really neat thing to see. After an okay lunch, we got our bags and ordered an Uber to the airport. It was time to go home.
We had a long time to wait in Cusco for our flight to Lima, and once we got to Lima, we couldn’t check our bags for our flights home. We sat at a food court until the 3-hour time window started. I had a flight from Lima to Toronto. It was interesting because I went through US customs in Toronto and then flew back to Charlotte.
This was an amazing experience, and I am so happy I had the opportunity to take this adventure. While I won’t plan to return anytime soon, it was a wonderful experience. I would recommend the Inca Trail to anyone who enjoys hard, physical challenges. If you don’t enjoy or are not in somewhat decent physical shape, you can always take the bus to Machu Picchu, if you are passionate about visiting it. Personally, I think the three-day hike is what made the arrival so magical, so I think arriving via the bus wouldn’t be as exciting.