One of the biggest goals I have ever accomplished is traveling to all 50 states by the time I was 30. This crazy thought came to me in 2013 when I was 28 years old living in NYC. The problem was I didn’t have an interesting fact. Whenever people introduce themselves at work events, you had to say your name and an interesting fact. I didn’t have anything, and I needed one. Urgently. I love traveling and visiting all 50 states was something I had on my list of life goals; why shouldn’t I put a timeline on it and do it?
I love to plan things. That’s usually some of the best parts of doing something. When I’m stressed, I can calm myself with a spreadsheet, a calendar, and now my budget. This endeavor to visit 26 states in a year and a half would require some major planning! Fortunately, I was living in the Northeast for the first time, so I could take advantage of easier traveling to all of these northern states.
But what would the criteria be? Everyone has different definitions of what counts. None are right or wrong. I decided my criteria would be, if someone asks, “what did you do in _______?”, I needed to have a good answer. A story was required, and it wouldn’t be cool to say “I flew through the airport” or something.”
On May 25, 2015, I stepped foot off a cruise ship in Juneau, Alaska! I was so happy I cried; I couldn’t believe I actually did it at 30 years, 1 month, and 14 days old (cruises don’t travel in April). That night at dinner on the cruise ship, my dad ordered a few bottles of champagne and made a toast about my accomplishment with my friends and family who made the trip. It was a wonderful end to the adventure.
I love looking back on these trips since I learned so much about myself and traveling.
There is so much to say about this experience. I get lots of questions about the experience since I think people want to visit 50 states for themselves. Everyone’s journey will be different but everyone can complete the journey.
What was your favorite state?
The short answer to this question is North Carolina since it is my home and the best place I can think of to be. I love it here. Of course, that is not what people want to know when they ask that question. I use NC as the answer because I don’t have another answer. Each state has its own uniqueness that I appreciated.
What places stood out to you?
This is a much easier question to answer. The first place I visited that threw me off my feet was Seattle. I had never been somewhere so naturally beautiful. Until I visited there, I didn’t even know what that term meant. I had never been to natural places before then, but the beauty was stunning. Subsequent visits took me to Maine and Alaska, where I saw the same natural beauty.
Was anywhere surprising?
South Dakota was the state that surprised me the most. I didn’t know what to expect but it was my second national park experience (I didn’t realize that at the time – I just wanted to see a buffalo and Mt. Rushmore). There was so much to do there, and it was so beautiful! I wish I would have stayed for longer, but it far exceeded my non-existent expectations.
How did you pay for all of the travel?
I am very fortunate for this, since I had visited almost half of the states already, and one was Hawaii. For the remainder, I was lucky that I was able to visit friends, had friends interested in traveling who split the cost, and was able to get gift cards from spending money on a corporate card for work. I also saved my money and used these trips as my main form of entertainment.
Why do this?
As I mentioned before, I did this so I could have an interesting fact about myself; it was as shallow as that. I always loved traveling and wanted to cross off 50 states as some point, but I accelerated it so I had a fun fact. Consider that done!
Are you glad you did this?
For many reasons, this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was struggling emotionally, and this experience helped me come out of that. It gave me purpose and something to plan and work towards. Even if it was just for the chance to have an interesting fact, it helped me become a stronger person. I learned that I was capable of accomplishing big things, and I could do those things by myself and with people who care about me.
I’m going to document my trips over time and will link them below. This is a goal anyone can accomplish, and I think everyone should! It’s an amazing way to see the great country of America and how vast and unique it is from sea to shining sea!
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!
“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.
Machu Picchu is not the type of destination where you can throw stuff in a bag and buy something you forget when you arrive. Instead of packing the morning of (my usual practice), I started a packing list when I booked the trip about 6 months before we left. I read a number of blogs, travel sites, and G Adventures‘s suggested packing list for the Machu Picchu hike.
Still, somehow, it wasn’t until my friend pointed it out a week before, that I realize that it would be cold! Yes, I knew the southern hemisphere had winter during our summer, but for some reason, it didn’t click with me that it would be cold. We were going to be in the Andes Mountains at high altitude; Machu Picchu is not at the beach! Somehow I thought the suggested winter hat and warm clothes were suggestions for a trip at a different time of the year. Who knows what’s wrong with me, but thank goodness for smart friends!
I wanted to put together a list of the items that I thought were important to pack (and the ones I didn’t see a lot of value to). Essentially, you have to pack for 3 trips: to Lima (if you plan to stay there), Cuzco (a city), and then the actual hike to Machu Picchu.
When I was reading lists, I thought I would need to pack a bag for the porters to carry. I bought a new duffle from REI specifically for this purpose only to find out it wasn’t necessary. The tour company provides you a very small bag for your hiking items. It was much smaller than I expected, so I ended up not taking everything I originally planned – including my sleeping mat that I dragged all the way from the States.
The Must Brings You May Forget
Sunscreen. Thankfully, our group was very friendly so I was able to borrow some from fellow travelers. I would have been miserable! Even though it’s cold, you can still get sunburned because you are at a high elevation and there is little shade. I am 34 and still haven’t learned that lesson.
Bug spray. There were so many nats on days 1 and 2; it was annoying. There was also some type of mosquito that bit people. I am usually attacked by mosquitos, but I was lucky. Those who were bitten said they were extremely itchy and bug spay helped keep them away. A cream or Benedryl would also be helpful.
Medication. I packed Benedryl, Alieve, Immodium, and nausea medicine. I’m glad I packed all of them. I used the Benedryl to sleep the second night, but it would have a lot of uses. We also took medication for altitude sickness in Lima to prep for our time in Cusco since it was suggested by our travel guide.
A lightweight water bottle (at least 1 liter). I brought my Artic bottle with me for the overall trip because I take it everywhere. I was nervous about bringing it on the hike because it is too small to fit on the side of my backpack. Since I didn’t want to lose it or add that much additional weight, I bought two plastic water bottles at the market before we left and used those as refillable bottles. It worked okay, but I would have rather had a real water bottle. Bring one from home but make sure it is light (plastic) and seals well.
A hat. I was literally sitting in the car ready to leave for the airport when I went back inside and grabbed a ballcap. I am so glad I made that decision. This was a lifesaver for me because it was sunny and helped block the sun from my face. It was also helpful to wear a hat when you didn’t get to shower for 4 days…
Sunglasses. These were not only helpful for the sun, but also because the beginning of the trail is very dusty. Your sunglasses will block getting dust in your eyes.
First Aid Kit. I travel with this most of the time, but I was surprised that many people didn’t have one. You never know when you’ll need to use it, and I used it for one of my fellow travelers.
When in Doubt, Bring These…
Hiking Poles. On most lists, it said there were optional and my friend hiked without them, but there is no way I would have made it to Machu Picchu without my hiking poles. I had never used them before and thought they were kind of gimmicky. They are not. There is a purpose and you won’t regret them. A few people on the trip rented one pole and wished they would have gotten two. If you’re an experienced hiker and no you can do without, then don’t. But if you’re a novice like me, I think they are incredibly handy.
Hiking Pants. I personally didn’t know there was such a thing until my friend mentioned she bought some the night before we left. I made a last-minute trip to REI right before closing and picked up a pair because I was so nervous. Originally, I was going to wear my workout pants. These probably would have been fine, but I am so glad I had my hiking pants. It was easier to brush off dirt and (I felt) were cleaner than my workout pants would have been after 4 days. I overpacked on pants, so I ended up only bringing my hiking pants all four days and my pajama bottoms. This actually served me well, even though I packed two extra pairs of pants. That being said, it’s always good to wear your clothes before a trip like this. If I did that, I would have learned…
Belt. You need a belt (or at least I did). My pants stretched out a lot, so it left me constantly pulling up my pants which was difficult to do hiking and using my hiking poles. Luckily, my friend had one that she let me use, but that is the last time I forget one.
At least 3-4 sports bras. I didn’t bring enough and had to rotate between 2. Unfortunately, it is hard to dry out your clothes because it is cold and damp at camp. I would take the extra space and pack extra to help you feel cleaner.
Necessities that are on Your List
Daypack or on Your person
Passport and Important Documents
Journal (I actually used the one on my iPhone)
Headlamp / flashlight
Snacks – they give you snacks when you start, but I also bought some gummy candy in town and brought Nuun from home for electrolytes and caffeine.
Portable power pack to recharge your phone
Hat and gloves for cold weather
In Your Porter bag
Pajamas – 1 pair
Shirts (layers are a must!) – 4 base layers
Sweatshirt / zip-up
Short-sleeved shirt (depends on you as a person, but I never wore mine)
Helpful to have the quick-dry material. I brought 4 long-sleeve running shirts.
Pants – 1-2 pairs
Socks – 4 pairs. Since you have to pack conservatively to fit in the bag, bringing 4 pairs of socks allows you to hike the first day, change into your second pair when you get to camp and wear those same socks on the day 2 hike. Make sure these socks are hiking socks or a good-quality pair of running socks. A blister could make the trip very painful.
My brother lived in Austin for a number of years. I asked him to share advice with my best friend for her trip to Austin during South by Southwest (SXSW), the large music/technology conference that is hosted annually downtown. I thought his advice was so good, I wanted to share it.
First off, have fun! The city will be crazy busy so expect lines everywhere. I also typically left the city for SXSW so I am not too familiar with it so some of what I say may be wrong.
*Important Note: Uber and Lyft are not in Austin. They have ride-sharing apps, but I do not know anything about them.
Lady Bird Trail is very nice. I used to run it every weekend and it was very enjoyable. Zilker Park is the start of it and it just goes east for 5 miles. Very enjoyable. I’m not sure if Zilker has events going on for SXSW though.
Tacos: Torchy’s Top notch tacos and local chain. Pretty close to where you are staying
Barbecue: Franklins is the most well known and will be extremely busy. My personal favorite is La Barbecue. These are lunch spots you have to show up early too for food. The lines will be long but I highly recommend going.
Brunch: Taverna is my favorite. $2 mimosas and really good Eggs Benedict
Others: Those the pretty much the two staples of Texas but if you want something else SoCo (South Congress) has a lot of really good places. Hopdoddy is gourmet burgers and Home Slice has great pizza. Gourdoughs also has amazing donuts and food.Food will be talked about in the Bar/Going Out Section too.
With it being SXSW you can go anywhere to see a show but below are some of the main areas of Austin.
Dirty 6th: This is the place most people think about with Austin. It has a large college crowd and a large older crowd. Tons of bars will have bands here and will get pretty trashy pretty quick. I do recommend going here at least for an hour. My favorite bars are Midnight Cowboy (reservation required) and Firsehouse Lounge. These are both speakeasies so they will be tough to find.
West 6th: This is more of a young professional crowd and fancier. I really went out here so I don’t know a lot but I have had some good food here. Not sure where though.
East 6th: This is on the other side of 35. I haven’t been in this area a lot but this is more of a hipster area and like every where else will have live music.
Rainey: A lot of outside bars with a lot of live music. Bangers and Craft Pride are my favorite stops. Bangers is a German sausage house with good food and beer. They do have a huge outside stage too. Craft Pride is only local Texas beers and I am a big fan. There is also a pizza food track called Via 313 with really good pizza.
South Congress: As mentioned above this place has a lot of good food and interesting shopping. There are some bars but I haven’t been to them.
Domain/Rock Rose: This is the only place of interest not downtown. It is an upscale shopping area like Easton and Rock Rose is a street with a bunch of bars. It is brand new and this should be its first SXSW. You will have a wealthy older crowd here There is a train station stop (more below) pretty close to here if you want to venture this way. Top Golf is also located in this area.
In my opinion transportation in Austin is terrible and SXSW just makes it 10x worse. With staying by 2nd and Congress you shouldn’t really have to deal with it too much but here are some things to note. Leaving the city the train could have long lines. I had to wait over an hour to get on the last one one year and not everyone was able to get on. If you are planning on using it plan accordingly. Taxis are terrible. I wouldn’t bother.
Running is a great way to see a city. Traveling also makes running more fun because you get to see new things. Below are my top favorite travel runs here in the States:
1. Central Park, New York, NY
I ran a little bit before moving to NYC, but I didn’t get into running until I lived here and ran in Central Park. I would argue this is one of the best running locations in the world. Everyone from beginners to world-class runners run here. You have a variety of terrains, scenery, and can run any distance. I love running Central Park and cannot wait for my next opportunity to do it again!
2. National Mall, Washington, DC
Running on the Mall never gets old. In the morning it is quiet; vendors are setting up their goods or carts. By the end of the run, tourists from across the country and around the world are coming out to see our National Capitol. I find this the most motivational city – there is something about the energy of where our government (tries) to do work and the history that has happened here.
3. Lady Bird Park, Colorado River, Austin, TX
I ran here with my brother. The path was full and the other runners and walkers provided great motivation. We were able to run 7 miles and could have gone further. Afterward, we rented paddleboards and hung out on the river – made for a great Saturday!
4. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
You have a chance to run through one of the birthplaces of our country and be surrounded by where some of our country’s best minds were educated. The Charles River provides views of Boston and crew teams. Lots to see and to watch.
5. The Battery, Charleston, SC
Southern Charm, large trees, views of Fort Sumter – Charleston is my favorite city for a reason and a great one for running! Not only are the views fantastic, but after a good run, you can eat all of the delicious food in the city without feeling guilty.
6. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL (haven’t actually run this one, but I REALLY want to)
Having lived in the Chicago suburbs, there is something special about Chicago and the beauty of Lakeshore Dr. I love going down here to see the skyline and the blue of Lake Michigan. Now that I’m into running, running here and through Grant and Millennium Parks will be a MUST.
Yesterday I ran 13.1 miles to finally earn my Donald Duck medal. I couldn’t write about my “magical” trip to Disney World until I could say I finished the race. It was nice because I ran around my parents’ neighborhood, and my dad drove out a few times with my dogs as a “character stop.” Their neighborhood is very hilly, but I finished in 2:46:36.
A group of friends and I made the decision LAST February to run the half marathon. Then, Friday night, Disney made the difficult decision to cancel the half marathon because of possible lightning.
We drove down from Charlotte on Thursday doing a midway stop in Savannah. Disney was just 4 short hours away from there. I went to Disney World as a kid and once in college, but going back as an adult was quite different.
You can drink in the parks – who knew? (not that we did this, but having the option is cool)
The Park Hopper pass lets you travel around the parks. Much easier to do in small groups
It is still a magical experience even though you’re no longer a kid
Thursday: drive to Orlando with a stop in Savannah. Dinner at Disney Springs (you don’t need a ticket) and checking into the hotel – All Star Music.
Friday: breakfast in Orlando, picked up a friend at the airport, lunch at the Yacht Club with friends, wandered around The Art of Animation. This is a great hotel and wonderful for taking pictures. Once we all arrived, we checked in at the race expo. We were going to have an early bedtime for the race but…
Saturday: should have been race day (2:30 am wake up), but we slept in instead! After walking around Music and Movies for coffee, we left for Hollywood Studios. It would have been a great day, but we had to go to World of Sports to trade in our half marathon bibs. It took FOREVER! Afterwards, we had dinner with friends at Trail’s End, which was an area of Disney I never knew existed. It’s a buffet and on a lake – you have to take a boat to the Magic Kingdom. That’s where we ended the day and saw the most magical fireworks show over the castle.
Sunday: Marathon Day! My friend ran the marathon instead, so we went out to cheer him on around mile 16. After seeing him, the rest of us went to Animal Kingdom. That was my first time there, and it was awesome! Because our schedule got off on Saturday, we had a lot to fit in. We did the highlights of Animal Kingdom but then rushed to the Magic Kingdom. We tried to fit in as much as we could, but we could have spent hours more. Around sunset, we took the monorail to Epcot. We watched the fireworks show there after doing rides, walking around the world, and eating dinner.
My overall takeaways are everyone should go to Disney, no matter their age. It’s very expensive, but there are ways to watch what you spend. Run Disney puts on a great event, but I hope/think this is the LAST time they don’t have a rain plan. They canceled the race for close to 30,000. I am going to go again next year because this is a race I really, really want to do!