The rain was unforgiving and completely relentless, my skin was white, spongy and had been pruned since day one, but until now it hadn't really bothered me. The lower I got though the more aware I became of the elements and the dire situation I was in. I had successfully convinced my mind and body that all was positive, but it was time to stop kidding myself. The rest of the group were at least an hour ahead of me by now and probably tucking into quinoa and comforting themselves with coca tea - I however still had a long way to go. It was day three, and it was tough.
That morning had been spent tackling a spiralling incline that we’d split into two sections and during the brief stop my knee had been troubling me so I rested for a bit longer, whilst the others departed further up the mountain. When I recovered I found I was alone, with only a guide and my unconvincing optimistic thoughts as company for the foreseen hours ahead. My only comfort was the florescent dots I saw snaking up the rocks above me, every few steps I checked to see if the herd of moving ponchos were still there - if I could see them I knew I wasn't far behind, or alone, but once they disappeared over the mountain I lost all hope.
With struggle I finally reached the peak, but wasn't able to stop or barely open my eyes due to the intense cold, biting wind and torrential rain. To begin with the decline was tolerable, but solidarity soon overcame me and I began to lose motivation. I was moving slowly as the steps were only inches wide (as always my size nine feet were a real inconvenience), the rain was lashing my face and cloud had totally encased me. All I could see was grey mist and the next step, which had convinced me I was on a never ending journey and I honestly felt that throwing myself into the drizzly abyss would be a better solution and possibly less painful. Lax with repetition, I suddenly slipped on one of the slabs and fell. My saviour was my backpack which had got wedged on a step, but to make matters worse as I slipped one of my contact lenses had popped out and miraculously I had caught it. Half-blinded I knew it would never go back in and I would now have to balance on a three inch ledge, take off my tent-sized poncho, raincoat, bag-protector and then somehow find another contact lens. And if I managed to do all of that I still had to put the thing in my eye.
Somehow I managed it - with a few tears of despair and words of encouragement from my porter - and we soldiered on back down and down and down.
Hours later, drained mentally rather than physically I finally reached our lunch camp. I was soaked through, hungry, thirsty and felt sick from the altitude, but the moment I saw my group suddenly nothing else really mattered. I told them my dramatic tale over popcorn and tea and it became just one of the many testing stories of our journey. The next day when we arrived at Machu Picchu, it became patent why the challenges along the Inca Trail are so, indisputably worth it.