Kupchella in Peru, Day 2: On the Inca Trail for Smile Network

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Below, BringMeTheNews founder and CEO Rick Kupchella is writing about his trek in Peru for a Smile Network medical mission, which took place last week. Kupchella serves as Chairman of the organization. The trekkers, mostly Minnesotans, including Kupchella's daughter Elizabeth, raised money and awareness for the group. This week, Kupchella is sharing his story of the trip...

(Click here to read Kupchella's journal from Day One, when his daughter Elizabeth got very sick from the altitude.)

Day Two

It was a tough first night in the Andes with my 14-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, very sick. She had gone to bed at about 6 p.m. and finally managed to get to sleep around midnight.

As I laid in the tent next to her, I wondered how she’d be feeling when she awoke in the morning.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for images of Kupchella's trip

It seemed we had three options, and none of them were good.

[1] Stay where we are to become more acclimated. But that was not a likely solution, given that there were many schedules at play.

[2] Turn around. Assuming that was even possible. We’d have to figure out a way to re-trace the six miles we’d trekked to that point. And then once we were back to the trail's beginning, there’d be a lot of work to figure out how to get back to civilization on our own.

[3] Go forward. If she thought she could/wanted to. And if the surgeon-trekker and our guide were OK with that decision. Under ideal circumstances, today would be the toughest day of the four. The trail immediately climbs straight up – 4,300 vertical feet in five hours. And there’d be no “turning around” after Day Two. We’d be at the half-way point of the trek and at the summit of the trail.

She woke up. It was below freezing.

As she lay in her sleeping bag, I asked her what she was thinking. What did she want to do?

She asked what the options were, and I laid them out for her.

I emphasized that turning around was a real and viable – and OK – option.

The 14-year-old thought about it for a moment and said: “You know what, Dad? Turning around is not the right thing to do. I still feel funny, but I’m not nauseous. I think I can do this.”

She went on, “Turning around would not be right for the trekkers ... It’s not right for the kids we’re raising money for, and it’s not right for the people who donated money for this trek.”

I will tell you now – she never was sick again. We managed her queasiness with anti-nausea meds, and high-altitude meds, and a few other meds to increase our odds.

And when we took to the trail that very morning – straight up – that kid took on the challenge like a woman determined. She was pure inspiration. When she slowed, it was to wait for me.

Step by Step

The campsites were incredible. Perched on a ridge, or along a river. They were extraordinary destinations themselves.

With each passing day, the scenery was increasingly stunning.

And while periods of the trek were literally taken just a few steps at a time, we were awed by our progress every time we looked back. Locations where we'd been just hours before were just a speck on the mountain in the distance. Every so often, someone would shout, “Look at what we did!”

We were making progress, sometimes painstakingly, sometimes with labored breath. There was an unmistakable and deliberate pacing of the trek.

And once we hit that summit on Day 2, Days 3 and 4 were almost all going DOWN a mountainside, or along a straight mountain ridge.

Along the way

The Inca Trail is dotted with ruins all along the way. The stone-walled remnants of farming communities, lookout towers, temples – all testaments to their ingenuity and engineering skill.

Many still have fountains with running water (all gravity fed) – 600 years after they were built.

The trail itself is a remarkable testament to the engineering talent of these ancient people. If the natural path of the trail led to a mountainous obstruction, they’d continued the cadence of steps and carved them directly into the rock.

In some cases, they would carve the trail THROUGH a rock. Seussian steps:

The last day of the trek, as we approached our ultimate destination, we came to the place they call the “Gate of the Sun.”

It’s a destination in and of itself, a mini-summit of its own and the first opportunity for trekkers to get a glimpse of the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Many in our group were visibly moved by the site. Emotional. Exhausted. In some cases, feeling beaten up by the trail.

But there was also a real and palpable sense of pride in having done it.

Coming Wednesday: Arriving at the Children’s Hospital of Lima -RK

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