Fall seven times, stand up eight. – Japanese Proverb
If we’re friends on Instagram you might recall that I’m in Peru and a few weeks ago I attempted to hike to Lake 69 – a gorgeous alpine lake set in the Cordillera Blanca mountains. It’s a 12km hike and mostly uphill – so difficult, but nothing that I couldn’t normally handle.
Under normal conditions.
Unfortunately, I failed to take into account the altitude (Lake 69 is at over 4000m.) Now – if you’ve never hiked at altitude before (like me) it’s easy to underestimate how it will affect you; I’m in relatively good shape and I do a lot of hiking, so I was confident I would be fine.
But I was anything but fine.
Fifteen minutes into the hike I started to feel a bit short of breath – even though we were walking on relatively flat ground. It felt odd, but I thought I just needed to get warmed up and I didn’t think too much of it.
But as we continued, things got worse and worse. We started uphill and my head started spinning. I couldn’t walk for more than twenty seconds without needing to stop. I was in a bad way – on the ground, crouched on all fours, face in my hands, and trying not to vomit.
I didn’t want to give up. I was disappointed, frustrated and embarrassed. Mike held my hand and I kept pushing on.
And I almost made it to the top.
But I was too slow and we had to allow ourselves enough time to get back and catch our bus. Finally, I had to tell Mike to go ahead without me because I knew there was no way I’d make it to the top in time.
I sat in a big beautiful field, full of friendly cows (for some reason they kept licking me!) and felt bad for myself.
After the hike, and for the next few days, I couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment and also a bit of shame. I knew it wasn’t my fault – altitude is tough and effects everyone differently – but my logical brain wasn’t communicating well with my heart.
Instead of feeling proud of making it as far as I did, or grateful for all the beautiful things I did get to see, I wallowed in negativity.
Have you ever felt this way?
Have you ever attempted something – to write a novel, to start a business, or a new relationship – and then it didn’t turn out the way you had hoped?
At then first stumbling block your instincts cry out, “Quit! Go home where it’s safe!”
Or at least that is what my instincts were telling me – and it felt familiar. I’ve felt this way oh so many times since I started blogging. And I definitely felt this way often when I first started dating Mike (a long distance relationship with someone you’ve known in person for only a few weeks does that to you!)
But in my relationship, and in blogging, I persevered. Why?
Because it was worth it. Because it brought me joy.
And when something brings you joy – chase it. Put one foot in front of the other and keep going.
Which brings me back to hiking. After Lake 69 I was scared of hitting the trails again – afraid of failing and of being uncomfortable.
But I didn’t come all the way to Peru to miss out, so we travelled to Arequipa (south of Lima) and booked a 3 day hiking tour to Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. (It’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.)
On the first day we left our hotel at 3am. Things didn’t start well. We drove around town for an hour collecting other guests (strangely driving in circles.) The bus was freezing. Three hours later we arrived at a restaurant for breakfast and we were turned away because our tour company didn’t make a booking and they were full. We drove to three different restaurants before we found somewhere that would serve us our breakfast of hard bread and jam.
Then we hiked for four hours, descending 1200 meters, in the hot sun. Downhill hiking may sound easy but it wasn’t; my knees and toes were burning and my non-existent positivity went out the window.
“I hate Peru and I hate hiking,” I complained to Mike.
Understandably, he looked at me disapprovingly.
We arrived at our guesthouse and I promptly fell asleep. When I awoke it was the magic hour; the sun was low in the sky, casting a soft glow on the canyon. I sat in my bed and took stock of my situation.
I was lying in the arms of the man I love, in a magical part of the world that most people never have the privilege of visiting, in the middle of a trip of a lifetime.
And of course I felt a little foolish.
When you face a setback, and you have the opportunity to try again, it’s a privilege – one denied to many.
The next morning I woke up feeling better about myself and the world. We hiked 11kms, but it was a mostly gently stroll through the bottom of the canyon.
By early afternoon we arrived at an oasis and we spent the rest of the day sitting by the pool, napping, and sipping on cocktails.
Needless to stay my mood was restored.
But, I was still nervous about the next morning.
Day three of our hike was going to be a real test for me, both physically and mentally. We were waking up at 5am to hike 4kms straight up, ascending 1000 meters. We had to reach the top by 8:30 or we would miss our bus; if you didn’t think you could reach the top in time it was suggested that you ride a donkey.
I was plagued by memories of my Lake 69 hike. I pictured myself on my hands and knees and I was afraid of being sick, humiliated, and of missing the bus and getting left behind. I debated hiring a donkey.
Fortunately, some of our fellow travellers had coca leaves to help with altitude sickness and also offered to start the hike early with us (so we would have more time to reach the top.) The decision was made – we would hike to the top.
4am arrived way too quickly and in the dark I quickly dressed. We met our fellow travellers and slowly, in the dark, we started our uphill climb. Our group shuffled up the hill, in a steady march, under the moonlight.
As the sun slowly started to rise, so did we; gradually we made our way up the side of the canyon.
And to my surprise, I felt strong.
I almost didn’t believe it. I kept waiting for the dizziness or nausea to hit me, but instead I felt better and better. I’m not sure if it was the coca leaves or if I had finally acclimatised to the altitude, but all traces of the sickness I’d felt before were gone.
I know that this is not an amazing story. There are people all over the world facing, and overcoming, much bigger challenges than completing a popular tourist trek.
But in that moment, on that morning, I felt like I had accomplished something important. I’d conquered something bigger than the climb; I’d conquered my own self doubt and fears.
It was a powerful reminder to never to give up on anything that bring you joy.
It won’t always be easy, but if you keep trying and keep showing up, sometimes things click into place.
As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Big Magic:
“Work with all your heart, because — I promise — if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.”
Whatever your project, whatever your passion, whatever your mountain – keep showing up.
Because one cool morning, with the sun rising over the mountains, you may just bloom.
Interested in planning your own Colca Canyon adventure? (Affiliate Link) We stayed at the Mango Hostel B&B in Arequipa and also booked our tour with the hostel.
Do you have a story of perseverance and joy? I’d love to hear it – let me know in the comments! x
photo credit : All photos by me