Running the Inca Trail with Two Olympics
By: Ben Jonjak
This is an article BenJonjak (cyclova store owner) did recently for livinginperu.com about his Inca Trail adventure with Roberto Carcelen (Peru's first winter Olympian), and Martin Koukal (World Champion etc!!!) from the Czech Republic. The entire post can be read here
Roberto Carcelen, called me up recently with the question I dread to hear from professional athletes.
"Hey, what's your fitness level?"
For the record, my fitness level is pretty decent. Last February I competed in America's largest cross-country ski race, the 50 kilometer American Birkebeiner, and finished in a respectable, if not blazing, time of 3:44. However, compared to Olympic athletes, I'm essentially just another couch potato.
"Err," I answered, "I've been doing an hour run about three or four times a week."
"Great!" replied Roberto. "How would you like to hike the Inca trail?"
The question gave me pause. I've lived in Lima, Peru for close to ten years and I've done just about every tourist activity except the famous Inca trail. However, the prospect of hiking all day long and camping at altitude is not the type of undertaking you should agree to without consideration. From all accounts, the Inca trail is pretty difficult, so I wanted to make sure it'd be worth the trouble.
"What I'm really interested in doing is seeing Choquequirao," I said.
"Perfect!" Roberto exclaimed. "That's exactly where we're going, Inca runners is going to connect the lost cities of Choquequirao and Machu Picchu. We're using this as a training camp for the cross-country world championships."
"We?" I asked. Now more than ever I felt I was getting in over my head with this enterprise, but at the same time it seemed like too cool an opportunity to pass up.
"You, me and Martin Koukal, the 2003 World Champion in the 50 Km skate, and bronze medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics."I sighed, once again it seemed like fate was playing sinister games with me by presenting me with offers I couldn't refuse.
"I'm in," I said. "Great!" Roberto replied, and just like that the machinery was put in motion.
We arrived in Cusco in the midst of the rainiest July anyone could remember. At first Roberto was a little concerned that parts of the Inca trail might be blocked by snow or that the excessive rain might have made a river crossing on day 5 impassible, but Martin wasn't the slightest bit concerned. I soon found out that along with being a World Champion Cross-country skier, Martin is also an experienced mountaineer having scaled the 8,201 meter Cho Oyu in the Himalayas. If it hadn't been clear before it was clear then that I was traveling with some pretty heavy hitters.
The rain persisted in our first few days at Cuzco which we spent acclimating by visiting local ruins such as Sacsayhuman, Ollantaytambo, and Pisaq. Soon enough, however, we piled into the car and made our way to Cachora, delighting in the news announcements that continually mentioned the "Olympians running the Inca trail."
Roberto had done this trip many times before with Inca Runners, and after presenting us with our three porters and their donkeys, we were on our way.
The first day was a pretty grueling 17 mile hike that essentially took us to the gates of Choquequirao. Roberto confided that he normally split the first 17 miles into two days of hiking, but he figured Martin and I could deal with doing the whole thing in one go. I didn't have any doubts about Martin, but I felt my own chance at survival was disturbingly low. As it turned out, the first 11 miles of the hike wasn't all that challenging, but the last 6 were off the charts. I stumbled into camp in something like nine and a half hours only to find Roberto and Martin relaxing by the tents. They'd traversed the distance in about half the time it had taken me, an achievement that would repeat itself every day throughout our trek.
Visiting Choquequirao was an absolute joy.The cleared areas of ruins are almost ... Click here to read the rest of the article and see more images...