Though relieved, I was unable to fully celebrate finally making it down to the river because I knew we had to climb back up the mountain the same way we’d just come down. The whole reason we were there was to share a permanent clean water solution with the Cañari people of the Ecuadorian Andes and I was totally preoccupied. I just couldn’t get the vision of being stranded in the dark, mid-climb, out of my mind.

Needless to say, as soon as the demos were done, I was on the path, single-minded and a little obsessed. My survival instinct was in full force.

When I started, I was in a large pod of climbers: Cañari women in front of me, twenty-something Cañari men behind me, my friend an colleague Simon and an eight-year-old named Edison. This was hard, steep climbing but the women (not young and in skirts, mind you) clasped their hands behind their backs and walked like they were skating uphill on ice.

When I had the breath, I spoke Spanish to Alfredo, the young man behind me, and thanked him for being there. I told him I felt safe because of his presence. After a short time, my climbing group had whittled to four: Me, Alfredo, Edison and Simon. Everyone else had left us in the dust.

It was clear that Alfredo stayed to take care of me and Edison was there to take care of Simon. Was this an instruction from the community leader or did it just happen organically…I didn’t know. What I did know is that Alfredo was my angel and how he got there didn’t matter.

At one point I stopped for a swig of water and asked Alfredo to hold my pack for a second. He offered to carry it from that point on. It wasn’t very heavy but I nearly cried with gratitude. This girl that has a hard time asking for help was getting her @ss kicked and every ounce helped.

The climb became absolutely grueling. At times I wondered if I could continue, but then I’d wonder, “What’s the alternative?” So I kept going. I began to ask myself, “Can you just take one more step?” I probably asked this question 100 times. Each time I decided, “Yes, I can take one.”

My mind and body were struggling in one way, but in another way, I was high as a kite. My heart was beating hard, my lungs were pumping, my legs were still working, my mind was answering the call—WOW! I felt so powerful and reveled in the miracle of my body. I had done some conditioning prior to the trip and it was paying off, big time.

At one point I was offered a horse and I refused. I was invigorated, challenged and determined to finish what I’d started (damn it!).

On the way down, I thought the mud was a hardship. On the way up, I was thrilled to see it. Seeing mud meant that only ¼ of the hike remained. Perspective.

Eventually, I heard chickens. “Chickens! That must mean we’re back to the village!” Sure enough, it was not a mirage; indeed we had completed our journey. The hardest physical challenge I’ve ever had, bar none.

I may never be in a situation like that again, but I will carry the learning with me forever.

Perhaps you can relate, too…

  • When the going gets tough, ask for and/or accept help
  • Never underestimate the miracle of your body, mind and Spirit
  • Perspective is just subjective thought and a shift in thought can change everything
  • Angels are everywhere
  • When you think you can’t go on, just look to the one next step…string enough of those together and you’ll move mountains