On top of the world
SELECT’s intrepid adventurer Linda Rolfe describes the highs and lows of completing her gruelling charity challenge in Peru
Before we embarked on our epic adventure, the EIC said the trip would raise money to help people with mental health issues – but I didn’t realise it would help ME with MINE.
The 10 days I spent travelling to South America and tackling the Inca Trail had a massive impact on my life and undoubtedly changed me for the better.
Like a lot of people, since the pandemic I haven’t felt 100% myself and have suffered with insecurity and anxiety behind closed doors.
This trip was more than a hiking holiday – it was like therapy, pushing me out of my comfort zone and challenging not just my fitness, but also my confidence and wellbeing.
At the time I was scared and felt like I didn’t want to go, but I conquered plenty of hurdles along the way and came out the other side a different, more positive person.
GETTING THERE: Edinburgh – London – Peru
The first obstacle might not seem like a big one, but travelling to London on the train alone and finding my hotel for the night in the big smoke was a huge worry.
Once in London I met up with my fellow hiker, former SELECT Member Gordon McArthur, and shared my feelings of anxiety. Looking back, I was like a totally different person!
The following afternoon, we met up with our fellow travellers at the airport; they all seemed very friendly but I was still so apprehensive so I sat quietly while waiting to board the flight.
After landing in Peru and 18 hours of travelling, we arrived at our hotel in Cusco and all tried to stay awake the whole day to acclimatise and fight the six-hour time difference.
The altitude was already making me feel lightheaded and drunk, even though no alcohol had passed my lips, and I still felt nervous and shy.
DAY 1: Cusco – Tambomachay – Sacsayhuaman
After driving to high altitude, we walked for around six hours back down to the hotel with a historic tour from our Peruvian guide. This helped boost my confidence as I wasn’t holding people up and my boots felt good, with no pain or blisters.
In the evening we had a briefing about the trip, during which I became seriously overwhelmed as they seemed to talk for ages. I really didn’t think I was going to cope.
Two guys from Edmundson noticed my discomfort and quietly calmed me down, saying: “We’ll be fine, one day at a time, we won’t leave you, we’ll do this together.” It was just what I needed.
After the meeting we had to re-pack two 6kg bags to take on the trek; one day pack for me and one with our overnight kit for the porter or waiki to carry. I re-packed these at least another 12 times with nerves, worried that I’d forgotten something essential.
DAY 2: Sacred Valley – Urubamba River – Wayllabamba
Armed with my trusty SELECT bear, Henry the Hiker, we left the hotel at 6am and travelled two hours to the start of the Inca Trail proper, with my Edmundson protectors keeping me calm and taking my mind off being anxious.
Once we arrived, I repacked my day bag one last time and we set off nice and slowly, taking regular breaks along the way as everyone started getting to know each other. The landscape was amazing and, even thought it was hot, it wasn’t too uncomfortable.
After seven hours we arrived at camp, where we found our tents and a wee house with an honesty bar. I had one small beer to settle my nerves for the next challenge – camping!
Luckily my roommate Lauren Daniels was a mountaineering guide back in Wales, so she helped me out, setting up my sleeping bag, etc. The temperature dropped big time overnight and I was adding layers every time I woke up.
DAY 3: Dead Woman’s Pass – Pacamayo
The third day was another six-hour hike, so as usual I faffed around packing until we set off at 7am. I ended up hiking in the middle of the group as we ascended Dead Woman’s Pass, the trail getting steeper and the altitude making us breathless as we climbed to 4,200m above sea level.
Along the way we all chatted and by this point everyone knew about my home life with my partner, Simon, and dog, Diego. Once we reached the summit of Dead Woman’s Pass, the guide pulled out a Haribo ring sweet and jokingly asked me to marry him; I took it but graciously declined.
Going downhill to camp was very tiring – almost worse than climbing up. My calves felt unsteady and were like jelly with each step. We reached camp just before dark and settled in but it was freezing again and I didn’t get much sleep, which affected me the next day.
DAY 4: Sayacmarca – PHuyupatamarca – Wiñay Wayna
This was by far the hardest day and I ended up at the back of the group, struggling to climb on the 10-hour hike. The guide noticed I was lagging and stayed with me until the last 50 steps. He said he had a surprise for me, but I wasn’t allowed to stop until I got to the top. I agreed and he started to play Eye of the Tiger on his phone.
With tears of determination in my eyes, I sprinted up those 50 steps then cried like a baby at the top. The views of the snow-capped mountain were also breathtaking!
Once we got to camp for the evening, we did our usual Wet Wipe wash and got into our camp clothes. It was then that Tessa Ogle, CEO of the EIC, got an internet connection and found out that the Queen had sadly passed away. Her Majesty was the patron of the EIC, so we did a toast to her and chatted about the Royal Family for a while.
On this night, we also got letters from home which the EIC had organised in advance. I got messages from Simon and my mam and again I was in tears; I really needed to hear their words of encouragement after the emotional day I’d had.
DAY 5: Inti Punku – Urubamba River – Machu Picchu
The final day saw us wake at 3am to hike to Inti Punku, AKA ‘the Sun Gate’. After walking for two hours, the guides stopped us and said they would walk ahead and leave us to do the last part alone, to think about how far we‘d come and why we’d set out to make the trip.
Yet again I started crying before I even got to the Sun Gate as I was so overwhelmed at the journey I’d been on since leaving Waverley. A couple of the other hikers told me that they could see a change in my confidence since we’d been walking and were proud of me. It was on this day that I didn’t repack my bag once and just went with the flow; my panic had disappeared!
Walking around Machu Picchu was amazing, with the epic views, friendships made and reminiscing about the journey getting there.
It made me realise that even though the view from the Sun Gate was epic, and the historical site of Machu Picchu was magical, it’s not about the destination, its about how you get there, embracing ALL the emotions and memories made and living in the moment.
COMING HOME: Peru – London – Edinburgh
The final leg of my journey saw me set off at 8am on Sunday and get into Waverley at 11.30pm on Monday.
En route, I had to wait in London King’s Cross for two hours on my own before getting the train. The ‘old’ Linda would have been panicking but I was chilled and even spoke to several strangers to help pass the time.
Since I’ve got back, I’ve been walking around with a smile on my face and not sweating the small stuff. I think the trip has proved that I can do anything I set my mind and body to. I can’t wait to see how else it’s changed me, especially with my confidence and stress levels.
The good news is that we raised more than £56,000 on the trip and the money is still coming in. I want to thank the whole of SELECT for supporting me. As you might be able to tell, it’s changed me for the better and long may it continue.
One last thing. Before I left, and after I’d packed and re-packed everything for the 17th time, I’d told Simon to ask me one question when I returned: “Were the stress, anxiety and nerves worth it?” And I can honestly say yes, it was TOTALLY worth it!
Help is at hand when you need it
The Electrical Industries Charity (EIC) looks after people from the electrical, electronics and energy industries when they or their families need a hand up – big or small.
With services available to anyone that works, or has worked, in the sector, it offers a wide variety of key services and support to help with:
Family and relationship problems
Financial and legal worries
Emotional and mental health problems
Ill health and disability.
There’s still time to donate!
Linda has now broken her £5,000 fundraising target, but would still welcome more donations. To add to the pot and help electricians via the Electrical Industries Charity, please go to bit.ly/Linda-Inca
A site full of wonder
Perched among the Peruvian mountains 2,430m above sea level, Machu Picchu is a 600-year-old Inca citadel that has fascinated archaeologists and historians for decades.
Built in the 15th century, the site was abandoned when the Inca empire was conquered by the Spanish in the 1700s, and no European visited the site until the 19th century.
Made up of around 200 structures, Machu Picchu is built on a steep ridge, crisscrossed by stone terraces, with separate areas for farming and day-to-day living.
Machu Picchu’s famous buildings include the Acropolis, the Temple of the Three Windows, the Military Tower and the Temple of the Sun, with many reconstructed to give visitors a better idea of how they originally looked.