When I was in 4th grade, we studied South America and I instantly fell in love with Peru. The beautiful people, the ornate clothes of the natives, the food. It was as if I’d been there before and simply had to return. No question. Of course all the boys in my class thought Lake Titicacca was the place to be… but I didn’t. For me, it was the mystique of Machu Picchu that got under my skin. I wanted to go there. To be up high in those mountains. To see those peeks that hid an entire colony. And I wanted to walk there. Fast forward to 2011. I sat my husband down and informed him, “I’m going to Peru for my 40th birthday.” “With who?” he replied. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just going and I hope you come.”
By the time our plane lifted off from Reno to Lima, the group consisted of 16 close friends… and my husband. We stayed in the quaint little town of Cusco for a few days and then a bus dropped us off at the head of the Inca trail. As I watched the bus drive away, I thought to myself, wow, I actually have to walk somewhere. I go hiking and workout all the time, but I never WALK to a destination. We drive. We cycle. We mass transit. We don’t WALK. But there we were, a group of Americans about to set foot on the Inca trail. We had a guide, Piero, with Bio Bio Expeditions. We camped, we hiked, we talked and laughed our way along an ancient trail that’s still used by Peruvians who live in the mountains. To them, it’s their everyday path to a food stand. To me, it was like walking on the footsteps of spirits I’d read about 30 years before in Mrs. Hedges class. After the hiking was done, we ended up in a super fun, super hip town called Aguas Calientes. It’s like Truckee, CA or Steamboat, CO or Zermatt, Switzerland. An outdoor town filled with people who crave the outdoors. We got to shower, clean up and drink pisco! The night was long and what I remember of it, incredibly fun.
The next morning, I rummaged through my backpack to find something to wear to Machu Picchu. It was going to be hot. In the mid 90’s. And my throbbing head and nauseous stomach meant I needed something comfortable. When I’m hungover or working out, clothes make me feel claustrophobic. I found my prAna Sonja dress. Cool, sleeveless, airy and light. Yes, we were hiking again today. No I’d never hiked in a dress before. But at that moment, it sounded like a great idea. And it was. The slight breeze that slithered through the ruins of Machu Picchu wrapped around my legs and cooled them. My arms were able to breathe without fabric suffocating them. My day in the ruins was even better than I imagined it would be sitting in that little wooden desk at Walnut Heights Elementary School.
We stayed in a little beach town called Arenzano. It’s about 30 kilometers from France. We met all of my husband’s relatives. We ate dinners until 1 am. We drank homemade wine and grappa. And we talked more with our hands than with our mouths. And on the second to last day, Louie said, “Let’s go to Cinque Terre.” The Five Earths of Italy, five little fishing villages linked by a path. As I had nearly a year before, I rummaged through my suit case for my most comfortable outfit and pulled out my prAna Sonja dress. Cool, sleeveless, airy and light. As we hiked that day, in 90 degree temperatures and sweltering humidity, my dress was once again the perfect choice.
It wasn’t until I got back from Italy and happened to have both albums up on Shutterfly that I noticed the coincidence. Two epic hikes, one great dress. It is now a reminder, hanging in my closet until the sun warms the Earth again, that being outside is being truly alive. Looking at The Dress makes me thankful to have had these amazing experiences in such a short time. It makes me thankful I’d fulfilled a 4th grade dream and was a part of a dying man’s gift.
Often times we put off our dreams until it’s too late. “We can’t.” “We don’t have enough money.” “We’re not prepared!” But in reality, there are millions of trails, on 7 continents, and all you need is one dress. Go find yours!
~ Wendy Damonte, Evening News Anchor