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OIA: Hiking to Machu Picchu – Following Ancient Footsteps in Peru

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Photograph by Miguel De Freitas, My Shot

In a few weeks, I’m heading to Peru to trek the Hidden Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. To say I am excited is an understatement. I’ve traveled to a lot of places in my time, but my weathered shoes have never set foot on South America. It’s about time.

Why now? Well, other than having a burning desire to go just about everywhere, I was invited on a friends and family trip with a friend of mine who has an adventure travel company. I’m not usually one for group travel—preferring to immerse myself in places without the insulating cocoon of a gaggle of companions—but this seemed too good to pass up.

First, Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s been on my bucket list for some time. I even bought a Peru guidebook several years back with every intention of making the journey. Never happened. Oh, well. I’m not one to be easily deterred.

Second, you have to hike Machu Picchu in a group, so why not do it with friends of friends, and with someone you know and trust? The guide is my good buddy, Jeff Evans, who’s done a few cool things in his life—like taking the first (and only) blind guy up Everest, and leading a group of injured vets (some blind, some amputees) up 20,000-foot Lobuche Peak in Nepal. Sounds like a suitable leader. How could I say no?

Our journey will take us high through the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world. It runs like a jagged spine down 4,300 miles of western South America, rising to nearly 23,000 feet in dramatic, snow-capped peaks. The slopes around Machu Picchu are steep and green, like something out of Middle Earth. We’ll spend five days trekking, reaching a high point of 14,000 feet.

The Hidden Inca Trail is the road less traveled to Machu Picchu. While the main trail sees tens of thousands of visitors each year, our route is trodden by far fewer footsteps, ensuring we’ll enjoy a bit of solitude. We’ll also spend a day helping build a school in the tiny village of Chilipahua—a wonderful way to experience the local culture and give back to our host country. On our final day, we’ll approach Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, perched high above the terraced stone walls that the ancient Incans built about 800 years ago.

I can’t wait! I think most people would agree that half the fun of an adventure is the anticipation and prep. This trip has been an excellent excuse to hike a bunch of Colorado peaks, sample Peruvian fare, learn to make Pisco sours—the Peruvian cocktail, and, of course, buy some outdoor gear.

We at Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) have been doing a lot of work lately quantifying the economic benefits of outdoor recreation. So I’ve been thinking about how I’m stimulating the economy by making this trip. It’s far more than just the gear I buy—although, I must say, it’s been fun to have an excuse to stock up on some trekking necessities. And the economic benefits fan out from there.

I tallied all my expenses to prepare for this trip (what we at OIA call “direct spending”), and it’s interesting to think about the impacts. Obviously, it’s benefitting the companies that sold me trekking pants and a cozy down sleeping bag. I also bought gas for my car and snacks for my pack when I went on training hikes. Then there’s my plane ticket, the trip fee I’m paying my friend’s company—which benefits not just his family but his team of support staff in Peru—the doctor who gave me immunizations, the travel insurance company that sold me a policy, the liquor store where I bought Pisco, and the grocery store where I’ll get provisions for the trip. In Peru, I’ll buy train tickets, food and drink, park permits, and souvenirs, pumping badly needed dollars into cash-strapped communities.

It’s good to know that when I play outside, my dollars are supporting jobs and putting money directly into the hands of businesses and communities.

That’s why protecting places to play is so important. Every time people go outdoors to enjoy trails, forests, waters and ancient villages — whether it’s Machu Picchu or a local park — they are putting their hard-earned dollars back into the economy.

The next time you plan an adventure, think about the money you spend in preparation and during the trip. Not only are you feeding your soul, you’re supporting the many people whose livelihoods depend on outdoor recreation. Way to go! If that’s not a good excuse to get out and play, then I don’t know what is. Peru, here I come!

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.