Big Mountains, Small World

[THE PITCH: Blog 36] We had been warned -- this trip would be hard, but with a good attitude, or at least a good excuse, we sang sans inhibition as we marched on: “Blame it on the backpack/ Blame it on the kicks/ Blame it on a lack of oxygen got ya feeling sick.”

November 25. Day 1: Blame it on the A-A-A-A-A-Altitude…

On Nov. 25, my little sister Channing and I began what we thought would be a four-day, three-night backpacking trip through the Andes Mountains in Peru. The Inca trail would take us 43 kilometers -- lowest altitude 2,500 meters above sea level and highest altitude 4,215 meters above sea level -- through the depth of the Cuzco jungle to Machu Picchu.


We eagerly joined 14 strangers, although two never began the trek due to severe altitude sickness, and our two guides. We had been warned -- this trip would be hard, but with a good attitude, or at least a good excuse, we sang sans inhibition as we marched on: “Blame it on the backpack/ Blame it on the kicks/ Blame it on a lack of oxygen got ya feeling sick.”


November 26. Day 2: Big Mountains, Small World…

To some extent, we all possess a desire to “go where no man has gone before.” But, as early as our second day on the trail, I was struck by the significance of traversing a road carved out and trampled upon by so many before me. Every year, some 25,000 people make the trek through this stone paved trail to the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu to witness and experience the Inca’s impressive 15th century architecture and tribute to nature.


Day two was the most physically taxing, as we scaled over 2,000 meters up through lush cloud forests. The mountains were huge, and I, so minuscule in comparison. Yet, there was a profound sense of paradox in the connection between us. Some had come to learn about the Incan history, some had come for a few days reprieve from "real world" cares, and some were looking for adventure. Some were a part of a group of travelers, and others came alone. In just our small group, we spoke six languages and called 10 different countries home. We ranged 25 years in age, came from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and creeds. Unexpectedly, Channing discovered there was another Villanovan amongst us, and I found that an electrical engineer in our group was a fellow Stanford alumnus.


In and out of the shadows of the Andes and through the dense fog of the clouds, our shared purpose was so clear and so simple… We were all doing the same thing: putting one foot in front of the other. Our present reality was merely an extension of our day-to-day existence. It really doesn’t matter if we are climbing the ancient trail… or riding an elephant in Dubai… or sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway, we are all connected through this common ideal: trying to progress. On the winding path, as in life, we move slowly forward. Closing in on our goal, we grew tired but not dismayed…remaining excited and always hopeful.


November 27. Day 3: Onward and Upward!

Everything that was happening in the present moment screamed for attention. The view of the stunning scenery of snow capped mountains, enchanting clouds, and emerald green forests screeched, “Look at ME!” Neither the reverberation of rushing waters pounding through winding streams, nor the mental focus and physical exertion that was necessary to complete the task at hand (keep moving!) resonated. As my feet stomped on, somehow, my mind floated into the future … my future … 2013!


Stoppage Time

Last year, when I had to decide where to play, I was so secure in my decision to go to Sweden. And now, faced with an even better set of opportunities, I am of many minds. My enthusiasm for the sport, the enhancement of my game, my current life is in Sweden. I have much unfinished businesses to attend in the form of both team and personal goals.


But being on the periphery of the U.S. national team and the commencement of a U.S. Professional League, I am hesitant to pursue my Swedish personal and career goals for fear of deterring my American soccer dreams. Theoretically, it seems like a great year to play abroad since the USWNT does not have any major competitions, but three factors negate my confidence:

1) With a new coach, Tom Sermani, and new staff in place for next year, this seems like the year for "new" players to be seen.

2) A strong domestic league is crucial for the future of U.S. Soccer because, among other reasons, it should create a competitive environment where new players can be showcased and vie for positions on the team.

3) Playing in the new U.S. league is also way to support the growth of the soccer in our country.  That said, competition in Europe is very strong and Champions League is arguably the biggest showcase available to U.S. players for 2013.

A few days before I left for South America, someone asked me why I wanted to hike the Inca Trail, and I replied that perhaps my mind would be clearer from way up in the Andes… Hmmm…


Off The Post!

November 28. Day 4: Through Hell to Heaven on Earth.

The final day on the trail should have only been an easy 6-kilometer downhill hike leading to a celebration in Machu Picchu. After all of our efforts, we should have marched triumphantly, with heads held high, through the gates of the ancient city. Should have, if not for a hitch-hiking-parasite I unknowingly picked up via some bad chicken and the ensuing bacterial infection. Yes, we should have strutted in victory like Royals of a civilization gone by, if I had not thrown up about 40 times in 24 hours. Should have! Instead, the only marching was done by a crew of rescue workers who carried me on a stretcher through Machu Picchu’s gate ... straight to the hospital.


November 29. Day 5: Ruin-nation or Ruination?

Due to my illness, we stayed an extra night in a nearby town. It may seem like this was a terrible way to end our trip -- OK … it was -- but from my sick bed I had plenty of time to reframe the situation. With some medically induced energy coursing through my veins and a stronger sense of determination than I have felt in awhile, we managed to make it back up to Machu Picchu on the fifth day.

Seeing the ancient ruins probably would have been like visiting any other historical site, but what made this experience worthwhile was the climb itself, the struggle we endured, the journey. On that fifth day, I had to stop to catch my breath every few stair steps, but then, my weary eyes caught a glimpse of one of the most spectacular archeological sites in the world…

Yes, Machu Picchu had made every minute of the trip worth it for me, but at that moment I felt that my tumultuous expedition had made Machu Picchu that much more extraordinary.

7 comments about "Big Mountains, Small World".
  1. Jim Welnetz, December 4, 2012 at 9:43 a.m.

    Thanx for sharing this w/ us. It's special in that my son treked to M.P also, and another similar but almost unknown " lost city". Love to see you playing in the U.S. but either way, wish you the best.

  2. Andres Yturralde, December 4, 2012 at 11:03 a.m.

    Very nice. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Gus Keri, December 4, 2012 at 11:20 a.m.

    I copy Jim. A great read as usual. I Would love to see you in the new US league. If only to match the words with the feet action on TV.

  4. Futbol Genio, December 4, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.

    Nice story; well written.

    But, don't Stanfordize all of your decisions. You're American; USA needs all of its great players to commit; Sweden has many "yous"; commit to play here; be around your family & friends, & ENJOY the game.

    No one promised you a starring role on the National team, but I like what the Calif. Bear is doing at 22...the Stanford Cardinal can do the same.

    Believe in yourself & don't overthink soccer. And, never eat like the natives...

  5. Aris Protopapadakis, December 4, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.

    The new league will have the same fate as its predecessors. Do your thing in Sweden next year and see how the US league goes. Jumping in early is not often that rewarding. The national team coaches look at players everywhere. You play well enough and you'll be on the national team.
    Personally I love watching the women's national team but by the time it becomes a league the quality gets diluted and I find I am not interested. I suspect many feel that way.

  6. Jan Balkestahl, December 5, 2012 at 9:53 a.m.

    Great post.
    And Christen, there are no chance that you will be overlooked for a WNT spot because you are playing in Sweden(att least not with a WNT coach with as much international experince as Sermanni).
    Just make sure that your contract covers that you are to be relased for WNT camps and only sign for one year at a time. Time enough to move to the new league when you have a WNT spot (and unless you get seriously injured that is sure to be a when not an if).

  7. James Madison, December 5, 2012 at 10:15 p.m.

    Another winner, Christen, despite "the bug." As for next year, your Swedish team needs you, and the US National Women should give you a fair look. The US League can wait until you see whether it survives this time.

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