I have always been adventurous and a bit daring since childhood.
But Linda Lynch and Janice Koppang didn’t know that.
Linda was one of the volunteer ski guides during a week-long cross-country skiing event for the visually and mobility impaired in January called Ski for Light. She is also an avid mountain hiker.
So I shared with her my dream of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
That’s when Janice, also a mountain hiking enthusiast, walked up. We talked of her summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2014 and the next thing I knew, Linda and Janice invited me to Grand Junction, Colorado where they live to go on some training hikes in April. I would trade in my skis and snow boots for a backpack and hiking boots as they’d guide me through mountain trails.
I’ve always loved the great outdoors.
When I was a kid, our front yard had two cottonwood trees that my Dad planted. Within seven years, they were about 35 to 40 feet tall. My younger brother Ken and I loved the movie Moby Dick. We made a make-shift ship from large furniture boxes and would pretend to be on the high-seas chasing the great white whale.
We especially loved playing just before thunderstorms when the wind was howling and the skies were dark gray. The thunder and lightning set the scene for our sea chase and we didn’t mind the rain that pelted our faces.
I would play Captain Ahab, who had lost his leg in an encounter with Moby Dick and Ken played the first mate, Ishmael. We switched roles as our cottonwood trees grew taller. I was more adventuresome and would climb to the top of the trees, which we pretended to be our ship’s lookout mast.
My mom always knew where to find me whenever a thunderstorm was approaching. I can still hear her calling out, “Michael Dale McCulloch, get down from that tree before you get struck by lightning!”
Ah, the thrill of clinging to a tall tree branch swinging in the wind and rain on a summer’s afternoon. Now, 50 years later, I hope to not cling to any tree branches on my pending adventure.
On April 15, I began my first five days of hiking some of the best trails in western Colorado — the genesis of my training for Machu Picchu.
Most days, it was Linda, Janice and some of their other hiking buddies. I had a blast hiking trails such as Devil’s Canyon, Hawkeye, Lower Monument Canyon, Canyon Rim (rest day), and Serpents.
My favorite hike was the Lower Monument Canyon Trail on Day 3. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, cool with azure blue skies.
I know what you’re thinking. How can a visually impaired man tell the type of sky?
I have light perception and see shadows in my right eye, so I can distinguish bright from cloudy skies, for example. Regarding the description of the surrounding area, I depend on my guides telling me about it. If they’re quiet, I ask.
The trail was an easy to moderate 5-mile hike with an elevation change of about 900 feet from the trailhead to Independence Monument.
The views along the sandstone canyon hike were outstanding, including several popular rock formations –Lizard Rock, Kissing Couple, Declaration of Independence Slab, and Independence Monument.
As we hiked, it was obvious Linda and Janice were very experienced mountain hikers and certainly knew what they were doing. They were also awesome in providing sighted guide assistance. I felt completely comfortable with them and trusted them with my life.
I even tested them a bit. I love going to the edges of the trail ledges (but nothing beats a treetop). They were always quick to grab me … and chasten me.
They passed my test and I asked if they would join my two Houston guides on my Trek to Machu Picchu. Janice will be joining us in Peru!
My next mountain training hike is planned for September 1-6 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Adventure surely awaits.
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