There’s a little strip mall on the east side of Cheyenne. In one of it’s beige blocks, a little restaurant has covered its flimsy walls with aprons of all different sizes, shapes and colors. It was our restaurant. I don’t know if it was because she loved it or because she thought I loved it but we always went to lunch at the Pie Lady.
“What’ll it be?” The waitress walks up in efficient strides, she seems cheerful but it’s hard to tell for sure. Maybe she is tired. Almost every time we come she is our waitress.
“A cup and a half.” My grandma states, as she has stated many times before. The waitress knits her eyebrows in confusion and glances at me, her pen hovering over her notebook.
“A cup of soup and half a sandwich.” I explain, trying to smother my grin.
“Right! What kind?” She writes the order down quickly. I watch her pen switch over the pad, no flicker of recognition evident. I find this an endless source of amusement, my grandma is endlessly perturbed. Her perm is fresh and her dark silver and white curls hold tight to her head, only her earlobes and her cheeks shake with her with her little huff of annoyance.
The food is filling in the way comfort food is but I have forgotten what it tasted like, what I ordered. We finish up with a sliver of pie. Her favorite is the sour cream and raisin but the pecan pie runs a close second. I remember the thick, sweetness of the sour cream, a plump raisin, a crisp flaky crust. I remember my grandma closes her eyes with the first bite. She slugs her coffee, taking big drinks and setting the mug down heavily on the table. I smile to myself and wonder if she sips her whiskey.
My grandma’s skin is soft and delicate, even the tips of her fingers sags in gentle wrinkles. We walk next door to Hobby Lobby and she leans heavily on the cart, her sweatshirt drapes around her like a duvet. She tucks a plastic bag of those huge, cloyingly sweet, nuclear orange circus peanuts into the cart, next to her oxygen tank. She begins munching the peanuts as we walk slowly up and down the aisles. Browsing, occasionally picking up an item or two for a random craft. I keep an extremely close eye on the bag of peanuts. She farts as we walk, pretending to be boosted along by her gas, acting surprised at a particularly loud one. I can’t stop giggling as she clears an aisle, she lifts her nose aristocratically, pointedly ignoring the woman running for cover. It’s all clear and she peers around, her eyes are bright behind her glasses.
“Good lord, Bryci!” Her voice booms out full of sour cream and raisin pie and muffled laughter. I think this must be why everyone calls her Floaty. When we go to check out I realize the half eaten bag of circus peanuts has been casually replaced with a fresh, unopened bag. I was watching her like a hawk! She floats out on a cloud of gas, happily ignoring my pointed look at the peanuts.
I remember the farts like a theme song but I only remember her smelling good, like baby powder and fresh laundry. Sometimes there was a whiff of hair chemical or burnt coffee. Sometimes, very early in the morning, she’d have cat food breath. I remember the sound of farts propelling her through the craft store and chasing everyone out. I don’t remember that they smelled though, even though they were the stuff of family legends.
I’m thinking about those farts as we hike down a 15th century path, through the mystery and romance the Inca Trail is steeped in. I’m tired, we are pushing through our third day and I am being reminded that I am related to my great grandma every few strides. I pause on the uneven steps, walking back and forth across them looking for the lowest part. It’s finally warming up but it was a cold, sleepless night and every extra inch matters to my aching legs. My lungs aren’t quite big enough for the thin air, my heart is trying to beat its way out of chest and blisters have pushed the toenails up on my big toes. I’m leaking pus into my socks still damp from yesterday with every step. The little toe I broke aches and I’m probably killing off the shrubbery. I look around to see if anyone is nearby and tell Matt to cough loudly. My belches ooze out in a cloud of rotten eggs and brimstone, the other end isn’t doing any better. He coughs in a faux-shout but it doesn’t cover it. I still feel like It was pretty smooth. I start giggling which makes it worse, my god, I’m the stinky kid.
“Was that Matt!?” The four American ladies from our group burst into laughter behind us. One of them has also been busy crop dusting her friends. I laugh harder and Matt stoically keeps hiking, taking the heat and cheering me up immensely in the process.
“Good lord, Matt!” I chime in and he half glares, half smiles at me and shakes his head.
There are things that are easy and there are things that are hard. The Inca Trail was one of the hard things and between the crappy rented backpacks and being transformed into a fart monster, it wasn’t getting any easier. We were walking over 26 miles in four days, climbing two passes of nearly 14,000 feet and, little did we know, going through an extremely unusual snow storm. In a moment of deep, undeserved confidence we had also decided to do the 9-mile, 2,500 foot climb to Rainbow Mountain the day before we started the trek. Damn it.
I spot a couple from Norway/Denmark we’ve been chatting with periodically and resolve to keep it together. They’re warm, wonderful, hilarious and I feel my spirits lifting as we hike, my gut bubbling mutinously if I forget about it for a second. I try sneak out little farts and not laugh too hard, either I’m successfully sneaky or they’re just super polite. I giggle and fart again. Probably polite. I curse at my gut. How is this even physically possible? I don’t know if it’s something I’ve eaten or some kind of bug.
We pause to admire the view, the mountains here are damned impressive and they aren’t afraid to flaunt what they’ve got. If the Rocky Mountains are Grace Kelley, conservative, soft, beautiful; the Andes are Marilyn Monroe, a bombshell who gives interviews in the nude. The river winding around the base of the mountains is sitting at around 6,000 to 6,500 feet, the surrounding Andes in the sacred valley reach heights of 16,500 feet. When you’re looking at 10,000 vertical feet of mountain, well it’s A LOT of leg on display. The Andes are aggressively beautiful and watching the valley from one of the terraced Incan ruins along the trail is enough to make your jaw drop and tongue loll, old-school cartoon style.
We start back down through a site that stands silent testament to Incan engineering and architecture. My feet curl up in my shoes as I try to protect the blisters. We make it back to camp, the chasquis have made us another amazing meal (including a cake!) before we retreat to our tents for a short night.
“Barbie???” One of the ladies calls out, sounding very much like a little kid who suspects her friend left and she’s playing hide and seek alone. I start giggling uncontrollably and Matt elbows me in the ribs.
“Right here!” Her tent-mate pokes her head out of the tent and waves her over. To be fair, all the tents are exactly the same and lined up in a long row. I fart in my tent and start giggling harder.
“Good god! That’s it, I’m out!” Matt churlishly unzips the tent and leaves.
“You’re letting all the heat out!” I laugh until my stomach hurts.
I slept in the clothes I wanted to wear to see Machu Picchu and I’m grateful when all I have to do is roll out of the tent at 3 am. It’s freezing and I’m shivering as I force myself to eat a pancake. I want to go back to sleep and given the choice between sleeping and hiking later with the crowds, well I would be sleeping. Crowds be damned.
I pull my hat down around my ears to cover my hair which has worked itself into a nice greasy mess and get in line for the checkpoint to open. I spend the time fantasizing about being warm again. Today we make the final trek through the Sun Gate and down into Machu Picchu. We are about to conclude our time on the trail believed to be used by elite members of the society in an ancient pilgrimage, having no commercial purpose. Other paths existed for the transport of goods but this path was special. The steps carved in the 15th century, the stones carefully laid, still make up the path and as we stumble down it in the dark, racing to the Sun Gate, I feel the same heady mix of excitement, elation and pure misery as I’ve felt the last few days. I wonder if this is what the ancient Incas taking this path before me felt. Was it as punishing for their bodies? As uplifting for their soul? I hurt and I’m so cold that I’m feeling sorry for my own feet. I’m exhausted ten ways to Sunday and yet when we walked through the Gate… I see the terraces and something clicks. I see the graceful outline and I realize that’s it. That’s Machu Picchu. Something warm and golden rushes in and fills in the little holes where exhaustion and pain have been draining me. I feel awe roll through me and I have to concentrate on keeping my mouth closed. It doesn’t matter that I’m stinking up the Sun Gate in a cloud of noxious green gas, it doesn’t matter that I’m beat and sore. All that matters is how thankful and elated and ready I am to be there. It’s gorgeous. They’re gorgeous, both the ruins and the conclusion of the long journey.
We walk through the ruins with Freddy, our guide, excitedly telling us his interpretation of it’s history. I nearly doze off when we pause in the sun, I’m finally warm. I can feel the romance of this mysterious place, hidden away in the Andes with no one exactly sure why it was never finished, why it was abandoned or what it was for. It’s humming with tourists, the city has come alive again. We study what was probably housing, I let one rip and it chases a couple ladies around a corner. The smile creasing my face is perfectly content.
“Did you fart?” Matt asks on an overnight bus a week later.
I shrug my shoulders and try to look innocent.
“That’s always going to remind me of the Inca Trail.” I crack up and stink up the entire back of the bus.
“It reminds me of Hobby Lobby and the Inca Trail.”
Matt looks at me like I might be disturbed. He’s probably right but I don’t quite manage to stifle my giggles.