Hayley's Peruvian Challenge


Exeter writer, Hayley Jones, recently completed a trek to Machu Picchu to raise money and awareness for Amnesty International. Read about the challenges she faced in her own words...

I arrived at Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate on 24th May 2017, after four days of hiking at altitude. It was early evening and the tourists were thinning out. The sun was shining, which seemed prophetic following three and a half days of rain. Trekking to Machu Picchu had been my dream for a long time – since my early teens, I believe – but I never thought I would actually achieve my goal. I was exhausted, relieved and happy.
Several hours before I reached the Sun Gate, I didn’t know whether I could get there. I was suffering from a throat
infection and recovering from altitude sickness, which made me nauseous, lightheaded and breathless for the first few days of the trek. I also have mental health problems, including anxiety. I struggled to control my breath as I hiked up the steep incline, panicking that I wouldn’t be able to keep going. Of course, this made it very difficult to keep going… I was caught in a vicious circle, escaping only through the help and patience of our group’s doctor and guides. I was determined to keep trying because the alternative – giving up – was unbearable.
I feel the same way about writing. It’s often impossible to maintain confidence in my ability to achieve my goals, but I keep going because it’s the only way I have a chance of succeeding. And because I’m stubborn.

A few months ago, I read about a woman who gave up writing after she submitted a short story and it was rejected. She didn’t want to risk another failure, so she opted out. My initial reaction was laughter – all writers get rejected. I’m not aware of a single successful writer who sold every piece of work the first time it was submitted, including Nobel laureates who I can’t imagine have ever written a terrible story. Rejections happen.
My amusement soon gave way to sadness. This woman claimed to be passionate about writing, yet she had quit an activity which gave her joy, because of a single rejection. She didn’t acknowledge her courage in submitting her story; she only saw the result. If she had persevered, she could have published numerous stories. Perhaps she might have sold that first one – or laughed with embarrassment, remembering it as terrible and deserving of rejection (as I do with my early efforts), valuing it as a stepping stone which led to her writing better stories.
Finally, I recognised an aspect of myself in the woman’s experience: I may submit work, but not as often as I could. I talk myself out of seizing opportunities because I’m convinced my writing will be rejected. I limit my chances of success by opting out, instead of stepping up.
My trek to Machu Picchu encapsulated the importance of stepping up and persevering. It would have been easy to quit at any time. I struggled and faced a variety of obstacles, some anticipated and others unexpected. I trained hard, but couldn’t prepare for some elements of the hike – especially the mental challenge. Nobody would have blamed me for pulling out. If I were at home, I probably wouldn’t have walked the dog while feeling so ill, let alone spent several hours a day hiking up mountains. But I wanted to achieve my dream and as long as I could put one foot in front of the other, I was going to keep walking.
Everything else fell away. I didn’t care about being slower than almost everyone else. Nothing was more important than reaching my goal.
I hope to apply this attitude to my writing. It’s hard not to compare myself to others, to get distracted by those who are reaching their goals faster or coping better as they work towards their dreams. I struggle with putting pressure on myself and failing to meet my expectations, even when I’m affected by circumstances beyond my control. Sometimes anxiety and depression convince me that I will never be a good writer, so I stop working for varying periods of time.
None of this matters. All that matters is focusing on my goal and taking the next step.

Next steps are made easier by a supportive team and I’m grateful for both my fellow trekkers and Exeter Writers. They provide support and encouragement, which helps me keep going during the tough parts of my journey. Thank you to everyone – especially those who have sponsored me!

Hayley blogs at www.resurfacingandrewriting.com.

If you would like to support her trek to Machu Picchu please visit her justgiving page.