Adventure of a Lifetime

by Team Broady on Friday, March 1, 2024

In the fall of 2022, I nervously submitted my application to participate for the very first time in one of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation’s charity challenges. After witnessing my mother, Libby, my brother Mark, and my husband, Nick, all complete one of these adventures and express to me how life-changing it was, I knew I had to apply eventually. In January of 2023 I found out that I had been selected to join in this incredible journey. The amount of time and preparation over the past year that went into getting organized and ready for my charity trek in Ecuador in November caused me a certain amount of anxiety. From having to shop for all the equipment needed, to fitting in training hikes and gym sessions, to hosting fundraising events, the build-up in my mind for this challenge absolutely consumed me.

I started with none of the necessary equipment. I had not camped or slept in a tent in over 25 years and even then, it was maybe for one or two nights at a nice campsite with hot water and flush toilets. I knew I needed to have the right equipment for all weather: blistering sun, rain, and perhaps even snow and ice. I needed a warm sleeping bag, the proper clothing, comfortable hiking boots and pack, and medication and first-aid items in case of sickness or blisters. Luckily, Nick and many of my trek mates had done one of these challenges before and were able to advise me on what gear to buy and what not to bother with.

On the morning of November 14, 2023, the day had finally arrived for our flight to Quito, Ecuador. Nick and I arrived at the airport all packed and ready to go, only for Nick to realize he didn’t have his passport with him. While standing in the check-in line at the airport, he frantically started searching all his pockets and bags. I had a cross-shoulder travel pouch which he asked me to check as well. I unzipped one of the pockets and confirmed my passport was there but not his. In an absolute panic, he jumped in a taxi to return to our house while I stayed at the airport unpacking and searching all our bags. After literally ransacking our home—opening every drawer, tossing back couch pillows, lifting beds, and pulling out dressers—he called me to say he could not find it anywhere and could not come on the trip. He asked the taxi driver, who had been waiting with the meter running, to head back to the airport so he could fetch his bags. At this point, the lady at the airline check-in counter told me they would be closing in 20 minutes and asked me what I was planning to do. I said to Nick on the phone: “I guess I’m going off to hike in Ecuador without you.” A feeling of absolute panic came over me as I placed my pouch on the counter to check in for the flight. Suddenly I noticed a bulge in the only pocket that I apparently had not checked. I unzipped it to find Nick’s passport! I immediately showed it to the lady at the counter and her jaw dropped, as she had witnessed everything that had transpired. She immediately checked in all our bags, printed both our tickets, told me to immediately go through security and that she would hold onto Nick’s passport and ticket until he arrived, but that he had only 10 minutes until check-in closed. I called Nick to tell him that I had found his passport and that I had had it in my pouch the whole time! Although extremely angry with me for putting him through this awful and stressful situation, Nick was finally able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. He tossed the cabbie a $100 bill and told him to step on it. As traffic was building up on the passenger drop-off ramp, Nick decided to jump out and run up the ramp and into the airport. He managed to get through security on time and we both made it on to the flight! Now that we’re home and the divorce papers are being drafted… just kidding, not only did he find it in his heart to forgive me but this whole shared adventure of a lifetime brought us closer together.

After the stressful start to our trip and the long day of travel, I had a bad headache and decided to go to bed early. I took a couple of Advil and tried desperately to sleep but just tossed and turned all night. Our group spent the next day exploring Quito to give us all some time to acclimatize. After an extremely enjoyable day sightseeing, my headache continued despite more Advil and drinking lots of water. That night I went to bed early again in hopes of getting a solid rest before beginning our first trekking day, only to have another sleepless night. Headaches and difficulty sleeping are both common symptoms of altitude sickness. At an altitude of 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito is among the highest major cities in the world and altitude sickness among newly arriving visitors is common.

The first day of walking was fairly stress-free. Despite my lingering headache and two sleepless nights I felt excited and ready to start this adventure. We took an almost-two-hour bus ride to our starting point, with our day packs filled with water, snacks, and lunch. On Day 1, we walked 13.6 kilometres with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet to our first campsite. The terrain was mostly a hard-packed path with a gradual incline. I did not push myself too hard and enjoyed chit-chatting with some of my trek mates and getting to know everyone. We arrived at camp around 5 p.m., just before it started to rain. We managed to get our air mattresses blown up and sleeping bags laid out before congregating in the dining tent just as the downpour began. Luckily, all our tents were covered with an additional tarp, so everything stayed dry. The dining tent floor was very muddy, and it began to get quite chilly when the sun set, but despite this, we had fun playing cards and then eating a spectacular Ecuadorian meal cooked by the incredible kitchen staff and laughing and talking until it was time to say goodnight and head to bed. Luckily, Nick had brought some Tylenol cold nighttime medication. Even though I had no cold symptoms, my headache persisted, and I had not had a good night’s sleep since my arrival in Ecuador. I decided to take two and finally slept like a baby! We needed to wake up at 6 a.m. and be ready to leave an hour later. We were told Day 2 of the trek would be the longest, hardest, and most challenging!

By morning it had finally stopped raining and the sun was out. Although the mornings were always a little chilly, we needed to dress in layers, as by midday the sun was scorching. Despite applying sunscreen multiple times throughout the day and wearing a hat, I still managed to get a bad burn on my nose. 

On this day we would be summiting Pasochoa, an extinct volcano in the Andes Mountains with an altitude of 13,800 feet. We set off as a big group but slowly separated into three distinct groups with different paces. Nick was always right at the front of the first group, and I was doing my very best to stay with them, even though at times the pace became too fast, and I started having difficulty breathing. The group would get to a rest spot and have time for a water break, a snack, and a pee. By the time I would arrive, the group would have already been resting for 10 minutes or so. I would have time to take off my pack, have a sip of water and they’d be getting ready to head off again! My choice was to pack up and stay with them or wait for the second group to arrive. I always opted to take a short break and stay with Nick’s group. At our last rest stop before the summit, knowing I was the slowest and usually at the back, alone, I asked Nick if he would stay with me. Without Nick’s encouragement and support in the final stage before summiting I would have been in tears. The path was very narrow and extremely steep, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, never giving up. The feeling of accomplishment I had when I made it to the top to join the others was overwhelming. Our total elevation gain from camp to summit was 3,250 feet. We all cheered on the trekkers in the second group as they made it to the top! We had time to take many photos together, eat our lunch and enjoy the spectacular views, but before all the hikers from the third group had made it to the top, our guides told us we had to pack up and start heading down. A dark, ominous cloud was looming, and the risk of a thunderstorm was upon us.

The descent was almost as difficult as the ascent. The steep and challenging terrain required complete concentration with each step. As we headed down, we passed the last few members of the third group struggling with the final climb to the peak. One of our teammates was labouring so much he was practically crawling on his hands and knees. You could see that each step he took required all the strength and effort he could sum up. One of our other trek mates, who could easily have been at the very front of the first group, was right behind him, carrying not only his own pack but his mate’s as well. He stayed behind him the whole time, offering words of encouragement to not give up. Tears came to my eyes as I witnessed this incredible act of kindness and comradery. 
Groups one and two made it down from the summit to a rest spot to receive the news by walkie-talkie that all the members of group three had made it to the top and were now on their way back down! We cheered and the feeling of accomplishment we all felt at that moment to know that our entire group had summited was exhilarating. A little lower down, we waited for the trekkers from group three so all of us could be together to begin the five- to six-hour hike back to base camp.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, the wind picked up, the sky darkened, and large hailstones began to pelt us. We all quickly threw on our rain pants and jackets and wrapped our packs in rain covers. We immediately started on our way back to camp as the hail turned to heavy rain, followed by the boom of thunder and huge lightning bolts lighting up the sky. We were now traversing a hilly open field with long grass, again on a very narrow path. I was exhausted and was stumbling along in the pouring rain knowing we still had hours to go. I started to tear up a little when the Ecuadorian guide told me I had to pick up my pace as there was a high possibility of getting struck by lightning in this open terrain. We eventually made it out of the field and on to a muddy path in the jungle, which was very treacherous after the heavy rain. On multiple occasions I slipped and fell and was covered from head to toe in mud. By 5:30 p.m. it was getting dark, and I and others still hadn’t reached camp. By now I was physically drained and soaking wet. When I did finally reach camp, I immediately shed my wet gear, cleaned up as much as I could in my tent with wet wipes, and headed over to the dining tent. After a well-deserved dinner, I immediately crawled into my sleeping bag, popped two Tylenol cold tablets, and passed out!

The next morning the sun was out and, luckily, my boots weren’t too wet as Nick had had the good sense to place both our pairs next to the fire that the Ecuadorian guides had started close to their sleeping quarters. That morning we had to pack up all our gear as we would be moving to a new campsite. We were told that today would be a longer hike but with less elevation. We would be following the Rio Pita River. This was by far my favourite day of the challenge. The weather was just what we needed after the previous few days of rain. The sun was out the whole day and although the hike was extremely challenging, with many ups and downs clambering over rocks and holding on to tree trunks and branches for stability, we were all able to stay together as a large group and stop at various points along the river to take in the incredible scenery. At one point in the afternoon, we got on to a very narrow path on a rock ledge with an extremely steep drop into the rushing river below. We had to hold on to a rope which our guides had rigged up and slowly walk one foot in front of the other to make sure we did not slip. When we arrived at camp at the end of this day it was still light out and there was no sign of rain. Our second campsite was much more picturesque than the first. Our tents were spread out in a large open field with a beautiful view of Mount Cotopaxi in the background. At the end of this day everyone seemed to be in good spirits. We were able to take our time setting up our tents and getting organized before heading over to the dining tent for supper. That evening the sky remained clear and our guides lit a nice fire which we all huddled around before heading to bed. 

This campsite was at a higher elevation than the first and the temperature quite a bit colder. In the morning I woke up very swollen. My eyes were puffy, and my fingers felt like sausages. I was extremely thirsty and chugged down a litre of water with electrolytes before even getting out of my sleeping bag. On average I was drinking four to five litres of water a day. As I unzipped our tent flap, I noticed it was covered in a layer of ice. As the sun rose in the sky, it slowly began to warm up, but our jackets, tuques and gloves were sorely needed on those cold mornings.

With three days down and two to go I was no longer able to wear my hiking boots, as my feet were killing me. Luckily the forecast called for no more rain and the guides told me the terrain would now be much flatter and less technical. Because of this I decided to put on a pair of trail runners I had brought with me, and this was the best decision ever! On days four and five we entered Cotopaxi National Park, where we witnessed some of the most awesome views and landscapes I had ever seen. On day five, as we approached the end, this incredible feeling of accomplishment came over me. Our entire group was able to complete the challenge and cross the finish line together. This would never have been possible without the ongoing love and support that we all had for each other.

To participate in this challenge, each trekker had to raise a minimum of $6,000, with 20% of that going to the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation and 80% to a local women’s shelter of our choice. Together, Nick and I raised just over $19,000, with $15,500 going to the West Island Women’s Shelter. But what is even more amazing is that a total of 120 real estate agents from Royal LePage across Canada participated in this Ecuador Challenge for Shelter and we raised $1.7 million as a group!

Every day of the trek we were reminded why we had signed up for this challenge. Statistics Canada reports that more than 40% of women have experienced some form of intimate-partner violence and that one woman or girl is killed every 48 hours on average in Canada. Every day of our trek one participant was given a victim’s letter to read aloud to the group. On day one, an outgoing and energetic realtor whom I had just met was chosen to read. She stood in front of us describing the horrific things that had happened to this victim. She went on to tell us how this woman had grown up with an abusive father who mistreated not only her mother but her and her siblings as well. She explained that as a young adolescent, this victim found herself in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend and then got pregnant. She continued by telling us how she managed to get out of the abusive situation and struggled as a single teenage mother living in shelters. With tears streaming down her face, she finished the letter by admitting that this was her own personal story and the reason she was trekking with us! The emotion that all of us felt at that moment was almost unbearable. The bravery and strength she demonstrated not only getting out of her situation but then standing up and sharing her story with all of us was beyond commendable.

I was shocked to learn that each of the other four letters read during our trek was also the personal story of one of our Royal LePage colleagues and trekkers and that although their stories were slightly different in some way, the victims all shared one commonality: while the abuse was going on, they felt ashamed, scared, and found it very difficult to get out of the relationship. Many were children in abusive families who ended up finding abusive partners later in life. The stories showed that we never know who is suffering. It could be our sister, our neighbour, or our best friend. Thank goodness all these women were able to get help and are still with us today to tell their story. Not all women and children are that fortunate.

I want to thank Royal LePage for giving me the opportunity to participate in this challenge, and every single person who donated to my trek and supported me throughout this adventure. I could not have done it without you!