Trail Stories

Merrell Trail Stories


August 19, 2018

by Emilee Struss


When I was asked to finish the sentence, “I train so I can…” I filled the ending with about 30 different responses. I couldn’t quite pick one.

My most recent adventure, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, finally gave me the right ending to that sentence.

I hiked the Inca Trail with 3 other individuals in the interest of raising money for a nonprofit called Make A Difference. MAD sponsors vulnerable youth to receive higher (quality) education.


Through our fundraising, MAD was able to support four more students in Peru.

Sometimes, getting after the trail is the exact opposite of pushing oneself to his or her own limits. I must say, as a competitive runner and previous triathlete, going hard after the trail is in my blood.


However, my latest adventure required something very different of me – hiking for someone else.

One of the individuals on the hike was Jayne Struss – my mother, a grandmother and continual giver. She has never seen herself as an “outdoorsy” person. Born and raised in the flatlands of Minnesota, she had never walked or hiked more than 6 miles.

Now, she committed to hiking twenty-eight miles, up to 14,000ft above sea level.


To say she was nervous would be an understatement. Signing up to hike the Inca Trail was absolutely terrifying for her – but she felt inspired to do it.

Day 1 on the Inca Trail brought a lot of reminders for me, the one with runners feet, that this trip isn’t about getting a runners high. This trip is not about me. I was hiking the trail for a nonprofit and my mother.

Our guide, Wilfredo, said on the first day, “Oh, everyone step to the side of the trail, runners coming through…”

A group of 5 happy runners came trotting by with their light packs and feet.

So I had to ask, “How long does it take for people to run the Inca Trail?”

“It took me 4 hours,” said Wilfredo.

In that moment, about 50 meters into the hike, I wanted to set my watch, drop by heavy pack, and run off behind them. Of course, seeing how close I could get to his time.

But, instead, we stopped and talked about ancient pottery for fifteen minutes.

I realized that I had to rewire my brain for this trek real quick. I wasn’t in a race. This wasn’t about pushing my body to its limits. This was about inspiring others to accomplish their best – at whatever level they may be at. And literally walking with them, day by day, to make it.

To be honest, it took me the first two days to understand that.

As we started to gain elevation, my mother got slower and grew tired very quickly.

She got anxious about holding the group back and started to push herself hard. This only wore her out more. Many times during the 7-8 hours of trekking a day, she would fall far behind the group.

The best thing about hiking with her was knowing what she was feeling in her body. I’ve been there before, feeling like you can’t take one more step. Feeling like you’re too far behind the group. On the Inca Trail, there is no escape route.

You start the hike – you finish the hike.

She didn’t complain and with her trekking poles alternately sticking the ground, she kept moving.

When we made it to our third camp, which was above the clouds at 11,975 feet, she crashed and began to tear up.

In that moment, I got to connect with my mother on a level we’ve never been able to connect on before.

And so, I train so I can inspire others.

Inspire others to push their own limits. To not compare themselves. To finish the trek whether their alone or in a group. To go after what scares them…


The treat at the end of the Inca Trail, seeing Machu Picchu’s ancient wonders, stood for more than just a tourist attraction. It was a milestone for my mother. She proved to herself that she can accomplish more than she thought she could.

I had a few moments wondering if my mom would turn into a badass ultarunner now, but I think she is content with knowing she finished the Inca Trail – for now.


Oh, and you may be wondering about the other two in our group – Cody and Gabi. Well, they got engaged on a mountain-top at camp 3, so I think it went alright for them too.

And now, for the gear list:

1. Footwear – Women’s Siren Sport Q2

I got the mid waterproof boots and they were solid.

These boots fare well on the wet trail, have good ankle support and are lightweight. I gotta say they are also pretty stylish – I prefer the color Dusty Olive.

2. Rain Gear – Women’s Fallon Rain Shell

Dipped in color, this rain shell is lightweight, semi-retro and keeps you dry when the rain falls.

3. Shirt – Women’s Paradox Short Sleeve Tech Tee

Breathable, thin, perfect for layering.

4. Hoodie – Women’s Midweight Long Sleeve Full Zip

I love that this hoodie zips up higher for more protection in adverse weather. Thumb holes are also a plus – it’s in the little things.

Connect with me if you’ve got any questions or need some encouragement in pursuing your next big

There are no comments on this post

Be the first to leave a comment!

Your email address will not be published.