Hiking the Inca Trail was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The first day was hard for me due to lack of sleep and a few other things (my blood pressure dropped and I had to sit for awhile so I didn't pass out) and our guide actually gave me the option of turning around. I have to admit it was tempting but I knew even as I considered it that I wouldn't be quitting. One: because I'd like to think I'm not a quitter, at least not when it matters, and two: this was my sister's dream and I wasn't going to be the one to ruin it for her.
I managed to get some sleep the first night in camp and the second day of hiking was much better for me. In fact it was my favorite day of the trip. It rained off and on all day which actually made it nice for hiking, and the mountains were so beautiful. The entire day, I just kept thinking of the quote: "Mountains are temples without walls where God comes to meet His children." It just seemed appropriate.
We didn't know this before hand, but our guides prefer to make the first day of hiking the longest (and arguably hardest). We ate lunch where most people spend the first night and then we kept going to the higher camp: Llulluchapampa. I ended up liking this because that meant that the next morning we had only about a 2 hour hike to reach Dead Woman's Pass, which was the highest pass we had to go over. Then it was downhill until lunch. They say there are over 8000 steps on the Inca Trail and I believe it. Once we finished the first pass, it seemed like it was almost all stairs. We were either going up them or down them.
Also, because of where they planned for us to camp, we were able to be at camp on the third day around 1 or 2 for lunch and then we were done hiking for the day. It was so nice to finish early and be able to have some downtime.
And then of course on the fourth day, we were up freakishly early, mostly to give the porters a chance to get us fed and get camp packed up so they could go catch a morning train home. Once control opened at 5:30 AM, it was a mad dash to get to the sun gate. It was an absolutely beautiful morning.
Honestly, getting to Machu Picchu was like the cherry on top. It was fun to see the ancient ruins and hear about the history, but the journey was just as amazing as the destination. Maybe more so. The sense of accomplishment was worth every sore muscle.