The One Adventure That Changed My Life Forever (Part 1)
I Was Born With an Adventurous Soul
Growing up, my family vacations included road trips to Kansas and occasional labor day weekend trips. We went to Manitou Springs and Estes Park, two small towns about two hours outside of Denver. My parents didn’t have the resources to take us on fancy trips. But I have always had a space in my heart for adventure and a longing to see the world.
When I was 26 years old, I met a guy that inspired me to get my passport. We took a trip to Cancun, Mexico. Airfare was affordable because it was only a few months after 9/11.
The trip was terrific, with unlimited drinks, good food, my first time being in the ocean, and we went to Chitz Nitza. The trip was before it became one of the seven wonders of the world, and we could still climb to the top of the pyramid.
We stayed for a week, which was all it took for me to become hooked on travel. Shortly after we returned, we started planning a more significant adventure. South America, specifically Patagonia in Chile and Argentina. Until that point, I thought Patagonia was only a brand of clothing. I had no idea what to expect, just that we would be traveling for almost a month. And half of that time would be in a tiny tent. At the time of this adventure, my outdoor/camping/ wilderness experience consisted of a few camping trips after high school.
I was in unchartered territory that was exciting and terrifying at the same time.
We had three months before leaving, and during that time, I acquired all the necessary gear and a couple of travel books. Remember, no high-speed internet or Google. The plan was to spend a few days in Santiago, Chile. Then jet down to Patagonia for most of the trip and then back to Santiago before flying home.
Did I mention that I don’t speak Spanish? Oh, and the guy I had been dating for a whopping two months, what could go wrong?
I took what I could carry in two bags (a giant backpack and a duffel bag), including all of our backpacking gear (sleeping bag, tent, stove, rain gear, boots, etc.). After 13 hours, we arrived in Santiago. It is a beautiful city, and my first taxi cab ride, or death cab ride, was terrifying! The limited Spanish we spoke didn’t matter as we quickly found out the dialect spoken in Chile was pretty sloppy Spanish with a little Portuguese mixed in. It took us two days to figure out how to order plain water.
After a couple of days exploring the city, eating good food, and staying in super cool bed and breakfasts, which were spare rooms in people’s homes, it was time to head south. After a four-hour plane ride and a long bus ride, we were in a small town just outside the park to stock up on camping gas, cliff bars, and oatmeal. Water is heavy, so we had a purifier and our camelbacks.
Another Twist to this Epic Adventure, Rain. So. Much. Rain.
This region was experiencing an El Nino year and having record-breaking amounts of rainfall. Good thing we packed rain jackets and pants. We entered the park and began our 60-mile trek that we would finish in six days. My pack weighed about 60 lbs. We needed to make the designated campsites each day, so the pace was quick.
I am not sure I can adequately describe the beauty of this place. I had my old 36mm camera and lots of film. But even looking at the pictures today, they don’t capture how amazing the trek is. The first day wasn’t bad, mostly flat land. We made it to the first campsite in good time. I want to say that the romance between the guy and me was super hot, and this adventure was the start of an incredible love story, but we broke up that night. In the middle of nowhere, in a two-person tent, with 50 miles left on the trek and three weeks left of the trip.
The next few days seemed a little longer, I was sore, and my body was not happy about the 60lb pack. It was windy if it wasn’t raining, which meant I was still alive since I could feel the wind in my bones. There wasn’t much conversation which gave me plenty of time to think, and my new hiking partner/former boyfriend/not really we didn’t date that long to be in a relationship, was always about 50ft ahead of me, so I felt like it was just me in this beautiful untouched part of the world.
Facing a Fear That I Didn’t See Coming
About halfway through the trek, we came upon a river that we needed to cross. I am terrified of water, and crossing this river was another first time for me. The river was full of massive rocks and fast-moving water. At this point, there was a lot of tension and negative energy between the guy and me, so he wasn’t so helpful when I asked how the hell to cross this river. I was scared, timid, and not sure I was going to make it across. I took a few steps on the rocks and slipped off in the cold, really fast-moving water. Fortunately, the guy grabbed my pack and pulled me out.
Had he not been there, I would have died. He saved my life.
And then the cheese slid off my cracker. In the middle of my ugly cry and processing my post-near death experience, the guy asked if I had the nuts in my bag. Excuse me? I almost died, and you are hungry? I dried off the best I could, pulled it together, and we continued on the trek. After making it to the top of the pass, we had to slide down the mountain’s backside to get to our campsite. The heavy rain washed the trail away, and it was steep enough that we had to slide from tree to tree all the way down to the bottom of the mountain.
When we made camp that night, I was trying to figure out how to get home. I wanted to get out of this place. Travelling was not for me, and this backpacking crap was for the birds. The wind was so strong that night that I was able to cry all night in the two-person tent without keeping him up.
But, Mother Nature Redeemed Herself
The next day we were able to see a Glacier, it was beautiful. It looked like chocolate soup with white and turquoise ice cubes. The powerful wind knocked me into the mountain, letting me know I was still alive. I was sore, tired of eating cliff bars, cold, and needed a shower. The universe heard me. We ended up staying at a Refugio, which had food, coffee, wine, showers, and bunk beds.
I had some space to clear my head, stay dry, and write in my journal. I ate the best ham and cheese sandwich I have ever had in my life. The coffee and wine were pretty incredible also. This Refugio was the lighthouse on this trail. I was able to reset and appreciate the courageous journey I was on, basically alone. Aside from saving my life, the guy and I didn’t have much interaction. Which looking back, was a blessing.
We finished the trek just in time. The park started to flood as we were leaving. Our bus was the last bus to go and get us into town. We survived; I saw Tores del Paine, glaciers and hiked 60 miles in 6 days.
The most important lesson from the first week of this adventure was remembering to have faith in myself and commit to making a decision. The “river” can be many things in life, a relationship, a task, a race, school, or a project at work. You must commit to crossing the river and/or finish the task at hand. And If you fail, that is ok; dry yourself off and continue.