I think back to what was now over a month and a half ago since we last wrote and it is impossible to appreciate how much things have changed since then. We had been looking forward to Patagonia so long that nothing else seemed to matter, we enjoyed what was probably the most exhilarating section of the trip, and were so exited for the month to come. The month has come and different from what we expected would be the understatement of the century. The challenges that we have faced this last section would put any in the north to shame (at least while they are out of sight and out of mind).
To accurately depict the roller-coaster of emotions that we have gone through during this past section would be nearly impossible. Never before in my life have I been in tears so often feeling so utterly defeated, wanting to quit so badly. I walk a mile admiring the scenery, still amazed that I can be this shocked after 18 months at how dramatic the land really is. Thoughts of how outrageous it is that we have walked from the equator and have actually reached Patagonia fill my head, I am proud. That mile passes and I start to worry a bit about the fact that the trail we have been following is now starting to get just a bit harder, a little muddier, a little steeper. I am fully aware of what happened the last time our trail began to deteriorate, I wonder if we should turn around. Just a little I decide to push on and look around the next corner. I see a clear section, permission to continue has been granted. In and out the trail goes, carrying me deeper and deeper into the commitment of the trail making it harder with each step to turn around. Soon there is no going back, we are closer to the goal than it would be to go back. The trail continues to worsen. What started out as a short day to reach the lake has now become an indefinite struggle to keep my head together. I have to keep it together, what choice do I have, I could quit and sit where I am, feeling sorry for myself, running out of food, or I can continue to fight. I make the obvious choice and struggle some more. Finally a clearing, this is it, the trail will come back, it will clear up from here, we can still reach the lake tonight. Bam! a wall of bamboo, I decide that I must continue to fight, no choice, can’t let Deia down, let’s go. With every ounce of strength I have I battle to get through, struggling my way to the clearings, each time shedding the tears as what looked promising if for only a moment gave me hope, replenished that thing deep down inside that keeps me making the choice to go on. Each time it is sucked out of me, beaten to the ground, I am told I can’t do this anymore, I start to believe it. Breakdowns come regularly, tears fill my eyes, rage in my voice, what choice do I have, I must keep fighting. Ten hours pass, darkness comes, it is no longer safe to continue. We lay down a plastic tarp on the ground and are eager to get into our sleeping bags, we can barely see the sky through the bamboo. I am not looking forward to tomorrow. Morning comes, I have new energy, new hope, we are only 3 km from the lake, we will make it today no problem, this will all be behind us, another struggle in this awesome journey. It is noon, we have been walking four hours already, we have gotten 800 meters. My feet haven’t touched the ground in over a half-hour, we have lost any semblance of a trail, snow is now a factor, I start to wonder how much food I really have, I break down. I choose to continue to fight. I grow angry, how could those bastards down below have told us that there is a trail here. How could the damn map have a trail marked on it that doesn’t exist. I will kill the jerks that made it I swear I will. It would continue like this two more days, a constant struggle all the way to the lake. With the rain pouring down and a complete lack of determination, we would take refuge by the lake in an abandoned border patrol building, hoping that our struggles were behind us, ignoring the fact that would could not find the trail we had expected to be there. The struggle was not behind us. By the end of a four day war, we would emerge on the other side of the bamboo, far away from where we had intended and only four miles from where we had started, most importantly without the route that looked so promising only days before. Sometime during the end of our journey into Huaraz we got this crazy idea that Patagonia was going to be easy, smooth sailing with clear trails. We expected weather sure, we expected cold sure, we did not foresee the challenges that we have actually had. Repeatedly my heart has been filled with hope that things will get better, repeatedly it has been shattered. In the last three weeks we have averaged little over 4 miles per day. We have fallen desperately behind schedule and have grown worried about arriving in Tierra del Fuego before winter does.
Strangely, despite the incredible difficulty we have encountered in Patagonia, I am not too bad off. We are still on the path, we are still keeping our eyes on the prize which now only lies 1/6 the total distance of the trip away. Perhaps it has been the people of Argentina and Chile, but mostly Argentina that have kept my spirits in tact. We have had a few sections this past month and a half where the terrain was easy, the rivers low, and the hardest part about advancing was not the high snow, or the thick bush, but rather the fact that the people here are too damn kind. David de Jesus invited us in for Mate and fried dough, a group of fishing buddies would insist that we join them for a BBQ of Argentina’s finest beef, Carlos would demand we spend not only the night, but the next day too, Ashley, Sky, and Ginny bought us beer and eggs, Monica gave us a place to stay, the Police in Andacollo gave us an apartment for the two days we were in town, and the list goes on and on. We have come so far and met so many people. We sit with them in their homes and tell them of the amazing journey, the amazing people like them that we have met. People are genuinely surprised to hear that their neighbors to the north to the west, thousands of miles away are buena gente, good people, who have helped us to get as far as we have. The truth is, and it has never been a secret that without the people both here and at home that have inspired us to keep going, we couldn’t, we wouldn’t. I have such an incredible sense of love, belonging, and faith in the people of this world, sure there are assholes wherever we go, but the support and acceptance has been incredible; people are incredible.
To keep on a roll with the positive note, as we have trudged our way through volcano alley it has been incredibly beautiful. Though the volcanoes are not quite as tall as in previous volcano rows, alleys, or lanes that we have come through, they are every bit as spectacular. Trees line the ash and lava with perfect cones rising above them. Peaks are once again mind-blowing, and have consistently grown more and more jagged, Patagonia-like. Spring is here, birds are singing, everything is humping. For so long during this hike we dreamed of the forests to the south, the epic Patagonian Aurucaria wildernesses. We are here, and they are certainly spectacular. Flowers are everywhere, condors circle above us waiting for us to succumb go the bamboo. We have found food in our new surroundings, the trees drop nuts, the streams give us Ã±alco, a cucumber like plant, the rivers and lakes give us fish. As we have crossed back and forth along the border of Chile and Argentina, we have experienced change so rapidly and so drastic that it often feels like we have been transported to another planet. I think of climbing above the Laguna Dial, hoping that the snows that had left us swimming across rivers and unable to get through easy trails would be at least somewhat diminished on the eastern slope. I think that it was about five kilometers after crossing the border that the vegetation was no more, that the land began a transformation from forest to desert. In just two days time we would go from swimming through class three whitewater because we were entirely out of options, to wondering where we would next be able to find a stream running enough to allow us to get drinking water. Constantly jagged glaciated peaks give way into rolling hills, impenetrable bush to barren pampas. Daily we are amazed, Patagonia has not been disappointing
So, I sit here in San Martin De Los Andes without a clue of where or what we will encounter next, and am not upset, not dreading going back out there. I know that we will find a way, I know that we will do what we need to do like we always have. I have told a few people about out struggles of late, the response is usually “that is what it is all about right?” I guess there are reasons that this has not been done before, the thing is that I just wish that we could have a little break, we could have an easy trail just for a day or two, wouldn’t that be nice to rejuvenate our spirits? Don’t we deserve that? It isn’t so much the individual struggles that get to me. It is the constant, the unwavering ability of this land to put us in our place, to knock us on our asses. I miss the days when I was working, walking, and living with the land and am somehow still hopeful to get that back again.
We have a lot to look forward to in this next month, David my little brother (who has never been backpacking before) will be joining us for most of it and the chance to spend time with him down here is something that I have been looking forward to for an incredibly long time. As we inch further south, we are hopeful that the bamboo will continue to rise after a long winter of being pressed to the ground, making the hiking infinitely easier. Also the Browns will be in the playoffs!
We miss so many of you so much, please write, please let us know how life is at home.
Photos and movies at http://www.acrosstheandes.com