Month: November 2015
It was 2011, and Will and I were sitting in a friend’s carport watching the Georgia game.
“Ever thought about going to Patagonia?” he asks, as Marcus Lattimore gashes the Georgia defense.
“Sure. That would be a blast.” I say.
“Want to go in December?”
“Let’s do it.”
So we went.
As I get started writing about this particular adventure, know that this is my favorite part of the story. The discussion Will and I had was not about all the reasons we couldn’t do it, or how hard it would be, or how neither of us spoke Spanish or had even been to South America. We thought only about how great it would be. Yes, we were lucky to be able to take the time and spend the money to go on the trip. But I’m proud that at least this time I thought not about the costs of a wild trip, but about the benefits. We made up our minds and made it happen.
The planning process took the next several weeks. For those of you who have yet to try it, this trip has helped me to identify several stages of overseas trip planning.
These are my planning stages. Others may approach it in a more organized fashion.
First we had to decide where exactly we wanted to go. Chile? Argentina? Patagonia’s a big place and most of what we knew about it came from this episode of No Reservations. So we spent a great deal of time actually doing research on places to hike. TripAdvisor was helpful for this, and if you were planning this trip now, it looks like you can find some good advice from Lonely Planet here.
Access was an issue. We weren’t too keen on having to spend additional time traveling once we were actually in Patagonia, so we ultimately settled on going here:
More particularly, there’s a loop trail that goes into the Tierra Del Fuego national park just north of the city. We could fly straight into Ushuaia from Buenos Aires and walk to the trailhead. Ushuaia is also the southernmost city in the world, so I got to tell myself that I was literally going to the ends of the earth for the trip.
We’re hiking. We had absolutely no intention of doing anything but sleeping in tents. So here’s our first mistake. We didn’t think for a second that we wouldn’t be able to find a place to camp the first night. Let’s see how that works out for us.
Me and Will. Good friends since college. Along the way we found another adventurer, Anna. She was going to be studying in Argentina in the Spring semester so the timing worked out perfectly for her to take the trip down and then just stay until school started. Here’s us:
This was by far the most difficult thing to plan. Those of you who have planned longer backpacking trips know that bringing the right stuff on a trip is one of the most important things you can do.
Note that I’m not saying here that you need to be sure to bring enough stuff. That’s really easy to do. You can just throw everything you have into a pack and wind up carrying twice as much stuff as you need and making every step that much more difficult. Generally, a good pack weight is about 20% of your body weight for a multi-day trip. (more discussion here).
We were spending about 6 days on the trail (in retrospect, it felt like a lot longer – funny how that works). The first question was food. We had no idea what the food situation would be like down there so we opted to pack our own. That meant everything. So each of us was carrying around a fairly large bag of freeze dried backpacking food in a garbage bag. In addition to that, there’s the old standards:
And once you’ve got all of that packed put together and divided up, there’s really not that much room left in the pack. For reference, REI has a great checklist that you can use to help plan out what to bring.
When we were putting this together, we just shared a Google doc that we used to list everything we thought we were going to need to bring. Before the flight, we all came together, dumped everything out, and just talked through all that we would need. Note that there’s something key that we left out of that list, which we discovered once we arrived in Argentina.
Tickets bought and everything planned and packed. We got on the plane. And a few hours later, we saw this:
More to come later.
Here’s my question for the audience. What’s the most difficult trip you’ve planned for? Tell us about it in the comments!
I desperately needed to get away and clear my head, so I decided to give Mt. Yonah a whirl. Nestled just between Cleveland and Helen, Georgia, I thought this quick day trip would be the perfect place to disconnect and reenergize. I had high expectations of tranquility, majestic views, and time alone, getting lost in the woods with my sweet pup Archie.
The parking lot was full, however, my expectations for tranquility still remained high. After all this was labeled a “difficult” hike. Archie bolted out of the car and made a beeline to a couple of ladies eating lunch. They offered him a slice of cheese and he graciously accepted. We headed to the trailhead and began our assent up the mountain.
I tend to hike relatively quickly. I wouldn’t call myself a seasoned speed hiker, but efficient, absolutely. Not on this day! The relentless uphill climb seemed never ending. I constantly had to remind myself to look up and out; I was after all on this hike to bring stillness and peace to my inner being, not to stare at dirt.
The fullness of the parking lot seemed more and more evident the higher I climbed. Large groups, small groups, families, couples, you name it they were all there. At each opening I found myself waiting back for my opportunity to jump in and sit on a cliff alone; to take in the deep reds, oranges, and yellows the fall leaves had to offer. I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to explain once again that Archie was a mix of who only knows what, and your guess is as good as mine.
I finally gave up on finding a quiet spot with cascading views of rolling hills and trees with perfect fall leaves far below… my intentions were all shot to hell as I sat down on a rock and waited my turn for a view. Everything felt so commercialized.
I kept thinking about how stereotypical climbing a mountain was to the up and downhill battles of life, how its hard to get to the top, and when you’re at the top its all worth it. But what I began to recognize was that the views at the top weren’t what I was really seeking. As beautiful as the hills and trees were, they were distant. Sitting on a rock waiting my turn to see what was off and far away allowed me to see what was right around me.
Gorgeous fall leaves freshly fallen, and scattered just beneath my feet. This is what I wanted all along, to see the beautiful fall leaves, to be engulfed by their beauty, but I couldn’t see them because I wasn’t looking. It occurred to me that there was no better way to truly see them, than to hold them in my hands. I didn’t only see their boasting color, but I got to feel their veins, examine them their intricate patterns, smell them.
I got up and left my frustration behind. I had gotten just what I came for, only in a different and more perfect way than I pictured for myself. I continued onward, peaked the mountain, and as I headed back down I passed the cliff where I had patiently waited for a view. A fire lit inside me, and I took off running for the trailhead. With Archie nipping my heals, we made every step count.
Trail running is so freeing for me. It is something I enjoy thoroughly, but don’t get to do often. I felt the freedom that I had gone to the mountain seeking. I didn’t expect to find it sprinting down the face of a very steep mountain. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a “view” ahead, I was able to take in each moment for what it was. We ran passionately to the end. Upon reaching the parking lot a guy asked me how long it had taken me to run to the bottom, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t once looked at my phone. I shrugged “I don’t know.” I’m so happy I didn’t, because it didn’t matter. I was enjoying myself.
With my impending graduation from college I can’t help but relate my experiences. Every step of the way counts. As I find myself awaiting the summit (a job), I feel the same unrest in my soul that I felt on the trail waiting to see the view that everyone had raved about. I find I often feel this way as one season of life rolls into the next. Hiking Mt. Yonah reminded that it’s not all about getting to the top. In fact it was the race to the bottom of the mountain that I felt the most fearless and freed. I am reminded that I have to run boldly and passionately towards every finish line, making every step, every moment, count.