The Call

It’s too expensive. The opportunity cost to too great. For $4,000 I could be in India for half a year. For $4,000 I could fly around the world with 16 stops. For $4,000 I could spend 2 months in Borneo training to become a professional SCUBA Diver. For $4,000 I could also become a Professional Sky Diver. For $4,000 I could fire 16 bazookas! Now that I’ve been traveling for so long, I don’t think of numbers as abstract place holders. I think of them as experiential opportunities. I now know too much about what life has to offer. It’s not that I didn’t have the money. It’s that I didn’t see the value.

Antarctica is known as the 7th continent. A box ticker’s dream. Would we all be going so nuts if it was simply an island? Would so many backpackers gladly go home several months early just to have been to somewhere that so few have seen? It’s all about scarcity right? If you are diving with a thousand fish in the sea, you will surely ignore them once a turtle swims bye. God forbid a deer prances past a pack of puppies. The crowd would drop the poor dogs on their heads to catch a glimpse of something that you can’t actually do anything with. This is scarcity at it’s best. If dogs were scarce, there would be $50,000 expeditions to see them. “One came right up to the car for a whole hour!!!!” “We pet it and it barked at us!!!” “One even jumped into my lap and licked my face!!!” “I would have paid twice as much in a heart beat!!!” “Out of this world, the most amazing creature I have ever seen!!!”

These would be the true quotes slathered on the walls at the tour agency if dogs were scarce. But they aren’t. In fact, in South America, they are left in the streets to die. But a bunch of penguins, that you can’t touch, and don’t even interact with you some seals, and a few whales? Ya, lets jump on a boat at the rate of almost half a thousand dollars a day to see those things.

I’ve got to tell you, spending loads of cash on things that I can do in my 60’s is not my idea of a smart idea. Now is the time I should be trekking through jungles. Now is the time I should be jumping out of planes, eating spaghetti 6 days in a row, sitting on a bus for 36 hours, snowboarding down a volcano, tearing shit up, jumping off of cliffs, and leaving as big of a mark on this planet as humanly possible! Antarctica is something that I could do at anytime. Sometime when $4K is not a big deal. Let’s save the easy travel for when I have bad knees and take pills to keep my cock looking like an ironing board. (Wow, I’m a little carried away at the moment. Please excuse me on MY BLOG. I’m just saying….)

Ya, it’s prudent decisions that got me here in the first place. I saved like a squirrel. But that’s not entirely true. The reason I am here is because I took a chance. If you just save all your life, you have a number. Something abstract, and utterly worthless if never “cashed in”.

I chatted with Tomer. “Hey if you want, I can fill this room with ice and penguins. I’ll do it for a tenth of the price. It’s stupid. It’s a boat, a bunch of ice, some animals that you can see right here in Ushuaia, and the pride that you have been to the 7th.”

We went on this rant of justification for a few days as people in our hostel departed and returned on various boats bound for the 7th. People who came back all said “You should do it.” “It was the highlight of my 1 year trip.” “The most amazing thing I have ever done.” “If I had any money left, I would go again tomorrow!!!!” Sure, they are saying that. No one in their right mind is going to admit that it was “Ok”. It’s like bragging about how much better your herpes are, now that you have switched medications. It’s just not something you want to admit in the first place.

I had a heart to heart with myself and realized that it was more of a bragging point. I wanted to be able to say that I’ve been to every continent in one year. Ya, I was a box ticker. I wanted to stick a flag in it, and call it a day. If it were just another island, I wouldn’t be considering it. I will do it, but not this time…..

A few days pass and I feel at peace. Then Paul gets back from his trip there and shares his pictures. Paul, a 38 year old English ex lawyer, turned commercial pilot, is as enthusiastic a person as I have ever met. I would not trust his endorsement of something in a million years. He would be a great sales man. But his pictures just can’t lie. In an instant, my 2% sureness that I would go on the trip, turned into 55%. Right across the street from my hostel was where you can book the last minute trips to Antarctica.

I took that 55% and walked across the narrow street. In the course of about 15 pases the following dawned on me: The whole reason I am at the furthest south town in the world in the first place is from having the Nike attitude of “Just Do IT”. Decisions don’t always have to be prudent or even efficient. I’ve been living hard for the past year now and this is the only excursion that has stunned me. For once, something comes along and has me declaring “too big” “not in the budget”. But that’s not what I came out here to do. And maybe there won’t be any Antarctica left by the time I am 60. Maybe I’ll be hit by a bus the day I get back from my big bad “almost everything I wanted to see” trip around the world. I’ve been preaching on a blog for an entire year about how the word “can’t” is really code for “I’m afraid” or “I don’t want to take the chance”. It’s time that I practice what I preach. It’s time to stick to what I’ve become. It isn’t an issue of scarcity, it’s an issue of principle. There is value out there on that big ball of ice. An extra $4,000 can do a lot of things, sure, but if repacked, it might remain a number forever. But most of all, I’m simply not the “should have” type of person anymore.

I shove open the door to the shop in a posture similar to an animal disputing territory. Walk up the the agent’s desk and slam my fist on the table “Dates! Lets see them!” I blurted out, as my veins surged with adrenaline.

Moments later I walked back into the hostel with both firsts raised victoriously. I stopped in the large common room and roared “I’m fucking going to Antarctica!!!!!!!!!!” People mostly looked shocked at my volume selection, but they were not aware of the symbolism at hand.

On January 28th, I will board “The Antarctic Dream” (an ice breaker bound for Antarctica for 11 days). This is the EXACT one year anniversary of when I left home to embark on a journey whose impact on my life I could never preemptively fathom. This represented everything that I had learned. All the leaps of growth and the new me. You don’t go to the end of the world just to turn around, go home, and wait another 40 years to see what comes next. I’m starting MY New Year off right.

Fuck it, I’m going to Antarctica 🙂

The W (Conclusion)

Gauchos are their names. Mountain Cowboys. Their load, supplies for the Refugio, high in the mountains. The only way to get food, propane, and other supplies to these places. This was why the price of everything in the Refugios could be easily divided by the number 4 in order to find it’s true value. This was a business for the Gauchos, they must have been paid by the trip. Silently they plow up and down the trails at a speed that you wouldn’t believe possible. No warning cry when they burst around corners. They seemed to ignore the lively hoods of the people who would eventually be buying the goods that sustained their lively hoods.

A string of 4 barreled around the corner as I practically dove into the face of the mountain. I spun around to watch in amazement as other trekkers essentially did the same thing. I didn’t have any room for terror as my heart was full of amazement. I thought of how Bud, my horse riding, cowboy lifestyle emulating, step father would have absolutely been bouncing in joy to observe such a display of machismo, skill, and dedication to a dieing art form.

The horses were loaded up with 25 and 50 gallon tanks of propane. On the way back up the mountain, I hoped they would be carrying something a bit less explosive. I think the Refugio needs some more corn flakes.

We arrived to the final camp site and I made sure to find a spot that was flat to avoid the sensation of falling all through the night. I settled at a spot that was about 6 feet from a babbling stream. What a funny situation. People pay good money for CDs with tracks of this very sound. I laid down in my tent for a quick nap and never heard the stream once. I was tired. Tired enough to switch my ears off. We ate dinner early this night because we were going to wake up at 3:30 am the next morning to catch the sunrise in the most famous viewing point in all of Patagonia. Search in Google Images “torrez del Paine” and you will undoubtedly see thousands of pictures of the granite spires with reach 2500 to 2800 meters in height. According to lore, the towers turn red when the sun rises for about 30 seconds. This is of course, provided that there isn’t a cloud in the sky (a very VERY rare thing in Patagonia).

The logic was that we would wake up and look into the sky. If we didn’t see stars, we would not bother with the 1 hour vertical hike in the middle of the dark to see the red towers because there would be bad weather. Clouds block the stars, we go back to sleep.

I had the job of waking Tomer and Yael up to tell them weather or not I see any stars. 3:30 comes and by the time I got out of my warm sleeping bag to tell the two that I didn’t see any stars I felt like an idiot. How the hell did I agree on this. How was I stupid enough to freeze my ass off.

“Tomer, no stars.” “Really?” “Ya and it’s freezing out here.” “No, wait a second….. Fuck.” “What?” “I see a star…..damn it, there’s another one….. come on, let’s go.”

Tomer eventually came out of the tent to say that he would go, but Yael would stay. He brought a stove and coffee to make something warm while we were up near the towers. It was a good idea. One that would have surely skipped if I were alone. We also brought our sleeping bags and mats to try and stay warm.

We stumbled and fumbled around in the dark for 45 minutes before we finally made our way to the top. Surprisingly enough, we were not met by hoards of box tickers. We were the only ones up there. We were far ahead of schedule as well, so we started to boil the water. Other’s trickled in, but never broke into double digits.

As the sun came up it was blocked by clouds that were nearly a mile away. Shortly after that, the towers were engulfed with clouds that would hide the site almost completely. “Well, I guess you could say “Welcome to Patagonia” about this little morning.” Tomer said. We were absolutely freezing, even with the sleeping bags, all of our warm clothes, the mats, and of course a cup of hot coffee in each of our hands. Just when we thought about staying around for a bit, we had some Patagonian salt shook onto our wounds. Hail began to pelt us as the temperature dropped even further.

“Ok, time to go.” I said but just as we began to pack up a rainbow cut across the fresh sunlit sky. It went over the rock formation just to the side of the towers. It was the most well defined rainbow I had ever seen. “Well, that’s not bad.” I said. Swiftly after I had though “I’ve seen it all” A second rainbow formed just a few meters on the outside of the first. “Ok, now I’ve seen it all.” I said, “Should, we wait for a third? Come on, a unicorn could be on his way, but I’m still freezing.” Tomer said in a bit of wisdom.

As we made our way back to the tents, we were awestruck in what we somehow managed to climb in the dark, carrying all sorts of equipment.

After we packed up the tents for the last time, we walked back to the site in which the bus would pick us up to take us home. Tomer filled me in on every thing from the fact that all Israeli flights have air marshals, to every apartment building having a safe room in it capable of surviving an indirect hit from a rocket, to his take on Palestine being a problem that no one really wants to tackle (not some sort of mortal enemy), to the fact that the Sheckle (the Israeli currency) is one of only 8 currencies accepted in international banks, to how to pick out an Israeli traveler based on the clothes that they wear, to how to cleverly test if they are from Israel with a mistakably international “Hiiii” as a greeting.

We talked for hours (actually 5 days) about all sorts Israeli things. Let’s just say that coming off of that mountain, I decided that I need to see this place that is so culturally interesting.

When sitting on the bus back to Puerto Natales, I was beaming with accomplishment. Most people slept as I tried to sort out all of the positive energy pulsing through me. I could have been out there for another 5 days. I was conditioned and remarkably resolute. This whole trekking thing was growing on me. I could see myself turning into one of those nuts who swims the English channel or something. Confident in my abilities, I wanted more.


The W (part 3)

Ok, so that took longer than I though to Write and Post, but I am back.

The this night was new years eve, and we were exhausted. We ate dinner quickly and went to bed at 9:30pm. I was elated. I had finally broken free from the inevitably disappointing holiday. I’ve lost count of how many new years count downs I’ve experienced from inside a car at a red light, because we were rushing over to the next party with the concern to be “at the right place” for the count down. It’s classic advertising theory at its best. Experience minus expectation equals either a surplus or a deficit of satisfaction or dismay. This is the reason I tend to avoid festivals and major events as well. Going into something with impossible expectations leaves me feeling ripped off. We can all agree that the highest highs in all of our collective lives are those that snuck up on us on an unsuspecting and random night. My favorite moment from my first visit to Thailand was when I was nearly slapped in the face by a baby elephant in the streets of Chang Mai. It certainly wasn’t a few days later when I was riding a similar elephant who I had waited in line for.

So that’s two very unorthodox major events: a Christmas of hitch hiking to the top of a volcano and a Stress Free New Years. The next day was scheduled to be our longest day of hiking. We were to visit the French Valley and it’s beauty. As we were making the steep assent, Tomer had an idea “This looks good. I just feel like a leprechaun here. Honey, get the camera ready. Alex, please hold the cross traffic at the front, I’m not saying you can’t watch yourself.”

Tomer has a philosophy, “You body isn’t getting any better and when I am 70 I want to have some pictures to remember what I am.” He had posed naked in over 10 epic locations before including the overcrowded Machu Peachu of Peru and Lake Titi kaka. The wind swept through the frost bitten French Valley as hanging glaciers fell in the distance. Tomer was “balls deep” in the event as 2 women passed by out photo shoot. It was a beautiful waterfall that was framed by chocolate mountain ridges. As one could presume, I had quite a laugh.

It was time to move on and I had learned something important about my body. When hiking uphill, as a decent pace, I need only wear a t shirt. Anything else, even in cold and windy weather, will leave me in sweat. Oddly enough, I am quite comfortable in the cold as long as I am moving. Rain, wind, and cold are not too bad when you are jaming up a hill. In fact, Tomer thought of starting a clothing company that is called “up hill” and instead of selling some sort of Goretex parka, we would just sent someone to a steep hill and instruct them to climb it.

We sat and watched the hanging glacier fall and I had the ingenious idea of heading for the next camp site early. We walked and walked over mountain passes with turquoise views of glacial lakes below. The wind, as promised, swept through the lakes, lifting up thousands of gallons and chucking them into the mountain side in a manor that could only be described as Biblical. We walked in awe with the slight suspicion of an eminent apocalypse. I stood strong with my trekking poles as the guest mane their best attempts at murder in the first. It was certainly cheating. I was a land octopus with twice the balance and points of contact as any mere mortal. Tomer and Yael were having a harder time.

These poles, in an up hill situation, let you push off with your arms and climb with all fours. These poles in a down hill situation, give you as much balance and points of contact as crawling on all fours. These poles, while crossing rivers, are the equivalent to holding tow peoples hands. These poles would have been great for my Mother in the uneven streets of Buenos Aires. These poles are cheating. These poles are going to end up in my Mother’s Christmas Stalking next year 🙂

We arrived at the next camp site in night nick of time. This was because we cut the French Valley hike in half. The camp site was small and there were really only 4 decent spots left. When we set up our tents, there was a light drizzle and once we finished, it began to pour. We sat inside of the smoldering refugio peering out the window, warm and dry as 30 other trekkers (who had hiked the entire French Valley (the center of the W) frantically searched for 28 make shift camping spots. Their Goretex past the point of failure, it was a miserable sight to see, but I was warm and anticipating a hot meal. Since it was raining, we chose to eat at the refugio for $20. The meal was a meager 3 inch, bland sausage sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes. It was really offensive, but we were dry and warm, and happy.

After dinner, I took a hot shower in the refugio (a benefit of paying $8 to camp there). We went to bed just after that. Settling into my tent, I could hear the shock and “confusement” of even later arrivals who tried to negotiate the impossible of camping in a tiny, oversaturated, site while the rain pours down. I could not have been happier for leaving the French Valley early.

Later that night, the wind (that which was referenced to as biblical and premeditated earlier that day) made it’s approach on our camp site. Now it’s important to understand that wind is easily deflected my densely packed trees, but it still sounds like it will rip you in two. All of the camp sites on the W are protected from the wind by a grove of trees, or a sheltering ridge. But the wind ripped through the grove in waves. You could hear it coming for 500 meters away. The building was a sensation that lends itself to the moment after skidding tires or the point in which a fist aimed for your face reaches the end of it’s cocking motion. Truth be told, this dead moment of anticipation can only be endured by most for only a single skipped heart beat. That’s why it only lasts a moment. You simply can’t afford to skip too many. The adrenaline fuses with your heart and the pumping resumes in a frantic game of catch up. Horror movie producers seek to extend this anticipation for 90 minutes, but always fail.

This is the wind that will take you right out of your intelligent mind. Such terror, yet my tent seemed to barely move as the wind finally made it to the camp site. This was madness, I was holding on for dear life. Sound had taken precedent as the only sense. Never mind the sense of touch. To make things worse, in a rookie mistake, I had set my tent up so that my head would sleep in a downward angle. Imagine water boarding. laying back at a decline as the “wind” roared all night. It was time for my hero. Phil Collins! I took out my ipod and use Phil to vanquish the mind altering wind. I worked, but only so much. I still knew what was outside, so I didn’t blast the music too loud, in case there was a sound that I needed to hear to save my life. A “Watch out!” Or “Run for the Hills, the wind is invading and stealing the small children!!!”

The moment approached when I needed to pee in the night. I got onto my knees and unzipped the door. In a prayer position, I shamelessly peed on what was my front porch in camping terms. There was no way that I was going to go out into that death field. As it turns out, Tomer had the same bright idea (and fear).

The next day, there were stories of people who didn’t have the benefit of the trees who had their tent blow away completely in the night. This day was the 4th. By now, I was a highly adjusted hiker. I was no longer sore, I was conditioned. I felt as physically fit as I have in the last year of travel. My legs were rock hard, blood thick, and heart strong. All of this, as I would learn, had little effect on a string of 4 galloping horses charging down a narrow, steep, and cliff stricken trail approaching our final camp site.

For the Conclusion of the W, tune in Later 🙂

The W (Part Two)

I stepped inside of Katie and Garret’s Bubble (a power couple from Seattle who I had met on the Navimag about 5 days before.) So, you guy’s mind if I tag along? “Not at all. We can provide a little boiling water for you 🙂

It was set, I was to walk with Garret and Katie, I was going to follow them along for the first 5 days and then go back while they finish the entire circuit (an extra 2 days (one of them involving snow up to their knees). They were 28, high school sweet hearts, married since they were 22, and too bright for their own good. We had a last supper of sorts at their hostel including roasted chicken, salad, and boiled potatoes. It was to be the best meal we would have in the next 5 days.

On the way to the entrance of the park, Katie and Garret expressed the desire to skip a portion of The W in order to make their 7 day trip a bit easier. In true backpacker fashion, I elected to go with a different couple at the last second who were planing on completing the entire W. In a quick negotiation, I had switched over to Tomer and Yael, an Israeli couple also the age of 28. Although I would have loved to spend more time with Garret and Katie, the Israelis would prove to be a far more culturally enriching experience. Over the course of the next 5 days, I would grow to understand Israel and Judaism to a level that most Americans will sadly never get the opportunity to gain.

To begin with, Tomer is a 28 year old computer science engineer who works in video. He is hilarious and I forgot his name twice before it finally stuck. He remembered my name the first time I gave it to him. He is the type of guy who has to touch you while talking. He puts his hand on your shoulder to open a sentence. This is his 4th trip to South America and he is interested in Not doing it “The Israeli way” this time. You see, there are very specific traits that an Israeli traveler takes on. Yael is much more quiet, but usually what ever she has to say is funny in a brand it’s own. She works in Pharmaceuticals (I think).

Saying that they had heavy packs would be a complete understatement. They brought enough food to sink a ship. 12 eggs, 5 oranges, 4 tomatoes, 2 onions, one kilo of rice, a proper salt shaker, a proper glass of olive oil, a full sized can on peas three canisters of gas (3 hours of cook time), and believe me, the list goes on. On top of that Tomer had invented a new way to cary his 4 bananas by emptying a 5 liter jug of water and cutting a slit in the middle to clear the meager circumference of the mouth. This clipped onto the outside of the pack.

To go back a bit, the first time I met this power couple, they were starting a movie in my hostel in Bariloche. The next day, we sat down again and they insisted on feeding me. It was the Israeli version of 3 cups of tea (2 cups). During the first day of the hike, Tomer began to spill the beans about the Israeli travel syndicate. He began his first two or three revelations with the phrase “Since you are practically family now, I’m going to tell you ……” I can’t promise or certify that all Israelis would be this warm and welcoming, but I sure hope so.

This particular national park is known for it’s horrendous weather. Compete with rain, snow, sleet, and a gale force wind that takes the life of at least one park goer each season. The problem is that a gust can pick a full grown man (and his pack) up and off of one of the vast expanses of cliff that the park specializes. The recommendation from the experts at the lecture were trekking poles (like ski poles only a little more rigid). I figured, why the hell not, so I opted into renting a pair. This would prove to be the best $20 that I’ve spent in a long time.

The weather during the 2 hour bus ride into the park was auspicious but left us suspicious that it might be the last that we see of it. We were advised that the ice field in the park dictates the weather and it will tend to act how it likes despite what other neighboring weather systems might suggest. It is the third largest ice field in the world (Antarctica is the first.) The plus side is that weather doesn’t tend to hang around, so if it is raining, it usually will stop before you can even unpack your beloved Gortex.

We started hiking and I instantly saw a pattern forming. A little break here, a little break there. We were not going anywhere. We had 5.5 solid hours of hiking until we were to hit our first camp site. Tomer loved to ask what time it was. It was his clever way of asking “are we there yet?” He knew what the estimated times were on the map, so he could determine, quietly, how much further we had to go. Only 15 minutes into hiking and he had asked for the time 3 times. Then there was the survey of the cross traffic. Every person who walked by, Tomer would ask how far we were from a certain point on the map. Of course, people are imperfect in these estimations and would give a spectrum of times. You see, when you have to stop to ask someone a question, you have to stop. Then he would freak out if someone 10 minutes down the trail gave him an estimate that increased in time. It was as if he was concerned that we magically went backwards. No amount of logic and reason was going to cary that oversized pack to the camp site. He was stuck, no amount of patented Israeli thinking outside of the box would make this trip any shorter. He needed brute force. Blunt brawn, and the stamina of an ox. Does an ox have stamina?

Our first leg of The W was Glacier Grey. From an aerial view of a map, this would be the western most side of a W. This portion of the park was wild and rugged. It had jagged granite peaks, hidden lakes, wind swept trees, and of course, a unforgettable glacier. The weather remained perfect at the moment. It was a sunny day without a cloud in the sky. Before we made our way around the bend, there were large omens blue omens floating down the lake. Pieces of her majesty.
Tomer pointed out the glacier at first sight. I look far past it to a distant mountain range that is lit by the sun. But much closer was the obvious leviathan. We had a laugh. After 5.5 hours, we agree to stay at a closer camp site for fear of not making it to the original site before dark (10:30pm). Here we get our first taste of the worshipers (a flying creature the side of a gnat, with more aggression, but no ability to bite.) “They just hover around you and then dive bomb into your face.” “It’s like they are worshiping a shrine or something.” Tomer comes in with a pristine observation “They are ignoring our food. But do you know what they eat? hair!”

I walk down the the water front where there are tons of icebergs and daringly stick my hand in the water. The water is glacially grey as I dip. Surprisingly enough, it is not even as cold as a mountain stream. This partially explains the rational of the crazy German girl who decided it was a good idea to jump into the lake earlier today.

We set up our tents (mine takes much longer, due to the lack of my experience. In fact, when renting the equipment, the clerk said “just take that out back and set it up to make sure everything is in working order.” I walked to the back of the shop and dropped the bag onto the grass. What the hell am I supposed to do now? I came back into the shop after 5 minutes and said “I’m sorry, is there something I should be doing now. This thing is just a bag. I’ve never done this sort of thing. Do you think you can come out and show me?”) I successfully bent 3 of the light weight aluminium tent pegs while trying to hammer them into the granite saturated soil.

Tomer laughed. He had been on dozens of treks, the longest of which being 17 days in Peruvian jungles. Like a first chance, call it beginners luck, it began to rain the moment I sat down in my fully built tent. It continued to lightly rain through the night and I learned first hand the lesson of touching the inside membrane to the outside rain cover. In the night, I had stretched out, pressing my feet into the foot of the tent. I woke up with a wet sleeping bag up to the knees. I was worried that there was a hole in my tent until Tomer explained the technology.

The next morning we went down to the bay that all of the ice bergs gathered in. getting a closer look, the bergs were tightly compacted almost dry in a sense. They resembled a jigsaw puzzle. We had a big day ahead of us so we kept moving. This day grew more and more tedious as we stopped everyone who walked bye to ask how much further we had to go, so I suggested we not ask, because it wouldn’t make us any closer. Then the idea of a teleporter was brought up. “I mean, I don’t have the technology just yet, but I can sell you the option for the future right now. Or how about just a big promenade thats down by the lake? It’s much more beautiful. I just can’t stand wasting energy going up and down. It’s just so inefficient.” Tomer spit out in disgust. “And what the fuck is the time anyway!!!!” He shouts as I nearly fall to the ground laughing. Essentially screaming “are we there yet!”

That night we get to town and I resolve to put a trash bag around the foot of my sleeping bag as I go to sleep. I wake with wet feet once again even though it didn’t rain and make the assertion that the plastic bag trapped all of the moisture in the air. Remember, Patagonia maintains about 70% humidity in this season.

Again, more tomorrow….

The W

Coming into Puerto Natales, we were greeted with hale. As we waited to get off of the Navimag, the weather changed 3 times between sun, wind, and hale. This was in the course of 40 minutes. Welcome to Patagonia.

I still hadn’t found anyone to hike “The W”, a 5 day trail in Torrez del Pine National Park. By now there were several couples who I had considered tagging along with, but I prefered not to be 3rd wheel. One couple offered me to hike along, but they were surely out of my league since they were considering a 9 day route. I went to the free lecture that my hostel put on in search of information, but even more importantly companions. I sat in the back of the room, observing 20-30 people sitting in front of me. I looked to see if anyone was alone there. I began visually sorting the couples and it didn’t look good. I thought I could just use math to find someone to hike with (at this point I was counting the room and looking for an odd number. Much to my dismay, it was even. The moment had come.

The lecturer said “Does anyone have any questions?” I raised my hand in the back of the room. “If anyone is looking to cut down on cost and weight of equipment, I am hiking alone tomorrow and am interested in teaming up.” 15 couples all look back at once with a “Don’t look at me.” Glance.

Yuck, I just realized that Patagonia is stricken with couples. This might take a little self-inviting. If this were anywhere else that I had been, I would have a 8 person power group of lone travelers. While we are here, I might as well go over the different types of couples that exist in the world of traveling. It wont take long. There are only two types. Those who are happy to chat with other people (these are the folks who will invite other travelers out to dinners, excursions, and even the next vacation. These are the folks who can be found at opposite ends of the room, having independent conversations with new and exciting people.) And then there are the scum. Those folks who would prefer it if there were no other humans on this planet. “We are just trying to have a personal experience.” These are the couples who you will see, sitting next to each other (looking particularly unhappy) and usually micro planning out the next 60 days of their trip in the common room. With an enormous map spread out across the expanse of the only table in the room, they look annoyed that people are even in the same room. Sure they will talk to you, but just enough to get you the hell off of their back. These are the folks who also have to be touching each other at every second of the day. New people are surely a cancer to their most important goal of building their insecure relation-shit through “travel”.

Ok, that took a bit longer than I promised. Moving on. Carrying a tent, stove, food, pots, and clothes all alone is wildly inefficient (and expensive). I came up with a masterful plan (that I would be teased about for the rest of the trip) that I would bring a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food, and gas with me but then rely kind hearts for the use of a stove and pots to cook with. I figured that EVERYONE in the park would be fully loaded with gear, so if I brought a bunch of Coup-a-noodles with me, I could just barrow someones gear to boil water. No clean up, just a hot meal in under 10 minutes. I brought only dry food. Cereal bars for breakfast, cookies and chocolate for lunch on the trail, a bunch of bread buns to stay sane, and coup-a-noodles for dinner. I got a bunch of people in the hostel telling me that I didn’t have a balanced diet. I asked them how that was (loving the notion that even a rocket scientist usually hasn’t a clue when it comes to food science.) “Well, you don’t really have any protein in your diet. What about fruits and vegetables?” I would reply with, “I’m just going away for 5 days. And I am hiking the whole time. Truth be told, I just need fuel. I need as many calories as I can get my hands on. This is the only time that cookies and chocolate are a good thing. Oh, and there is protein in the noodles. Thats what they are made of, eggs and flower. Eggs are protein last time I checked. And the fruits and vegetables are just in a diet for the nutrients that they contain. Your teeth don’t fall out from scurvy for at least a month. Come to think of it, I could eat Jello for the next five days and live just fine. Actually, I could eat nothing as long as I drink water, but who wants all that pain.” (I’m writing this post after the hike, and believe it or not, I am alive 🙂

I rushed all around town, scrounged up a pair of long johns, gloves, and a beanie. Oddly enough, in the center of the trekking universe, there were only a few, very poorly stocked, outdoor shops. Stress began to pump through my veins for fear of the weight on my back for the next 5 days would be huge. I had never been backpacking out in the wilderness before.

As it turns out, I managed to fit everything in my pack on the very first try. Then the crucial moment came when I slung the pack onto my back……. it was lighter than it usually was when I walk around from city to city. I felt victorious! I had survived packing for something that I had never done.

I felt so relieved “I feel accomplished enough. Who needs to hike now?”

for part two, tune in tomorrow!