Ten weeks in Alaska and home again through the Canadian wilderness, along the western coast. Follow the adventure here!
In the words of my dear friend Bear, “You can still be a badass surfer and have fears.”
In three months I was stretched across situations that were beyond anything I could have imagined. If I ever thought I had been afraid of something before, I had to redefine it a million times in a million new ways while in that wilderness. One of my instructors helped me put it into perspective one day saying,”For you a 8 ft. swell gives you excitement and anticipation, and probably some caution while in the water, but for me a three foot wave is terrifying. Actually the open ocean itself, in all of its constant change and vastness is the scariest thing I can think of.” He told this to me while I was literally shaking in my boots, tearing up, and about to panic while walking down a fresh loose moraine. With rocks sliding above me and below me, loosening giant boulders which were held by loose dirt, with the sun melting the snow above us and creating the ever growing danger of more rock fall by the minute, I could see no happy ending. Getting out of the moraine was not quick business, but I was assured that I wouldn’t have been led into this situation if the man leading me didn’t think I would make it out alive. Maybe I would break every bone in my body, but I would be alive (that is how it felt at least). So with my 80 pound backpack on, my plastic mountaineering boots, legs that felt like jello, and eyes that were getting watery so I could barely see, we made it out together. The danger was not small, we were worried, but in the perspective Drew gave me I realized that his calmness was the same as mine in that 8 ft. swell. So here is a little something I wrote while mountaineering.
Nov. 14 //
I hear laughter through the tent walls. I can still see light in the valley. It does not feel like time for bed. Today was a long fun day but sleep does not come easily. I am anticipating an early morning with many unknowns, I am afraid. I know the air will bite as much as my knees will scream. I am here to grow outside of my comfort zone. That comfort zone was left behind long ago, as soon as this group left the ocean and paddled up river. That is really far away now… Everyday has been a new challenge. I have been stretched in more directions than I thought possible in the last 20 days. But I do not wish for the end to come. I need more.
Nov. 15 // 1 a.m. alpine start
My alarm startles me awake after three hours of sleep. I notice the cocoon of delightful warmth in my sleeping bag and strain my mind to remember why the hell I would even be awake right now. I reach my arm out of the tiny hole in the top of my bag and turn the alarm off. Here we go…
I find myself literally shaking in my boots, from the cold night air and from the fear. We are walking up endless slopes of the steepest ice I have ever traveled on. In the pitch black of the night what may only be a 60 ft. hill feels like a giant mountain of vertical ice sloping into a dark abyss. I keep walking, wondering how I got myself in a place where I am putting the security of my life in sharp ice-piercing objects. My crampons and ice axe are my only comforts. I am afraid, but this fear is mixed with an excitement, knowing I will soon have an opportunity to test myself further.
In the end we made it to the death slope, our final ascent, but could go no further. This was not a loss but an accomplishment of our small group. Foreseeing avalanche danger after partially ascending, we backtracked and parked ourselves at the base of the ascent. I watched in awe as the blanket of bright starts and the southern cross vanished in the patagonian sunrise, appreciating the hard work it took to get even that far. This morning reminded me of something I wrote after the terrifying waterfall-cliff-of-doom ascent. That first hike toward the alpine was when I realized just how far out of my comfort zone I was, and will remain in, as long as I am in these beautiful and hostile mountains. This is what I want to share:
It is not a burden.
As I walk I feel danger all around me.
I realize the beauty I choose to see,
can readily end this life.
I nod to death in passing
aware of the sound of my feet on my path.
With a thousand fears I have a thousand accomplishments.
With every fear overcome I feel more life in my blood.
With every fear I find JOY.
Everyday a new definition of life, fear, conquerer and joy are rewritten on my path.
Living life with fear is not a burden.
It is the precise bite and feel and sound of each step that fills me with life.
Fear heightens my awareness,
elevates my sight,
and quickens my heartbeat,
taking the blood away from my heart faster than ever.
Losing a life makes the beauty of my own sharper.
This fear is spontaneous and overpowering.
It makes me work harder for my reward
and it makes my reward unique.
I don’t want to lose this fear,
making my life my own through distinct awareness of a thousand accomplishments.
My fear is not a burden.
Nov. 2// 4pm// Lying in the tent after a long travel day.
Once again, I was soaked to the skin as we hiked today. I get soaked to the skin everyday though, evidently my Patagonia brand torrent shell rain jacket can’t handle a real Patagonian torrent. I take a nap as I warm up and dry off in my sleeping bag, the most comfortable place in the world. I feel the tent heat up and light pierce through the nylon walls onto my face. After long hours (all day, and yesterday, to be more accurate) of pouring torrential rain, the sun finally decides to show itself. Sunshine! I listen for a moment or two, my eyes still closed. Yep, definitely no rain drops. I stir out of my sleepy stupor and out of my sleeping bag to find that I am not the only one coming out of the protection of our tents. All of camp is scurrying about, hanging up wet socks, pants, shirts, underwear, shoes, liners, jackets, you name it. Soon I have everything I own strategically lain out in the sun for maximum drying potential. We call these “sucker holes”, because only a fool will trust a pocket of blue skies in Patagonia. But I am going to take full advantage of any moment I have after the last few days constant wet. Pretty soon camp looks like a yard sale with everyones belongings exploded on the ground and over rocks to dry.
I look to the sky. With the direction of the wind I can see no looming grey clouds coming in our direction yet. So I decide to venture further, leaving my things in the wind and sun, and start heading to the lake to see the view. After hiking up river and bushwhacking all day we ended up at a glacial lake resting at the feet of giants. These giants are surrounded by moraines and are covered with fresh snow. I can see the snow still falling and whipping off of the peaks in the strong winds leftover from the storm. Sheer rock faces are covered in ice and are shining brightly in the sun. This lake is a light and pure turquoise with shades of dark green and blue. From where I stand I can see at least seven waterfalls cascading form the snowy peaks, some are frozen solid, others are so strong I can hear them across the distance. I have never seen anything like this all in one place; sheer and steep mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, moraines, ice falls, lakes, and rivers. A few moments pass as I stare in awe of the beauty around me. It’s just too much, my heart fills with joy. I give a silent “thank you” to the creator of the world as I am stunned in amazement.
People gather with me on the hill crest. Everyone is oddly quiet, but in a good way, as we can all appreciate what we are seeing without words. Soon the sucker hole closes. I see looming gray clouds blowing quickly over the mountains. It’s time to move as camp explodes into action again. Everyone is running around taking their life possessions out of the drying sun. It looks like an ant hill working at full capacity. I stop and laugh as I watch all of my friends, arms full of clothes, hustling into their green and red tubes that look like caterpillar cocoons (if you have seen a Hilberg tent, you know what I mean). I feel the first rain drop. “Rain!”, I yell and look to the sky. Sure enough the sun is gone. Completely obscured by a dense, grey, water filled mass.
I hop into my now crowded and full tent. I get into my sleeping bag once again and try to organize my few possessions as best I can. In the 30 square feet that I share with three other people this can be a difficult task. An hour of patagonian life has come and gone. Constantly changing, comfort to discomfort, beauty to bad weather, hot to cold, but always, always WET.
(Below - this was our camp for 4 more days while the storm continued non-stop)
(Below - the glacial lake, not the best photo to represent its unbelievable colors)
Do not imagine that the journey is short. One must have the heart of a lion to follow this unusual road, for it is very long and the sea deep… One plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping.
- Fariduddin Attar
My journey is long and difficult. The words of Attar wrung true and deep in my bones throughout my time in Patagonia. There were times of weeping and times of joy. Plenty of smiling and amazement, not only in the beauty surrounding me, but the people who shared it with me. I was amazed by my peers and their strength. I could not have made it through without each of those people specifically and uniquely. Those people, who are my friends, my fellows, feel like distant actors in an unbelievable screen-play that was written in my dreams of restlessness. The journey for us did not end when we arrived to civilization in Coyhaique for the first time in ninety days. For the last month and a half I feel like I have just begun on this path I started in September. I have just begun to dig into my soul, my mind, my memories. Performing daily in a play where all the people around me seem to know what the script is, somehow I didn’t get it when everyone else did. This play is predictable, and I see all of the typical plots. Love lost as soon as won. Death. Sorrow. Weeping. Joy. Finding truth. The only comfort I take is that the last act is unknown to everyone in it. For I have taken the unusual road, and it is long, the sea is deep. Now, more than in the mountains and seas of Patagonia, I need a lions heart. If ever I felt the truth of life in that place, now is when I must summon that knowledge. I need to break free from the script everyone is so happily following. I am restless for answers, for something to disprove my loneliness, for something to bring life back to who I was when truth was so simple and beautiful. I am restless for God. It is juvenile to only look behind me. It is true, I am where I need to be, for now. Soon I know will see an end to this journey and the beginning of another long and unusual path. I sense there is a source for my restlessness, and that the path that leads there is not to a strange place, but it’s the path home. I am home, all I need to do it wake up.
“The journey is hard, for the secret place we have always been is overgrown with thorns and thickets of “ideas”. Of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions.”
P.S. I wrote this thinking of you Los Vallejos, my dear friends.
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
- Jack Kerouac
Sometimes I agree. Usually I am the yawner saying commonplace things, and I like other people who yawn with me. But deep inside me there is the blue centerlight, desiring sometimes to pop and make everybody go ‘awww’.
I wait for inspiration. In this ever endless pursuit there is something small yet so valuable that can be lost, forgotten. It is the reason that the pursuit was started int the first place. I desire inspiration to be “mad”, to live with with a passion that burns out of control. I wait patiently. The things that used to make me laugh and smile with delight, the things that used to make me weep with true joy, the things that used to move my soul; where are they? Why do these emotions and words bounce off my bones like dull rocks. I desire so badly for them to crack and bruise. The truth that used to shake me with realization, now feels like dirty bath water filling an empty shell. So I wait. Wait for the inspiration sweep through me. The inspiration to make me want madness and shine again like that centerlight. But I cannot forget the reason I want this so badly. I wait but not in vain. I shake this feeling and rinse it off in the salty water that purifies me daily . Maybe the pursuit of inspiration will turn out to be the inspiration itself.
(Something I wrote from an old blog of mine. I brought it back to life, since this feeling still resonates within me in a whole new way than before.)
The moutnains have been a natural field of activity where, playing on the frontiers of life and death, I have found the freedom for which I was blindly groping and which is as necessary to life as breath.
I saw it was better to be true than to be strong… I was saved and I had won my freedom. This freedom, that I shall never lose, has given me a rare JOY of loving that which I used to despise. A new and splendid life has opened out before me.