For all the gifts God gave me that I use well, talking, thinking, smiling, etc… there are gifts he gave me that I misuse too. For example, my StrengthsFinder themes of Command and Activator, they can inspire…or…do something else. True story, I had actually put only 400 miles on my road bike when I did the 550 mile California Coast Classic. Now, I worried about every mile I didn’t ride before hand, and I made an honest effort, but in the end, I had actually trained less than the total I was about to undertake. So what made me think I could do it- Command Activator…I believe and so I will and I won’t rest till it’s done. Keeping that in mind…
As we left Las Torres Refugio on Monday morning, Roberto asked, “Listo?” (Ready?) I slung up my fancy schmancy pack and for literally the first time, experienced what it was like to strap 40 lbs. to your body and start walking. In the weeks leading up to now I had got my 5k runs back up, I’d been hiking on Saturdays, I’d made an intermitten effort to watch my diet, but I still wasn’t sure I was back to my pre-stress fracture form. And I’d been so preoccupied on the distance, that it never occurred to me to try my hikes with a pack. I now understand why the SEaL candidates run the Coronado dunes in full pack, weeks before BUD/S. A pack is a whole different situation.
We’d gone a quarter of a mile and the waist pad was cutting into my hips enough that I suddenly questioned the sainity of the approximately 90 kilometers that lay ahead. And if not hard enough, suddenly all those really great voices in my head came out of nowhere to affirm me in my assessment of my clear insanity. For the first time in longer than I can remember, I legitimately wondered if I could actually do this.
“Just don’t stop.” This is all I could think. “and don’t think about the fact that this is still the flat.” During what would become our morning breakfast briefing, Roberto had introduced me to three crtical Patagonia terms: “Flat,” “Up Up Up,” and a new term I’ve come to understand all too well, “Patagonia Flat.” The first two mean what you think, it’s flat…it’s up up up…very self-explanatory. Patagonia Flat is what large portions of this week ended up being, stretches of incline followed by stretches of some decline before more incline. The net elevation increase ends up being deceivingly small, but only because the down cancels out the up….hence…Patagonia flat. I’d been told this morning, we’d be Flat, Up Up Up, and then lots of good Patagonia Flat, before “really big Up Up Up.” As the flat turned into the up, my legs went blissfully numb and suddenly my childhood Mt. Katahdin training kicked in. Good foot placement. Breath, use your arms. Just don’t stop. Make it to the top of the ridge before asking a question. That will give you a break, you’ll figure out what to do next.
After about 48 min, Roberto told me to stop for water by the sign. I was a sweaty mess. Trying to hide my worries, from a guide, who I was convinced, was dreading having to haul my body down the French Valley Glacier in the coming days. I decided to ask a sideways question about my pack. Three strap tugs and a Roberto adjustment later, and the hip pain was gone. Hey smart guy, practice what you preach!!! I constantly tell people, failing isn’t the problem, its failing for not asking for help that’s the issue. All my posturing had prevented me from getting the help I needed. I told him I hand’t wanted to ask. He smiled and said with his amazing accent, “You can ask me anything…I’m not just pretty face!” I about died from laughter.
Then something incredible happened. I asked him how we were doing? He smiled, “bueno.” “We usually have to stop 3 times by now. We are very fast. I can tell in the first 10 minutes if someone is trekker or not, or if they have too many ”office days” to be able to climb. You a real trekker, you’re not afraid to try.” It was like something happened inside me, no lie. It was an A, a gold star, a pat on the head,….I don’t know what, but a 12 year veteran Patagonian guide just told me I was a good trekker and suddenly I was. Well not suddenly, the only difference between that moment and the excruciating 45 before, was what I believed. I knew he was right. I had grown up outside. I understood treking. I had been hiking. I had been running. Now I was obviously not good at fitting packs, but the rest was there. It’s funny, who I was was was really there all along, it just took someone I trusted, and wanted to impress, to call it out.
It was different from there on out. I discovered there were expected hike times on all the trails for what’s called the W circuit that we were hiking all week. From this moment on it was not only about climbing to the points and reaching our destination, but how much we beat the posted time. I suddenly didn’t just want to finish the W, I wanted to own it, decidedly.
That night as we made camp at the Chileano Refugio, as a solo tourist, I ate with Roberto and some of his other guide friends who were leading other types of hikes and groups. As he recounted the fact that we’d come in a full hour+ under for the day, I couldn’t help but feel proud. The towers and views we’d taken in on our first day were truly some of the best nature had to offer, but as I went to bed, the most encouraging view was the one I had of myself; truly a buena vista. On to Cuernos in the morning.