The lodges or refugios in Torres del Paine are barracks style which means multiple bunkbeds per room. One of the first things you learn after day one is, the lower bunks belong to those who don’t dawdle. You get in early, you get to pick your bed. While we were in plenty early on the first day of hiking, I didn’t yet know about calling dibs. That, mixed with the pleasure of the fact that Chileano Refuge has triple high bunks, made even the middle of the night bathroom run adventurous.
Roberto said breakfast was 8AM, but I would come to learn that, unlike other international cultures I’ve visited, where time was flexible and usually late, he was always at least 15 minutes early. After a while it became a game to see if I could get there before him. I never did. He was always there waiting with his trail French Press and thermos of hot milk. As a OneSeed “thing,” they insist that their clients get good coffee to start the day, and not the instant Nescafe that is the coffee of choice almost everywhere down here. So, not only do you walk to breakfast to find someone waiting for you, he’s there with fresh pressed coffee and milk. Suddenly this wild rough adventure through Patagonia doesn’t sound so rough.
This second day on the trail is what I call an in between day. At the “downstroke” parts of the “W” trail are days of trekking between refuges, so you can hike the next day to the mirador (view point). We were going from Chileano to Cuernos.
Making our way down to the valley to then climb up into the nestled comfort of Cuernos, it was amazing how the landscape changed in simply a matter of a few hours. The barren expanse of our tower run the previous day was now replaced by valleys, bushes with berries and glacier carved lakes. It was a day of mostly Patagonian flat. Up, down, up, down.
There was lots of trekking not much talking. We’d chat over the name of berries, the different types of rock that made up the imposing peaks but that was the limit of our conversation. While we definitely bonded over the week, the effort that his english and my spanish required, limited our chitchat on the trail. With one exception- during the previous day Roberto had referred to the mountains has “his office.” I had made a big deal of it. So coming up on one view in particular, I suddenly stopped and turned to him and said, “Roberto, your office has the best view I’ve ever seen!” Without a seconds pause he looked at me straight-faced and said, “Thanks, but I have a hell of a time washing the windows.” I almost fell over laughing.
Amazingly, the 40 lb. pack began to disappear. It had been such a thrust of the previous morning, it was surprising to find it vanishing. How quickly our body adjust to burdens. Things that we take on with great intentionality quickly become after-thoughts. This is both a blessing and curse. It felt great to find a rhythm, to feel a stride coming on. Unfortunately, the lack of struggle, now that the pack had become part of me, came with it’s own price. By the end of the day, while my whole body was feeling good, a seemingly unrelated pain started. Two quarter sized hot spots on the back of my heals. I’d never had blisters in all the hours I’d hiked and broke in my boots. I was really frustrated and didn’t understand why. Then Roberto explained it. “It is your pack. Your back has forgotten it, but your feet cannot.”
Your back has forgotten it…isn’t that the truth. I mean it’s a good thing when we build up strength. It’s a good thing when we aren’t overcome with our burdens. It’s good to not be fixated on the weight we carry trying to care for the people and sitations of our life. But the problem is, that while we may become inoculated and adjusted to the initial discomfort, something else inside has to take up the slack. The wear and tear show up somewhere.
I couldn’t escape the analogy. My heals were as far from my pack as possible, seemingly unrelated. But the added weigh had turned the back of my boots into the fulcrum of my activity. And Roberto recognized, it wasn’t what was on my feet, it was all about what was on my back. I could have changed shoes everyday, it wouldn’t have helped. Changing shoes was solving the wrong problem. I kept thinking about all the times I try to fix things in my life by solving the wrong problems. I fixate of fixing things that aren’t broken. I buy new shoes, make new resolutions, push my self to work harder to get to a different result.
In the end Roberto told me there wasn’t anything to fix. He said all guides get blisters the first weeks of the season from hauling packs. All you can do is take your time, be kind to your feet, and listen to your body…it’s carrying a great load. Eventually, your strength will match your burden. Take your time, care for yourself, listen to yourself…which one of us was the professional coach?