I almost didn’t catch it, and being buried within a string of spanish words thick, flip and fast as a telenovela, I can’t believe I did.
After hiking hard up through the French Valley and basically running back down to Campimento Italiano, we paused long enough to grab our full packs and head out for what is the easiest portion of the W trek, the trail to Paine Grande Refugio. Mostly flat and “patagonia flat” and I thought we’d just roll on. As we moved on from camp, the river fell away and the lush green trees and shrubs disappeared as well. It wasn’t very long until we entered what can only be described as the road to Mordor.
This seven mile stretch, while fairly easy, was also coming after running full tilt for the previous 4 hours. The thought of being done, and the belief that this part would be over quick, I set a pace that wasn’t really reasonable. At one point we stopped for a break, and flopping back against our packs, Roberto broke out a snack, smiled at me, and said “you know Miguel, I am not IronMan!” We both lost it. On this day we had pushed hard. He pushed me, I pushed him and the mutual respect found in our laughter was sweeter than any chocolate in the bottom of a trail mix bag.
The fatigue we felt was well earned and like any sojourner on a trek, while hard and taxing, it was a badge of honor and accomplishment. Unfortunately, no feeling of accomplishment could buffer against landscape that seemed to consume any sense of happiness like an unquenchable monster in a child’s story. We’d reach the burn.
Just one year before, campers ignoring the no fire policy in the park, started a forest fire that consumed 1/3 of Torres del Paine. The trail to Paine Grande ran through the middle of it. Walking for 2+ hours through burnt forest and charred earth is daunting enough without the realization of what this area looked like before the fire. At one point I asked Roberto if he knew the Lord of the Rings. He nodded and said, “Frodo felt like this!”
Still pushing to beat the posted trail time, we marched on through stronger head winds than I’ve ever experienced (they were topped the next two days) as we made it into camp. Tired and sore, we were both done and yet were still so far ahead of most other hikers on the trail. After a shower and a brief nap, Roberto and I met up at the bar in the lodge to hang out before dinner. As we walked up the stairs, we were greeted by the cadre of guides and porters that embraced Roberto as if he were mayor. They rode and ribbed him for the deep fatigue they could see in his eyes. And then then nodded to me to ask who I was. That’s when I heard it….”Mi Amigo, Miguel.”
For four days I had been “Mi touristo, Miguel.” They’d ask about me being alone, and I’d make the joke… “Si, solo gringo” But not tonight. Or for the rest of the trip. For the remaining two days Roberto introduced me as Mi Amigo. I was no longer a client, I was a friend. He told me that I had trained him that day as much as he trained me. And it was a guide’s joy to be able to be on the trail with people who hiked as hard they did.
The bonds of struggle. My grandmother used to tell me about a verse in the Bible, “As iron sharpens irons, so one man sharpens another.” I now understand it.
It’s amazing to me. Working on things that are difficult and being with others- both are experiences that most dependably turn people into friends, yet are experiences very often avoided. “Why try something new.” “If ain’t broke don’t fix it.” “I work best alone.”
I’ve got to tell you, being on that trail and walking those miles, we couldn’t have done it as strangers, it really took becoming friends.
So, lonely, dull, in a rut, discouraged…Maybe it’s time to do something that scares you. Where’s your mountain and who are you climbing it with?