PLANNING FOR PATAGONIA

Frozen waterfall on the western edge of Castle Lake, Mount Shasta.

Frozen waterfall on the western edge of Castle Lake, Mount Shasta.

Over the last month, the idea for the next big adventure has come to fruition. There were many ideas and directions that this journey could wander, be it in the form of sailing across open seas, backpacking another long-distance trail, or taking a stab at the southern hemisphere, this time in South America. “What to do?” I wondered. What did I desire? The lifestyle that I choose to live continues to point me toward exploring the diversity of our world.

While hiking across New Zealand’s length last year, I came face to face with several thoughts. For one, I thrive on isolation, where remote settings can challenge my soul, but at the same time, yield the most rewarding of joys. In New Zealand, and on all of my past thru-hikes, those rewards came when I was off-the-beaten trail, drifting high into the clouds and across glacially-fed creeks, while seeking out a far-away horizon with little other than nature in between. Sometimes solo and sometimes in the company of a newfound friend, those moments were what I was searching for. And when days would pass by, with too many town comforts and too much interaction with civilization, I would stumble into sadness. I yearned for something more and something else altogether. New Zealand was beyond hypnotic in terms of scenic wonder, but for thru-hiking, it wasn’t what I was looking for.

You live. You learn. And then you hang a map on your wall of the next grand adventure.

Come 2015, I will be traveling southward through Chile. This is not a thru-hike, although there is something called the Sendero de Chile. This will be something of my own, a grand adventure, where I can immerse myself deep into those aforementioned isolated rewards, while at other times I can experience a completely foreign culture and many diverse ecosystems. The infancy of this idea started months back. Still clueless as to where the journey would lead, I started taking Spanish classes in preparation. Twice a week, for two hours, for months….Que bueno! Then, a month ago, I found myself standing before the cheese counter in my local Whole Foods. One of my friends asked me where I was headed next. I felt a bit embarrassed to not have a proper answer. I mentioned that I wanted to go to South America, to explore Patagonia, and that was about it. When I reached the check-out, another friend asked me the same set of questions. Uninspired by my answer, I told her I was walking across the street to the bookstore to buy a map. And that’s what I did. I sat on the bookstore’s floor staring over two National Geographic Adventure Travel maps, one of Chile and one of Argentina. Still so unfamiliar with these countries and lost as to what I wanted to do, I bought both, headed home and poured myself a beer. I then opened both maps, spread them across the floor and pondered the details. Shortly thereafter, as if a light bulb turned on, I knew where I was headed.

At first I concocted the idea to pack-raft the length of Chile’s southwest coast, from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn, roughly 1,110 miles, or so I figured. The nature of this coastline is beyond rugged and beyond isolated with few and far towns. As you might guess, I was beyond intrigued. But I had be realistic. Would such an adventure be feasible? Could I pack-raft the ocean seas, meandering between islands and icebergs? Would my watercraft be whipped around in windy canals or become an accidental target to a calving glacier? And what about sharks, killer whales and polar bears? Well, for starters, there are no polar bears. Phew! As for killer whales, no human has ever been killed by one. As for those sharks, well, there’s risk in everything we do, but I’m more likely to step on a poisonous snake than to dance with a shark. Or so I hope.

Always inspired by Jill Fredston’s book, Rowing to Latitude, I knew I needed to boat the sea. But why not merge this idea with that of kayaking South America’s rivers, as well as backpacking beautiful pampas of nearby Argentina (south American lowlands), walking beside the towering peaks of the Andes, and having the open mind and flexible schedule to design an itinerary that favors blue-skies rather than wet and windy seas.

That said, I recently drove down to Mount Shasta, which I once—and still do—called home. One of my best friends turned 40. That’s a pretty important number, and I was excited to hear the stories from her latest adventure, a third journey to South America with her boyfriend, and also a good friend of mine. During our winters, they’ve flown south and traveled many a mile by bike, through the countryside and city. Three years in the making, she is a wealth of knowledge. And there we were, with a nice steaming cup of mate in our hands, laughing and reminiscing about her travels and inspiring that of my own.

I’m not going to get into details in this blog post, but you can expect to read about them soon. It’s going to be quite the adventure of at least 1,000 miles by land, sea and river. And maybe a hitch-hike here and there.

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