I am genetically built to be a world-class hiker. I have Scottish and Norwegian blood coursing through my veins. I have lived with my large feet, solid legs and broad shoulders all my life, knowing that one day they would find their purpose. I am known for my grit and stubbornness and I can walk – what more do you need? So, when we arrived in Patagonia for a week of hiking, I thought “this is it!”, it’s time to realise my true destiny – as an inspired and naturally dominant hiker.
It started out well. Our kit had arrived from Australia and after pulling off the price tags, we donned our carefully selected items from Kathmandu’s Christmas 2015 sale that weren’t too matchy, matchy and wouldn’t make us look like newbie, glamazon, selfie-stick wielding hikers. This was a serious endeavour to find my spiritual awakening on the top of a recently conquered mountain and everything had to be just right.
Like Cinderella, my feet slipped into those boots as if they were made for me and my size 10 feet, no rigid glass slippers here! Thermals not too hot, not too cold. Layers of technical fleece and wind proofing, beanies and gloves – check! I may have looked like a Michelin man advertisement, but I am pretty sure I looked the part. Walking through the little one-street town, people with exotic Scandinavian accents and those ergonomic walking sticks and camel water packs, gave me a friendly nod – recognising me as one of them; a genetically predispositioned hiker, who was raised in the mountains and celebrated their third birthday with a hiking party.
The weather is brutal in Patagonia – making this the perfect destination for technical hike dominance. Armed with the complex weather charts that map out the wind direction, speed and precipitation levels, and an eager husband who was also ready to find his inner mountaineer, we selected the next day as THE day we would conquer our first hike.
At 8am as the sun was just breaking through the clouds, we were off! Ignoring all advice, we chose the most difficult hike first. Fresh legs, fresh spirit, and months of beer, beach and burrito training, we were absolutely in peak condition for this 9-10 hour, 25km hike over mountainous terrain.
Spirits were high for those first 2km as the landscapes unfolded around us and we got cheeky peaks and glimpses of the summit we were heading towards. The walking stick camels (as they should now be named), stopped at the first mirador for a snack and slurp. We decided to keep on going – we felt good, strong, dominant. This ignorant enthusiasm continued on until the fourth hour when we were faced with the 2.5km vertical ascent over rocks.
We started the climb. Hubby took the lead. I am a better follower on the hills – I like to chase people down and I prefer not having my broad derrière in someone’s face – particularly one padded with multiple layers and covered in unflattering hiking fabric. It was slow going and I mean S.L.O.W. Like a sloth on valium slow. The months of boozing and backpacking were starting to show and my genetics were failing me. 500 metres in and I had stripped down to my base layers and was steaming up like a puffing billy. The walking stick camels were in hot pursuit and my mind started playing torturous games. Bi-polar games that went something along the lines of:
Huff, puff, puff, shuffle, shuffle, stumble over rock.
“This is fucking ridiculous!” “I am going to die on this mountain like the people in that K2 movie”
“Ssshhhh, be kind to yourself, stay positive, you are strong, you are an adventurer, you’ve got this”
“I have never been motivated by self-love hippie shit – why start now you idiot!”
Indu is panting but setting a nice steady pace.
Pant, gasp, cough, sniff, choke.
“Am I even moving? Why are there so many fucking rocks? Where is the top? I can’t see the top?!”
“Stay present, this is a blessing, look around, use the natural energy of this place”
“Nope, positivity is still not working”
Indu continues to keep the pace. At this point I am overtaken by the naturally skilled, yodelling, walking stick camels who are all smiling and haven’t even broken a sweat.
“Fuck you! I can’t believe you are smiling! This isn’t a fucking Sunday stroll! Jesus christ, I am going to be the fat kid who can’t make it to the top.”
“Yep, you will never make it to the top. No one expects you to make it. Give up now.”
“Nope, negativity isn’t working”
Indu starts to see that I am flailing and I realise I have an audience. I start to hyperventilate and to gain control, I start to assess the feedback I would give to the management of the park. Which I share out loud for anyone that will listen.
“Why the hell don’t they put markers to say how far we’ve come? Why isn’t there a book that people sign so if something happens and you die, they can call someone? There should be guide ropes here – this is a cliff face! Who would be legally liable if there was an accident – I didn’t sign anything? Where is a goddamn marker to say I am half way to the top?”
It’s at this point, mid melt down that Indu suggests we take a breather. My cheeks are red and my hair is melted to my face. Sweat is jumping off me and I smell of rotten socks.The internal dialogue continues.
“He thinks I am weak. Why can’t I be the girly girl with the matchy matchy outfit and pony tail taking selfies all the way up this fucking hill? I bet he regrets his choice of life partner. Oh god, I am a terrible wife. He is going to ask for a divorce after we finish this bloody fucking walk”
I can’t have him look at me like this, so we keep on schlepping. At this point, Indu decides he is the child of Tony Robbins and OPRAH and starts spouting motivational comments like:
Indu: “Every hour of this kind of hiking is worth 700 calories”
Internal Me: “I am obese and he wants me to get the message”
External Me: “Interesting.”
Indu: “Just think that when you are back at work, sitting at a white desk under fluorescent lighting, you will remember this and think FREEDOM”
Internal Me: “Nope, nope I won’t. I will think of this as the time I nearly died”
External Me: “Maybe.”
Indu: “It’s actually just about one foot in front of the other”
Internal Me: “It’s actually about not killing you on this fucking mountain”
External Me: “Mmm.”
Indu: “Just think of the sandwich we can have once we get to the top”
Internal Me: “More fucking calories to burn off!”
External Me: Silent.
Indu: “We’ve got this. We can make it and it will be worth it”
Internal Me: “Will it? This was a fucking stupid idea. I’m pretty sure it was your idea wasn’t it? Idiot.”
External Me: Better be.
This is how we continue for the next 2km on repeat until we make it to the godforsaken top of the summit. It was indeed a beautiful view and I smashed that sandwich like I had just burnt 700 calories an hour! We stayed and contemplated the meaning of life, and riding the adrenaline and endorphin high what other mountains in the world we can conquer.
Then we had to go back down.
Let’s just say that I am about as nimble as an elephant when scrambling down hill. The walking stick camels decide it would be fun to semi run down the ridiculous path. I contemplate sliding down on my big padded bum! We get about half way down when vertigo sets in and the sides of the hill start to fall away in my mind. I am being pulled down and fear sets it.
I sit down where I am and cling to a rock, frozen and unable to move. Indu turns around and walks back up to meet me. The dialogue goes something like:
Me: “Holy shit. I am going to fall off this cliff and die. I am so dizzy.”
External Indu: “You are okay babe. I am here. I’ve got you”
Internal Indu (I’m guessing): “I just want this hike to be over and I never want to do this with you again”
Indu offers me some hydralyte.
Me: “I can’t do this. They are going to need to send a helicopter. I can’t stand up. I can’t make it.”
External Indu: “Just breathe. Drink some water. Breathe. You made it up, you can make it down”
Internal Indu: “This is just ridiculous! Get the fuck up and keep going!”
Doing deep breathing exercises and clutching that rock like my life depends on it (which it does at this point).
Me: “I’m sorry, I’m so weak, I ruin everything”
External Indu: “No you don’t. We just need to get you down the hill”
Internal Indu: “Yes, yes you do!”
Finally, with a bit of hydration and sugar I get up and get moving. The rest of the walk is long. And I mean L.O.N.G. Like the Never Ending Story of Patagonia long. 2km out from the end and I start to get foot cramps. As we haven’t spoken since the bottom of the descent, I decide it best to keep my mouth shut and just walk through it.
Hobbling in to town, 10 hours later, my feet feel like they have been bound like a 90 year old Chinese Concubine’s and I can barely manage to waddle my way past the bar, where the walking stick camels have swapped their technical equipment for beers and empanadas. They raise a glass and we have one final exchange for the day.
Them: “Great hike wasn’t it?! That last climb was awesome.What a view!”
External me: can’t muster any words, smiling sweetly, wiping the greasy, sweat dripping hair away from my face
Internal me: Silent. Defeated.
That is until tomorrow’s 20km hike. Poor Indu.