Living the Dream: Sue me for being lame, I don't care 'cus I'm in El Chalten

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December 6th 2009
Published: April 14th 2011
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Ran out tonight. Just as the sun went behind the mountain, I ran East out after it. Coming out of town, the road descended slightly and I could actually see the shadow of the mountains creeping fast up the hill in front of me. But Rocinanta was faster. I tweaked the trottle a little more, and rode back into the sunlight. It was a fabulous moment, all the better because of where I was and where I was going.

For most of the ride from El Calafate to El Chaltén I'd been giddy as a child. The massive spires of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre shot up into the first perfectly clear sky I'd seen for weeks. I saw them the moment I hit Ruta 40 coming out of El Calafate and they grew taller and more spectacular with each passing kilometer. The patagonian winds were strong as ever, but I left my visor up, happy to let the scene assault my senses and jerk at my helmet. I kept stopping but not because my cheeks were rosy and eyes watered by the cold, but because I had to stop and take pictures and try to capture that image that had been hanging in the back of my mind for so long. Mere photography falls miserably short of such a task, but the memory will certainly be a lasting one. I can barely believe ...the dream just keeps coming true.

The last sixty kilometers or so I started looking for a place to come back to and watch the sunset. I thought I was much closer: that mountain is just so deceiving. It was hard to imagine it could get any bigger but the immense, jagged canine kept closing in - th earth's jaw closing ever upward into the sky - 3000 meters over the rolling countryside. Gulp! I was swallowed.

I figured I had a good three or four hours to get back before the sun ducked behind the cordillera, so I took my time, taking more pictures and snooping around ranch gates to find one that wasn't locked... but none were. I crept along the last few k's gawking upward and thus dangerously unmindful of the road ahead, several times nearly veering off it or, maybe worse: running over the frantic bunny rabbits that kept dashing across. Really, if I had added to the many splattered relatives of the fuzzy critters I'd passed along the way the only real loss would have been Baby's traction: they are not native to the region and the place is literally hoppin' with them.

Happlly for all, I made it to El Chaltén with skidplate free of fir and a minimum of circling around the small town before pulling into 'El Refugio Camping'. Some around here call it the refugee camp. The moniker withstanding or not, it's my kind of digs. The amicable matron helped me scope the most wind-sheltered spot and heartily jokes with me as she waters the grass or lacquers the ancient wooden tables in the cookshack. I told her of my sunseeking mission and she laughed like a stovepipe and called me crazy. I did one more lap around town hoping to find Olli, a like-minded brit who I'd met repeatedly since Lima and who was supposed to be in town - after no less than four attempts to meet up, I thought this glorious evening would see us kindreds align and afford me a much needed witness to my unique access to grandeur. The last week or so since Puerto Natales marks the first time in a long time I'd wanted company. Sometimes it's hard to witness so much beauty and enjoy it silently. But, since he failed to dash out into the road in front of me I kept on out of town, but nevertheless in good company. I sat with Baby and watched the sun descend ever so slowly behind Glacier Viedma and paint the Cerros Torre and Fitz Roy pink - making the toothy pinnacles slightly less fearsome with it's neon glow. I joined Johnny Cash in a low refrain of "Desperado" and remembered why I came.

The next day I headed up the Fitz Roy trail at the crack of noon after spending a blissfully warm morning shaking off the cold of another frigid sleep - it gets Cold here at night and takes time to sleep off the cold and the wine required to sustain it. It was a thoughtful walk. From the journal:

There's an Eddy Vedder song where he says " you're starting from the top, and you can't do that" But i beg to differ. I mean I never really liked Eddy Vedder any way, at least not until recently. Today I came across a young man from India who made me realize that that's exactly what I've done. It became clear in the course of walking and talking with him that this young man, probably just a little older than myself, came from what must be called, and euphemistically at that, a modest background. He mentioned that he was supporting his parents through the post he held at a international trading company (...or whatever). He was taking a long weekend off from earning remittances to send home to be here hiking in Patagonia with his new Austrian bride who he met working in Buenos Aires. It became clear: we were two men walking through our own dreams.

Something occurred to me just after we parted ways at the fantastical Laguna Capri where the couple stayed to whisper tender words to each other - in a second language to them both, mind you. It was this: He has worked his whole life to better his lot, certainly ranking well in what schooling his parents could afford for him and going half way across the world to better an uncertain future. then he struck gold: A beautiful wife and EU passport, vacations in exotic places. Shit, I wish I were so lucky.

But wait a minute. Let's look at me. I too have come halfway across the world. Despite some fine opportunities and even offers, I remain single, but that's just fine with me. But where have I come from? Getting back to Mr. Vedder's assertion, I have come from the top. Geographically, yes, Canada is the north, which, by most reckonings of the Globe it is tops (i.e. economically thriving, strong resource base, cities among the most "livable"). On top of that, heh, I was born 8-point-perfect pounds, no known allergies, 20/20 vision, English as a first language, average height/weight, salteen-white and in a country which offers more than ample opportunity for pretty much anybody, let alone someone so socio-economically fortunate. I mean I'm one lucky little bugger even aside from the fact that I found the better end of a less than one in eleven chance of being a super-49th North American. Sorry, but I'd take a Canadian passport over being a Gringo any day.

So my Indian friend - we didn't even get to something so trite as name exchange - was undeniably a VERY achieved young man. And now I, in a way, am achieved as well. But for what? We walked along the same path, both having struggled long and hard to make it there, but from different ends. I have worked my way down from the top dealing with homelessness and poverty, by designe; and him up towards some socioeconomic top. I have gone from a promised land of affluence, to a life of poverty and want - willingly! And I'm certainly not the only one.

Travellers might better be called searchers. I've met so many different people, from everywhere from sub-saharan africa (albeit one person) to Finland to Singapore to Georgia. Every one of them leaves their home looking for something. It may be something exotic, it may be something spiritual, it may just be good scuba diving, but we're all looking for something. So what am I looking for? Well, that became clear. I had planned to just climb up to Laguna Capri as well, to do a quick round trip to the lookout for a good view of the mountains and back down. But once up there, I couldn't just turn back. So I went the rest of the way up to the Laguna de los Tes, a trying hike up to a frozen lake where the true majesty of Fitz Roy could best be appreciated. I hadn't planned for such an excursion - hadn't brought enough food, but I pushed on through, if only to see if I could make it. So what was I looking for? Quite simply: nothing more than a good challenge.

no. It's not that simple. I mean I knew it wasn't going to be easy from the outset, and every major milestone was a good-enough accomplishment.
I was trying to see how far I could make it. measuring myself. So just getting to Cerro Fitz Roy was a dream come true. So was Ushuaia. But there I was, still going. It's the realization that you're setting your sights too low and still hitting some higher target that'll really keep you going. Set the sights high and if you ht your target you're happy but not satisfied. because what's the alternative? No. I'll make no excuses for pessimism.


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