“There you are!” Jared appeared around the corner and walked down the grocery aisle toward me. “I’ve got a bag of lentils, five packs of minute rice, peanut butter, a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. What did you get?” I said nothing but held up a box of red wine. He furrowed his brow. “Lea, it’s five days. And we have to carry everything.” I put the box back.
“Good point. Five days is a long time.” I picked up the larger, 2L box and put it in my basket next to a bag of dried kiwis. “I’m ready.” Jared frowned and tipped his head to one side. “I’ll carry it!” I proclaimed and promised, “You’ll be so glad we have it.”
Neither of those statements proved true. Less than half an hour into our five day hike of The W in Torres del Paine I was sure of only one thing — I could not do this.
We had completed a three month circle of South America and this was to be our story’s climax. I did not pack appropriately. I carried actual dishes with us, packed an extra pair of shoes, insisted on scrambling fresh eggs every morning and let’s not forget the aforementioned wine, which I drank from a travel wine glass. Because that’s a necessity. I will say this for 26-year-old Lea, she had class.
She lacked foresight, however, and among her many luxuries, failed to pack her poncho. In Patagonia, there are two cardinal rules — you say “buenas” to other travelers on the trail and you never forget your rain gear.
So there I am, drunk and wet. Just kidding, I was sober and the sun was beating down on my tender Irish skin when I shouted “break” for the 11th time in under an hour, the first hour, of what was to be a 5 day, 50ish mile hike through the mountains. Jared stopped 20 yards ahead of me and sat down. I inched my way to him, cursing every cigarette I ever smoked. When I finally arrived, he insisted on taking the wine out of my pack and carrying it, in his hands, for the next 8 miles.
We eventually made it to El Chileno, our first camp, just before sunset. Jared rushed to set up the tent while I prepared our dinner of lentils and rice, pesto flavor tonight. We are a divide and conquer couple, functioning at our best when we have separate tasks to complete. I poured a glass of wine and offered it to Jared, who shook his head. “I think I’m getting sick.” I worked to contain my eye roll because OF COURSE HE WAS SICK. Jared has always, since toddlerhood, been an extremely clean child and has grown into an adult with the immune system of a homeschooled preteen. I used to put pennies in my mouth.
More wine for me, then. So much more wine that I fell asleep without brushing my teeth and woke up in the middle of the night with a bladder too full to ignore. Reluctantly, I ventured into the darkness, fumbling with my flashlight as I wandered toward the outhouses. While I grew up camping in a world where you can just pee in the woods, etiquette on the trail demands the patronizing of facilities where available. So to the spider den I went. Upon hearing a rustle among the silence, I instinctively turned my light toward the noise and saw two steely blue eyes staring at me.
My heart started beating in my chest and the sensation from my bladder dissipated. I knew there was wildlife in these woods, just as I know snakes live in Texas. I still wasn’t expecting to see a wolf on my way to the toilet. In my still-tipsy stupor, instead of doing whatever you are supposed to do in the case of dangerous wildlife encounters, I ran back to the tent and decided my bladder could wait until morning.
That was Day 1.
Day 2 began 45 minutes later as we rose to hike, in the dark — almost vertically, to see the sunrise over the Towers.
Worth it, right? Just kidding, this is from Google images. We hiked for 2 hours in the pitch black to see this view as the world got lighter but the sun never rose.
My sweet partner, in all his joyous glory, would be deterred neither by the cold nor the fog, nor my profligate disregard for luggage space. We were energized and ready for the rest of the hike, which would prove to be a beautiful if painful stripping down of the material self and absolute reliance on one another. Day 2 was the best and the worst day. It was the day I finished the wine.