The Generosity of Presence

The sunlight danced through the tree canopy as we rode through the open forest; it dappled the hides of the horses and tickled and teased my eyes.

Oh how delicious it felt to know we were going the right way, to have a clear and distinct trail in front and behind us.

Oh how delightful it felt to have a blue sky above, sunshine in our eyes, and to be arriving where we’d actually meant to arrive, and in mid-afternoon no less!

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Winding forest paths dappled with sunshine

It’s a wonderful practice to notice what you naturally gravitate toward when you’ve pared down all of your comforts to the barest of the bare. At this stage all I needed to squeal with delight were three simple things:

  • sunshine,
  • clear skies, and
  • a sense of certainty that we were moving in the right direction.

Up to now Patagonia had whittled away all other necessities (even food, as we grew more and more accustomed to our incredibly small daily rations); and with these three gems of the day I felt like queen of the forest.

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All the necessary gems

As I rocked gently with Picante’s steady pace as he plodded across the soft forest carpet, a sense of curiosity awoke within me and I imagined who exactly it was that we were about to drop in on.

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Woodland magic

This gaucho who lived in these deep and wondrously remote glacial valleys of southern Patagonia, all alone. A man who rode his horses into town only once a year- a minimum 4 day ride (when you know the way- when you don’t know the way, and lose it often as we did, it takes far longer)- to gather supplies that sustained him in his life way “off the grid”. A man who was somehow a crucial puzzle piece to our journey, and the only person who would be able to share with us the way forward- a way forward that was not documented on maps or guide books or on GPS.  A way forward that lived in his mind, in his heart, and in the musical descriptions falling from his tongue of the rocks, the rivers, the forest and the glaciers that would be our guides from there onward.

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Wild Patagonia

As the trail dropped down we arrived at the edge of a deep, fast flowing river. The icy blue water licked my boots as Picante waded belly deep. On the other side we were greeted by several more dogs, Check and Curi Cuyen said their hellos and then trotted on after us to continue their inspection of this lovely little home in the wildest corner of the world.

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La vida del campo

I suddenly felt self conscious as we rode closer to the house- what if he didn’t want visitors? What if we felt like a burden, coming to him with our questions about the route, with our empty bellies, so hungry from weeks of rationing food? What if he didn’t even like company?

He did, after all, willingly choose to live in one of the most remote places in the world, with only his dogs, horses and cows for company…well, dogs, horses, cows and all the rest of Patagonia’s wild wonders.

But still…what if our arrival felt like an intrusion?

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The horses climbed the last hill and as they did we saw a small, thin- yet sturdy- old man striding toward us. His soft, suntanned face broke into a wrinkly smile as he reached up his hand to take Alejandro’s in his; and then he took mine. He looked us in the eyes, held each hand with both of his, and warmly he welcomed us to unsaddle our horses and unload our chiwas (the traditional Patagonia packs loaded on our packhorse).

He pointed us toward the small smokehouse at the top of the hill and told us meat was cooking over the fire, and we must help ourselves to it. He said he had to go off and take care of some things, but when he returned we would sit and drink mate together.

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Arrivals

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so warmly welcomed, so wholeheartedly received by someone who moments before had only been some fictional being; someone pulled from a story who now was wrapping his entire heart around us with his presence and generosity. I felt so received and embraced, and for the first time since we had departed on our journey across Patagonia, I felt a sense of true arrival.

After unsaddling the horses and letting them loose, we raced to the meat and ravenously began slicing pieces off, the juices dripping off our fingers as the soft meat was gobbled up. For the last 7 days we had primarily been living off of instant mashed potatoes and rice- so the meat arrived on our tongues with a sudden level of decadence I could never have imagined. Our dogs also seemed joyous to be eating anything other than rice as they joined us in the feast, finishing off the bits of cow that the other dogs had not yet gotten to.

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Cooking meat in the smokehouse

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A feast for all

Later in the evening Don Rial returned with a few other gauchos who had stopped in to help him brand and castrate a few cattle. Alejandro would join them in this work the following day. In the meantime, we dropped into an easygoing conversation and exchange of story, meat, sopaipillas (a typical chilean dish of dough fried in freshly rendered fat), and shared wonderment of the surrounding beauty as the sun dropped behind the mountains and lit the clouds aglow with pink.

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Fresh sopaipillas

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Asado

Our time with Don Rial was far too short in reality; but those three days were deep in their width, despite the shortness of their length. He was everything that had been spoken of him, and more. When he spoke of this place he lived, of his love of this wild place, it was like listening to a poet read their most divine verses worthy of nobel prizes.

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Dinner is served

When he spoke of being gaucho, and the pride he felt for it, he described it not as being a cowboy-like figure who could handle cattle and horses and work the land, but instead as a human being who honored friendship and kindness above all. To receive others with an open and generous heart, and to be a friend to all- this is what truly made one a gaucho.

When he spoke of friendship, I felt I actually understood the depths of the word in a way I never had before. When he spoke of connection, and the way he could live so far from people, yet still feel so deeply connected with everyone he had ever crossed paths with in his lifetime, he stretched my capacity of understanding there as well. Through and through his words carried the depths of how powerful we can be with our generosity of presence, with our generosity of friendship.

He was, and is, quite simply, a sage.

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A moment with our friend, Don Rial

To be with him for a brief moment in time felt like a gift from the universe. To know him, to call him my friend, this too feels like a gift from the universe.

The details of our time with Don Rial will emerge with time, his personality, his sweetness of life, his quick wit and sense of humor, the gorgeous simplicity of his life and being, his commitment to the place, and to his soul- they are all far too large to fit into this brief glimpse of a blog post.

Yet, I had to invite his presence into all of your lives, in this moment in particular. It is two years ago that we were in his magical presence, in his magical home, deep in the belly of Patagonia.

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Don Rial leading the way

He is 80 years old now, still living all alone in his remote cabin. News from the south has been carried to us that our dear friend has grown much weaker, and he is challenged in his ability to care for himself. Also, that he continues to honor his soul, and wishes to remain on the land that has fed it for so long.

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A soul’s delight

I wish to sit with him again, to drink mate together around a crackling fire as the sun sets, casting glistening pinks and blues across the glaciers that embrace his homestead; to simply be with him in a way that honors a friendship, and his generosity of life. I wish for another chance to meet his endless generosity of presence with my own.

Regardless of wishes coming true or not, I carry forward a new impression of friendship thanks to Don Rial, and a stunning awareness of how essential a gift it is to be so generous with our whole being.

I’m thankful to my life for all of the curious paths it led me down that brought me into the presence of this incredibly bright, vibrant and shimmering light of humanity, this gaucho who lives all alone, in the belly of Patagonia.

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Cultivating Untrammeled Joy

“Joy is a meeting place, of deep intentionality and of self forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formerly seemed outside, but is now neither, but become a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world.”- David Whyte

Untrammeled joy is the best way I can describe how I feel when I’m in the presence of horses.

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Photo: Lindsay Fitzgerald

It’s also how I feel when I get to share their presence with others.

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Photo: María Prieto

“The horses are like a smile, like a contagious smile.” My husband, Ale, once said as we were reflecting on what it’s like to ride our horses out into the community. And it’s true, there is some essential form of presence that they invoke in people, igniting ripples of untrammeled joy that might even be felt against the will of the person feeling it – due to its inexplicability.

This, in our experience, is particularly prevalent with children.

 

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Photo: María Prieto

During our long ride across Patagonia, we were approached constantly by children in the streets- wriggling in their parents arms as we rode by, pointing and squealing “caballito, caballito!” Passing cars would slow down, roll down their windows, and children would thrust their hands out into the open air, hoping to bury outstretched fingers in the fury necks. Often parents would the car pull over on the side of the road, so the children to could come up to the horses and touch them. Smiles spread outwardly and inwardly, and as we rode through town it was as though we left a wake of smiles behind us. Where ever we travel, our horses seem to naturally invoke a presence of openheartedness.

We noticed this, and decided that when we got home, we would nurture that openheartedness in our community, somehow.

When we returned to Pucón after our long ride and suddenly found ourselves to be the owners of seven horses, we felt this deep intentionality to cultivate connection between people in our community and the horses. At the time we didn’t know exactly how we could do it, but there was such a draw to share the abundance we felt by their presence, that we decided to set up a small workshop to introduce some of the children in our community to a few of the horses.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

We didn’t just want to give pony rides though, we wanted to cultivate connection and teach the children how to begin a heart-based conversation with horses. Our idea was that by introducing them to horses through the heart- we could plant a seed of heart connection that could potentially influence how community members interacted with horses, and with one another.

Our neighbor generously offered their round pen to host the workshop and parents supported us as spotters and horse handlers. Instead of charging a set rate for the workshop, we decided to offer it based on a donation of abundance- we encouraged neighbors to offer whatever they felt they had an abundance of in exchange for us hosting the workshop.

The day of the workshop the winter rains paused their downpours and we were gifted with gorgeous sunshine. Once everyone was gathered on the sheepskins that had traveled with us all across Patagonia, I began to describe the journeys that Picante and Pichi had adventured through in order to be here with the children.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

With wide eyes they listened as I described how Picante had crossed freezing cold rivers and treacherous mountain terrain, and how Pichi had walked in the deep sand along the ocean day after day, carrying a surfboard on her back. We were pretty lucky to be in the presence of such incredible horses.

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Photo: Heather Hillier

I then introduced them to a very special, magic way to connect with horses- with our breath and through our hearts.

All of the children closed their eyes, placed their hands on their hearts, and we took several deep breaths through our heart space. We collectively gave thanks to Picante, for his courage that brought him across the mountains and rivers, expressing gratitude for his friendliness and for his bravery in crossing so many bridges to get here. As we breathed through our hearts together, we gave thanks to Pichi for her happy persona, for her tireless energy as she walked through the sand all of those kilometers, for her curiosity and her calm presence.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

In the few moments we breathed gratitude through our hearts, I could visibly see both of the  horses and the children sink deeper into a state of calm.

The children then took turns greeting the horses with a soft breath in their nose and open palms that patiently allowed inspection from curious noses. It was incredibly simple, and yet so stunningly beautiful to witness each child reach out to the horses with a heartfelt connection of appreciation and story.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

The children took turns riding around the round pen, and then thanked their horse for his/her presence with a hug or a stroke on the neck. The air was thick with curiosity, love, attention and appreciation. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for the abundance we were able to share.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

As morning wound into afternoon and the children scurried off to play in the field, we unsaddled the horses, leaving them to graze while the adults gathered for a potluck lunch in the sunshine. The quality of connection, conversation, delicious food and wholehearted presence was palpable. On a small table, all of the abundance offerings were awaiting us- a jar of organic  quinoa, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and cheese, 10,000 pesos and amazing cards of thanks drawn by all of the children.

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The children brought them to me one by one, filling me arms with everything to the point that they were overflowing- then they all hugged me at once and I could not contain the joy emanating from my being.

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Untrammeled joy.

“To feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow our selves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self felt like a thankful death itself, a disappearance, a giving away, overheard in the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness felt suddenly as a strength, a solace and a source, the claiming of our place in the living conversation, the sheer privilege of being in the presence of the ocean, the sense of having danced to the music, in the rain, under the sky or with a well loved, familiar face – I was here and you were here and together we made a world.”- David Whyte

I don’t think I ever imagined I would step into a work that invoked within me such a deep level of joy. Working in partnership with the horses feels like an ever-deepening gift. I was always passionate about the various types of work I’ve done over the years, but the joy I experience when I’m supporting these wholehearted connections between horses and people…it steals my breath a bit. And as I move closer to this becoming my life’s work, I realize more and more how essential it is to ask ourselves, what invokes within me untrammeled joy? What ignites my soul and overwhelms my being with sheer gratitude for my very existence?

Why are those questions not on our college entrance exams? Or listed as essay questions on the SAT? Why aren’t we more diligently nurturing societies that encourage people to cultivate a life that invokes untrammeled joy?

Both Ale and I believe in the innate capacity horses have to awaken, heal and empower the human spirit, and we’ve committed to build an organization that cultivates this connection between people, nature and horses. We wanted to ensure we were honoring the wisdom and wellbeing of our herd. That’s what ultimately inspired us to build a company offering authentic learning journeys that will integrate Equine Facilitated Learning and Coaching, wilderness education, personal development and adventure.

In order to do this work from a place of integrity to take it to a deeper level, I felt I needed a broader foundation of how to support people in their personal development as they experience the healing power and wisdom of horses. As a result, I’ve decided to enroll in a year long apprenticeship program to gain my Equine Facilitated Learning & Coaching Certification. When we said yes to the horses more than a year ago, I knew we were saying yes to something that was bigger than us. I also knew if we wanted to create something bigger than the two of us, we couldn’t do it alone. This certification is just part of the vision we are building, but it’s a big part, and I need support in order to accomplish it.

Just as this workshop that we hosted in our little community was inspired by and initiated from a place of abundance, this wholehearted request for support is wrapped in a spirit of reciprocity, and I wish for folks to give if they can do so from a place of abundance. In the spirit of reciprocity, I’ve set up an Abundance Exchange filled with offerings of stories, photographs, and authentic experiences in exchange for financial support.

You can follow this link to learn more about the vision we are bringing to Chile and to donate, if you are feeling you have the financial abundance to do so.

Horses Empowering Humans

If you feel this work and the vision we hope to bring into the world might resonate with your friends, family or broader networks, please spread the word and share the link (https://www.gofundme.com/horsesempowerhumans) and help cultivate openhearted connections between people, horses and nature- with quite a bit of untrammeled joy along the way.

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Photo: Lindsay Fitzgerald

 

Don’t Doubt the Magic

I looked at Ale as he stared out across the expansive lake.

Not a single person lingered near the dock. We were alone, with our horses and our dogs and all of our belongings, waiting.

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“I don’t think they’re coming,” I said.

“They’re coming, they’re just late- it’s South America.” Ale responded.

There was no one to ask, no one to call; all we could do was wait. So we did.

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Six days earlier we had made the decision that ultimately brought us to this empty dock overlooking this seemingly empty lake. We had approached the cross roads on our way north and Ale called back to me-

“So, what’s it going to be? Puerto Tranquilo or Chile Chico?”

My mind raced. Ever since we’d left Cochrane we had been experiencing dryer and dryer territory, and it was getting more difficult to find quality pasture for the horses to graze. We’d been warned that the route north along the Carretera Austral was very dry and there would be virtually no food for them in the low country; however, we knew this route- we had hitchhiked through Puerto Tranquilo and had a sense of what lay before us thanks to our past experience.

Alternatively, we had the option of following the road west to Chile Chico to the border of Argentina, where we would have to take a ferry across the vast Lago General Carrerra in order to continue north. It would take us four days to traverse the lake on horseback, and there was no guarantee that we could even put the horses on the boat. We had to assume there would be a way to move livestock across the lake- this was Patagonia after all.

It was a fifty-fifty toss up- Chile Chico was a gamble, in that if we arrived and couldn’t put the horses on the boat, our only option would be to turn around and ride the four days back to the Carretera Austral- losing 8 days total. Riding north along the Carretera Austral meant we would likely push longer days in search of pasture and water and have to deal with the constant flow of traffic that we were surprised to find whenever we dropped onto the road (Patagonia in the summer is not nearly as remote as one might think). Road riding is terribly stressful with the dogs; the horses hated it, and so did we.

Ultimately we decided to gamble and veered from our northern heading to spend a few days due west along the quiet, dusty road toward Chile Chico.

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And so, for days we plodded along the border of the magnificent Lago General Carrera.

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We arrived in Chile Chico at dusk on a Friday, and invisible help seemed to appear at every turn as we found a farrier to shoe the horses, land where we could camp and graze the horses and an actual grocery store to resupply our food for the next leg of our journey. We rested the crew, washed and repaired the few clothes we had and enjoyed the first hot shower in nearly two weeks. It was delicious.

Sunday morning I laid out all of our newly purchased food, packed the horse feed and dog food and organized our equipment while Ale hitchhiked into town to get details about the ferry. Around 2:00pm I received a call from him, telling me to urgently pack the chiwas (packs for our horses) and get the horses saddled and ready to go. He didn’t have time to explain and instead simply said we had to get to the dock by 5:00pm that night or we were screwed.

Somewhat bewildered I hung up and began scurrying around, collecting our scattered gear and haphazardly stuffing our sleeping bag back into its dry-sack. The horses stared at me quietly as I fed them the last bale of hay to munch on while I packed frantically.

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Curi Cuyen solemnly staring up at me as I quickly pack up camp. The story behind her cone of shame is forthcoming 😉

When Ale arrived I was just tying off the last Chiwa. He brought the horses over and began grooming and saddling, quickly telling me all that had unfolded.

Apparently, there was a new company running the ferries across the lake- and this company did not allow horses onboard unless they were contained in a truck. Our dogs were required to be transported in crates. These were new rules, and were quite a surprise to us as we’d grown so accustomed to moving across Patagonia without the need of a car or truck- simply carrying all we needed on the horses.

Patagonia is changing though; and as it does, so do its priorities. As more and more companies move into the region to capitalize on the burgeoning tourism industry, they’re quickly cutting away core aspects of the true Patagonian way. One of these is the ease at which you can move across the region on horseback. Gauchos still primarily move through the mountains on horseback, with packs of dogs- this is absolutely commonplace in the southern region of Patagonia. However, the further north we rode, as there were more roads, towns and fences, we saw less and less of it; and felt the direct impact of this ease being taken away.

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In southern Patagonia, it was common for gauchos to ride alongside us with packs of 10-15 dogs. As we traveled north, this became less common

As Ale recapped the story, my logical mind began to race- what would it cost to find a truck? And how much would we then have to pay for ferry tickets? How would we find crates for the dogs? How much would we have to spend on that? And then what would we do with the crates when we reached Puerto Ibañez? We obviously wouldn’t be able to carry around Patagonia strapped to our packhorse…nor would we want to chuck them in the trash.

Just as my mind was having a hay-day of whats and hows, Ale threw me a dash of Magic.

“So then this guy behind me asked if we were the ones he’d seen ride through town with a pilchero” (pilchero this word most often used in Patagonia for the packhorse).

“I said yes, and he told me about a boat that was coming tonight. It’s the boat that’s traditionally been used for locals to transport their animals across the lake- the old way- just walk them on, tie them up and sail. According to this guy, they’re retiring the boat, and tonight is its final run. The guy put in a call and arranged for them to pick us up. They arrive at 5pm.”

I stopped what I was doing and looked at Ale, stunned.

The sequence of events that brought us here, to this place, to this moment in time, to this one in a million chance coincidence of catching a lift on this boat during its final haul…a boat that only moments ago we had no idea existed…it was almost too much for my mind to process.

Every single moment of our lives had to have unfolded in the exact moment in which it did in order for these crazy stars to have aligned. And that fact took my breath away.

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As the nearly full moon rose, we rode to the dock, arriving just shy of the 5pm departure time. Time ticked by, each passing minute brought a fresh wave of doubt that threatened the wonder that had previously overwhelmed me. 5:30pm, and I felt the butterflies in my stomach. My mind raced with all of the reasons the boat was late, followed by all the reasons they may not be coming at all. By 5:45 I had nearly lost all hope; I decided to walk around the block to the grocery store to get a drink. Ale shook his head, saying they would come; I doubted it. I was already planning what we would make for dinner back at the campsite.

As I walked back to the dock from the grocery store, I saw the large silhouette of a boat approaching in the evening light. I broke into a run, coming up to Ale just as it reached the dock. He turned and laughed, calling for me to guess the name of the boat.

What?

Pilchero.

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Pilchero, the very word used to describe our packhorse. Hahahaha. Oh universe, you my friend, have a delicious sense of humor.

Once the boat docked the crew waved us on. We loaded the horses one by one, followed by the dogs. We shook hands with the crew and looked around at the boat; aside from us and the crew, the boat was totally empty.

They had come only for us.

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As the sun set and the boat powered through the crashing waves, we sat with the crew in collective disbelief of how well timed our luck had been. The crew could laughed with us, and they seemed to delight in the fact that the Pilchero’s final haul across the grand Lago General Carrera would carry friends who were upholding the Patagonian tradition of traveling by horse with a pilchero carrying all we needed- just as their previous generations had.

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As we’d experienced so many of the old ways of Patagonia changing during our ride, it felt as though we were riding the coat tail of its previous generations. Our presence, with our horses and dogs, on that boat, felt like a small gift to Patagonia; just as the boat’s very existence, and the generosity and friendship of its crew, was an absolute gift for us. We all felt the reciprocity of the Magic.

Sometimes I need to be reminded that magic can flow into my life in the most unexpected of moments. I think we could all use this reminder. We don’t often leave room in our lives for magic- we want to control the outcomes of our efforts, have everything neatly planned out for success and efficiency. I’m endlessly grateful that we decided to leave our journey across Patagonia so open, to allow for so much magic to flow in, thanks to the lack of concrete plans confining us. We let that journey take us where it wanted, rather than making it fit into a clear cut plan to serve some pre-formed agenda.

Magic has no interest in such plans or agendas. It aims only to delight in our surprise when it wraps itself around us unexpectedly.

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Don’t doubt the magic. It’s real. 

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The Privilege of Sharing Abundance

The sweet scent of the summer meadow grass tickled my nose as the evening twilight settled across the field. The children gathered all around me as I told them stories of our close encounters with bears and hedgehogs. They giggled with glee as I described the adventures of Houdini, my most mischievous hedgehog, and her tendency to roll into a spiky ball and throw herself down the steep flights of stairs- simply for the sake of adventuring into the unknown. My, what life lessons that brave little hedgehog had for us all.

Lila played with a simple braided bracelet I wore on my wrist, telling me she liked all of the colors.

“You know,” I said, “this is a very special bracelet; it was given to me by my friends who are on a grand adventure. They are two women who are walking 20,000 miles across the Americas. They’ve been on the trail for two years and expect it will take them five years to walk from the southern tip of South America to the northern tip of North America!”

The children all stared at me with wide eyes and let out whispers of “wow” as they imagined these wild women who could embark on such a journey.

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I smiled and told them that I was very lucky because recently I had the opportunity to be a Trail Angel for these women. Again, eyes widened and faces lifted in interest and curiosity as a choir of questions spilled out into the cool evening air. The primary question of course being, “What’s a Trail Angel?!”

It was obvious that to the children, this sounded seriously magical; and in that moment, I realized just how magical it actually was.

I leaned in a little closer and did my best to paint a worthy picture of a Trail Angel across their imaginations. I described the way Trail Angels welcome travelers- be they hikers, pilgrims, neighbors, or even random strangers in need- into their home and offer them simple but wonderful things that travelers don’t always have when they’re on the trail or the road; things like freshly ground coffee, nice smelling shampoos and lotions, soft pillows and hot showers; home cooked meals and a warm fire on a cold, rainy day. These things seem small, but they are very meaningful.

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After many years of living on the road or on the trail, it always feels like a gift when I have a cozy home to offer to another.

Trail Angels give without any expectation of receiving money or things in return. We give because we know how simple pleasures can mean the world to someone when they’re in the midst of a long journey. And in some way, we are all on a journey at any point in our lives, so we’ve all been there.

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Living outside on the trail through cold and wet conditions have definitely made Ale and I particularly knowing of how wonderful a roof that doesn’t leak and a warm fire can be.

“It’s a very, very special gift to have the chance to be a Trail Angel,” I told the children.

Lila, who had been quietly sitting on my lap, looked up at me and asked in a voice just above a whisper if she could be a trail angel with me next time; the other children heard her and all chimed in, “yes me too, me too!! I want to be a Trail Angel too!!”

This moment felt special, it felt important, as though I had just extended a lifelong invitation for these children to trust one another. For them to be willing to participate in the journeys of others through simple acts of kindness. In some special way I had just shared with them a little secret of humankind, that it is a privilege to share simple abundance with one another, and that we all have an endless capacity to offer kindness to one another.

My heart just about burst with delight as I smiled broadly and squeezed them all in a big hug, promising that the next time I was lucky enough to be a Trail Angel, I would call on all of them to be Trail Angels too so they could bring their favorite gifts and offerings to the next weary traveler.

They cheered in delight. As should we all.

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Simple little delights that bring smiles and gratitude

I believe it’s in our nature to give to one another, and most people deeply appreciate opportunities to offer kindness without expectation. As soon as we tie an expectation to our giving, as soon as we draw conditions around our willingness to give, our entire world becomes smaller, and so do we. But when we give without expectation, when we are able to acknowledge what a gift it is to have something to give in the first place, that alone will fill us with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, love and compassion. The world in which we can give becomes larger; and so do we.

Personally, when I offer kindness without expectation, I find that I already have an endless well upon which to draw from. When we give from a place of abundance, we are continuously replenishing that abundance by expressing our gratitude for it in the purest form- setting it free again in the world.

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We all have a capacity to share what we feel we have an abundance of

Throughout my life I’ve experienced the powerful beauty of the kindness of strangers time and time again. As a young woman traveling solo around the world, I crossed paths with countless strangers who were always willing to help.

As a thru-hiker walking miles and miles everyday, carving my belongings down to the barest of essentials and opening myself up to a new sense of vulnerability, I was introduced to the true magic of Trail Angels who had sprouted up along the Appalachian Trail so that they could intentionally offer kindness to Thru-Hikers passing through.

Last year when Ale and I headed to Patagonia and spent four months traveling and riding our horses across the region, we were again continuously embraced by the kindness of most whose path we crossed, constantly being invited to share a warm fire, a warm meal or tea, and warmhearted stories and conversation.

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After riding for seven hours straight in freezing cold rain, we stopped at the last smoking chimney in sight to ask if there was a clearing ahead where we could camp. Alexi immediately welcomed us to spend the night in his home, fed our horses hay and even put them inside his barn so that they could dry out as well.

When Fidget and Neon, the two women walking across the Americas, headed through our tiny town in Southern Chile, it was only natural for us to receive them with open gates, open doors and open arms.

We are all, in some way, pilgrims on a journey as we live out our lives. Sometimes we’re traveling in a literal sense, but most of the time, most of us are simply traveling through the expanse of our individual lives. If we pay attention, and we leave the light on, we may be lucky enough to receive a fellow pilgrim and offer them a few simple gifts to make their journey a little more comfortable, their bellies a little more full, and their spirits lifted a little higher.

If we allow ourselves to perceive the beauty in the world, the beauty in one another, we will not only attract this beauty, but with a willing heart we can live the privilege it is to share the abundance of kindness that lives easily within each of us.

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If you’re interested in learning about and/or contributing to the journey of my friends Fidget and Neon, the wild women who are walking the length of the Americas, check out their blog and website at Her Odyssey.

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The Road Ahead

I think we reached the old road today. We won’t know until morning, but it looks as though we have.

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I’m so ready for a hot shower, to send the family a message that all is well, and to eat something, anything, everything- other than rice and potatoes and tuna.

There’s a chance we’ll get there tomorrow, the gauchos said it was an 8 hour ride from the start of the road, but we’ll just have to see. Everything has taken so much longer than they said it would.

I no longer speculate about where I’ll be when, it’s not worth the energy.

I’ll get where I’m going whenever I do. It’s as simple as that.

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The next morning the dawn light tickles my nose, and draws me from our broken tent. The frost has formed a heavy crust atop the rain fly and all of our gear, I pull on every last layer of clothing I have and quietly slip outside into the wild morning. Pink stripes splash across the mountainous horizon as my eyes adjust to the darkness. I check the horses, happily munching away on the abundant pasture, then I hike up to the suspected road.

We’ve followed the wrong path before, countless times before. That was what had taken us so long to do this traverse, the constant process of finding and losing, and finding our way again. Two steps forward, three steps back. It was like this dance with the unknown, where we were given just enough clues to keep moving forward, and yet never entirely confident we were going the right way.

If this was, in fact, the road, then somehow we’d made it across the wild mountains, somehow we’d managed to find our way along the unmarked trail that the pioneers had used so many years ago, somehow our persistence and relentless belief had brought us to the place where we’d intended to arrive.

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Where we’ve arrived, there is no more room for self-doubt. It is, quite simply, no longer an option. Self-doubt has been exposed entirely along this journey, its frivolous carelessness with my energy, its persistent exhaustion of my attention. I’ve cast it away, and in its absence I suddenly have found a deep, resounding earth-entrenched awareness of self-trust. Without a doubt, beyond any rhyme or reason, I believe entirely in the guidance of my gut, my heart, my soul, and in the destination that calls me onward. Even when I cannot entirely grasp that destination, I can feel it grasp me. And I’m overwhelmingly certain that I can manage all that unfolds before me as I continue finding my way toward it.

It’s not a frivolous trust or belief that I’m on the easy road, void of discomfort, where I will not encounter hardship. Quite the opposite- it’s a bold acknowledgement that hardship will embrace me, just as joy and beauty and laughter does, and through it I will be continuously confronted with the simple choice- do I trust, or do I fear. And as long as I remain aware that I have a choice- I can rise above my fear and continue onward.

68 kilometers and two days later we finally arrived in town. Our last evening before societal re-entry, we found a magic place to camp where the mountains jutted out from the horizon and the sound of the rushing river lulled us to sleep as our horses grazed in the evening. The road had been relentlessly hot and dusty and we were exhausted. We pitched a simple tarp, too tired to put up our broken tent, and fell asleep with our heads among the moss and meadow grass.

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Where is it that we begin to answer the calls of self-doubt? When is it that we begin listening to all the noise outside of us, rather than engage in conversation with our inner-selves? What would it look like for us to build communities, businesses, schools and governments that made space for this type of inner-dialogue? These are the questions that visit me now, as I realize how many moments self-doubt stole away from me, and I relish in the fierce strength this embodiment of self-trust brings on.

Somewhere along the way we’re told that there’s a magic formula out there for happiness and success, and if we just abide by the rules set forth by others, we can achieve “it all”. But I call bullshit. The universe has far too great a sense of humor to allow such restrictions of formulas. Self-doubt comes into play like a jester, playing tricks on us and making us feel foolish, but it is just a player among the crowd barraging us with their noise; it does not speak to us from our intuitive core.

We all have a stunning capacity for self-trust; and with the acknowledgement and commitment to this self-trust, we step into a way of living that is incredibly resilient.

It reminds me of something I realized while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail- as my body became more conditioned from the great distances I walked each day, I could climb mountains with greater ease. That’s not to say the muscles in my legs didn’t burn, nor did it mean I could climb a steep mountain without breathing heavily. Even after 2000+ miles of walking, my muscles still burned on an inclined slope, yet my recovery time shortened significantly. The momentary discomfort of the climb never went away, but the length of time that discomfort lingered diminished over time. It was, after all, momentary- temporary, always ebbing and flowing- like everything in life. And I could always, always, continue onward.

I suppose what it all comes back to is settling into a state of wonder and curiosity about the road that lies ahead, even if it’s cloaked in uncertainty. As I take a moment to reflect back on this year, and all the years I’ve lived prior to it, I feel that I’ve been undergoing this vast conditioning to grow comfortable with the fact that I will get where I’m going, whenever I do. That no matter what comes my way, I will always have the choice to trust. And, by choosing to trust, I’m allowing myself to enjoy the hell out of the ride along the way.

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Sunset on the evening before we arrived in town. We’d been rationing our food for nearly three weeks and had been dancing all along the way with the uncertainty if we would ever get out of those mountains. In this photo, we knew exactly where we were, that we’d made it to where we had meant to arrive, and that we would have full bellies in the morning. Even with the destination clear, we relished in the beauty of the crazy view behind us.

The Art of Embracing Uncertainty

My heart delights when I adventure into the unknown.

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Away we go, toward another horizon leading to the unknown

It’s enticing, the sense of adventure and the stories that I will live to tell. The people who will come across my path, inevitably linking me to another part of my journey and perhaps an entirely new chapter of my life.

 As Paulo Coelho says, “What makes life interesting is the unknown. It is the risks that we take every single moment of our day, every single day.”

There is something innate within us that craves this unknown, while also seeking a sense of security and safety. It’s such a dichotomy, such a wild and provocative thing to examine, to wonder at and to learn to dance with.

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We often feel most alive when we step into the unknown

 

I’ve taken up this act of living with a sense of uncertainty, of consciously carrying a level of uncertainty with me as a companion to my soul. For years I adventured with the idea that my ultimate destination was a sense of security…and yet recently I’ve seen this destination fall away entirely and make room for some degree of uncertainty to live comfortably within me.

The mystery of life is the unknown, the uncertainty of it all, and rather than spending time and energy trying to figure it out, I’ve decided to embrace it as a friend and listen to what it has to teach me. I’ve acknowledged that it’s going to be with me all the days of my life anyway, and rather than being afraid of it I may as well delight in its company.

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A mix of courage, heart, and trusting the unknown brought me here

Earlier this year Ale and I rode our horses nearly 1000 kilometers across Patagonia.

Rather than following my initial reflex of thoroughly pre-planning this expedition, I surveyed what it would take for us to cover our essential bases, and otherwise left the journey entirely open to unfold however it wished.

When we began our journey, we’d never been to Patagonia before and we didn’t even have horses. Our friends drove us from our home in Pucón to Puerto Montt and left us with our two dogs on the dock leading to the ferry. We waived goodbye to them, and waived goodbye to the last aspect of our trip that we’d actually planned. From now on we would be dancing entirely with fate- stepping fully into the embrace of uncertainty.

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Embracing uncertainty is not always easy, or comfortable, in fact it rarely is. It brings with it, as can be expected, many unexpected things. Looking back on how our journey unfolded, I can’t help but smile, because in hindsight it really does seem kind of fantastical and even crazy by some accounts. And yet, it happened so fluidly, it was such a wholesome journey, such a grand adventure and such an awe-inspiring experience, I wouldn’t trade the uncertainty we baked into it for anything. And I couldn’t have planned a better adventure in my wildest dreams.

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Deep in the heart of Patagonia

When we stepped off the boat carrying our excessively heavy packs, full of our backcountry gear, horse equipment and dog food, we had no comforts awaiting us. We didn’t even know how we would get to Villa O’Higgins, some 1200+ kilometers to the south. We were certain we’d get there though, and once we did, we were certain we’d find the horses we needed to ride home. Don’t ask me why, all I can tell you is we knew it with all our hearts, even as we began walking south along the Carretera Austral, our thumbs out and our hearts open.

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That first day we walked for miles. And then it began, the rides came. In quick succession we found ourselves with our feet propped up in the back of a pickup truck, the wind blowing our hair back, our puppies tongues hanging out happily and the mountains of Patagonia blowing by. For six days we were carried across Patagonia by the kindness of strangers- catching hitches each morning with ease and making our way steadily across the region.

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When we arrived in Villa O’Higgins it was time to buy our horses. Scratch that, it was time to find our horses. Just as we had been certain we would get to Villa O’Higgins, we were certain we’d find the right horses, but in reality we had no control over making this happen. We were in an incredibly remote part of the world where people use everything they owned- and horses are a vital part of the lifestyle here. Folks weren’t just selling horses off, and before we would find our faithful equine companions we would have to spend time getting to know the families living in the region, and give them the chance to get to know us. When we walked out of town three weeks later with two of our three horses, we had uncertainty to thank for the tears of gratitude and hugs we received from the friends we had made.

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The morning we left our adopted Patagonian family at Los Nires in Villa O’Higgins

We walked out of Villa O’Higgins, our horses and dogs walking beside us. We ventured up into the mountains where we’d been told we could find another horse. Nothing was certain, the horse might not be healthy, he might not be trained, the gaucho who owned him might not want to sell him for what we were willing to pay. The only thing we knew was that we could keep walking if we had to, and if we had to walk all the way to Cochrane with only two horses we would. But we had a feeling our third horse was waiting for us up in the mountains.

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Into the mountains we go

It turned out he was, and he would prove to be our boldest, strongest and bravest horse of all.

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The great Picante, our third horse found deep in the mountains of Patagonia

The first month of our ride we spent traversing the eastern mountain ranges of Patagonia, riding north from Villa O’Higgins to Cochrane following an old unmarked pioneer route. Because the trail was unmarked, it was incredibly challenging to find our way. There was a trail, sometimes, but we would often lose it as it disappeared across lakes or rivers or we would mistaken the tracks of wild horses or herds of cattle and follow them for hours before we knew we were off trail.

I have never, in my entire life, been so uncertain of where exactly I was in the world. I’ve always enjoyed wandering into the unknown, but I’ve also always had a way to find exactly where it was I’d wandered to. This particular section of the trail was incredibly challenging because even though we were never technically lost, we lost our way so many times that we would lose entire days backtracking and route finding. What we expected to take 13 days ended up taking 24 days. We had to ration our food. We had to send reassuring messages to our families using our emergency GPS tracker so that they didn’t call in the army to come find us.

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Following rivers to the glaciers they are born from deep in Patagonia

We found our way though. And we kept finding our way for several more months as we steadily continued north. We ducked and swerved mishaps as needed, we cared for our horses and our dogs, connected with locals and learned to find comfort in the simplest joys that embraced us daily. I felt the elements of Patagonia taking hold of each cell in my body, I felt the songs of the wind begin to live in my ears, the kiss of the rain felt familiar on my skin, I felt the endless pristine beauty of it take hold of my heart and squeeze it ever-so-gently. The constancy of the ever-changing sky and weather became a reliable companion, as did the uncertainty of what each new day would hold.

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Everything about this ride took longer than expected, but brought with it such unexpected beauty and laughter and joy, if anything it made the length of time entirely insignificant when compared to the depth of living we did in that time.

And that, perhaps, is my most favorite thing about carrying uncertainty around with me as a companion. It reminds me of the depth at which I can live my life when I allow a bit of mystery to weave itself into my story.

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We don’t have to always be the heavy handed narrator of our lives- when we let go of the need to see exactly what lies far beyond the horizon of our future, and instead get busy with the moment before us, when we fill our arms and minds and attention with this moment here, the uncertainty of what lies ahead is no longer frightening or overwhelming. Quite contrarily it’s enticingly exciting.

My what wonders have come from adventuring into the unknown…and my what wonders await as we continue toward the next horizon, embracing the uncertainty that adventures along with us.

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A Simple Act of Kindness

Plump, swollen, frustrated tears formed around the edge of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I sat beside the riverbed, the misty rain beginning to chill my bones, feeling utterly defeated as I held our broken water filter in my mosquito-bitten hands. I had been trying to get the pump to work for nearly twenty minutes, all to no avail. I pushed myself up, wiped the mud from my knees and headed back to our campsite.

What had already been a tough day filled with steep elevation gains, constant rain and sadistic mosquitos that could fly in the rain and bite through rain gear, was now made a whole lot worse by the realization that our primary method of water purification was broken; and the nearest road crossing was a 4 day walk from where we were. Crap.

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Yet another very wet day on the Appalachian Trail

Ale and I had been on the Appalachian Trail for 9 days, we were just beginning our 5 month journey walking on foot from Maine all the way to Georgia. Prior to this “little” adventure of ours, neither of us had really done any backpacking; we’d both done a good bit of camping before, but nothing like this. Everyday seemed to hold a new lesson about what it would take to live on the trail.

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Simple lessons learned on the trail: best technique for climbing over fallen trees

I guess you could say the mountains were “testing” us, giving us a run for our money, proving whether or not we had the wear-with-all to walk the entire 2,189 miles to Georgia. Blisters were forming on our feet and I had them appearing ominously on my collar bones, right where my 45lb overloaded backpack sat rubbing heavily. An overloaded backpack filled with everything EXCEPT a back-up water purification method…Crap.

When our water filter stopped working, we were in the middle of a remote  stretch of trail called the 100 Mile Wilderness, which is essentially 100 miles of trail with zero road access; so once you go in, it’s totally up to you to get yourself out. It’s pretty much the worst place on the entire Appalachian Trail to have a critical piece of gear, like a water filter, fail.

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Taking in the vast, expansive section of the 100 Mile Wilderness

Ale and I surveyed our options and decided to boil all of our drinking water for the next few days rather than risk a bought of giardia. We would be cutting it close, but if we took care we should have just enough fuel to get us to Monson, the first town at the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness where our first re-supply box awaited us.

The next two days were brutal. Each morning we pulled ourselves from our warm, dry sleeping bags only to be greeted by cold, damp clothing that never dried in the wet night air. The mountains battered us with steep ascents to cold, windy summits followed by slippery, knee-jarring descents. At the base of the mountains, we were met by swollen, freezing, fast-flowing rivers that had to be crossed carrying our packs overhead, soaking us to the bone. All the while the mosquitos tortured our psyche, swarming our heads and attacking any exposed flesh.

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Ale going “all in” to cross the swollen rivers and find the trail. He came back to carry my pack across, as I was afraid if I slipped it would pull me under and I’d drown

I was jolted awake on the morning of the third day sans-water filter by a terrible dream that ended with us running out of fuel. I looked around the dark and quiet lean-to, reassured that it was just a dream. We were 19 miles from Monson, about 2 days of hiking (at this point we didn’t have our “trail legs” and hiking 11 miles in one day was a pretty big deal). I pulled out our camp stove and fired it up, pouring in water to boil.

Just as the water began to boil I heard the distinct sound of the canister emptying it’s last bit of fuel and *poof* we suddenly had no way of purifying our water or cooking the rest of our food.

Once again Ale and I surveyed our options as we gulped down our half-cooked mac and cheese. After nearly a week of soaking rains the likelihood of finding any wood dry enough to start a fire was low to none. Neither of us had much drinking water left, I had maybe half a canteen and Ale had half his Camelbak. Aside from Nutri-grain bars and trail mix, the only food we had left required cooking for eating. It looked as though we would have to try to push out the last 19 miles in one day with no water.

We left camp with a sense of urgency, climbing up Mount Barren, quickly soaking in the views and moving on. The sky was finally clear and the sun was warm, a nice change from the rain, but not really helping with the thirst. We hiked onward for hours, soon running entirely out of water.

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Taking that very last sip of water

My mouth was parched as we hiked along, sweat beading up on my brow. As we came around a bend in the trail, we saw two hikers ahead of us, walking along the river. They didn’t have any backpacks, and appeared to have just hiked a short distance to check out the trail. Ale ran ahead to ask if they had any water they could spare.

Now- mind you, we are looking pretty worn and torn by now. Neither of us have had a proper shower in 12 days, we smell…simply awful. Our clothes are covered in dirt and sweat. By most accounts we probably looked a little bit crazy, suddenly emerging from the woods. However, none of that seemed to phase Jake and Gram. Without missing a beat they immediately invited us to follow them back to their campsite nearby where they had bottles of water in ice filled coolers.

Ice. Filled. Coolers. I never thought I would looks so forward to hearing those three words. But after two days drinking boiled/hot water and hours of hiking without a sip of anything, this suddenly seemed like a dream.

We followed Jake and Gram back to their campsite where we met their four other friends- Matt, Russ, Loney and Chad. All six of them had been best friends growing up, and even though they had families now and lived all over the country, once a year they had an annual guys weekend out in the woods.

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Ale and the guys

Before we had even finished introductions I had an ice cold bottle of water in one hand and a double stacked cheeseburger in the other. As we guzzled our water and inhaled our cheeseburgers, they peppered us with questions about what on earth we were doing and how we’d ended up in our current situation.  As I finished my burger, without missing a beat, they passed me another and replaced my empty water bottle with a beer.

Not only did the guys maintain a consistent flow of food and beverages along with their questions and endless jokes, but they offered to drop us in Greenville on their way back to civilization that afternoon. I was overwhelmed by their kindness, their unhesitating willingness to help and their genuine openheartedness.

As we jumped in the back of the truck bed and pulled away from the trail, the wind whipped my hair and I closed my eyes, smiling, relishing in the speed at which we could suddenly move. We’d moved so slowly for the past 12 days, to suddenly be cruising at 80MPH down the dirt logging road was exhilarating to say the least. I let out a belly laugh and watched as the forest zipped by with dizzying speed.

As promised, the guys drove us to Greenville where we were finally able to buy water treatment that would hold us over until we fixed our water filter. We offered them money for gas, which they refused, and instead they offered take us all the way to Monson (a good 20 minutes out of their way) so that we could resupply food. Their selfless generosity flowed like a swift moving river, and it lifted us up and carried us onward, momentarily allowing us to lay back and simply rest.

When we reached Monson, they wished us luck on the rest of our crazy adventure, shaking their heads and laughing as they piled back into their pickup trucks to head home to their families. Ale and I shouldered our heavy backpacks and walked toward the nearest hostel where we would sleep in a bed for the first time in nearly two weeks. My feet ached, my muscles ached, my blisters threatened to pop and my bug bites itched- but all I could feel was the lightness of my dancing heart, so thankful for the simple act of kindness from a few random strangers. For the next 2070 or so miles, this lightness would remain with me in many ways, carried forward by the kindness of many more strangers, and would play an essential part of my journey toward Georgia.

Our capacity to be kind to one another is truly remarkable and one of our greatest treasures. We all share this capacity, regardless of race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Throughout our lives, opportunities to offer simple acts of kindness often arise out of nowhere. Our lives intertwine unexpectedly in the most essential of moments. Each time we cross paths with someone, each time we have a conversation or share a random encounter, we have the opportunity to choose kindness. And when we do, we can only imagine how far that simple act of kindness may travel…

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