Live to the Point of Tears

Three months ago I was wiggling my fingers and toes as I rocked back and forth in the saddle, willing my body to maintain whatever heat it could generate to keep my extremities from going numb. I pulled my wool hat a bit lower and tugged on the hood of my jacket to keep the cold rain out of my face. I held my reins in my right hand, my thin gloves soaked all the way through, the tips of my fingers poking out of the holes; I tucked my left hand under the saddle pad, feeling the warmth of Picante’s thick coat, still dry beneath his saddle.

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Picante resting as we traverse a deep mountain valley in the middle of Patagonia

It had been raining for three days straight. Our equipment was soaked. Our tent was soaked. The dogs and horses were soaked. Our boots and socks were soaked. Dampness seemed to be creeping into my bones, the days of wet travel through Patagonia were wearing on us.

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Another rainy day of riding

Ale turned in his saddle, calling back to me- “How’re you doing?”

“Freezing, I’ve lost feeling in my toes again, do you mind if we get down and walk for a while?”

Ale nodded and we pulled the horses off to the side of the dirt road. I loosened Picante’s girth, hung his stirrups over his saddle and gave him a hug. He lowered his head, his ears pointed forward and he curiously nuzzled my back. Check and Curi Cuyen ran up behind me, tails wagging, searching for some explanation for our dismount. I gave them both a quick pat before rubbing my hands together and stepping forward to follow Ale and the other horses. The rain continued to fall heavily, and we continued our long journey north.

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Together we walk

After an hour of walking, the blood was sufficiently flowing in our bodies again and the feeling of cold limbs was replaced with the feeling of hungry stomachs. Luckily we found a brief escape from the freezing rain in a small refugio on the side of the road. We let the horses graze in the rain as I quickly pulled out our Jet Boil stove, a cup of instant mashed potatoes, a carton of cooked vegetables and a can of tuna. The dogs curl up beside our backpacks and slept as we cooked.

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A welcome refuge on a cold rainy day

I paced around the refugio, trying to stay warm, grateful for the roof and walls that were momentarily blocking the wind and rain. This place felt like a little paradise after days of riding and walking outside in the elements. The water quickly came to a boil; I combined the ingredients, adding a dash of merken, a pinch of salt and a healthy dose of oregano. We feasted quickly as cars sped by, splashing cold puddles on our feet.

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Happiness is shelter and warm food on a cold day

The warm food disappeared just as quickly as it had cooked, our bodies seemed to be in a constant state of hunger as so much energy was required to simply stay warm. There were no leftovers when it came to meals on the trail.

We loaded the chiwas (packhorse packs) back on Zalig, bridled Aysén and Picante, pulled on our wet backpacks and climbed back into the saddles. The rain had turned into a drizzle and the clouds seemed to dissolve into fog, drifting in between the mountain ridges. Maybe, if we were lucky, it would stop raining by nightfall. Maybe, if we weren’t so lucky, it would rain everyday for the rest of the week. Either way, onward we rode.

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Rain or shine, we travel on.

About a year ago, I was listening to one of my favorite poets giving a talk about the depth at which we must be willing to dive, in order to fully embrace the lives we are given. During his talk, he mentioned the famous quote by Albert Camus- that we must “Live to the point of tears.”

Those words grabbed hold of me in that moment, they captivated me in a manner that made my heart beat a little faster. That was it- those words captured the essence of what I was seeking. Living to the point of tears felt like an invitation to pursue the grand adventures that visit us in our dreams, that give us such stunning experiences while we live them that we could cry with delight and gratitude.

I wrote down in my journal that I wanted to live to the point of tears- that this was my intention as I moved forward with this grand adventure called life, and I believed that my adventure on horseback in Patagonia would allow me to do just that.

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Standing in awe as I look out into the expansive wildness of southern Patagonia

In some ways, that’s exactly what it is. Our ride across Patagonia was an unbelievable dance with the rawest forms of being present that I’ve ever experienced. We witnessed wild places that were so beautiful they did invoke tears. We faced hardships that resulted in tears of frustration and tears of overwhelming gratitude when relief was realized. We met strangers who embraced us as friends, and were overwhelmed by the gratitude that flooded our hearts after they showered us with simple things such as homemade bread, sharing a warm stove together, and giving us their undivided attention.

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Waving farewell to Don Patricio, a deaf gaucho who opened his simple home to us late one evening after we’d ridden for hours into the night in search of water for the horses

Embracing grand adventures that demand a larger experience of living is important- but I’ve found it’s not entirely the essence of this whole “living to the point of tears” business.

What I’ve realized since finishing our ride, and returning to the “day-to-day” post-adventure living, is that the wholesome act of living in the present and acknowledging the simple things that bring us joy, continuously nurtures a deeper appreciation for life in general. When we find gratitude in our moment-to-moment existence, we may find ourselves living with the same fullness that we experience in those “bucket list” pursuits.

The inspiration for this post was a simple moment that happened a few days ago. After dinner, I poured the leftover curry into a recycled pickle jar and strolled over to the refrigerator. As I held the door open, scanning for a spot to stuff the jar, I suddenly felt goosebumps and tears well up. I leaned back, shaking my head with a smile.

My refrigerator is so full, practically overflowing, and it suddenly took my breath away. Fresh vegetables spilled out from the bottom drawer and lower shelves; a chicken sat on the middle shelf defrosting; on the door there were a dozen eggs of varying shapes and sizes, homemade cheese and butter – all bought the day before from the neighbors down the road. We don’t have a huge refrigerator, but as I looked at it’s contents and tried to squeeze in leftovers from our last meal, I was overtaken by a wave of gratitude by the abundance before me.

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Acknowledging the abundance of our community

There I was, staring at a refrigerator full of food, on the verge of tears.

These days I could cry with joy each time I step into a hot shower, or put on a lovely smelling lavender lotion. The waves of gratitude are palpable. Each morning I awake and I look out my front door and see our horses grazing, the joy bubbles up in my heart and I’m again on the verge of tears of gratitude. I notice more moments in the day that delight me- the moment the sunlight dapples the forest with shimmery gold, the hay we have neatly stacked to feed the horses for a month, the way the sun bursts through the clouds on a rainy afternoon, the warmth of the house when I come inside after working outside all day with the horses. I take a moment to simply close my eyes and smile, so thankful for this roof, these walls, and this wood heating our little home as winter settles into the mountains of southern Chile.

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Crisp early winter sunrises with the river and volcano in our backyard

“Live to the point of tears.”

Looking back, I didn’t actually think that living to the point of tears would be so literal. But it actually is. Not to say I’m walking around all day crying (don’t start worrying), but the fierceness of the joy that overwhelms me when I acknowledge this underlying gratitude- for incredibly small things- it brings me just to the point of tears, quite literally.

I do experience a heightened sense of gratitude for hot showers and a warm house on a cold rainy day, for a full refrigerator and left overs after being able to eat to my heart’s content. To be sure, that heightened sense of gratitude is easily invoked thanks to all those cold rainy days we endured riding across Patagonia.

But, what I’m continuing to discover is that living to the point of tears is actually a way of being that we can carry with us through our daily lives. It can elevate us in moments of everyday hardship and uncertainty by allowing a constant celebration and acknowledgement of the small things we can easily be grateful for.

After all, life is not always a grand adventure- and in fact, the small, quiet moments make up much more of our lives than the risky bold adventures do. With each breath we take, with each new day, we have the opportunity to wholeheartedly live to the point of tears.

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Life after the grand adventure continues to invoke incredible moments of gratitude

So, what inspires a deep sense of gratitude in you, one so powerful it may just bring you to the verge of tears, followed by an outburst of joyful laughter?

 

In the Presence of Abundance

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The air is brisk; I can see my breath as I climb the steep slope in the dawn light. The moon sits quietly above the glacier, lingering with the last few stars in an otherwise empty sky. Curi Cuyen trots in front of me, pausing every few steps to look back at me before carrying on her endless search for that unsuspecting bird. I’m tickled with excitement as I climb higher and higher, the vastness of the valley unfolding before me, the mountains and peaks, the glaciers and rivers that had silently hidden behind the thick, cold fog yesterday now sit vibrantly exposed.

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I climb to the top of the rocky slope that sits high above our camp. Curi and I trot along the ridge, all the way to the tip where two large, flat rocks form a nearly perfect chair- setting quite the stage to watch the world wake up. I drop down, sitting cross legged with my camera and journal by my side. Slowly I pull my hat further down to cover my ears, the chill of the morning shadows creeps down my neck. Curi curls up in my lap and I’m immediately warmer thanks to her furry little body.

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I take a moment to sit with my eyes closed, feeling the stillness of the morning. I feel the absence of the wind, the absence of the wet, cold rain, the absence of the pelting sleet.

Generally speaking, Patagonia is not a quiet place- between the ferocious wind and the roaring rivers, there’s almost a constant symphony of powerful sounds weaving their way through these wild places.

But this morning, high up in these mountains, up above the mouths of the rivers, beyond the glaciers from where they are born, tucked in between the tops of the peaks where the wind cannot travel- here I find stillness. And this stillness fills each and every molecule- it is vast and grand, as large as this wild place I look out upon.

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I sit in the shadows of the mountains and watch the slow, sultry entrance of the majestic sun. Even this has a stillness to it. The sunbeams creep forth, constantly in motion and yet seemingly motionless. I turn my head and it has inched its way further while I was looking the other way. I’m reminded that there is always an abundance of light, despite the length of the night, the light always returns. As the first sunbeams reach beyond the highest mountain ridge and the warmth of the morning sun rushes over me, a smile rises with my temperature. Sunshine. Oh how wonderful to feel warm sunshine.

IMG_212525 days.

It has been 25 days since I’ve had a hot shower.

25 days since I’ve had any contact with friends or family via telephone or internet. 25 days sans email or Facebook, sans Instagram likes or BBC news updates.

24 1/2 days since I was certain I knew where we were going and how to get there.

20 days since I relinquished control and discarded expectations of this journey and instead decided to focus only on the demands of my present existence.

19 days since I’ve felt full after a meal, since we’ve been rationing our food, uncertain of how many more days it would take us to emerge from these mountains, how many more days we would spend deep in the belly of this Patagonia wilderness.

And yet here I sit, so full of a simple abundance. So full of this stillness, so full of the abundance of sunshine, the abundance of clean water, the abundance of light, the abundance of fresh air and the abundance of love for my little family of husband, horses and dogs. I’m full of the abundance of strength and resilience that I have found within me. I sit, overwhelmed, as I have been so many times before, by the abundant beauty of this earth that we are blessed to walk upon.

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I climb down from the mountain, down into the valley where the sunshine is now flooding across our campsite, drying the dew on our tent, bathing our horses in its warmth. Ale is walking up to each horse, hugging them, brushing them and checking their hooves. I catch my breath and feel another tickle in my chest. This is our home! This is our life! This is our story!

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I stroll up to our grazing horses, our faithful companions and adventure partners who have carried us across rivers, glaciers, through sheer mountain passes and rocky canyons. I hug each one, thankful for their willingness to carry us through this adventure, their willingness to endure the ferocious winds, the cold hail and rain, to endure our uncertainty and our endless desire to explore and continue onward.

Ale and I pull our damp sleeping bag and soaking wet sheepskins out of the tent and lay them across the rocks. We unpack every single piece of gear- most of it damp from the days of relentless mountain storms- and lay them in the sunshine.

All of these things have our stories wrapped up in them. I love every single thing that I handle, placing them gently in the sunshine so that they too can indulge in the abundance of warmth.

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I peel off my clothing, most of which hasn’t been changed in nearly a week, my skin feeling the cool air and warm sunshine for the first time in a long time. Each piece of clothing is handled with gratitude, as it has kept me warm and dry through the most rugged terrain I’ve ever ventured into. I adore the bright colors of our belongings as they lay strewn across the rocks, the patterns and layers- each item serving a simple but essential purpose. These clothes are our companions, just as our horses and dogs are, and they play a vital part in this story.

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I set up my little kitchen on a semi-flat rock, pulling out our fuel, stove and cookware. I collect water from the glacial stream and set about to cooking breakfast- measuring a cup of dehydrated mashed potatoes. I add what’s left of our salt, a heavy dash of oregano and merken. Even though we’ve been eating this mixture for weeks, it’s somehow incredibly delicious as we dig into breakfast in the abundant sunshine this morning. I put another cup of potatoes aside for lunch and pack up the rest of our food, it isn’t much, but it’s enough.

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I splash in the shallow river that’s gushing from a nearby glacier, gasping at the coldness, laughing at the freshness, smiling from the glee of feeling clean for the first time in weeks. I dry myself in the sunshine, standing naked on top of a cold boulder with my arms outstretched like a bird drying her feathers. The sunshine wraps itself around me and I’m blanketed in its soft warmth. These are seemingly small things- this abundance of water, of sunshine, of time in a beautiful place- but they are so precious, so essential, and inspire overwhelming gratitude in this moment.

As our things and ourselves dry, we slowly begin the process of breaking down camp, repacking all of our belongings, saddling our horses and loading everything onto our packhorse. We take our time, deliberately enjoying the pace of this day. As we put everything away, I feel grounded in a reassurance that we have all we need on this journey- on this adventure through Patagonia but also this adventure through life. It’s a simple moment acknowledging the abundance that we carry with us no matter where we are.

We begin to follow the unmarked path along the stream, uncertainty hovering above us as to whether or not we are on the right trail. Yet we are also accompanied by a confidence that no matter what lies ahead, we have all we need- and we are always in the presence of abundance as long as we take time to acknowledge it.

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The Quiet Urgency of Life

It’s a quiet moment. Dawn.

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We sit on the side of the bridge, the dawn light casts pink hues across the three volcanos on our right. The river rushes swiftly below us. Slowly, silently, several birds float across the sky.

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The wind is cold. My fingers are frozen as I fumble with my camera lens. I pull my hood up and huddle close to the ground, half-knocked down by a flurry of puppy kisses as Curi rushes over to jump in my lap.

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I turn around, the nearly full moon glows brightly at the other end of the river. It’s a stunning morning, with none but one cloud in the entire sky. I zoom in, trying to capture the face of the sleepy moon as she begins to retire for the day.

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The wind picks up, playing with my hair, whirling it around my face.

“It’s happening, here it comes!”

I turn my back on the setting moon, readying to welcome the rising sun. We all face east, looking up the river to the mountain-lined horizon. Warm golden light suddenly races down the mountains, rushing across the volcanos and forests.

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I find myself holding my breath as the rays of the sun pull themselves just above the horizon, casting dramatic beams of light and shadows all at once. My heart beats a little faster with excitement of the beauty I know is about to unfold.

I exhale and the beams stretch forth beyond the curve of the earth.

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Quickly, the sun pulls itself fully above the horizon filling the entire valley with sunbeams. We bathe quietly in the morning light, feeling it’s warmth wrap itself around us, warming our frozen noses.

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And just like that, a new day begins; and with it, it brings opportunity to experience something amazing.

“Somebody ought to tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit every minute of every day. Do it, I say, whatever you want to do, do it now.”- Michael Landon

We come into this world like the rising sun; one moment we’re not here, and the next we are. Our life exists in the course of the day, as we age we climb across the sky, our light extending to all within our reach, slowly we descend until the furthest curve of the earth is reached and once again we disappear. Some of us have lives the last like the long days of summer; others are brief, rising and setting with the winter solstice of the most northern reaches of the planet. The one thing we all share is that we will rise, but we will also set.

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Acknowledging this ignites a quiet urgency of life.

This year I lost four people of sincere significance in my life. Two whom I knew and loved very closely, and two whom I didn’t know so personally, but deeply respected and drew insurmountable inspiration from. All four of them died at a moment those of us left living would describe as “far too soon”; and yet, they all accomplished and created so much beauty in their brief moment in the sky. They all emitted intense beams of light; they all lived with intention and passion. This is how they will be remembered.

“We all act as if we aren’t going to die, or our loved ones aren’t going to die. And how do you act like you are going to die and your loved ones are going to die, without being overwhelmed by it or made smaller by it, but are made larger by it, and more privileged.”- David Whyte

We’re all going to die one day, and yet life will continue anyway. Life will go on. That’s the cycle of life in all aspects of nature. It’s the ultimate duality of existence. The awareness that we will die is uncomfortable, so we distract ourselves from this reality by planning for the future. But the moment we take ourselves out of the present, it is another moment of our precious life lost.

Personally, I struggle with this duality. I struggle with the desire for long term security, for assurances that everything will be okay, for a fail-safe plan just in case my leap into the unknown takes me somewhere frightening.

And yet, it’s that urgency of life that pulls me back; it grounds me in the present. In an odd way it gives me roots and gives me wings all at once. It urges me to wake up at an uncomfortable hour to witness another sunrise- simply because of how that sight will make me feel as the sunbeams break the horizon. The urgency of life keeps me from worrying about being able to afford buying a home “some day”, or stressing out about how to define success in my professional life. It’s the urgency of life that pushes me to break trails, to color outside of the lines, to embrace and celebrate the unconventional. The urgency of life is what inspires me to seek experiences that will take my breath away, experiences that constantly remind me what a gift my life is and that I better not take it for granted because in the end, it’s all I’ve got.

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How are we made larger and more privileged by the acknowledgement that one day we will die, and our loved ones will die? To do this, I believe we must lean into life. We embrace it with love and we honor it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you must climb more mountains, or have more adventures. For me, personally, it does- but that’s because I draw so much joy from these actions. This is why I am building a life where I can fill more moments with these things I know make my heart sing. For you, perhaps it is writing music, or painting, or building homes. Maybe it’s spending more time with your kids or your partner, or exploring new countries.

Whatever it is that you love doing, whatever it is that makes your heart overflow with gratitude- that’s what you lean into. That’s how we make ourselves larger and more privileged by the acknowledgement that one day we will die. We take this day that we have before us and we fill it with life.

We never know where we come into this world- on what latitude and longitude, how much time we’ll have as we move across the sky. All we know is that each new dawn brings with it the prospect of something wonderful happening, it brings with it the opportunity for us to live our lives in a way that expands us beyond the horizon, in a manner that keeps pace with the quiet urgency of life.

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Little Moments Filled With Magic

The phone rang as I drove around the airport parking lot; I picked it up and immediately heard laughter spilling through from the other end. “We’re walking outside,” Ale said.

“Okay, give me thirty seconds. You’re with the guys?”
“You knew?!” Ale laughed even louder and I could hear Eto and Alfredo, two of our best friends, laughing in the background.

It was Ale’s birthday in the coming days, and Alfredo and Eto had flown down to Chile to make some memories with us for the week. Originally they were arriving different days, but thanks to a little tweaking of schedules they managed to organize flights together to arrive with a little surprise. To top it off, our other friend Cristobal was arriving from Santiago the following day, let the adventures begin.

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Los hermanos venezolanos

You know the friends that you just never skip a beat with? The ones who would move mountains if you asked them to, or die trying? These guys fall into that pool for us. We all lived together in San Francisco, and for a brief moment in time, we were able to share the same city and make some amazing memories while living there.

Now we are all scattered across the world, Eto is in California, Alfredo is in Brazil, Cristobal is up in Santiago and of course here we are in a somewhat remote little corner of southern Chile. I miss having these guys show up at my doorstep every Sunday for an arepa feast. I miss hanging with them in the San Francisco parks and having adventures with them in the Sierras. But most of all I miss the random hug and being in the presence of their unconditional love. They are our family, our Venezuelan brothers. So, when they arrived in Chile this past week, it was a gift that went way beyond any “thing” money could buy.

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Camping along the Puesco river valley

The past few days with them have been overflowing with magic little moments. Catching up on each other’s lives while sharing a mate. Strolling the streets of our little volcano town and introducing them to all the friends we have here. Filling our car with laughter as we road trip east to the mountains of the Puesco river valley to celebrate Ale’s birthday at Puescofest. Camping under the nearly full moon at the base of the majestic towers. Introducing them to our ancient forests, lakes and volcanos.

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Magic moment as the moon emerges beside the towers

Yesterday we pulled ourselves from our beds at 5:30am and attempted to ascend Volcan Villarica, the most active volcano in Chile. Since it’s eruption in March, all ascents had been forbidden, but a week ago local guides were cleared to climb again. When our guide Claudio told us the chance of a full summit to the crater was about 50/50 due to the changing weather, my crew was the first to enthusiastically say yes, let’s try anyway. If we turn around, we turn around. We are here, together for this brief moment in time- either way we are making a memory that will last a lifetime.

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The best crew

Blue skies teased us as the morning unfolded, periodically bursting forth from the heavy, fast moving clouds. We climbed single file reaching the first rest spot after about an hour. The clouds cruised across the deep valley, quickly changing in color, shape and size. We waited for a while, to see if our luck might change and the clouds changed course. Our guides eventually decided it was safe to proceed, despite the constantly changing sky; so onward we climbed, up into the clouds.

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Blue skies teasing us as the clouds move along

We climbed into white out conditions, passing la Capilla, carefully securing ice axe handles into the volcano and placing each foot into the footprints made by our lead guide as he broke trail. The silence of the snow and the clouds was broken by the laughter of my Venezuelan husband and brothers as they occasionally broke out in song. We reached the glacier, which was covered with snow, the white sky melting seamlessly into the volcano, making it impossible to differentiate the two. Finally we reached the crest of a very steep ascent, arriving at la Pingüinera. We dropped our packs to rest while Claudio took a call on the radio.

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Deteriorating conditions as we climbed on

He came back and announced we would have to turn around, that we would not be able to continue to the summit due to the unpredictable weather. Our group sat quietly as a cold gust of wind kicked up the snow and we looked out into the white abyss.

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White out conditions and deteriorating weather ended our try for the crater summit

I reached into my backpack and pulled out a bag of arepas I had prepared the night before, meant to be shared on the summit. We passed the bag around to all of the climbers and our guides. Despite the news that we wouldn’t summit I didn’t feel an ounce of disappointment. I laughed with happiness at the surprise and delight of the guides, my friends and the other climbers as they dug into the arepas- so happy to share a little flavor from tropical Venezuela in this cold place and in a moment that some may have felt disappointment.

For me, I was so happy just to be sitting on steep edge of this breathing volcano, atop a snow-covered glacier, eating an arepa with some of my most favorite people in the world. I didn’t care that the view around us blended in with the snow beneath us; I don’t think I could have been happier even if we had bluebird skies and were sitting beside the smoking crater instead. The moment was perfect, full of magic, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

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After we descended the steepest part of the glacier, our guides determined it was safe for us to indulge in a little fun. We stopped at the top of a steep powdery bowl, strapped on a plastic sled that fit on the belt of our pants, and one-by-one we dropped into the powder bowl zipping down the mountain like little passenger cars on a train. As we zoomed by one another our booming laughter filled the air.

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Having our house full of people that I love, it’s nearly impossible to describe how wonderful it is after spending the last year and a half on the road and in a state of constant motion. As always, the distance traveled to be together is simply minutes that melt into miles, and miles that melt into smiles. These moments, the little moments filled with magic, they are the essence of being present. They are the ultimate gift. They are the glacier that feeds this overflowing river of gratitude flowing from my heart, coursing through my veins.

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This Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day of gratitude. In this moment I have more to be grateful for than I have time to tell. For starters, I am grateful that I woke up to a house full of people that I love. I give thanks for the hugs I received as my friends made their way downstairs for breakfast. I give thanks for the kiss that my husband gave me just before he and the guys left for a mountain bike adventure this afternoon. I am thankful for the food in my kitchen and the wood in our stove. I give thanks for every single little magic moment that has been full of laughter and love the past few days, and throughout my entire life.

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What little moments of magic have you experienced today? What little moments ignite a flutter in your heart and inspire a smile to spread widely across your face?

 

The Work You Can’t Not Do

My legs were on fire, the muscles burning with exhaustion from the effort to overcome gravity and continue up the steep slope through the knee-deep snow. The sun shone warmly, reflecting bright rays back up from the white, untouched snow. The bright blue sky was a welcome surprise, having begun the day under heavy cloud cover and the prospect of rain. The air was brisk with the slightest hint of warmth, a whisper of the coming spring. My heart felt fit to burst, but not from the exercise, it was pumping wildly from the ear-to-ear smile across my face, overflowing with gratitude and joy for this moment, in this place, and every single moment before it that brought me here. Gratitude for the feeling of full participation in my own life.

Taking a moment to catch my breath and embrace all the beauty around me

Taking a moment to catch my breath and embrace all the beauty around me

A year ago I let go of a lot of things I loved in order to make space for the things that truly brought me joy in life. I left a company filled with wonderful people, and work that was fulfilling and meaningful. I also left a daily commute through the bustling city streets of San Francisco and the required daily onslaught of emails and hours in front of a computer in the confines of an office building. I left a comfortable little rent-controlled one-bedroom in Noe Valley with a hot tub and a lemon tree. I also left the “need” for a bigger home and more things to fill it with. I left beloved wild places all around the USA that I could have spent a lifetime exploring. I also left the limitation of the brief two-day weekend window in which I was allowed to explore them.

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My last year in San Francisco I tried to find balance between city life and my love of the outdoors, but ultimately the desire to be outdoors outweighed all else

As I take a break in the middle of this mountain in Southern Chile, on a Tuesday, my snowboard strapped to my back, my chest heaving, the sunshine drawing sweat from my brow- that joy and gratitude threatening to burst forth from my heart is inspired by that decision to choose a different path for my life. It is a brief moment taken to celebrate the delicacy of life, to acknowledge the preciousness of it, and to be thankful for the courage to step onto the unmarked path and break trail on my own.

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Literally breaking trail in the Chilean mountains behind my home in Southern Chile

Recently I received news that a beautiful soul had lost his life while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. To say the least, Scott Dinsmore was a beacon of light in this world. In his very brief time on this planet, he directly impacted hundreds of thousands of people, inspiring them to let go of the things in their life that aren’t working to pursue what they are passionate about. With all of his interactions- in person, over email, or in his writing/recordings online, he emitted an energy that was both inspiring and challenging, that embraced you while also pushing you. And he could achieve this without even really knowing you. He built a global community, Live Your Legend, that existed with the sole purpose of positively encouraging one another to pursue our dreams and build a meaningful life. With the news of his death, this community came together and thousands of people have expressed how Scott changed their lives, many of whom he never even met.

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The last Instagram photo that Scott posted before going offline to climb Mount Kilimanjaro

This, is a life well lived. Regardless of its length, the depth of his life is simply incredible.

In his last blog post he wrote about the decision to book this trip to Mount Kilimanjaro. He talks about how it almost didn’t happen because of fear, and how it would have been a tragedy if he had not decided to go for it:

“I almost decided not to book this Tanzania trip because I didn’t think I could (or should) step away. How ridiculous is that? To pass up an adventure I’ve talked about for years – because I’d convinced myself I couldn’t disconnect. Or more truthfully, because I couldn’t find the courage to do it.

That would have been a tragedy.”

The gut reaction when reading these words is that it was a tragedy for him to have gone for it, because by doing so he lost his life. But that is the kicker of it all- it is not a tragedy for him, it is a tragedy for those of us who feel the pain of his loss. For him, it is a grand success. It is the essence of the life that he decided to live. Mount Kilimanjaro was the whole point of the journey up to that moment, and had he not pursued it, then it would have been him who experienced the tragedy of a dream unfollowed. Scott didn’t die just doing something that he loved, he died having lived a life that he truly loved, one he celebrated often, and as a result one that will continue to inspire love, risk and a tireless addiction to life in countless other people around this world.

We should all be so bold. We should all be so courageous to consider pursuing a life that threatens to explode our hearts with gratitude because it is simply So. Damn. Beautiful. How different would this world look if we did? That is what Scott was trying to accomplish, and he certainly initiated the ripples necessary to bring about waves of positive change.

For me, this year has been all about embracing this boldness. I’ve taken time to redefine the work that I do, and take it beyond the confines of the corporate definition. And I’ve committed to spending more time in wild places, which brings me the purest form of joy and inspiration. Although I have a much less “public” life than Scott, and I am still exploring the delicate vulnerability of using my voice in a public manner, his boldness with his own vulnerability is a constant source of inspiration for me as I embark on new adventures in a public space. I know that I met Scott for a reason and that I too have an opportunity to inspire others by encouraging a tireless addiction to life by choosing to live deeply myself.

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Take a moment to jump for joy when you feel as though your heart may explode with gratitude. Laugh, run, turn your face toward the sun and jump.

In January 2016, I am planning to ride my horse, self-supported, along the length of the Chilean Patagonia. The estimated distance will be 1200KM (around 745 miles) of the Carretera Austral, although we’ll likely be venturing off trail quite a bit as I connect with local ranches en route. I am estimating that the ride will take two months, and it will take us through some of the most pristine and wild places I have ever experienced. The purpose of my ride is to celebrate simplicity while inspiring curiosity. I will be focusing on the necessity to travel light (and as a result reduce our general consumption and the negative impact on the planet) and celebrate the simplicity of life on the trail.

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Getting ready to take to the mountains of Patagonia on horseback!

I will also be weaving my passion for sustainable supply chains and corporate social responsibility into my ride. Rather than asking companies to sponsor me with new gear, I’ll be connecting with a handful of the companies who made the things already I own, and asking them to sponsor transparency in their supply chain by helping me tell the story of where my things come from. It’s a little like “Worn Wear” meets “Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt”– I plan to weave the stories of the raw materials, the factory production, the transcontinental shipping, all of these “life-stories” of my things, into the stories of our adventures in the harsh and wild conditions of Patagonia. My intent in doing this is to tell beautiful stories that invoke curiosity about product life cycles, inspire reflection on the life we give the things we own, and motivate action that encourages greater transparency in supply chains globally.

Something that Scott said during his TedEx talk several years ago was “What is the work you can’t not do?”- and these words are on repeat now as I wrap my head around the logistics, the costs, and the raw reality of embracing this adventure. This ride will challenge me physically, mentally and emotionally, but it will also challenge me to use my voice in a way that is meaningful- to lead a revolution beyond just conscious consumerism toward curious consumerism, and to bring environmental impact to the forefront of all business and personal consumption decisions. This is the work I can’t not do.

So with that, I am putting this out there in an effort to open every door possible and see the “hows” unfold. All the pieces of this expedition puzzle are not yet in place, but Scott also said you should take “imperfect action”- even if you aren’t 100% ready- so here I go. I ask that if you are interested in contributing to this adventure and revolution in any way, feel free to reach out to me here – I am always looking for thought partners! You can also follow along with updates on the expedition as it evolves here.

Finally, if you want to join me in my efforts to build a community of Curious Consumers, watch this space, I will soon be creating a place where you can join me in taking the Pledge.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is one simple question, the question that Scott asked himself when he left the work he didn’t love and began his pursuit to build Live Your Legend; the question that has become an affirmation for me as I attempt to take on one of the most challenging experiences and works of my life; and the question that could change your life if you give it some real thought:

What is the work you can’t not do?

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Welcome Home

Home

My many “homes” in the last 18 months- San Francisco apartments, tiny tents, two person+1 dog hammocks, and Pucon properties owned by others (just to name a few)

The customs agent looked down at my passport, turning the pages until he reached the last one. After a year of constant travel and daily border crossings from Hong Kong to China, I had effectively filled my entire passport with stamps and needed to add pages while I was in the States for the next three weeks. I looked up at him, somewhat disheveled from the 13 hour flight and the jet lag that was my constant travel companion. He smiled at me, stamped my passport and handed it back to me.

“Welcome home.”

Home. There have been a few chapters in my life where the concept of home seemed to be an elusive idea, playing hide and seek with me as I bounced around the world living out of a backpack or a suitcase. Chapters spent literally flying around the world every three weeks, living in hotels, airports and temporary bases- finding homes wherever I happened to be. Chapters spent climbing mountains and crossing rivers for five months, living out of a backpack, carrying my home on my back. Chapters spent in that in-between travel mode that was a mix of couch surfing, country-hopping, friend and family visits and constant movement for weeks on end. And chapters like this last year, spent living on the road, on the trails, and care-taking the homes of others here in Chile. It has been a chapter where home was not a destination, but instead a creative venture- one of pure flexibility and freedom, and one that constantly challenged the traditional idea of the word.

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Finding myself at home in the air, on the road, or on the trail!

Personally, I don’t consider myself a nomad, even though I probably travel more than the average person. I have never thought of myself as one of those people who can constantly be on the road and on the go. I like home-making sometimes. I LOVE to cook, and I love to host and celebrate friends and family in our home. I love to have the things that give me comfort available. And I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys cleaning and organizing, so I adore those cold rainy days that motivate me to sweep up the house, light some candles and pick some fresh rain-soaked flowers for the kitchen- ideally from my own garden. I love sharing in the abundance that having a home allows.

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Cooking in my house kitchen and cooking in my road/trail kitchen- I’m happy as long as I’m cooking 🙂

On the other side of the coin, there is an invigorating freedom that comes with releasing yourself from the responsibility of home and taking to the “road” (or sky, or trail) and living light for a while. I equate this way of life to something that one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, discusses when he talks about how essential it is to “go hungry” at least once a day, to say no to everything that is not a yes, so that when you finally dig in, when you finally say yes, it is such an incredible experience you are overwhelmed with gratitude for it. Regardless of its simplicity or complexity, the experience is, in and of itself, a reminder of what it is to live.

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Backyards with sweeping city views are sweet, but so is having remote tiny towns or endless wilderness out the back door (or tent door).

There are two key things I always look forward to when giving up my home to explore and adventure into the unknown.

First- the discomfort that comes when you let go of the comforts of your home. It is in this space of discomfort that I experience so much growth, it is here that I face my fears so fiercely, as if my life depends on it, becomes it often does. Letting go of the trappings of your home makes you seriously appreciate the bare necessity. To this day, I cannot tell you how deeply I appreciate every single time I stand in a shower and feel hot water come out of the faucet. Before I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, where I had to endure cold splash baths in icy ponds and otherwise go without showering for a whole week at a time, I never gave that hot water a second thought. Now, even seven years after my hike, the appreciation for this simple thing is still so intense.

When I start to crave this discomfort, that is usually when I realize it is time for a shift, it is time to let go of something in order to make space for something else. And often I need to let go of something big, in order to allow for something bigger to arrive.

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The comforts of home can take many shapes and forms

Second- the physical act of letting go of what I do not need in order to be comfortably mobile for any extended period of time. I like to refer to it as “living lean”. You cut away the excess, you purge your closets and your cabinets, minimize your belongings to the bare essentials and the things you love so deeply you would run into a burning building to save them. The rest you let go of. And afterward, you actually feel physically lighter. It’s like this invisible weight that you were never aware of is taken away- and it feels amazing.

As thru-hikers, we called this “pairing down”- and it was an essential lesson during our hike. When we first started, Ale and my packs were so incredibly heavy. We quickly learned the lighter your pack, the less physical pain and suffering. It’s funny how this lesson can be applied to the way we choose to fill our homes with “stuff” we may not need or have the money to pay for- the less of that we have, the less credit card debt we have, and therefore the less stress (i.e. pain and suffering) we have to manage. There is a higher level of consciousness of the physical things we consume, and with that comes a confrontation of why we consume them, and if we really need to in the first place.

Pairing Down

Ale and I cut the weight of our packs in half while thru-hiking. The photo top left is Ale’s pack at the start of the trail, the one on the right top is midway through after serious pairing down. We also paired down heavily when we moved to Chile. The Uhaul on the left was filled with all of our belongings when we moved to San Francisco 6 years ago. The photo on the right, is us driving our 1998 Subaru Forester here in Chile, with all of our belongings packed in the back (we moved to Chile with 6 bags total).

I am not suggesting that everyone out there must abandon their home, sell their belongings and hit the road in order to really appreciate life. That isn’t the point. The point, is that there is humility, beauty and strength awaiting us all when we actively participate in some form of letting go of what makes us comfortable in order to embrace what makes us uncomfortable. Whether that is choosing to do one thing each day that scares you, making more space in your home by giving away or selling the things you no longer need or love, or simply giving yourself time away from the clutter of your daily existence.

Today, I write this post from my kitchen table. After 18 months on the road, having roughly 27 different places that could be described as “temporary homes” in six different countries, we once again have a home in the traditional sense. On this day one year ago, Ale and I got on a plane and flew to Chile with hearts and minds wide open, and the idea of home a distant intention. The focus at that moment was embracing the discomfort and pairing down to travel with ease.

Mission accomplished. Our focus and intentions shift as we once again retreat to the comforts and responsibilities of this home. Although I don’t have any intention to start filling this place with more stuff, it sure feels good to take all of my belongings out of their weary and worn packs and finally have a place of belonging. It feels good to have a consistent space for creative ritual, to have a place to do yoga each morning that overlooks the mountains and trees filled with hummingbirds. I am filled with gratitude to retreat to a mattress each night after a tough day of climbing mountains, instead of my thin Thermarest. Oh, and how I adore having a kitchen again, where I can cook up lovely things to share with my husband and visitors. Best of all, we have space to host friends and family comfortably, something I longed for while living in our tiny one bedroom in SF, and couldn’t even imagine as we lived on the road these past 18 months.

The culmination of all our experiences here, all our travels, and now having a place of our own once again, all of it has been instrumental in building this feeling of home here in Chile. And it feels good to be home.

Road Home

So, on that note, who’s coming to visit?

She Thought She Could, So She Did

I dropped down to my knees, slowly rocking backward so that I could finally sit and take the weight off my aching legs. The hot water of the shower washed away the week’s worth of dirt that had gathered with every mile covered. My mind was blank, the throbbing feeling in my legs encompassing all thought. I looked at my legs, these strong, powerful legs that had carried me more than a thousand miles to reach the point where I now sat. I appreciated the hell out of these legs, the freedom they gave me, the journey they allowed me to partake in. A quiet smile spread across my face in the poorly lit shower, as I sat on the floor and thought about this day that was coming to a close, the epic task that I had decided to tackle, and how far I had come since the day I first stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail.

90 days. Exactly 90 days prior, three months in total, Ale and I had climbed Mount Katahdin in Maine on our first day as Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. That climb kicked our asses. We were both so exhausted after the ten mile ascent and descent that we fell asleep in our tent after a light feast of fruit snacks, too tired to even fathom the energy to cook dinner.

The next morning we awoke to aching bodies and heavy packs. We struggled to walk a total of eight miles that second day. The first week it felt as though we were moving at the pace of inch worms, and an entire day of exhaustive effort that took everything we had, hardly seemed to make a dent in the 2,180 miles in front of us. Our emotions were taxed, our bodies exhausted, our minds gasping for a productive way to pass the time when all we had to fill it was walking. The thought of reaching Springer Mountain in Georgia, the terminus of the trail, just seemed so impossibly far away.

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The early days on the trail when 10 miles in one day was no easy feat.

Flash forward to this moment, this night that I am smiling to myself sitting on a shower floor of some random hostel in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. This day I was reflecting on began early, before the sun broke the horizon.

My alarm went off abruptly at 4:00am. I sat up in the hammock immediately, my heart jumping into my throat with anticipation for the day. I heard rustling from the other hammocks as the rest of our crew began to pull themselves from sleep. I clicked on my headlamp, nudged Mango (the trail name Ale went by as a thru-hiker), telling him it was time, and dropped my legs over the side of our hammock. Everyone got ready quietly, packing up camp quickly. My pack felt so light in comparison to most days. In preparation we had all rationed our food so that we would only had enough to get through the next 16 hours- a meager effort to save ourselves from having to carry more weight than we absolutely needed.

What were we about to attempt? On the trail, it’s a little thing called the Four State Challenge where you hike across the borders of four sates- crossing from Pennsylvania, through the entire state of Maryland and West Virginia, and end in Virginia- all in one day, covering a total of 42.9 miles.

We began in the dark with a swift pace, headlights bobbing along the forest path, the dead leaves, dry from the summer draught, crunched beneath our feet as we cruised along silently. After five miles, we took a break to drink water and eat a power bar. The day before, we had all decided it would be best to manage our energy this way, hiking hard in five mile increments, then breaking for 20 minutes to replenish energy. We maintained this technique for the entire day, and I think it was essential for us to actually pull it off. The trail took us through towns, through developed parks, though nature preserves and wild woods.

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Taking a moment to rest and enjoy the sunshine during our Four State Challenge

The sun shone strong, the sky was blue and the breeze was light. It was a beautiful day. All along the way we passed shelters that looked enticing with valley views and campfire pits, but pushed on anyway. As the evening rolled in, the air turned cooler, and I felt as though we were literally walking into fall when we reached West Virginia. A grey fog rolled in and the wind picked up. We pushed onward, the miles melting beneath our strong legs and wild hearts.

After about 14 hours of hiking at the strong pace, I could feel the exhaustion of my muscles settling in. Keeping the Cliff Bars down at that point was a struggle as I began to battle nausea. The weight of my pack pulled heavily on my shoulders and hips. My feet ached as though they were weighed down by bags of sand tied to my ankles. Every incline felt like a steep mountain, regardless of the pitch.

We hiked the last few miles under cover of darkness, just has we had begun. My mind raced wildly as I stumbled along, ticking off the remaining miles- it took more mental effort than I had imagined it would. Cubby and Spoon had hiked ahead, keeping a faster pace than us; but Mango, Santana and I took our last twenty minute break together. We swapped coping advice, shared in the collective exhaustion we felt- but we also shared in quiet celebration of how far we had come, and how little we had left in front of us.

42.9 miles, in 16 hours and 37 minutes. After 90 days of walking, we were able to walk 42.9 miles in 16 1/2 hours. Only 90 days prior, it had taken us 12 hours to walk 10 miles. The accomplishment I felt was stunning. I was overwhelmed by my own strength, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. I hadn’t even realized how far I had come, figuratively speaking, until that moment in Harper’s Ferry.

Just as I had 90 days earlier, I fell asleep that night without being able to muster the strength to cook dinner. I awoke with a smile, and a greater understanding of what I was actually able to accomplish, what I could do, if I just decided to do it. And even as I hobbled on sore legs, the rain pouring down on us as we made our way to breakfast, I had never felt so strong, or smiled so wide.

Last week I published my website- and in doing so I finally managed to bring together several of my life passions and establish, publicly, the intention of the work that I do. The journey that I’ve taken to get here was filled with plenty of ups and downs, there were calculated breaks and regenerative moments, plenty of moments of uncertainty where I questioned if I could actually do this, but as I hit publish, as I began to share it, I suddenly was overwhelmed again with the realization of how strong I am- of what I can do if I just decide to do it.

With that, I wish you a most beautiful day. Take some time and acknowledge a moment in your life when you surprised yourself with your own ability, with your power and your strength. Love that moment, hold it close, celebrate it, share it to inspire others. Who knows what unbelievable beauty will unfold as a result of you.

Oh- and if you are curious, you can check out what I do when I’m not posting here at my new website- www.gretamatos.com

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Constantly seeking new challenges that will take me places beyond my own imagination