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.

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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

 

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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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?

 

Beyond the Boundaries of Imagination

My heart beat rapidly as I looked upward and stared at the belly of the massive condor flying directly above us, diving and swooping and soaring up and over the edges of the surrounding peaks of Patagonia. It was a magnificent creature, looking prehistoric. Although I’d seen condors in other parts of Chile, I had never been so close and the sheer size of it was overwhelming, and we were overcome with a distinct sense that this was his territory, we were in his kingdom now.

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As we continued climbing Alejandro snapped photos in quick succession and I kept a wary eye on Curi Cuyen, who I imagined must look like a delicious morsel to the large dinosaur-like birds circling above us. The wind picked up, tugging at the flaps of my hat and drying the sweat forming on my brow. I pulled out my vest as the air cooled the higher we climbed. 360 degree views of jagged snow-covered peaks and numerous hanging glaciers surrounded us. Jewel-toned lakes dotted the valleys below. The blue sky was crisply dotted with fast moving puffy white clouds. A wide smile spread across my face, this place, like this trip, was so beyond my imagination.

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Majestic Patagonia

Our dreams are born from our imagination. They are carefully nurtured within the boundaries of our minds- the have edges and lines, distinct colors and shapes. These boundaries and lines are necessary for the dream to be constructed, they are necessary for us to fully grasp the idea of the dream, and the possibilities it could lead to. However, there comes a time when we must deconstruct the dream, we must erase some of those edges and lines to let the universe in.

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When this dream of riding horses across Patagonia was born, it began very simply- a basic image- us sitting on the backs of our horses, staring at the jagged snowy mountain ranges of Patagonia. The grass of the meadow where we sat reached our knees and was tinted golden in the warm sunlight. A soft breeze blew across the valley, invoking the sound of a million tiny whispers as the grasses bowed in it’s presence. Exactly where we were, or how we would get there was not yet exposed- there was only this image, and this feeling of weightlessness.

When we decided we were actually going to make this happen, we began the process of constructing the boundaries of the dream. How would we pay for it? Where would we buy the horses? What would we do with them after the ride? What would we share about our journey, was there a larger purpose? How would we set our route? Where would we buy the equipment for our horses? How would we travel to southern Patagonia in a very remote region with our dogs?

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We didn’t originally plan to hitchhike the Carretera Austral, but by doing so we opened ourselves entirely to the kindness of strangers- and they showed up without delay

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The unfolding of this adventure has felt a bit like this hike up Volcán Chaitén (our first adventure in Patagonia just before we began hitchhiking south)- stunning moments of beauty awaited each immediate step. And even though we couldn’t see exactly where the path was leading, we knew we were heading in the right direction. 

Our imagination began to construct possible ideas and solutions to answer all of those questions. At the same time we prioritized what questions actually needed immediate answers and what could wait until we were in a more appropriate place to find (or simply receive) the answers. Here and there we erased lines and boundaries, we left questions unanswered and options wide open. In a delicate manner we focused our energy on preparing for anything, rather than preparing for everything.

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One of those “pinch me” moments hiking along the Carretera Austral with our pups

What began as an image of a guy and a girl sitting on the backs of their horses staring at the snowy mountain ranges of Patagonia has evolved into these life experiences that keep defying the boundaries of my imagination. Never in my life have I imagined I would hitchhike 1200 kilometers across Patagonia with our dogs. I couldn’t have written into this script unfolding in my mind the countless characters we’ve encountered already who are continuously connecting us to our next destinations. Heading over to the local radio station in a tiny remote town in southern Patagonia to announce that we wanted to buy three horses and two saddles…nope can’t say I planned that. Nor could I have fathomed I would eat one of the best sandwiches I’ve tasted here in Chile on the porch of this bus as the sun lit up the breathtaking Cerro Castillo for our viewing pleasure.

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Just stopping for a quick bite mid-hitch on the Carretera…no big deal

So here I am- writing this post from the southern tip of the Carretera Austral, in the tiny town of Villa O’Higgins where we’ve set up base camp in search for our horses. We’ve been traveling across Patagonia for nearly a month, and the answers to all those hows and all those questions are still unfolding. We’re not rushing though, we’re not trying to manage this with a forceful hand. If we’ve learned anything down here in Patagonia it’s that everything will unfold in the time that it’s meant to; in the meantime patience and enjoyment of the present moment trumps all. That is, after all, how we managed to get here in the first place.

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Check, Curi and I overlooking Villa O’Higgins, our temporary base camp while we find our horses for the ride north

We’re spending the next two and a half months riding our horses 1800 kilometers across Patagonia. We’re not following a set route or a strict path; rather we’re weaving our way through the backcountry and trails that aren’t marked on maps but are instead held in the minds and hearts of the people and communities who’ve lived throughout this region before any roads existed. Once again, just as we did in order to get to our first destination (Villa O’Higgins), we’re opening ourselves up to the kindness of strangers and intentionally seeking their participation in this journey. We’re leaving edges and lines undrawn so that they can contribute and weave their stories into our own.

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When we finally arrived in Villa O’Higgins and found this statue in the town square, I knew we’d chosen the right place to find our horses and begin this adventure!

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Don’t let your dreams be dreams. 

The last little bit of this dream, kind of a dream within a dream, is tying my work into this adventure. When we left San Francisco, I always had the intention of finding a way to tie together my passion for wild places and outdoor adventure with my passion for sustainability and ethical supply chains. In many ways this dream is still in motion, still in transition from idea to reality, but it’s already begun to evolve and I’ve decided to bring it into this ride in order to give it a path forward. Again it’s a bit like that climb up Volcán Chaitén, I can’t quite see where the trail is leading, but the beauty of the path forward is continuously unfolding with each step I take, and I know I’m heading in the right direction.

When I first began working as a manufacturing manager overseeing production in factories across China, I had no idea where that work would lead me. At that moment in time it was so beyond my imagination that those experiences would ever connect with my other life passions, or even inspire them, and yet here I am, redefining the work I can’t not do.

In addition to sharing stories about our adventures on the trail, I’ll be writing stories about the things we carry with us, and the life that we give these things. Through creative storytelling, I hope to inspire curiosity about product life cycles, invoke reflection on the life we give the things we own, and motivate creative thinking about how the life of these things can continue beyond a landfill. I’ve got some ideas about how I’ll continue this work after the ride, but I’ve erased some lines and boundaries here as well, so that something can evolve that truly exceeds the boundaries of my imagination.

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I would love for you to follow along on our adventures across Patagonia, and my husband and I created a website to document our travels. I’ll continue to post stories of our adventures on this blog, but you can find more stories on our other site that will carry three main themes- adventure (sharing adventure stories as they unfold), simplicity (celebrating the simple things that inspire gratitude) and curiosity (stories of the things we carry with us, the lives they lead and the role they play in our life on the trail). Here’s a link to our website: www.abriendocamino.net – here you can find our blog, photos, profiles, and a bunch of resources to help inspire curious consumerism (check them out here!).

We’ve got a Facebook page where we are sharing great articles on solutions to move toward zero-waste economies and conservation and will also post trail updates, blog posts and photos.

Lastly, this is an adventure through one of the most stunning places in the world. All the photos in this post were shot on our way south- you can see more of this beautiful corner of the world by following our Instagram @abriendo.caminos

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For me, watching this all unfold as it has, it’s a beautiful reminder that we can’t let our dreams live only within the boundaries of our minds, we can’t delay bringing them into our reality until they are “perfect” and all the hows have been answered; instead we must let them grow wings on their own, we must let them evolve in ways that defy the constructs of our reality and instead let the universe influence their growth and development as well. If you have any doubts, let them go; if you need any reassurance that the world is waiting for you to step off the ledge, the world is waiting to celebrate your boldness, believe me it is.

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?