Five days and four nights of Patagonian trekking and camping in Torres del Paine started a week ago today – and flew by in the blink of an eye, as I knew it would. I’m certainly different now from the girl who stepped into that adventure one week ago, and really, that’s one of many takeaways I love about time in nature. Disconnecting from what has become the hustle and bustle of life allows for infinite genuine connections with ourselves, the people around us and some of the most important parts of this planet we’re so lucky to call home – and Torres del Paine is one special place.
I carried so much on the trail with me throughout those five days. Some anticipated. Some unanticipated. It’s been an emotional adventure, to say the least, and I am grateful in the depths of my soul for every step of the journey. Quite literally. It was amazing to see the expanse of the park on Monday as we drove back to Puerto Natales. The postcard view was something we hadn’t yet seen, and as we drove further from the mountains, we could more or less see all the ground we’d traversed as each mountainous benchmark became visible. Every day. Every kilometer. Every memory. It’s crazy how time flies and, really, how the world can feel so small and ginormous all at once.
Last year, on an early-November night, my mom and I drove down a dark and near-empty U.S. 31 from Traverse City to Frankfort. A few days prior, my grandpa had undergone surgery on his aortic valve. That evening, after a day at the hospital — the surgery was successful and my grandpa was recovering well — my mom, grandma, uncle, aunt and I went out to dinner in Traverse City.
Wanting to spend time with me before I moved south to Argentina in two days, my mom came home for the night instead of staying in Traverse City. With an uninterrupted chunk of time together and country music as our soundtrack, my mom and I talked about a number of things, including my upcoming move to South America.
“I’m really going to miss you, Em,” she said.
Our Overseers Cottage adventure on Table Mountain is by far one of my favorite moments from my month in Cape Town, and as is the case with most adventures, this story doesn’t start with the trek itself. It starts roughly three days before — when I knew nothing of Overseers Cottage.
I wrote the following reflection in early April following a month with Unsettled in Medellín, Colombia. I never published it on my blog nor have I shared it with anyone, until now. I’ve been sitting on this post as I wanted to get it “right.” I wanted to capture exactly what my month with Unsettled meant to and for me.
In hindsight, I realize I’ll likely never get it “right” in that way. A month with Unsettled is something that needs to be experienced to be understood.
That said, rather than keep the reflection that follows to myself, I thought I’d share it here — on the eve of embarking on my second Unsettled experience in Cape Town, South Africa. I think it captures a large part of my motivation for living Unsettled a second time. So cheers to this next adventure, my expanding Unsettled family and many more moments spent embracing the unknown.
When I was in college, my swim coach often told me and my teammates to swim our own race. “You need to swim your race in your own lane,” he’d say. “You need to swim with blinders on.”
Back then, I didn’t understand the significance of those words beyond competitive swimming. I didn’t think of them as being applicable to life in general. But the metaphor is there — and I’m so grateful for it.
In swimming, it’s important to stick to your own race plan and pace. Looking from one lane to the next is an inefficient way to swim and an easy way to lose sight of your race and fall apart. There’s a time and place, usually toward the end of the race, for letting those around you motivate you and your race. There’s also a time and place, typically the majority of the race, for swimming with blinders on. For swimming your race in your lane. Yes, others can push you, but really, your pace and your push should come from within; they should come from you. It’s a strategic balance between swimming your own race and racing those in the lanes surrounding you.
To do that, you’ve got to be clear on your goals and how you’re going to pace your race — and train to be able to swim the race you want and need to swim — to achieve those goals.
This lesson and its relevance to life in general is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
During a recent layover in Atlanta, I walked into an airport restaurant in Terminal F. After I looked over a menu and decided to eat there, the hostess asked me if I wanted to sit at the bar or at a table.
“Table,” I said, wanting some space to relax and write before my overnight flight to Buenos Aires.
As the hostess walked me to a table, she asked me where I was headed.
“Argentina,” I said.
“What are you doing there?”
I think about my sister a lot, but this week, I’ve been thinking about her a lot, a lot. She’s spent the days leading up to her 25th birthday — a time in a young person’s life that’s typically about dreaming big, testing the water and living freely and fearlessly and without abandon — in a hospital bed.
For 4-5 years now, Kathryn has been living with epilepsy. Doctors haven’t found the right prescription to control her seizures through medication, and over several months, she has undergone / is undergoing a series of tests while hospitalized to see if and how surgery might be an option as well. She’s living with a great amount of risk, but it’s not the kind of risk you want or seek out in your 20s — or ever, really.
I think about my sister, and I cannot help but imagine how terrifying it must be to be in her shoes. For so many reasons. For reasons that don’t even cross my mind, reasons I can’t comprehend. I think about my sister and everything she’s facing, and I think about how she’s taking it in stride, how she’s working two jobs, how she doesn’t complain, how she isn’t quick to anger. When it comes to my sister and her health and her life, I think about a lot of things, but more than anything, lately, I think about how brave she is.
Brave. That’s the word I keep coming back to.