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Hikers stomp.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.

While hiking non-stop these past four days, I’ve realized there is a distinct rhythm to a wilderness walk. The first thing I noticed was my feet: Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch… Then comes the hiking poles on every other crunch. Add in the chirp of a bird, every few minutes and the whistle of a marmot… And it seems like I’m playing a game of stomp with nature. Today, on our last leg of the hike, my pack added in the clunk, clank of my cooking set to the mix every time my pack swayed from left to right.

It’s amazing how this rhythm keeps one motivated to keep chugging along on the trail. Today, however, my little stomp game with nature was not enough. I caved in and decided I’d let my iPod give me its own motivating beat to keep me hauling up the mountain. It worked! I’m now at the top of Cottonwood pass with a four mike decent to our trucks, and an hour’s drive to our hotel and food in Bishop!

I feel bad that I caved in and used technology to aid my wobbly knees and blistered feet up the mountain. But hey, I would be fooling myself to think that I wasn’t only a few miles away from civilization anyway. This blog posted at 11,160 feet proves that point quite well. 🙂

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Its 8:00 in the morning, the sun is warming my shoulders enough that the fact that it’s only 40 degrees out doesn’t bother me. Im sitting on a chilly rock next to a small river, watching about six beautiful golden trout fight the current. Big Whitney Meadow, where we have been camping the past 3 nights, is utterly breathtaking. Every morning Ive come to this spot on the river to wash my feet and enjoy the warm sun in solitude. This serene scene has me longing to stay here a few more days.

I didn’t feel like staying here the first night we arrived. After the most grueling workout I’ve ever experienced (walking 8 miles, up 1300 feet, with a 30+ pound backpack), I was physically and mentally spent. It took every ounce of energy to set up my tent. I only wanted to be back in the comfort of my own bed. After forcing myself to eat dinner, I slipped into my sleeping bag wondering what I had got myself into. I’ve been dreaming about doing a trip like this for years, yet that night I wondered if I could ever enjoy backpacking, or even this particular trip.

That next morning it was this river that revived me. Washing my worn feet with freezing river water, filtering and drinking water straight from it’s source, feeling the soothing hand of the sun on my back. Somehow these things gave me strength for the next days wilderness workout.

It’s the last day in Big Whitney Meadow and somehow I have survived. Surprisingly, I’m not as afraid of the ascent of Cottonwood Pass, though I’m not necessarily looking forward to it. I’m certainly looking forward to a warm bed, a loooooong overdue shower, and real food, but this first leg of our journey has been well worth the effort.

I was just about to sit down to write this post. Sitting in the truck, I could see that Adam was trying to get my attention. “A chipmunk!” I smiled and said, “Yeah, they’re cute aren’t they? I saw one earlier.” Then he says, “He’s eating your hot chocolate!”

This is, of course, typical. I’d imagine I’ll have many more encounters with these furry friends throughout the week. Last night I also realized I will also have many nights of interrupted sleep. While tonight was the perfect temperature for sleeping in a tent, my sleeping pad rustles as loud as those new earth friendly Sun Chips. No Joke! It’s comfortable and insulates well, so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. 🙂

Today we are headed on our first hike of the trip. We are headed up through Cottonwood pass and will be camping in Big Whitney Meadows for a few days. This morning we all packed our bags up and tried not to complain about the weight. Some of my fears about this hike have been overtaken by excitement… and the fact that my pack somehow ended up as the smallest in the group. I’m praying my knees hold up!

Well, time to go. We are all about to gorge on breakfast before the trip!

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Courtesy of Subway, here is a First look at the Sierra! Don’t have time to write, but wanted to give you a taste of my first day! (The photos are totally out of order, oh well.) Tomorrow we are heading to the backcountry, so possibly no posts for a few days.

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El Sur

A few photos from our trip down south.

Nacho

Nacho is an adorable little Chilean boy – huge brown eyes and a smile that can melt a cold heart in a second. He is – however – driving Joy and I completely nuts. This sweet-faced boy just spilled a bottle of bubbles on Joy’s lap and, now that she doesn’t want to play with him anymore, he is screaming at her. Nacho has spent the past 24 hours gnawing away at our resolve to not scream back him and offend our Chilean hosts… I’m afraid he doesn’t have much longer to go before we snap. As a precautionary measure, I’ve locked myself in my room.

Aye, aye, aye… somebody help me, please!

In these moments it’s hard not to judge. Back home it’s rude to let your kids “run wild”. The most praised parents in America are those who keep their kids “under control”… kids who don’t bother strangers and say “may I please” when they’re asking for something. Staying culturally objective when you’re about to go postal is not an easy task.

But alas, this is a natural, everyday part of partaking in a culture that is not your own. As open-minded as I would like to think I am, I still suffer from an ethnocentric viewpoint. (As we all do!) The fact that parts of this culture are getting on my nerves is actually a good thing. It means I’m growing and changing. The more I expose myself to this massive world of opposing viewpoints and perspectives, the better I am able to calibrate my own biased view to be a more accurate depiction of what the world is actually like and why it functions the way that it does. If I allow it to, this momentary frustration will turn into increased understanding.

Taking this time to process through my frustration I realize that Chileans have so much to teach us about valuing family. Children are embraced as an integral part of everything the family does. As far as I’ve observed, Chileans have a much better tolerance for kids and are rarely bothered to have them around. I really hope that I am able to integrate the inclusive-ness of the Chilean perspective into my own way of life when I get back home.

Hmmm… I guess its time to let myself out of the room now.

(A “media agua”, or temporary shelter, in our Chillan neighborhood.)

The other day Joy and I were walking through the neighborhood and observing the situation of those whose houses were destroyed in the earthquake. The new “houses” have been constructed to shelter these families from the weather, but are built with little more than plywood. On our block alone five families are living in “media aguas” and countless others have a temporary wall or roof made of corrugated steel and plastic sheets.

We’ve been walking by these houses for a week and a half, feeling vast need of reconstruction weighing on us more each day. “Why don’t we bake some cookies and take them to the families who live in the media aguas?” I proposed. It was a small idea, but at least we could do SOMETHING to put a smile on a few faces. There was no hesitation from Joy… so we got to work planning how we would make it happen.

Saturday we spent most of the day baking and putting together plates of cookies and brownies with youth from the local church. They were exceptionally resourceful and willing to serve in whatever way they could, writing notes to the families and decorating the plates with hand made ribbons.

When it came time to pass out the cookies on Sunday evening, a storm had rolled into Chillan. Despite the weather, 20 people showed up to help us pass out the cookies. It was actually quite a funny sight… 20 sopping wet Chileans and two strange gringas wandering around in the rain with bags of cookies, followed by a few soaked stray dogs.

At one of the houses, a grandmother, mother, and daughter invited us into their home. They talked with us about the struggles of living in a media agua, and learned that the mother had been out of work for the past month. “Thank you for this…” she said, “life has been difficult for me because I haven’t been able to find a job.” At the sight of her mother’s pain, the shy 10-year-old girl burst into tears.

All of us left that house with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts. This is only one family, and there are hundreds more here in Chile whose situations are even worse than this family’s. A few cookies are not going to fix their problems… not by a long shot… but we were happy to, in a small way, show the family that they have not been forgotten.

The hardest part about being here in Chile during this time is realizing how much need there is, and how little we are able to do in the grand scheme of this disaster. But I’ve also learned that the little things we CAN do, like baking cookies or buying groceries for a family in need, can help lift spirits and give at least a small glimpse of hope that, while life may look bleak now, things will get better with time.