January 13th, 2010

Ok, so that took longer than I though to Write and Post, but I am back.

The this night was new years eve, and we were exhausted. We ate dinner quickly and went to bed at 9:30pm. I was elated. I had finally broken free from the inevitably disappointing holiday. I’ve lost count of how many new years count downs I’ve experienced from inside a car at a red light, because we were rushing over to the next party with the concern to be “at the right place” for the count down. It’s classic advertising theory at its best. Experience minus expectation equals either a surplus or a deficit of satisfaction or dismay. This is the reason I tend to avoid festivals and major events as well. Going into something with impossible expectations leaves me feeling ripped off. We can all agree that the highest highs in all of our collective lives are those that snuck up on us on an unsuspecting and random night. My favorite moment from my first visit to Thailand was when I was nearly slapped in the face by a baby elephant in the streets of Chang Mai. It certainly wasn’t a few days later when I was riding a similar elephant who I had waited in line for.

So that’s two very unorthodox major events: a Christmas of hitch hiking to the top of a volcano and a Stress Free New Years. The next day was scheduled to be our longest day of hiking. We were to visit the French Valley and it’s beauty. As we were making the steep assent, Tomer had an idea “This looks good. I just feel like a leprechaun here. Honey, get the camera ready. Alex, please hold the cross traffic at the front, I’m not saying you can’t watch yourself.”

Tomer has a philosophy, “You body isn’t getting any better and when I am 70 I want to have some pictures to remember what I am.” He had posed naked in over 10 epic locations before including the overcrowded Machu Peachu of Peru and Lake Titi kaka. The wind swept through the frost bitten French Valley as hanging glaciers fell in the distance. Tomer was “balls deep” in the event as 2 women passed by out photo shoot. It was a beautiful waterfall that was framed by chocolate mountain ridges. As one could presume, I had quite a laugh.

It was time to move on and I had learned something important about my body. When hiking uphill, as a decent pace, I need only wear a t shirt. Anything else, even in cold and windy weather, will leave me in sweat. Oddly enough, I am quite comfortable in the cold as long as I am moving. Rain, wind, and cold are not too bad when you are jaming up a hill. In fact, Tomer thought of starting a clothing company that is called “up hill” and instead of selling some sort of Goretex parka, we would just sent someone to a steep hill and instruct them to climb it.

We sat and watched the hanging glacier fall and I had the ingenious idea of heading for the next camp site early. We walked and walked over mountain passes with turquoise views of glacial lakes below. The wind, as promised, swept through the lakes, lifting up thousands of gallons and chucking them into the mountain side in a manor that could only be described as Biblical. We walked in awe with the slight suspicion of an eminent apocalypse. I stood strong with my trekking poles as the guest mane their best attempts at murder in the first. It was certainly cheating. I was a land octopus with twice the balance and points of contact as any mere mortal. Tomer and Yael were having a harder time.

These poles, in an up hill situation, let you push off with your arms and climb with all fours. These poles in a down hill situation, give you as much balance and points of contact as crawling on all fours. These poles, while crossing rivers, are the equivalent to holding tow peoples hands. These poles would have been great for my Mother in the uneven streets of Buenos Aires. These poles are cheating. These poles are going to end up in my Mother’s Christmas Stalking next year :)

We arrived at the next camp site in night nick of time. This was because we cut the French Valley hike in half. The camp site was small and there were really only 4 decent spots left. When we set up our tents, there was a light drizzle and once we finished, it began to pour. We sat inside of the smoldering refugio peering out the window, warm and dry as 30 other trekkers (who had hiked the entire French Valley (the center of the W) frantically searched for 28 make shift camping spots. Their Goretex past the point of failure, it was a miserable sight to see, but I was warm and anticipating a hot meal. Since it was raining, we chose to eat at the refugio for $20. The meal was a meager 3 inch, bland sausage sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes. It was really offensive, but we were dry and warm, and happy.

After dinner, I took a hot shower in the refugio (a benefit of paying $8 to camp there). We went to bed just after that. Settling into my tent, I could hear the shock and “confusement” of even later arrivals who tried to negotiate the impossible of camping in a tiny, oversaturated, site while the rain pours down. I could not have been happier for leaving the French Valley early.

Later that night, the wind (that which was referenced to as biblical and premeditated earlier that day) made it’s approach on our camp site. Now it’s important to understand that wind is easily deflected my densely packed trees, but it still sounds like it will rip you in two. All of the camp sites on the W are protected from the wind by a grove of trees, or a sheltering ridge. But the wind ripped through the grove in waves. You could hear it coming for 500 meters away. The building was a sensation that lends itself to the moment after skidding tires or the point in which a fist aimed for your face reaches the end of it’s cocking motion. Truth be told, this dead moment of anticipation can only be endured by most for only a single skipped heart beat. That’s why it only lasts a moment. You simply can’t afford to skip too many. The adrenaline fuses with your heart and the pumping resumes in a frantic game of catch up. Horror movie producers seek to extend this anticipation for 90 minutes, but always fail.

This is the wind that will take you right out of your intelligent mind. Such terror, yet my tent seemed to barely move as the wind finally made it to the camp site. This was madness, I was holding on for dear life. Sound had taken precedent as the only sense. Never mind the sense of touch. To make things worse, in a rookie mistake, I had set my tent up so that my head would sleep in a downward angle. Imagine water boarding. laying back at a decline as the “wind” roared all night. It was time for my hero. Phil Collins! I took out my ipod and use Phil to vanquish the mind altering wind. I worked, but only so much. I still knew what was outside, so I didn’t blast the music too loud, in case there was a sound that I needed to hear to save my life. A “Watch out!” Or “Run for the Hills, the wind is invading and stealing the small children!!!”

The moment approached when I needed to pee in the night. I got onto my knees and unzipped the door. In a prayer position, I shamelessly peed on what was my front porch in camping terms. There was no way that I was going to go out into that death field. As it turns out, Tomer had the same bright idea (and fear).

The next day, there were stories of people who didn’t have the benefit of the trees who had their tent blow away completely in the night. This day was the 4th. By now, I was a highly adjusted hiker. I was no longer sore, I was conditioned. I felt as physically fit as I have in the last year of travel. My legs were rock hard, blood thick, and heart strong. All of this, as I would learn, had little effect on a string of 4 galloping horses charging down a narrow, steep, and cliff stricken trail approaching our final camp site.

For the Conclusion of the W, tune in Later :)