I can't go home. I stood astride friday staring up at the colossal granite spires that comprise the towers, the Torres del Paine, and the words suddenly filled my head. I can't go home. Where did that comes from, what inner recess of my weird psyche generated that brief but profound statement? The words arose and then repeated, like a scratched 45 from years ago. I can't go home. I can't go home. I can't go home.
Of course I can and of course I will go home. For now. But the words echoed for hours, and days. They still they do. The rhythm of the long road, the wild ride, resonate.
I check the news occasionally, the headlines at least, and that world seems so foreign and far away. On any given day, my most pressing issues are whether I will find a campsite before dark that provides protection from the wind and from curious eyes? Will I have enough water to carry me to the next source? Am I eating enough to fuel tomorrow's ride? Those are my banner headlines. Everything else belongs in a world where I don't live.
I am not unmoved by the pressing issues that face us as a species. If anything, I find myself overwhelmed and impotent to effect meaningful change on the scale required to make a difference. In the late 60s, Martin Seligman developed his theory of "learned helplessness" which stemmed from his interest in depression. He and his colleagues found that after administering electrical shocks to dogs at random intervals, the dogs eventually reached a state of such helplessness that they no longer attempted to avoid the shocks, even in situations where they could. I wonder if our headline news stories, which are designed to shock, appall, and horrify, don't have the same effect?
I sit here at the hostel in Punta Arenas resting a knee that took too much abuse riding steep hills against fierce winds so that I could have that moment in front of the towers, bowed by their enormity, humbled by their rugged perfection. I had been off the bike for about a week after finishing the carretera austral. I was itching to get back on the road, bonded with my bike, moving through space-time.
We took the back way to the park, an unpaved and consequently less traveled road. For the first few hours, we rode past small lakes and rolling hills and never saw a car.
A small tour bus was parked at a lookout point as i crested one hill and the driver called me over. I could see Torres in the distance behind a beautiful turquoise lake that laid below us. I was hoping, having seen the impossibility of my plight, they might offer me a ride to the park. But I could see the bus was full and there was no room, not even for a lone and weary not - so - little girl and her not - so - big bike. They were merely curious about me, wanting to know where I was from and where I was going. When I told them, they burst into cheers and applause. I went on my way buoyed by their enthusiasm, but daunted by the task that laid ahead of me.
I would have gladly stopped on the way and set up my tent. Friday and I have nothing to prove, no daily goal we need to achieve. We ride for the sheer joy of it. But the wind was so strong that trying to set up a tent at the few potential campsites I saw would have been impossible. I was starting to feel some pain in my left knee on the down stroke, so I walked the hills rather than pushing my knee past its limit.
Around 7 pm, having left Puerto Natales at 7am, I was climbing yet another steep hill when I looked down on a lovely green valley on my right, quite a bit down, and spied what must have been the park. I kept pushing against the wind wondering how I get down there. Eventually a car was coming in my direction and I flagged it down. The window rolled down and I blurted out "entrada?" Where is the entrance? A kind faced Japanese man looked out at me and told me I'd gone too far. "Get back on the bike and go all the way down. It's down there'.
I arrived at the administrative building and asked where I could camp. The only near campground (I had come through the back entrance to the park) was only a kilometer away, and i could go ask, but it was full and there was no other place for me to camp that night.
I rode to the campground and was informed that it was, indeed, full. I put on my most helpless look which, at that point, was not affected, and explained in a mix of Spanish and English that "estoy sola, I am a woman alone, on my pequeña bicicleta, my little bicycle. Es trades, it's late, and I have nowhere to go". The nice young man turned, went into his office, got on the phone, and got permission for me to camp for one night. It was a great victory.
The next day I biked and hiked for a few hours to a campsite further in the park, not as far as I wanted to go but as far off the road on a hiking path that I could go with friday. I set friday down to take a 6-hour hike (3 each way) to a glacier-fed lake with a view of the Torres in the background.
And, yet, i want to keep going. Forever. For several days I played out scenarios of extending my trip, moving them around in my head like a bored tongue explores teeth. In the end, I must come home. My sweet little house in the canyon deserves my care and attention and the hummingbirds will be arriving in just a few weeks. And yet there remains an aversion to retuning home that I did not anticipate, a desire to remain wild.