desert Tag

Last week Helen and I decided to take advantage of Santiago’s proximity to the Atacama desert, so we escaped the city and hopped on a plane for a multi-day micro adventure in the region’s largest (and world’s driest?) desert.

We set up base in the small (but super touristy) San Pedro de Atacama, where, between our time spent wandering the dirt streets and stuffing ourselves with fresh bread, we went on a hefty cycling adventure, sand-boarded some Chilean-dunes, (Vicuñas?), and got our heart-broken by a plethora of stray dogs.

  

We rented bikes for one of the days, which was definitely a highlight (and way cheaper, more exciting, and freedom-filled than the tour options!), so we spent most of our day venturing through Valle de la Luna and all its loveliness. We were the last ones to leave the reserve, so we had the pleasure of riding back to camp in the dark under a gorgeously bright sky full of stars. I love deserts.

  
  

So, it’s no secret I have a soft spot for canines. Or kittens. (Or really anything fluffy.) And seeing as there are stray dogs everywhere in Chile, it basically always kills me. But something about this one little dog was just the sweetest thing ever. And all the other dogs were just plain evil towards her, so I caved and bought her some food. Of course she ended up chilling with us at for the evening, shared our campsite, and ventured into town with us the next day with a new spring in her step. Then we were leaving for our sand-boarding adventure, and after being denied entry into the van (and looking absolutely doleful that she couldn’t come), she chased us down the street for a good mile… and when we eventually got out of site and stopped, sure enough, a few seconds later he came bounding over the hill after us.

Heart. Broken.

But seriously, how adorable is she?

(Moral of the story: go adopt a dog?)

Needless to say, it was an adventure-filled few days, and seeing as I am not at all a city person, it was a much needed escape from Santiago! Not to mention an awesome chance to put my Spanish to practice with some of the locals we met!

We set out on a mission: three people, three countries, one day of adventure.

Because who says you can’t adventure with friends even though they live on other continents? The idea was simple: we each pick a place nearby and go on a microadventure at the same time. Fellow adventurers Steven (check out his microadventure recap here) and Emma would simultaneously explore in England and Northern Ireland, respectively, and I was off to the Superstition Mountains, a nearby mountain range, locally known for its gold-filled folklore. The plan was to hike to the highest point, Flat Iron, and camp for the night.

Running a little late, I set out just before sunset and raced the light up the mountain. The sunset made the mountains seem almost golden, and eventually there was just enough light left in the sky to make out the jagged silhouette of the mountain ridge below. Ultimately, the last half of the hike was completed by the light of my headlamp.

Hiking by a single light source at night was an interesting experience. I could only see what was right in front of me, forcing me to focus solely on the next step. About a mile in, the trail slowly opened into a canyon, and the path turned into a solid series of incresingly vertical boulders leading the way to the top. Everything seemed so much more tedious at night, especially with the increasing presence of slippery ice and snow left as a result of the freak cold-front we’d had earlier in the week.

At one point, I heard a faint shuffle ahead and looked up, revealing a pair of tiny, beady eyes staring back at me, with a super long, striped tail flicking behind them. While I’m sure it was only seconds, it felt like minutes before the eyes vanished and the mysterious creature darted up the mountain ahead of me. If I’m honest, after the fourth encounter (and in a moment of weakness) I wondered if I’d actually lost the trail and was about to wander into the lair of these mysterious fluffy-tailed creatures, never to be seen again.*

Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and eventually the full moon cleared the peak of the Superstitions causing a faint glow of light to fall over the path for the remaining trek. The last ten feet to the top was almost completely vertical, so I hurled my pack over and pulled myself up after it.

Alas, I’d made it. As I heard something howl in the distance, I picked out a spot and set up my tent for the night. Enjoying a cup of tea while admiring the gorgeous view of the glowing valley below (which I could see through the opening of my tent), was definitely a highlight!

With wind bursts up to 40mph throughout the night, perhaps camping on the edge of the highest point wasn’t the brightest of plans, but it sure was exhilerating. The wind was blowing so hard it was distorting the tent, eventually popping the tent poles out of alignment twice in the middle of the night. I resorted to weighting down the edges with giant rocks, which weren’t super helpful in the end, but I didn’t blow over the edge so I guess they did their job.

The wind didn’t let up all night, but I slept surprisingly well, waking up to the much-welcomed warmth of the morning sun; the desert sure is beautiful in the morning! 9am was the scheduled time for simultaneous cooking and conversation with Emma & Steven, but of course, the one flaw in our plan was the lack of signal – too hardcore for 3G! I rocked out my classy camping meal of pasta and broccoli for breakfast anyway, and it was rather delicious, if I may say so myself.

  

After admiring the view a bit longer, I packed up (nearly losing the tent to the wind yet again), and headed back down.

I must’ve passed a dozen people on the way down who were shocked that I’d camped alone at the top, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the fact that I was camping alone or because I’m a girl (or both), but I guess that proves why adventure is such a special thing. It’s such a change from the norm, diving into something unexpected and challenging to experience something new and beautiful. Even if you think it’s crazy, that probably just means it’ll be that much more rewarding.

All in all, my little trek had all the components of a lovely microadventure – looking forward to the next!

*I later consulted Google, which revealed that the ‘mysterious creature’ was a not-so vicious Coati, often kept as pets and able to be litter-trained… Seems a lot less dramatic in retrospect!

Enjoy the following few photos from a recent adventure, accompanied by a few random semi-cohesive thoughts from the road!

1. Fear of failure is the darkest of captivities. I think that failure is only failure when you let it win. Sometimes not achieving your goal on the first try is actually a really great thing – it teaches you to look at the problem differently, to persevere and try harder, and gives you something to work towards. Zion defeated us with its epic climbs, to say the least, but I don’t feel like I failed – I just feel like now I have a really epic goal to work towards. Take a risk, put yourself in situations you think you’ll ‘fail’ – you’ll learn a ton in process!

2. “An integral part of adventure is planning to change plans.” Wise words from Mr. Carmichael here. Don’t be afraid of spontaneity, but embrace the moment and adapt as you go! Figure out what it is you’re excited about, and do it. Don’t feel guilty for changing plans to accommodate that – be bold enough to follow your passions, even on a small-scale.

3.Patience is a pretty great thing. Kind of a random thought, I suppose. We spent the night camping in Oak Creek Canyon, just outside of Sedona, where we saw some of the most gorgeous stars ever. I’d always wanted to take star trail photos, but never had the patience. Always bailed before I got the full effect or got bored and tried something new. This time, I decided to be patient. I set up the shot and waited – I journalled by the fire, read in the hammock, made some tea… For 24 minutes. And it worked. Patience allowed me to see achieve something I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

  

3. Rest is important. Adventure is awesome, but sometimes it’s important to stop and reflect and think and just take in the beauty of what’s around you. Float down a twisty red-walled canyon in kayak and do nothing but stare up at the bright blue sky. Take a nap on the side of a cliff. Chill in a hammock in a beautiful tree and write something. Don’t miss the now, but don’t be afraid to take some time to dream and be excited about what is and is to come!

4. Food tastes better in epic locations. Pasta + chili looking at this view in Zion? Amazing. (Also, any time is a good time for tea!)

5. Adventure wins.
A bit of a mini-story for this one: After kicking off the trip with a couple of siesta and taco-filled days on the beach in Mexico, we decided to head back home early to get a head start on our Northwardly adventure plan. Desert roads tend to not be the smoothest at all times, so I didn’t think anything of the bumpyness during our nighttime trek, until out of nowhere the car drops and sparks are flying. Steven awakens just in time to see the wheel, atop the bank, racing us down the highway.

So there we were, on the side of the road before the tiny desert town of Ajo, standing beneath the brightest full moon you’ve ever seen, where our wheel became inexplicably unattached to the car, and this local Sheriff stops to help us. And somehow we end up watching climbing and adventure videos on the Sheriff’s iPhone while the tow-truck guy struggled to load our now three-wheeled vehicle onto the truck.

So bizarre.

Adventure wins because of moments like these. Because it comes in so many different and unexpected forms. It wins because it leads us to encounter the bizarre and unimaginable scenarios that make the greatest of stories. It wins because it puts us in the most beautiful of places to prove that the world is most definitely not lacking in beauty or diversity. It wins because it forces us to push ourselves to jump into the unknown and accomplish what we’d only previously imagined.

Adventure wins because it is a life inspired by seeking after experiences bigger and better than the norm. Who wouldn’t want that?