Writings by Deia Schlosberg
(click here to read bio)

Writings by Gregg Treinish
(click here to read bio)

Dream Big
By Gregg Treinish

April 28, 2008

Do you remember where you were 665 days ago?  It is easy for me.  I was boarding a plane in the Fort Lauderdale airport on my way to Quito, Ecuador.  I was going through a million emotions. Largely fear, partially excitement. Entirely unsure what I would encounter and what was in store for the two of us.  It doesn't seem that long ago really.  Getting off of the plane in Buenos Aires just yesterday, I looked at Deia, looked around me and wondered if the last two years really happened. Seems more like a foggy dream than the reality that has been my life for so long.  Am I dissociating? Tying to forget so much struggle, so much worry, so much pain?  All of those good moments too, they have to fade into the back of our minds at some point I guess, don't they?  If I make myself look back, think about a day or a place, it is easy.  I can still see the faces, still feel the wind, still smell the fields of cow shit.  I know where we turned, I remember a specific bump in the ground, I remember the mountain across from me, what makes it distinct from all others on earth, how its jagged buttresses fall from the impossibility that is the ridge.  I remember the hope of finding a relatively potable water source around the next corner.  I remember the worry that inherently comes with the unknown.  It is easy to go back to find the individual memories, to wake up as I did three or six or twenty months ago, to pack my stuff and set out.  The memories are sharp, they will be with me for awhile to come.  Still I got off that plane last night.  It has passed in a blur.  Am I different?  Did I learn anything?  Did we really just do that? It was a new experience this time, moving to a new place. Granted the method was different, we covered nearly 1400 miles in the time we would have covered eight, but it was more.  It was our first move off of the line that we have walked.  It was the first step towards home.  We are done.  That reality, though not fully with me yet, wedged its way deeper inside my brain with that moment.  It was different because though it was one o'clock in the morning, we had nowhere to be, nothing to do, we just were there in another foreign city.  We didn't have to rush to the Internet to get updates done, didn't have to resupply to head out in the morning; it didn't matter, we didn't matter. Well, at least not like we have.  No one here knows us; we blend in like we would in New York, like we would at home.  We are not the center of the conversation, we aren't "the walkers."  So much has changed in just a week's time since we first saw that lighthouse on Cabo San Pío.  I am no longer on a mission, I am no longer moving towards one single point as I have been for nearly two years.  I am free, I have no where to be.  I am broke, I need to start work, I don't dread the thought.

We reached the southern-most point of what should be considered South America around 4:25 pm on April 17th, 2008.  the feeling was largely that of a numb face and weak legs.  I had been hyperventilating since we began climbing the final hill, cresting each false ridge and hoping to see the eight meter (26 ft) red and white, cracked, weathered, tattered, finish line that marks the one place you can stand and know that there is no closer part of the land to the continent of Antarctica.  We crossed four or five of those ridges, always scanning the shoreline some three hundred feet down below us for the lighthouse.  We rounded a corner, cameras in hand, I heard Deia expel a shriek, a shudder.  It sounded like she had been punched in the stomach, the wind stolen from her lungs leaving them gasping in hope of finding more.  She saw it before I did, "there" she finally put together.  Tears had already been streaming down my cheeks, I roared in elation.  We stumbled down the mountain, both soaked, both more than ready. It was steep, I fell more than once, it didn't matter. We would have rolled down, there was finally nothing that could stop us.  I got there and looked up at it, kissing the stones repeatedly.  My pack fell to the ground. I began crawling to the edge, the last centimeter of the continent, the last piece of grass, the last grain of dirt.  I was well aware of how dizzy I was with all the excitement and remained on all fours to minimize the chance of another evil-intentioned and monstrous wind gust coming and throwing me over the edge and into the South Sea.  Though it was overwhelming, strangely at the same time, it was not what I had expected.  I had been thinking about that moment for so long, wondering if it would really sink in when I saw it.  Once in a rare while when I actually gave myself permission to picture what it would be like to finish, I always dreamed of the release; it would be incredible.  It would be the weight of the world (at least the continent) lifting off of my shoulders.  I felt no such release.  It was emotional, don't get me wrong.  I think maybe the rising winds and rapidly setting sun were reminders that we still had to walk back to where we could find a road, hope for a hitch. There was still unknown, there was still worry, there was still the desire to set up the tent, make dinner, and get to bed so that I could set out in the morning walking and fighting to the end.  Still, it marked success.   No longer would we walk south, no longer towards the same point, the same goal.  It was intense.  The joyous shouts certainly echoed off the rock walls behind us.  For most of the night we braced the poles of our tent as the 90-100mph wind gusts attempted to send us flying into the sea.

In the weeks before the finish, it had been extremely mentally-challenging.  We had a tremendous time with Deia's parents, who more than earned their ways into our blog with their fearless battling of Torres Del Paine's ferocious wind storms and uneven campgrounds.  We knew that it was the final push after they left, we knew that it was the end.  We thought that would make it easy, always knowing that each and every step marked the completion of a tangible and actual portion of the remainder of the trip.  If we covered twenty miles in a day, we could see that; it was an actual fraction of what was left.  We thought there to be about 320 miles left to go at that point, in reality, there where over 400.  We left Puerto Natales, where we left Deia's parents and the numerous friends that we had made, both in Bill and Rustyn, the owners of Erratic Rock Hostel, who we owe a special thank you for the royal treatment, as well as in other travelers. So many great people, such a short amount of time.  It was a beautiful walk along the ocean to get to the Elias climb where we would leave the coast and begin a short section across the dreaded turba. Progress was slowed dramatically as we were sucked into the peat bog, sponge-like mess, often up to our waists.  It was challenging—that really isn't a strong enough word--but then again, I am not sure one exists.  Rivers that we know from some friends who had previously done this hike are normally small little knee-deep trickles, were flowing nearly 20 times their summer sizes.  Swimming would be the only way through them.  The fields of turba themselves may as well have been a thirty mile stretch of lake.  We weren't dry for even a second.  At one point I heard Deia shout out in frustration followed by a deep sobbing that I understood far too well.  Still there was the knowledge that it was the last section before we would cross the Straight of Magellan and there really was no more fitting way for us to leave the mainland than to do it as we have done so much of the trip, in the thick of it, in the heart of nowhere, in the land that so few are lucky enough to see.  In the middle of the swamp, in the middle of our fourth day essentially post-holing through land whose grip is unrelenting and painstakingly strong, I found myself full of smiles, content, knowing that we were close, thrilled at the beauty of the whole thing.  Tears flowed, some of the first of joy in a long time.  I will remember that hike forever.  It is the real and symbolic beauty
that this entire trip has been.

Tierra Del Fuego was named by Ferdinand Magellan, who saw from the sea the fires of the local Yanama Indian tribe, which he thought was waiting to ambush him.  The fires where built so that the Yanama could keep warm.  The northern portion of the island consists of two hundred miles of boring, flat and roadside terrain.  There was no other way to go, the only mountains on the upper half of the island are in the water, surrounded by sea, the only way to get around that sea is on the roads.  "This American Life" episodes were essential, without them, the boredom could quite possibly have become overwhelming.  "How is this place so famous?" we'd wonder on a daily basis. We had heard about it for so long, it was due to be one of the most beautiful parts, yet how could it be so?  It was flat, barren, windswept, cold, and rainy.  There was nothing special about where we were and the thought of additional turba that lay ahead was enough to make us dread getting to the final weeks, and wonder why we had chosen to finish there.  On Google Earth, on the maps we were able to find, we were expecting to cross no less than thirteen rivers.  The thought of swimming them in temperatures that had recently plummeted low enough that our water bottles were freezing on a nightly basis was not helping the situation.  There was, however, the element of knowing that we were so close, and knowing that really nothing, by the time we were on the island,
could possibly get in our way of finishing.  Seems strange to say, but really that never got easier on the whole trip: dealing with the unknown, always expecting the worst, having to be prepared for whatever that might be.  It had gotten to us, shattered our desire to be out there, making it nearly impossible to enjoy where we were, let alone
what we have accomplished.  I met one of the few people who understands this just last night.  Ian Reeves has walked from Ushuaia to Panama, further than we have.  He walked for the majority of his trips on the roads, and with a cart.  We talked last night about how people ask all the time if the trip has enlightened us, left us at peace, if we have found some sort of Zen-like appreciation of the world from our hikes.  Funny how many times I have cursed the very things that I love on this trip.  How much nature has been the brunt of my anger.  Closer to that appreciation, yes, and still entirely far away. I respect it more, and with time, surely will remember all of the good before the bad.  Already just a week after finishing, I am getting antsy; I am thinking about going back out there.  It is what has become natural for me, it is what I know.  When I look back years from now and I can picture those special moments, the most beautiful, the most spectacular, the contrast of the southern half of the island to the north will without a doubt be at the close to the surface.  What the northern half of the island lacks, the southern more than makes up for.  It is every bit as spectacular as anything we have seen on this trip. Snow-capped beauties with the full pop of the autumn leaves rising up to the jaggedness that are the ridges.  The peaks rise out of the ocean reaching heights of up to 9000 ft.  Few places on earth can possibly be home to so much beauty, so much inspiration. We won the lottery, we had been gifted the opportunity to finish in paradise.  Selecting our route had always been about finding the way that made sense. Nearer to the end it became almost entirely about getting there before winter.  We had forgotten to think about how beautiful it could be, we had forgotten that we could still love what we do.  We had forgotten how powerful the mountains really are, how much happier we are when we are in them. I had forgotten why I love backpacking. Reaching the southernmost range of mountains, the southernmost forests in the world, I was filled with the familiar warmth of home.  It felt almost as if the mountains had wrapped me in a warm blanket put me on the couch in a hooded sweatshirt and sweat pants and turned on the game.  All the feelings of appreciation, of joy, of comfort, in an instantaneous transformation were back.  The truth is that after all of this, I do still love it.  I think that if I hadn't loved it all along, no matter how deep down inside it was, I couldn't have finished.  So many mornings it was hard to get up, so many times I dreaded what the day ahead would bring.  Still, it was my choice day in and day out, it was my dream, it always had the potential to be what I made of it.  What an incredible blessing it was to finish there like that.  After so much interaction with nature, some happy, a lot of it not so harmonious, I needed to finish feeling home again!

Throughout this past week, we have been trying, though most assuredly failing to recognize exactly what it is that we have accomplished here.  We have been explorers, we have discovered vast similarities as well as differences from our home, from what we previously thought to be ourselves.  We have gained a unique appreciation for the world that a very small handful of people living in it could possibly have.  I am privileged to see the whole, to understand the macro, to know what is here. The end scared me before the last weeks, the thought of the exploration ending.  I am and couldn't be more content with this trip.  Though I have been writing consistently how ready we are to be done, this adventure was incredible, I would never give back once single moment of it.  With each family we stayed with, each road we were forced to walk, each storm, each area of quicksand, mud, bamboo, lava, snow, rain, and yes, even the sickness, though I don't yet know exactly what I have learned from it all, I know that I have learned a lot.  It all fits into this amazing Plinko board that I have been falling down since 2006.  The lessons it has taught me will surely keep showing themselves throughout the rest of my life.  We both individually and together got everything we ever could have hoped to get out of this.  In fact, we got infinitely more than what we had hoped to get out of it.  What has changed is certainly not that I am ready to stop learning, ready to give up discovery.  I am ready to go back home and to go with the eyes of an explorer.  To rediscover civilization, what it means to
be part of a community.  I am excited to explore, in depth, to stay and understand the little microcosms that can be taken for granted.  I want to explore what is below the two or three-day encounters, it will help me understand the past two years, it will help me understand the world.  I will go walking again, this I know, I will have my chance to travel, to journey, to leave what I know behind and put wonder in front of me, I will have new dreams, I will chase them. Now I want to understand one place, one group, the intimate.  I want to explore our world in a different way.  I have decided to pursue an M.S. in Wildlife Biology.

We have been asked repeatedly if the books will be on the way, what we plan to do with all that we have experienced.  We both intend to write books, we both intend to share what we have learned.  When we return to the U.S. in the first days of May, we will begin looking for publishers, agents, editors and all that other good stuff.  We are hoping to do a lecture series, hoping to speak wherever the people are interested in hearing our stories.  We will be selling our photos. Deia will be pursuing an M.F.A. in Science and Natural History Film Making.  I am excited, I am thrilled, I am inspired, I am free!

You all need to know what you have meant to us throughout this trip. We have come through a lot and relied on one another more than I ever could have imagined that we would be forced to.  So often it was you all, the support you shared, the love you gave. 
It was each time you wrote, each time we felt you believing in us.  It was the encouragement, and the insight that we gained from all of you.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  If there was one thing that I knew beforehand, and believe now more than ever it is that there is never a reason to give up on your dreams.  Things will always get in the way and if we let them, they will keep us from achieving our dreams.  We all choose our own paths, and there is nothing that is impossible.  I want to say thank you to Deia for being what she has for me throughout this thing. She is and has been my partner, my best friend, my company, my conscience, my reflection, my force.  I am lucky to have shared this experience with her and to have found the person that she is.

Thank you all again, please be in touch, please never stop exploring our world.