The Last Sunset

I feel a wave of apprehension as the ferry approaches land.  For three hours I could tune out of my body, into the beauty of the coastline.  I could gaze at fjords and cliffs and just appreciate them, without having to weigh them as obstacles.  But now that the boat ride is over, I’m worried about my leg.  I don’t know if three hours rest was enough.  The pain might return as soon as I stand up.

The ferry lands, and I brace myself and start to move.  My quad feels better: walking brings a prickly ache instead of the tearing spasms from three hours ago.  Still, it’s not worth pushing further tonight.  Best case scenario, I’d make another 8 kilometers before dark.  More likely, the pain would come back and ruin the whole next day.

I get a room in a hostel and stuff myself with my usual attempt at paella.  Within a few minutes of finishing, a drowsiness settles over my body.  Damn.  I shouldn’t be this tired; I only did 10 kilometers today.  Maybe I’m over-trained again.  Well, the trip is almost done.  If I can push it for 99 more kilometers, I’m home free.  I stop worrying and let the sleep take my body. 

The next morning, I start early.  I’m apprehensive to move my leg, but walking brings nothing worse than a rough ache.  The road starts near modern shops and big houses, but outside the core of the town, buildings become plainer.  Soon, they’re the same rustic, wooden homes I’ve seen everywhere on the Carretera.  And within a kilometer, even these fade.  Then it’s just me and the sun and the cool, tangy air of the sea.

A little further, the road winds away from the coast into forested hills.  Sometimes there’s an old homestead, a collection of fields and fences and houses and barns.  The buildings are old.  Their wood is solid grey, aged from countless days of sun and rain.  And beyond the houses, the fields are going back to nature.  I can see it in the uncut grass and the beginnings of shrubs, advancing like scouts reclaiming land for the wilderness. 

Normally, it would make me happy to see the forest coming back.  But today, I feel a sadness at these weathered fences and forgotten homes.  It seems strange, that people put so much effort into a place and then let it fade.  I wonder what happened, for people to abandon this land.  I wonder what went wrong.

Well…maybe the builders didn’t abandon it.  Maybe the builders are dead.  And maybe their children are middle aged and living in cities, earning a living far from the land.  Maybe they’re driving taxis or staring at screens, thinking wistfully of their childhood on a farm.  Or maybe they consider themselves lucky.  Maybe their youth makes them appreciate the sheer miracle of getting food from a store.

I’ll never learn the story of these farms.  There aren’t enough people who know it, and not enough chance we’ll meet.

Suddenly, it hits me that the world is too big to learn about in a single life.  One searching brain is not enough strength.  100 little years is not enough time.  We simply can’t answer all our questions.  We can’t even ask all our questions.  I’m not sure if that’s sad, or beautiful.  Maybe it’s both.

I walk on, still pondering, and then my mind returns to more mundane thoughts. 

Over course of the day, my leg gradually heals.  It hurts less often with every passing hour, and by late afternoon, it feels back to normal.  By evening, even my apprehension is gone, and I’m walking as fast and free as I did two nights ago.  I ride my energy as the road turns downhill, heading back toward the coast.  In half an hour, I’m at the sea.

The sun hovers just over the water, five minutes from submerging.  Its light is ever-so-slightly dull, blocked a subtle haze of cloud on the horizon.  But somehow, the imperfection adds to the beauty.  Instead of a single blue, the sky is a painting of pink and grey and yellow, colors merging into a tapestry of light. 

I realize this will be the last sunset of the trip; or at least, the last sunset in nature. 

Tomorrow night I’ll reach Puerto Montt, the first real city since I started.  It was the goal when I walked out of the hostel a month ago, away from my friends and into the wind.  I’ve been chasing it through sun and rain and joy and loneliness, and there were times when I wanted to just be there and have the trip done.  But now, it feels a little sad that I only have one more night. 

Well…I can only appreciate what I have. 

I’m lucky I’ll spend tonight in nature.  I’m lucky that tonight will be full of stars, dense and bright and unmarred by the light of a city.  Some people go their whole lives without seeing a real night, and I’ve gotten to do it every day of the last month.  Some people never get to leave their own city, and I’ve gotten to see another hemisphere.

And I’m lucky my life has been so simple this trip.  Just rain and sun and wind.  Just food and shelter and solitude and friends.

Part of me wants to do this forever.  

And part of me is ready to connect with the mess we call the real world.  Part of me is ready for a steadier schedule and a place to sleep inside.  And most of all, part of me longs for friendships that don’t have to end in a few days. 

Well…I’ll appreciate what’s good about cities tomorrow, when I reach my goal.  And tonight…I’ll appreciate what I have now.  I stop walking and gaze at the sea.  I can take a few minutes, and enjoy the last sunset.