I’m Done

I wake early and check my Ipad.  I’ve grown attached to it, over the last month.  It’s been a loyal camera and diary and watch, through trials it was never made to endure.  I’ve shoved in into the sand and water of my pack, protected by only a plastic bag, and I’ve exposed it to the rain when I needed to read my map.  Worst of all, I’ve dropped it many times onto pavement and rock. 

The mistreatment shows.  There’s nicks along the edges, and cracks starting on the screen.  But for now, it still works.  And it’s giving me 12 hours of daylight, to do 54 kilometers. 

It will be one of my longer days.  But it’s good weather for walking.  The air is cool, with a hint of breeze and a moisture that’s stronger than mist and softer than rain.  The view is good, too.  The road parallels the ocean, and right now, at low tide, mud flats stretch far away from shore.  Beyond the mud, the sea spreads outward, toward the mist.  The surface merges into the clouds, fading until there’s no marking water from air. 

When I start, my pace is quick and fresh.  There’s no pain in my leg, and my energy is higher than it’s been in days.  And best of all, I’m happy.  My eyes sparkle, and a smile plays strong and true on my cheeks.  The feeling stays even as the mist thickens into a drizzle.   It’s okay that it’s raining.  I don’t mind.  I know that at home, I might find this weather dreary.  I would look outside and wish it were dry, and maybe decide not to go running.  But now, on my last day, there’s something energizing about this wetness.  I’ve walked through water for many days, and it’s fitting to do it for one more.

Eight kilometers later, the road bends to reveal a ferry terminal.  One last boat ride.  As I near the ship, the drizzle hardens into rain.  I pick up the pace for 30 seconds, and then I’m inside the cabin, free from the sky.  I sit on a soft chair, and watch as the rain splatters onto the windows.  Drops fracture into currents, little veins of water that spread in every direction and merge with the debris of other drops, coalescing into streams that run across the glass. 

It’s nice to see the rain from inside.  It’s nice to rest my legs while my body moves, carried by the engines of the boat.  And it’s nice to finish all my food, without having to worry about where to buy more.  They’ll be countless shops on the other side of the inlet, so I can walk with an empty pack and eat whenever.

It’s still raining when the boat lands, but there’s a hint of sunlight peeking through the clouds, offering hope of a better day.  When I disembark, there’s an unmistakable vibe of civilization.  There’s a gloss to the restaurants and shops, a flashiness I’ve haven’t seen since Coyaique, 500 kilometers to the south.  And then there’s the sheer number of buildings: the port is a town in its own right, bigger than most villages on the Carretera.

But once I’m under way, the scene gets more rural.  The buildings thin out until there’s only an isolated house here and there, a humble hut of the same unpainted wood I’ve seen for the last month.  At a glance, I can see that the people living here still eat from the sea.  Thousands of muscle shells lie in the yards, glistening black and white and purple in the rainy sun. 

My pace is smooth.  Maybe it’s the lightness of my pack, empty of food.   Maybe it’s the drive to be done, the knowledge that after today I can rest.  Wherever it is, I’m eating the road without effort, and within a couple hours, the coast bends to reveal the city.  It’s just a smudge of buildings on the horizon, sprouting on a peninsula 30 kilometers away.  But it’s in sight.  After a month of reading numbers written on signs, the city is in sight.  My body tingles.  I start to move even faster.

But the road winds away from the sea, and my destination disappears.  Without its pull, my energy fades, and within an hour, I can manage only a drained, tired pace.  I stop for food, but neither the break or the calories helps me go faster.  And yet…even a slow pace moves me forward.  Even a weary stride covers some distance with every step.  And eventually, the steps add up.  Houses become fancier, and closer together.  And 10 kilometers from the city, the road turns into a real artery. 

I’m almost done.

Lots of people start offering rides.  I am tired, and it would be nice to skip this last slog.  There’ll be nothing pleasant about the final kilometers by the highway, breathing the traffic and hearing the roar.  But I’m not stopping here.  I can deal with nastiness to walk the whole way. 

Five kilometers from the end, construction blocks the main road.  I follow a detour, a smaller road with less traffic that moves at a slower pace.  It winds through trees for a while, calm and peaceful compared to the mess of the main path. 

When the forest ends, I can see the city.  Buildings spread down a hill and toward the sea, but they stop before the water, broken by a road that curves along the ocean.  Across the road, there’s a path for walkers and cyclists, and then a line of boulders covered by algae and lapped by waves.  And beyond the boulders, the sea stretches toward an overcast sky.  The clouds are grey, but there’s a patch of orange near the horizon, a little glow marking the hiding place of the sun. 

The whole setting looks like the seawall in Vancouver, and I feel a stir at the sight something so familiar, in another hemisphere.  I want to rest my legs, and just…soak this in.  Well…I can do that soon enough.  First, I have something to finish.

In a little while, the detour rejoins the highway.  Two kilometers left.  The sign sends a little thrill into my legs, even though the road is pulsing with city traffic.  I assess the danger: I’ll take a different path, if there’s a real chance of getting hit by a car.  No, it’s okay, the shoulder is big enough.  I walk on.

One kilometer.

I savor the tiredness in my body.  It’s grounding, feeling the weight of the road on my feet, pressing with the same constant force it’s had for the last month.  There’s a dignity in the heaviness of my legs, and the low-level, almost cellular feel of tired muscles doing their work. 

And as I notice my body, it changes.  My steps shorten into light, medium strides, flowing clean and clear.  My arms relax into a loose swing, perfectly timed with my feet.  I didn’t choose to walk better, this last stretch of road.  It’s more that…something about paying attention to my stride made it smoother.

The road bends to reveal kilometer 0.  The marker is in a roundabout, circled by traffic.  There’s none of the wildness that surrounded the other marker, 1240 kilometers to the south at the end of that dirt road.  There’s none of the setting that surrounded that sign, none of the mountains or forests or huge, glacial lakes.  And there’s none of the artistry, none of the colors and words that lit up the plaque celebrating the start of the Carretera Austral.  There isn’t a plaque.  This marker is just a post with a number, a metal tree-trunk growing out of cement.

But it doesn’t matter.  It’s the end of my road. 

I walk to the edge of the roundabout and wait for a break in the cars.  Then I cross the street and touch the sign.

I’m done.