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Healin' & Hikin'

Bridget Connelly

“Everybody needs beauty, as well as bread, places to PLAY in and PRAY in and where Nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul.” ~ John Muir.

As humans we all have our pains, our weaknesses, our struggles and our strengths. Everyone will face heartache, pain and grief, and hopefully joy, happiness and love. As individuals we face these ups and downs of life in different ways. I know, for me, what helps heal my heart and whats helps remind me of all the good in life are times of reflection, prayer, being with loved ones, and being in nature. Before I left for South America, I was overwhelmed with many different facets of life. My heart was broken from loss and change, and I was hoping and praying for a slice of peace and contentment exploring a new place. The experience in Chile, filled up the holes and worn down pieces of my heart with hope, wonder, awe and inspiration. Torres Del Paine — the hike, the people, and the unexplainable beauty of God’s creation was overwhelming, strenuous and powerful, in the best ways possible. 

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On our first day in the park, we were instantly lost in our surroundings. The striking colors of the rich blue waters, the massive glacial peaks, the guanacos galloping alongside our cars and the blustery winds, made it for quite the drive in. We were itching to get out of the car and onto the hike. Our day moved a bit slower then anticipated. There were four of us trying to get ready, a few that liked to sleep in (sorry!), bathroom breaks, snack breaks, coffee breaks, photoshoot breaks…..needless to say we began our hike slightly delayed. We were not worried as we had full bags of goodies, water, and four friends that loved to chat. We had all the time in the world….or so we thought.

The first hour or so of the hike went along swimmingly. It was not too steep and the temperature was actually delightful. Everyone had warned us of the insane weather and winds. We thought we had lucked out! Being that none of us knew much about the hike, or how long it would take, we took our sweet time. The ever changing landscape was unbelievable and of course, picture worthy. At first we hiked through lush green fields, weaved with bright unique flowers. Then the course took us onto a winding path beside treacherous cliffs, along surging rivers and waterfalls, over snowy banks, and toward ice glaciers. We stopped for picnic breaks, bathroom rests and naturally, the necessary photo-op…Our feet were beginning to get sore, but our hearts and minds were full of rich conversations and surreal backgrounds. We made it to the lodge about three and a half hours in and believed we were almost to the top. Wrong. We were only half way there. We didn't realize that our pace and our late start was beginning to add up. But we were not quitters. So we all pushed forward. 

Barb Jenkins, is Jedidiah’s mother and she is a legend. At 67 years young, she has done more in her lifetime then many, if not all will ever do. At 28 she walked across America. Yes walked. She has three fascinating, hard working and intelligent children. She loves to see the world. She is a Best-Selling Author. She is an entrepreneur. She is so proud of her children and grandchildren. She is a fighter, and not someone who gives up. And she loves Jesus. Her faith and her strength is truly something to be in awe of. I don't know many 67 year old's that would embark on a 12 mile hike, but Barb is not someone who stays behind on the sidelines. To watch her finish Jed’s bike trip in Patagonia, and to take on this hike all together, was truly something special to be apart of. She was going to finish it some way or another!

After we reached the half way point, the hike started to show its true colors. We began to learn what everyone was talking about. There were narrow logs to cross over frigid waters and the strength of the winds became a bit scary. The rain started to come down and at times it began to hail. Sophia, Jed and I pushed on— we knew the end was in sight, we were just beginning to wonder when we would see it. It was nearly 6 pm. Luckily for us, it did stay light until around 10 or 10:30, but it had taken us nearly 6 hours to get up, so the concern was lingering inside all of us. Barb convinced us to go on without her. She was going to take her time in the slippery, freezing, conditions. She had two large sticks and a couple of chants she would not give up. “Please Lord Jesus, I do NOT want to meet you today!” Then of course “Thank you the Lord for my walking sticks.” I just love that woman.

After ascending up a perpendicular cliff, over boulders that moved with the slightest touch, and blinding rain, we made it. In front of us, the other- worldy towers of Torres Del Paine. It is a moment, that will be engrained into the deepest parts of my soul forever. Sophia, Jed and I nearly burst out in tears at the sight of it. The accomplishment in and of itself was something we were all so proud of. I have certainly never climbed for that long and in those conditions. We cry/scream/laughed and took it all in. Every ounce of it. The glacial lake was a vibrant blue-green shade, the peaks and valleys surrounded us from all angles, and the sun started to peak out behind the clouds — it was magical. To  top it off, we were the ONLY ones up there — our own little slice of Heaven. To our knowledge there are usually several, if not hundreds of people at the top, at any given time. Fellow hikers, were most likely done with their hike by the time we finally got there, but it made the experience that much more meaningful and intimate. 

We jumped around and took hundreds of pictures, breathed in crisp, all-natural air and sat in stillness for a few moments. All the broken parts of my heart, all the worries, anxieties and stresses we cling to so deeply as humans, just faded away. I was simply present, humbled and grateful to be alive. This was living. And I’m damn glad I get to feel all the ups and downs that come with it. If we never felt the lows, the aches and pains, we would forget to appreciate the highs, the simple things in nature, and the beauty that is always there. Moments like this, restore me, invigorate me and give me hope.

The three of us were mesmerized, but came too when we realized the temperature was plummeting and the winds and rain were picking up. Also, our minds went to Barb, who was still out there! Although we had assumed she turned back to the half way point hours ago. It was 6:30 pm, when we made our way back over the boulders to head back down the mountain. As we reached the other side of the boulders to descend down, who did we see come charging her way up the mountain? None other then Barbara Jo Jenkins. She had forged on with her two walking sticks, her constant prayers, and her never- ceasing positive attitude. We could not believe it, yet we could because Barb is a badass!

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We joyfully embraced quickly, then made a game plan to get back down the mountain before it was pitch black. It was unlikely, but we were going to give it our all. Plus we had no choice, but to keep moving forward. As we descended, the weather only became worse. The rain was forceful, the winds were stronger by the step, and the sky slowly became dark. When we reached the half way point at 9 pm, several hikers told us we should just stay and camp. But we had no camping gear, and were completely drenched. That would not have made for the greatest experience. They were worried about our safety, and quite frankly we were too. We looked to Barb and she said, "Ya’ll come on, let's get going!" We scarfed down some food, put back on our boots and prepared to go back out into the increasingly dark night, freezing temperatures and pouring rain. I have never had to have more will power and strength in my life. What I would have done for a warm blanket and glass (or gallon) of wine. Everything hurt, we were exhausted, but we were going to get down to the bottom. Barb and Jed wouldn't have had it any other way, so off we went.

Sophia and I went on ahead, while we could still make out where the path was. Jed and Barb fell behind to take their time one step at a time. Sophia and I more or less sprinted as fast as we could — knowing at the bottom of this mountain was a lodge, with a fire and craft cocktails. I've never hiked so fast in my life. Around 10:30 pm, we saw the lights on at the lodge in the near distance. The adrenaline took over, and soon we were running with all we had left inside. When we reached the lodge we ran to the bar and ordered up all the drinks and snacks we could before it closed. We were so proud of ourselves, so thankful for the experience, but also in shock for the 10+ hour hike we had just endured. 

We looked outside the lodge windows and the rain was now coming down in sheets, the trees were banging against the lodge windows and the night sky was pitch black. After the first few sips of our drinks we were feeling real good. We were just so happy to not be hiking and to be sitting. These were well deserved. A few drinks later, the elation was wearing off and the panic was starting to set in. Barb and Jed were STILL out there. It was now nearly midnight and our nerves were starting to get the best of us. As we began to think of a plan, the clock struck midnight, and in walked Jed and Barb into the lodge. Dripping wet from head to toe, wind-blown and red in the face from the painfully cold air, but they were here. They made it. And they made it together. In the 70s, when Barb had walked across America with her husband, they completed their journey walking into the ocean in Oregon. 30+ years later, Jed embarked on his bike trip in the same place they ended theirs, riding all the way to Patagonia, Chile. A year and a half later, to finish the life changing experience, with a killer hike in Chile, accompanied by his mom—  it was incredible and emotional. Barb walked right over to us and we quickly handed her a mojito. Without a word, she sat down, drank it, and then said “Thank you Jesus, I am ALIVE!” What a woman. What special humans. What a day. What a hike. What a life.

The days in Chile, and especially Torres Del Paine will go down in my books as some of the most special, surreal and healing times. It never ceases to amaze me what travel can do for a soul. Not only travel, but the power of the human connection. The people you meet along the way, the conversations, the adventures had alongside one another — it is powerful and life changing. I find myself reflecting on how different and simultaneously, how similar we all are.  There are people from all over the world, from various backgrounds, religions, sexes and beliefs. We all have a story. At the core of us — there are struggles, darkness, joy, heart break, dreams and desires. We are all on this journey of life together. It is a reminder to be more kind and to be more understanding, even when it is difficult too. Traveling puts life into perspective for me. I think it can be easy as a human, to think we face obstacles alone. Or that we are the only ones to face certain hardships. Travel is a humbling reminder that the grass is not always greener, that there is always someone else that needs our prayers and that is facing a greater brokenness in their life. It allows me to become more empathetic, to be intensely grateful for new and old relationships, to appreciate nature at its finest, to find true contentment in presently living, and as Barb says, “To simply Thank God for eyes to see.”  Amen Barb, Amen.