“Patagonia is a glacier-scraped, barren, windy, vast empty place. Standing alone out there I felt there were only me, the earth and the sky. Life is reduced to just two things, the Earth and the one person standing on it. This planet is so much bigger than any one or all of us; it moves on no matter what happens to us in our tiny lives. Everything I had been going through shrank and shriveled up in importance. The forces that made Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia are millions of years old. The fjords that have been gouged out, the sharp, jagged mountains that have been pushed up…what is my tiny, short life compared to that?” Pam Barkas
The focus of this week’s Blog is MYMF client Pam Barkas. Pam has trained with Stephanie for over 10 years and exercises regularly on her own. She is 65 years young and a retired school teacher. Pam and her husband are Monrovia residents. Last fall they embarked upon an adventure to Patagonia which included an event listed as an “Extreme Hike.” For Pam, this would prove to be much more than just another vacation. Read on to find out why…
BACKSTORY- The Gathering Cobwebs…
Six months prior to her trip to Patagonia, Pam began caring for her ailing mother who did not have long to live; she said: “…suddenly I’m having to guide someone else through the steps toward death.” The responsibility was tremendous: hospice care arrangements, tons of paperwork and dealing with her mother’s property and belongings. She visited her mother daily to make sure that she was comfortable and cared for properly. Additionally, Pam’s birth mother who lived out of state was also gravely ill.
As a result of the continuous stress and emotions produced by this situation, Pam began to have mental lapses and forgetfulness in other areas of her life which caused some problems for her. It was as if her head was filling with cobwebs and she began to be concerned about the reliability of her own mind. On August 2, 2015, both her mother and birth mother passed away within an hour of one another. Pam attended two funerals and was now left numb and in a state of grief; she was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. As if that were not enough, on November 23, just one day prior to catching a plane to Santiago for the Patagonia trip, Pam was involved in a minor car accident which she says was her fault. Thankfully no one was hurt and Pam was able to board that plane.
Her trip did not begin well, she says: “I was so exhausted that I walked like a zombie and couldn’t carry on a conversation”. Things began to change as the trip progressed. The new sights and the rigorous attention to detail that travel requires helped Pam to regain some focus. Little did she know that the upcoming hike would require more of her concentration than she would have ever imagined.
THE INTERVIEW: In Her Words
Q: Why did you to choose this destination?
A: A couple that we had traveled with before told us about the trip. We had always wanted to travel with them because we had had such a great time on our previous trip together. At the time we said we would go, we didn’t really know that much about the area until the tour company sent us the information after we booked it.
Pam told me that the trip turned out to be a much more physically challenging than they expected. Below are some highlights from the travel brochure:
- Daytime temperatures range from 50-60 degrees in Patagonia
- Rain or high winds are possible at any time
- Bumpy, gravelly and ice roads; rugged paths over rocks, hard sand, and icy surfaces
- Hiking through uneven terrain and high winds on 5 treks of about 2 hours each.
NOTE THE FITNESS REQUIREMENTS:
- Must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted on rough terrain and participate in 6-8 hours of physical activities each day.
- No medical facilities nearby.
- Agility and good balance are needed.
Q: Did your fitness play a part in your overall enjoyment of the trip?
A: Fitness played a big part in enjoying this trip. If I hadn’t been as physically fit as I was, I wouldn’t have been able to do much of anything other than walking around a town and then sit on my butt! Stephanie had made sure that my body was ready if I were to take on anything physical. (A special note to any of you who want to do more hiking, Pam told me that the high “Step-Up” exercises were exactly what she needed for the steep terrain she hiked).
Q: Describe what some of the “Extreme Hike” was like:
A: The first part of the Extreme Hike was at a 35-degree angle over rounded icy rock where the guide moved us quickly. The rest of the way was over a muddy, slippery path which was extremely steep and it was impossible to walk upright because of that. Then the path disappeared to be replaced by small boulders of varying size. There was a rope one could grab, I used it sometimes but it was actually easier just to climb on all fours since it was so steep.
Q: Pam, describe your mindset during this hike — when did you know that you could get it done?
A: I knew I could do it after the first sprint over the icy rocks. If I could move that fast over slippery ground, I felt certain that I could handle whatever else would come.
Q: Why was it so important to you to complete this hike?
A: If I had quit after the first sprint, I knew it would regret it later thinking that MAYBE I might have been able to do it. There have been so many things in my life lately that I know I can’t do anymore. At the time, I remember thinking, “This I can do”
Q: What was the hardest thing about the hike?
A: Coming down. It’s much easier to go up something steep. Going down something steep puts pressure on the knees, and though I don’t have knee problems, they are still 65 year-old-knees. There were no flat places to put one’s feet. The ground was covered with uneven rocks that could wobble if stepped on. For this part, I scooted down on my butt most of the way until we got to the slippery path where our feet could slide out from under us. For that part, I tried to hold onto bushes and walk on the edge of the path which had a little scrub on it.
Q: What did you like the best about the hike?
A: Just having done it. The words “having a sense of accomplishment” only hints at what I felt. One can have a sense of accomplishment by vacuuming, but this was internal. I knew that I had done something spectacular FOR ME, the person I am– A non-athletic, never played sports, mentally and emotionally weakened person. It was a pleasant romp for the 20 year-olds, but for me, it was something completely different. This involved only me, the weather and the geography. There are no distractions and no thoughts. Just my body moving.
CONCLUSION: Cobwebs Cleared – Joy Reignited!
By the end of her 21-day trip, Pam told me that she had “cleared the cobwebs” from her head. The medicine of movement had done its work. Pam not only found herself again, she discovered that she is mentally and physically stronger than she knew; here’s what she told me:
When we were all gathered together at the bottom and the hike was over, my immediate thought was thankfulness for the hot chocolate laced with brandy that we were given!! But later, after having done this hike and the climb up the cliff on Cape Horn battling the weather, I wasn’t afraid anymore that my faculties were starting to go because of age. I wasn’t panicked that I would leave something undone in dealing with legal issues. I felt physically strong, yes, but mentally I changed too. My thoughts weren’t scattered anymore and I was able to concentrate. I was capable of feeling joy!
We are truly inspired by Pam and her story, and we hope you are too! Thank you, Pam, for being vulnerable and sharing your story.
Would you sign up for this type of challenge? Have you had an experience similar to Pam’s where a physical challenge has helped clear your mind and lifted your spirit? Please share your thoughts and comments with us. Would you like to share your story? Drop us an email and we will set up an interview, we would love to share your story of living and thriving in our blog.
Written by Hope Langevin – Certified Personal Trainer – Move Your Mountain Fitness
Stephanie and Hope are personal trainers alongside a team of trainers and can be reached for a complimentary consultation at http://www.moveyourmountain.com OR use the contact form below!
“Reignite YOUR courage and CLIMB to new Heights”
Move Your Mountain Fitness
Stephanie Aikin – Certified Personal Trainer
120 E. Santa Clara St.
Arcadia, CA 91006
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