Llaima volcano, southern Chile | January 17, 2015 | 10:09am
I cannot believe how strong these guys are.
We've hiked through volcanic rock, hard ice, and mushy snow to install a seismic station at one of the higher elevations of the volcano. Armando and Dylan just hauled a massive pelican case up here with over 40 pounds of equipment.
I alternate between filming and photographing them as they shovel into the rock and snow. As they go through the labor-intensive process of installing yet another seismometer, I think about what it takes to do this kind of work. You have to be in really good shape. You have to be smart and patient, and deal with unpredictable conditions. You have to fix things when they break unexpectedly, and you have to remain calm when things go wrong. You have to be a problem solver.
You have to be a badass, I think. The next thing that pops into my mind is not so much a thought, but a feeling, deep in my gut,
I want to be more like that.
Two days later, just a few hours before I leave for the airport, Tim and I go swimming in the Allipén River in Melipeuco. The water is so cold it takes my breath away. My legs are completely numb as we get out, towel off, and sit down on the muddy bank. We talk about the future – where we want to travel and what we want to do. Tim tells me about his plans to bike across South America, and his pending grad school applications. I tell him about the work I do with marine scientists, and that I've always wanted to get certified to scuba dive.
“You should do it,” he says simply.
“Yeah, I should.”
“Seriously, just do it.”
We talk about relationships and friendships and love. Tim puts his arm around me, and I lean into him. Llaima sparkles in the distance. I squint at the now-familiar mass of rock and snow and ice reflecting the bright austral summer sun.
I don't want to leave. I want to stay in this moment forever.
I have no idea how different my life will be after this.
When I get home, I will spend a lot of time talking to a lot of people about volcanoes. One of my photos from Llaima will be published on the cover of a magazine. I will read thick books about plate tectonics and how the earth was formed. I will buy a pull-up bar and join a rock climbing gym. I'll run a half-marathon in the Smokey mountains. I will complete a week-long scuba diving course and get my open water diver certification. I'll film ultra marathon trail races in the southeast and run across ridge lines in the Canadian Rockies. Nine months from now my job will send me to South America again - to document a research expedition in the Galápagos Islands. I'll attend a professional science writing workshop and a photography symposium on wildlife conservation. I will document a high altitude balloon launch at a NASA base in New Mexico. I'll learn how to fly drones. I will swim, dive, run, hike, and climb as often as possible. I will challenge myself again and again - to the point of complete exhaustion. I will not stop.
I will also experience heartbreak and regret and self-doubt. I will deal with trauma and injuries and chronic pain. My life will not be perfect, but I will live more freely and fiercely than I ever have before.
I don’t know any of this yet, as I sit on the river bank with Tim. It will take me some time to fully realize how much this experience - this place, these people, the past 10 days - will shape the rest of my life.