Humbling experiences in a weighty 24 hours

How a day can change your perspective. Yesterday we arrived running through the traffic and hustle into Bariloche. We had pre-arranged a meeting with a friend of a friend to facilitate media and education as we have so little time to pass through places. To explain how this works a little, basically we contact a friend (at times they may not even know they are a friend yet!!), ask them an awful lot of favours, and more often than not they make incredible things happen, for no payment, just pure generosity with time and resources. So far we have been people have been incredibly warm, welcoming, trusting and kind to us. They become our friends instantly. Bear in mind at this stage they have never met us, and more than likely we have not washed recently. It’s entirely unlikley we have had sight of a mirror, sun-cream will have collected in little nooks and crannies in our weather-worn faces, dust on top of that.You are forming the right picture….

In Bariloche, a bustling tourist town of 150,000 nestling in the towering Andean mountains, the lovely and industrious Kari was our shining light. We arrived, set up camp in a cafe with wi-fi and somehow she just appeared, without us having made a firm agreement to meet in any particular place. The bright orange trailer did facilitate this slightly mind you. In she came to confirm that, yes, tonight we would run with her and some friends at 1800. Then she sped off into the cosmopolitan crowd.

She declined to mention we would be running in a group including two Ultra-marathon runners (she was one, clocking races of 100+ miles), and, incredibly, another athlete who was 100% Blind. No sight whatsoever. Wow.

We assembled at the bus station, and soon after Kari arrived, so did Hector and Negro, each holding either side of a short length of black elastic. She casually mentioned of his lack of sight, but no great big deal was made of it. It somehow felt very normal, that we should be embarking on a 15km run along the busiest road in the area peppered with large stones, broken drains and generally rough border on the edge of the busy road, with a blind athlete and the heavily laden trailer. After some last minute logistics (giving Hector to have a chance trying out the trailer!) off we sped with an incredible sunset forming over a warm mountainous backdrop.

After 1,400 miles we do have some fairly significant pains in our bodies; I have a groin strain that won’t go, and knee pain, Kath too. But as we loosened up a little and ran off the stiffness that had formed since the morning’s 12 miles, the significance of the evening started to bear upon us. In all of the conversation we had whilst we ran, of course never did Hector complain one bit about his lack of sight. Relatively speaking our trifles seemed insignificant. Negro and Kari mentioned very little of their running feats as they guided Hector through the hazards. We ran as a group  – each with a little something different in his or her running closet, together. We learned something about overcoming huge hurdles, thinking not of the barriers but only of the challenges in order to overcome them, never as an insurmountable barrier. I’m sure there will be reason to remember that evening further down the track . . . !

Moving on from this quite personal story, we had to return to Bariloche for logistical reasons (collect water filter, very important!!), and grab some food. We queued for some street food and I was approached by an older gentleman of 70 years, broad frame, with long but kempt hair, his right thumb lightly pressing into his throat. He smiled, and then asked us where the trailer was. Somehow he had recognized us in our civilian clothes, without the trailer, and wanted to talk. He had a strained and airy voice. As I found my words in Spanish he moved his thumb to reveal what he had his thumb over. To my shock it was a hole deep into his body. What?! It was enough to recoil, but I was intreagued and was desperate to appear unflappable for the sake of us both. My eyes watered a little. The hole had a small filter deep inside and then beyond was just his insides, I assume, perhaps where his lungs used to be. I asked how he breathed and eats.

He explained his unique operation and how he eats (through  his mouth of course, stupid!), and how he can speak if he covers the hole, in his scrappy voice. He explained with a smile that it hurt and he couldn’t talk too long, I felt guilty for asking!! He had been told by doctors he would never talk again, and didn’t for 1 year, until he learned again. He explained that for him learning to speak again was like us running 35 kilometers (referring to our daily mileage) which he’d remembered, and pointed to his head – it’s just in the head he wanted us to remember.

So, without wanting to be too weighty its been a fairly humbling 24 hours, and now we are being received by friends tonight who are incredible proponents and protectors of Argentina’s wild places . . . which proves to be another heavy experience. How our little orange trailer is opening some incredible doors . . .

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