TRAVEL FEATURE - - LOUIS LA PLANTE

Why I Hike - A Beginner Steps Foot in Patagonia

Gabby Preodor knows exactly who she is. She is a Chicagoan who likes shopping. And pub crawls. And Restaurant Week. When Preodor goes on vacation, she typically stays at all-inclusive hotels with scenic views and the need to constantly re-apply suntan lotion.

Except somewhere around the beginning of 2014, she asked herself: Why only love those vacations? She wanted adventure. So, Preodor and her boyfriend, Nick Tympone, planned a trip without Mai Tais. They were off to hike Patagonia.

National Geographic calls Patagonia “an adventure-travel rite of passage.” That’s what attracted Preodor and Tympone to the location. “From all-day hikes to guided tours for the less experienced, there are hikes for novices,” she says.

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The Journey Begins

Patagonia is a 260,000-square miles and covers nearly all of southern Argentina. The varying landscape meanders from level terraces from about 300 feet to the tableland region with an altitude of 5,000 feet. It offers grasslands, beech forests and glaciers to be seen.

With such a diverse offering, even the most adventurous can feel a little overwhelmed.

After weeks of Internet research, Preodor chose Antaras Patagonia, an adventure tourism company in Torres del Paine National Park in Argentina. The company offers hiking tours throughout Patagonia. Throughout a week, her hikes ranged, from half-day jaunts (around six miles) and full-day walks (around 14 miles). Preodor and Tympone did these with other hikers in groups of eight, guided by two tour guides.

“I liked that experienced and non-experienced hikers could tackle these treks,” says Preodor. They moved along the trails that reached high of 3,000 feet above sea level with people in retirement age, couples with young children and outdoor adventurers. “The avid hikers kicked our asses,” Preodor admits, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying the scenery--and the animals she saw in Patagonia.

From the more blase cows to to camels to unique birds (Preodor says of the latter, “I don’t know what they were, but those on the tour who knew what they were talking went ape shit over them”), there was never a dull moment. Especially when she came across a puma.

What Do When You Meet a Puma on a Hike

Apparently, consider yourself lucky. And don’t pet it.

Future Hikes

“I was nervous,” Preodor says. “I’m not that outdoorsy. I didn’t know if we would have the proper gear.” What she did pack.” Of course, she had “googled like mad” before her trip and knew two certainties: She did not want to be wet or cold. She bought long underwear, waterproof hiking boots and sweet jacket whose marketers touting its ability to keep her dry.

For the rest of her gear, Preodor relied on Antaras Patagonia for hiking trek poles and prepared lunches during longer day hikes.

Her clothing and equipment helped calm her nerves and enjoy everything that was “so beautiful,” Preodor says. “Everything was safe. We tried to extend our trip for another day.”

It was just what Preodor needed to keep her adventurous spirit alive.

“It was relaxing to be nature,” she says. “Once we got the bug during something like this, it made us want to do more.”