Health & Wellness

Nature Cure

One writer shares the best trip she ever took that reconnected her to the natural world.

I love living in New York City, but for vacations, I almost always opt for the great outdoors. And for years Patagonia—the remote region of mountains, glaciers, and lakes in the southernmost part of South America—was at the top of my bucket list. So I was thrilled when, over dinner one January evening, I convinced three good friends to go with me on a hiking tour there. The trip, organized by an active-travel company, wouldn’t happen until that December (one of the region’s warmest months), so we had plenty of time to plan our adventure.

The next morning, a freak accident put the trip—and my life—on hold. I was walking from my apartment to the subway when an out-of-control taxi jumped the curb onto the sidewalk and hit me, throwing me several feet into the air and depositing me on the concrete, facedown and unconscious. I suffered multiple fractures in my face and jaw, a severe concussion, a broken rib, herniated disks in my neck, and cuts on my face and ear that required stitches. I remember none of this, but according to bystanders who immediately called 911 and rushed to my side, the scene was a grim one. Several witnesses said they weren’t sure that I would survive.

I spent several days in the ICU. My parents were with me nearly 24/7, and though I was in bad shape, we all shuddered to think how much worse it could have been. From the hospital, I went home to rest and recover. It was a long, painful process; my whole body hurt from head to toe. Once the symptoms of my concussion faded, my doctors gave me the OK to return (slowly) to work. I was definitely better, but it was months before I didn’t collapse on my couch at the end of the day.

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With time, my medical team assured me, my bones would heal and I’d feel (and look) like my old self again. By April, the Patagonia trip, which I’d assumed was off the table, began to glimmer once more as a possibility, and it was a huge motivator as I slogged through countless medical appointments, tackled insurance paperwork, and eventually underwent reconstructive surgery to repair fractures in my nose and cheek. My would-be travel companions, who had provided invaluable support through every phase of my recovery, were just as determined as I was to take this trip together. By early summer, we were looking into flights and buying hiking gear.

Just before Christmas, the four of us flew to the bottom of the world for what would have been the coolest vacation I’d ever taken, regardless of the circumstances: hiking in the vast Patagonian wilderness with local guides, seeing massive icebergs up close, strapping on ice shoes and walking on a glacier. But the fact that my year had begun with such trauma transformed this December getaway into a celebration without equal.

On my favorite day, we went on a heart-pumping, uphill hike to a glacial lake with spectacular views of the jagged Fitz Roy peaks of the Andes. When I reached the lake and sat on a rock to eat lunch, I was sweaty, exhausted—and exhilarated. The “healing power of nature” may be a cliché, but as I gazed up at those mountains and breathed in the pure, mind-clearing air, I was overcome with feelings of strength and gratitude. And for perhaps the first time ever, I fully understood how blessed I was to be looking forward to a happy, healthy new year.

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