How It Feels to Be Yvon Chouinard
Credit: Jean-Marc Giboux / Getty Images
Look at these hands!" It's early morning, and we're heading down an empty gravel road into the interior of Tierra del Fuego, to the secret river. "Paper cuts!" Chouinard is saying. "I've got paper cuts! All I do is work!" He can't wait now to suffer, can't wait to sleep on cold dirt under the stars.

The road rises past tin houses that rattle in the cold wind. It's a sound that maybe only 10 people a year get to hear, the landscape is that empty. Sheep and cattle scatter as we pass. After two hours, we arrive at the 50,000-acre Estancia Marina, southwest of Río Grande.

Yes, he will lead us to the river, the estanciero – the owner of the ranch – tells us. "I have no idea if it's got fish," he says, "but, please, be my guest, fish it. And tell me if it's any good."

This idea of an unfished river astonishes Chouinard, and we follow in our rented pickup as the estanciero leads us along a path through dense stands of beech trees that seem to close behind us as we pass – I begin to imagine that we'll never find our way back. The sun is warm on our faces, and I look up and see the snow on the mountains and feel the cold wind and hunch down in my jacket and feel lonely and happy all at once. Chouinard says, "Jesus, what country, what country." At a camp on a hill above the river, we build a fire at dusk.

Across the water, we can see a kind of tepee, a 40-foot cone of carefully arranged logs – the former home, the estanciero told us, of the last Ona Indian to have lived in Tierra del Fuego, dead for some 20 years now. The story may or may not be apocryphal, but the tall, blackened doorway suggests an uneasy emptiness, as if someone has just stepped back from it into the shadows. Wherever we look, we see it out of the corners of our eyes. "Spooky," says Chouinard.

At the campfire, Chouinard starts making dinner. He lays our steaks – the only food we've brought – directly on the fire's red coals. Even though I am aware that we have no plates or cooking utensils with us, I still can't believe what I'm seeing. I'm certain that our entire food cache is turning to cinders.

It's then that I realize we haven't brought any water with us either. In fact, I have outfitted myself for this three-day camping trip with nothing except a tent and a sleeping bag. Chouinard has brought along even less. "I didn't even buy a tent until I was 40," he explains. "I could always find a cave, or a tree, out of the wind..."

After a while, though, the lack of supplies doesn't trouble me. I start to think, Who needs all that shit? Chouinard is squatting by the coals, smiling at the glow. "This will work out great," he says. "I once taught a class about cooking outdoors without pots and pans. You can make bread, you know, just by using a stone." He snatches the steaks from the fire and sets them on a mossy log. They're not burned, and they're not coated with cinders. They're perfect, in fact. We eat in the dark with our fingers, tearing off pieces with our teeth.