October '19 Book Review: Riding Into the Heart of Patagonia, by Nancy Pfeiffer


I’ll start with a full disclose: I haven’t seen Nancy in 30-some years since I moved from my home in Alaska. Occasionally while catching up with friends they’d fill me in on some of her adventures and her ‘career’ in outdoor leadership. I always had great respect for Nancy, her abilities and her ‘take no shit’ attitude. We, as a group of friends, did some great hikes and ski trips together in Alaska.

 It surprised me when she announced that she’d written and published her book; Riding Into the Heart of Patagonia, about her 20 years of adventures riding her horses over 3,000 kilometers in Chile. I knew Nancy as a woman who loved the outdoor sports of skiing, mountain climbing, kayaking and whatever else she could find to conquer. This book journals her adventures in learning horsemanship as she rode through the remote Patagonia countryside under often-brutal conditions. Now I’m also happy to discover she’s darn good at writing, as well as equestrian skills.

Nancy has captured the skill of description as she paints a vivid world for you to see, hear, smell and almost touch. She doesn’t gloss over the difficulties or her own fears and self-doubts when things get rough. She makes mistakes; wrong turns and misjudgments in gear, getting in over her head at times, but bulldogs her way through the challenges. She also meets wonderful people, crosses amazing landscapes and bonds with her horses.

Patagonia and Chile are changing at a rapid rate as the modern world rolls in to this once remote land. Nancy was there to experience the ‘old ways’ and witness the changes that are reshaping the land and people of Patagonia. It’s not that many years earlier that the both of us experienced the similar changes of advancing ‘modernization’ in Alaska.

Having gone through the ‘Pipeline Days’, when the Alyeska Pipeline was built to transport crude oil from Prudhoe Bay on the north coast of Alaska, to the southern port of Valdez, Nancy could see a similar pattern happening to the land and people of Patagonia.

I’m left with complete respect for Nancy’s writing skills as well as her sense of adventure and love of the outdoors, her willingness to explore a country where she wasn’t fluent in the language (at first), where a woman was not expected to be traveling without a man, and her tenacity to tough it out when the going got rough.