My First Big Miles


In my previous post, “Don’t give up,” I shared the beginnings of my journey towards tackling the PCT. As someone who meticulously plans all activities, undertaking something like the PCT requires extensive prior planning. For me, this planning involved rearranging my life over a four-year period. Today, I’m delighted to share a few lines from Mayer’s poem, which, as mentioned in my earlier post, has become my mantra:

For this is the moment and the best time.

The focal point of this post will be the preparation phase of my PCT journey, during which I endeavored to envision how my body and mind would fare on the trail. To achieve this, I embarked on a multi-day trek, testing my capabilities with what’s commonly referred to as “Big Miles.”

Big Miles concept

The concept of Big Miles is widely used among thru-hikers to denote days of covering substantial distances. Any day where you hike more than 50 km is considered a Big Mile day.

Photography Course

Before delving into my experiences with Big Miles, I’d like to share another significant step I took in my personal growth journey: enrolling in a mountain-focused photography course led by the talented Argentine photographer Alejandra Melideo (@alejandra_melideo).

Seeking the light

In my previous post, “Don’t give up,” I mentioned a mountaineering course I had undertaken, where I was pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie among fellow participants. In the photography course, this connection reached even greater depths.

I and Alejandra Melideo

Throughout the course, I noticed a transformation within myself: Alejandra guided me in awakening a level of sensitivity I didn’t know I possessed. This fostered a profound connection with each participant. Alejandra’s approach encouraged us to showcase the world as we see it through our own eyes, and I believe each of us succeeded in doing so.

Opening up to the world

Coming from a rigorous scientific background, such as engineering, where hours are spent seeking the optimal solution to a problem, embracing photography was quite a challenge. I discovered that there isn’t a singular solution but rather a spectrum of possibilities. However, as with life, the most challenging endeavors bear the greatest rewards, and my biggest reward was shedding my fear of revealing myself to the world.

On this journey, I must mention Monika, Victoria and Eliana. Three wonderful women and fellow photography adventurers who helped refine my eye. I value them greatly!

My trekking Plan

With the photography course underway, I had to complete an assignment involving generating photos for an essay on a topic. Being a foreign student, I decided to showcase my homeland. To tie this in with my passion for sports, I organized my trek in Uruguay’s most popular area: it’s beach towns.

Map of My Progression to Big Miles Day

The trek spanned six days, during which I aimed to progressively cover a distance of 30 km per day. I chose this distance because it mirrors the average daily distance required to complete the PCT in five and a half months. On the final day, I set myself the challenge of completing a Big Mile—72 km—which I’ll share the experience of later. But before delving into that day, I want to share some photos and stories from the places I visited. If you ever find yourself in Uruguay, chances are you’ll come across these beautiful spots in my country.

La Floresta

Sunset in La Floresta beach

My starting point was my parents’ summer house in La Floresta. I remember the night before setting out, I was quite anxious and went down to the beach to watch the sunset. My anxiety stemmed from the fact that trekking is not very common in Uruguay, especially not in the style I was planning to undertake. My idea was to go in a format similar to how I would tackle the PCT. This meant loading my backpack with my tent, sleeping bag, cooking utensils, food, etc. That was quite unusual because I would be surrounded by civilization every day, so it wasn’t necessary to trek with that load at all. Essentially, I felt a bit embarrassed about what people would think seeing me walking along the beach with all that gear. After a while there, I convinced myself that what I was doing was nothing to be ashamed of, and if anyone wanted to judge me, they could go ahead.


The first point that caught my attention was a sign at a beach near my starting point. The sign, depicted in the photo, bears the following English translation:

“Only when the last river has been poisoned, the last tree has been cut down, the last fish has been caught, will humans realize that money cannot be eaten.”

It’s a very powerful and straightforward message written there. I believe that if I had passed by the sign in a car or on a bicycle, I wouldn’t have read it with enough detail to reflect on its message. I strongly resonate with the essence of the message. It seems to me that the society we have constructed places too much importance on money, which harms us, creates divisions, greed, and excessive ambition. However, I also believe that blaming money is oversimplifying the problem. Money and capitalism are just tools; it is us who use them in environmentally unfriendly ways. Therefore, it is up to us to reverse that impact and create a more just and equal society.

Just over an hour into my journey, I felt that a simple detail like a sign had already made me reflect a lot on our lives. So, I continued happily with my decision to attempt trekking along the beaches of my country.

La Tuna

Entrance to La Tuna beach

The entrance to the beach are always a particular feature of the town. Each area addresses this beach access differently. In this case, that circular entrance brings back many fond memories for me. I remember having some beers with my friends sitting on those bricks waiting for my favourite rock band concert. We witnessed an incredible sunset and then rocked out to La Trampa at one of their last shows.

Santa Ana

Volleyball has always been an integral part of my life because I loved practicing the sport, honing my technique, and improving my physical fitness to perform better. Now, looking back on the past, I realize it was also the first tool through which I began to socialize! In sports, I found a comfortable place to start building bonds from a young age. If you remember my post “My Broken Tower,” the atmosphere surrounding the volleyball team with my coworkers was incredible. Through that activity, we elevated the unity within our work group, greatly improving the relationship among everyone, which in turn extended to our families.

Beach Volleyball match at Santa Ana beach

As I reached the endpoint of my first day of trekking along the Uruguayan coast, I set up my tent at the campsite and headed down to the beach. Upon arrival, I noticed a volleyball net and approached it. There were a couple of people recruiting others to try to beat a group that had been playing all afternoon without losing a match. Since my knee injury, I hadn’t played volleyball again, but the journey presented me with a new challenge. I decided to embrace it. It was so much fun to enjoy the sport I loved again, without the pressure of competitive play. In that game, we managed to defeat the “unbeatable” team and continued playing until the sunlight faded away.

Las Flores

Las Flores is a resort town on the way to the city of Piriápolis, where the Pittamiglio Castle is located.

Pittamiglio castle

Constructed by the architect and alchemist Humberto Pittamiglio in the early 20th century, this castle is an eclectic mix of architectural styles and alchemical mysteries. Filled with alchemical symbols, it was conceived as a laboratory for his experiments.

Pittamiglio castle inside

Today, the Pittamiglio Castle is a tourist attraction where you can explore its unique interior gardens and beautiful rooms. Additionally, activities related to those originally carried out in the castle are held here. The entire environment transports you back in time, to an era and a world where alchemy and magic come to life. From the vegetation to the symbols of the sun and moon, to the water fountains and walls with marks of black tongues and ashes, everything points to rituals involving fire and many other mysteries. It’s a beautiful journey that I had never experienced before. Fortunately, I diverted towards that sign that read “Pittamiglio Castle”! It was a wonderful addition to my trip.


Finally, I arrived at my final destination of the day: the city of Piriápolis. This city must be one of the most beautiful in Uruguay. Its promenade and beaches are stunning, and it offers a wide range of gastronomic and entertainment options. Surrounded by hills with abundant vegetation, where you can immerse yourself in nature. From the city, you can reach the top of the hills and enjoy beautiful views.

Although my body didn’t allow me to climb any of those hills, I did walk along the promenade and spent some time at the port observing the boats.

Punta Ballena

My first day surpassing the 30 km mark of walking took me to Punta Ballena, a peninsula elevated over the water with steep and zigzagging descents of rocks. Here lies the marvelous Casa Pueblo, designed by Páez Vilaró. I decided to capture these features in photographs.

Sunset Punta Ballena

Being a small peninsula, you can enjoy views both to the East and to the West. At sunset, I witnessed a beautiful sunset painting the sky yellow with the slight cloudiness present.

Rocky coast in Punta Ballena

The rugged descents are formed by huge rocks that withstand the onslaught of the sea 24 hours a day. I wanted to capture this scene at night, aiming for a silky effect in the photograph to create an enigmatic and mystical atmosphere.

Light trail in Punta Ballena

To show the zigzag silhouette of Punta Ballena, I waited until nightfall. I placed my camera, which Monika had given me, on some rocks and tried to capture the trail of light from a passing car. Although coordinating the timing was challenging, I was lucky when the last car decided to head back home, resulting in a photo I really liked: the lights leaving a trail in the night of Punta Ballena.

Punta del Este

What can I tell you about Punta del Este? Probably the most famous city in Uruguay after Montevideo, its capital. It’s a beautiful city with huge buildings, services, and entertainment options. Its beaches have crystal-clear waters, a result of its rocky soil and the contribution of the Atlantic Ocean waters.

La Barra bridge

My route didn’t take me along the coast of Punta del Este because it involved a significant detour in my journey. Honestly, being surrounded by such an urbanized environment wasn’t my style or intention. Instead, I traversed the city through its inner streets until reaching the intriguing La Barra Bridge, which captivates with its undulations. It becomes a fun experience for those who cross it by vehicle, creating a sensation of weightlessness in the stomach.

Big Miles day

I found a nice spot to camp in the Buenos Aires beach town. My body was in good shape after covering kilometers, as I had two consecutive days of walking just slightly over 30 km. Then came the day of madness: La Paloma was my next target, and 72 km separated me from that destination.

Milky way over Buenos Aires summer town,

That day, I set out to start at 4:00 a.m. I woke up, had breakfast inside the tent, and stepped out to encounter one of the best starry nights of my life. I organized my belongings and headed towards the coast. Along this stretch, I would have to walk practically the entire way alongside the road.

The night fears

I won’t lie; I felt quite scared walking at night in an unfamiliar place. This fear had several components, some quite rational and others irrational.

For instance, I feared being hit by a car on the road due to the lack of lighting. Even though I had my flashlight, it didn’t guarantee that cars would see me on that semi-deserted road. Additionally, I had an irrational fear that someone might stop their car and try to rob me or something similar. Despite Uruguay being a very safe country and always feeling secure, even living in a tough neighborhood in Montevideo, this fear persisted. Perhaps my subconscious was materializing a sad anecdote from my mother, who shared a similar experience from her youth. I should clarify that nothing happened to her because she’s a fighter.

To mitigate these fears, especially the rational ones, I decided to walk at a distance of about three meters from the road. Unknowingly, I was applying one of the first actions of what is known in mountaineering as Risk Management.

San Javier House

After a few hours of starting my journey, I was amazed by this area of the country’s beaches. After leaving Punta del Este behind, I thought that the resorts with the highest purchasing power were also behind me. Oh, how wrong I was, Diego! You know nothing about Uruguayan beaches! Haha. Spectacularly illuminated mansions began to appear at night, boasting incredible views of the coast. This is the case with the house in the photo, located in the San Vicente resort, a place I had no idea even existed. That’s when I realized that this area is home to much more exclusive and, consequently, much more expensive properties.

The first pain

Road to José Ignacio

The sun began to rise, and my fears started to fade away. The route transformed into a more beautiful and safer place to walk. José Ignacio is the most exclusive resort in my country, and the idea of entering it hadn’t crossed my mind, so I decided to make my first stop of the “BIG MILES day” at a gas station. I was surprised to realize that I had walked 19 km continuously in just over four hours. When I stopped, I noticed a slight pain in my body, something I hadn’t experienced in the previous days; my leg muscles were tighter and felt cramped.

A 15-minute break made me feel much better, so I decided to start the next strategy from there. I would walk for 1 hour and 50 minutes and then rest for 10 minutes, a strategy I kept up for many more kilometers.

Laguna Garzón houses

The oceanic beach blends with the freshwater courses of the country, as in the case of Laguna Garzón and its beautiful houses along the coast. Here marked the end of the Maldonado department and the beginning of the Rocha department. It seemed incredible to me to have completely crossed the Maldonado department in these days. I had crossed it on foot, with my mountain backpack in self-sufficiency mode, something quite unusual in my country. I remember it was around noon, and I decided to stop for lunch in a small grove by Laguna Garzón.

The Painful Route of Rocha

From here on, the road became quite torturous. My body complained about the effort in a sequence that I found amusing. First, cramp in the right calf, then it would disappear only to start in the left calf, and then vanish again. I had a brief respite of about 15 to 20 minutes without pain, and then a pain would start in the middle of my shoulder blades. I remember talking to myself, saying, “Just 20 more minutes until a little break, one more small effort, and your future self will be grateful,” and so it was. Step by step, stop by stop, succession of pains to succession of pains, I reached what I saw as my great objective: the immense Rocha Lagoon.

The False Sense of Victory

Men working at the lagoon bar

I arrived at a beachside bar, attended by two elderly gentlemen who clearly spent every afternoon there. The bar was deserted, as that stretch of the road was disused, with a detour about 12 km away from where we were. These gentlemen warmly welcomed me and asked what I was doing there with such a large backpack. They said, “But you are crazy! That’s too far to walk, especially with that load.” Well, perhaps I am a bit crazy, but this was one of my many tests to see if I would enjoy the experience of hiking the PCT. In this place, I made the first mistake of the day; my concentration had dropped, thinking I was close! That I had arrived! I remember looking in the direction I needed to go and feeling a drop of sweat trickle down my back. From photos, I knew La Paloma had a lighthouse on the beach. I searched for that lighthouse with my eyes, and the only thing that could be a lighthouse on that clear afternoon with a spectacular view was a tiny black stick, no bigger than seeing a fallen eyelash in the palm of your hand.

The feelings ruling over reason

My lonely steps on the beach

I started walking along that deserted beach, literally there was no one for kilometers and kilometers of soft sand. This scenario of more than 10 km of sand became torture, even worse than all the previous challenges. To make matters worse, I had lost my calm and focus on my strategy; my mind and body just wanted to reach the destination.

I stumbled along the sand, clearly off-balance to the sides. Let’s say, to avoid lifting my legs, I was swaying my hips to free my feet from the sand and keep moving. Obviously, walking like that only increased my fatigue. My mind had relinquished the meticulous control it had maintained, leaving room for the clumsy Diego who just wanted to get there.

The destiny call

Turtle egg

Until something happened, an image snapped me out of my stand-by state. Ahead of me, there was a turtle egg surrounded by marine vegetation right in front of the beach. In that moment, I grabbed the camera that my friend Monika had given me and took the photo you see above. That scene meant a lot to me; it symbolized growth, effort, and the race for survival. Newly hatched turtles have to emerge from their eggs and make a desperate dash to reach the water to avoid being eaten by seagulls along the way. I sat there for a while, looking back, and behind me, the sun was setting, giving me one of the best sunsets of my life. If you don’t believe me, see it with your own eyes:

Sunshine on the La Paloma beach

This sequence of events brought me back to my senses, allowing me to take control again and navigate the few kilometers that remained.

The goal

Me after 17:30 hours walking

I arrived at the campsite, threw my things on a plot, and headed straight to the shower. There, I checked my watch and saw that I had been walking for 17 and a half hours and had covered 72 km. My joy knew no bounds, and with my tired face, it ended up being quite a characteristic scene of that self-portrait I took. I like to call it my “Felisancio” face, a combination of the Spanish words “Feliz” (happy) and “Cansancio” (tiredness).

The La Paloma lighthouse

The next day, I went to the La Paloma Lighthouse. That lighthouse, which was like a speck in the palm of my hand, yet also marked the end of my journey and that experience. Let’s say that lighthouse was my Northern Terminus of the PCT. I was very emotional that day; my eyes get moist just remembering it. Maybe it’s because I’m finishing writing these words while sitting on my plane to Los Angeles, where I hope to enter the United States and start living my dream. To set my feet on the Pacific Crest Trail and give it my all, just like I did that day when my legs allowed me to keep going.

The Rebirth of the Flame

I want to conclude this post by discussing the most important outcome that resulted from this crazy journey of walking along the coasts of my country in PCT mode. A fellow participant in my morning workouts had been writing to me and cheering me on throughout these days. I got along very well with her, and she was very attentive to everything I was doing. At that time, she didn’t know everything that was going through my head or the entire process that was happening within me.

Returning to the verses of my mantra, from Mayer’s poem:

“… Lower your guard and extend your hands … Open the doors, remove the bolts, and abandon the walls that protected you …”

It was time to open up again, Diego; it was time to let myself be loved again. And that’s how my dear Caro Otatti came into my life. The flame was reignited because self-esteem began to recover.

Caro and I

Today, we face this madness of the PCT separated by distance, she pursuing her dream of working abroad and me traveling my path from Mexico to Canada. Let’s go, Carotti, we can do this!

I have many stories to tell from my preparation phase, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do them justice because if all goes well, my PCT journey starts tomorrow, and I have several things to take care of on U.S. soil. Once again, thank you very much for reading and accompanying me on this journey. See you soon and thank you for being part of my PCT.

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Comments 10

  • Jimena aycart : Apr 10th

    Muy bueno Dieguito! Es un placer leerte siempre. Beso enorme. Keep moving!

    • Diego Acuna : Apr 10th

      Muchasss gracias!! Así lo haré pasito a pasito rumbo a Canadá, el tiempo dirá si llego y, sino lo hago, “el camino será mi recompensa” cómo dijo el Maestro Tabarez

  • Professor Jellybean : Apr 10th

    Beautiful pictures, Diego! Your teacher must be proud. And very moving storytelling, too. I’ll be following your PCT journey with great joy! 🙂

    • Diego Acuna : Apr 10th

      Really thank you!!! Alejandra Melideo is an amazing photographer! I love her work if you want to follow her is @alejandra_melideo in IG. I am very happy that you liked the photos! I felt a great improvement after the course and I want to try to reach that level of understanding with the environment on the PCT and I have my new camera 😄. My IG is @dacuna12. Thank you very much for the story. I like to remember the things that happen to me on trips and share them with all of you. Tomorrow I start my PCT 😁

  • Isa : Apr 10th

    Entendí todoo! Y me encantó!! Vamo’ arriba la celeste! Ya estás ahi y con vos estamos todos!

    • Diego Acuna : Apr 15th

      Jajajaja te habían quedado dudas de que tu amigo yorugua ta loco de remate?

  • Jeff Greene : Apr 14th

    Great photos and great story telling! Can’t wait to see them on the PCT!

    • Diego Acuna : Apr 15th

      Thank you Jeff! my first 4 days on the PCT 😁 I’m in Julian right now. I’m preparing things to upload here! Seeing everything being very interesting.

  • Felipe Vitar : Apr 17th

    Dieguito! muy bueno el post! todavía no lo terminé, lo voy leyendo de a ratos de descanso en el trabajo. Como ingeniero comparto que nos cuesta relajarnos un poco, soltar las cosas y no tener el control de todo, pero pregunto ¿a quién no le cuesta hoy en día esto? Me gusta el enfoque que diste y todo lo que vas aprendiendo en el camino, es inspirador para todos creo yo. M encantó cuando pusiste que buscamos una solución óptima para cada situación, pero que esto no existe en realidad, que lo más apropiado es pensar en que hay un amplio rango de posibilidades para cada situación, me quedaré con esto para cuando sea necesario.
    Te felicito por las fotos también y seguiré leyendo el post, cuando termine escribiré de nuevo! Excelentes fotos de Uruguay también, muy lindo de ver.

    • Diego Acuna : Apr 21st

      Muchas gracias Felipe! Me encanta siempre tener tu feedback tan completo y honesto! A seguir creciendo amigo!


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