Bethany Hughes’s 20,000-Mile Hike Across the Americas
There are thru-hikers and then there are thru-hikers. Yes, it is extremely impressive to hike a pre-existing trail that connects you from point A to point B through beautiful, changing landscapes, across multiple states, and for what most people would consider to be a disgusting amount of miles. In this sedentary day in age, anyone who hikes at all is committing a feat. But then there are the thru-hikers that blow the minds of other thru-hikers. Bethany Hughes is one of these mind-blowers. She is piecing together her own 20,000-mile route, from Argentina to Alaska, traversing the longest contiguous mountain range in the world.
The trek began on November 23, 2015, at the Beagle Channel on Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of Argentina and the southern tip of the Americas. She followed the Andes Mountains through Argentina, Chile, and Peru—her current location—visiting many towns along the way. From there, she plans to walk through Ecuador and Colombia until she reaches Central America, where she’ll switch to a bike so she can visit more areas and travel more safely. The Continental Divide Trail will take her through the US, connecting her to the Great Divide Trail in the Yukon. To reach Alaska, she is contemplating hiking, biking, canoeing, or even dogsledding. The final destination will be the Arctic Ocean, accessed at some undetermined point along the northern Alaskan border.
Hughes motivation for this monstrous trek is more than “Just because.” As she hikes through each town and city, she is spending time with locals to collect and share their stories, while inspiring them to pursue their dreams. Together, the collected stories will show similarities and differences between both the countries comprising South America and between North and South America.
The stories are divided into two series, Story Time and Herstory. Story Time is a collection of folklore and legends that gives insight to the cultures and perspectives that she encounters along her journey. The storytellers range from children she met on the streets to locals that offered her food and a bed in their home, but they all have one thing in common: they are native. Because of this, each story has a very personal feel, whether it be because of they way the narrator speaks or because of familial rendition of a particular story. Reading through some, you can imagine some of voices that Hughes hears as she treks across two continents.
The other collection, Herstory, is a collection of personal anecdotes from local women who are trying to live their dreams. They range from women in pursuit of their passion to women who desire to pursue their passion, no matter how intangible they may be. Sometimes Hughes directly translates the story, and other times she or Reed writes it from a third-party perspective. The women interviewed often talk of adventure and the outdoors… it is of no surprise that these are the women drawn to Hughes and Reed, and you can bet they are even more inspired to explore the outdoors after being interviewed by them.
“This is Nuestra Odisea ,” Marlyn said. “No, honey, this is their Odyssey but it is called Her Odyssey,” her husband corrected. Marlyn stood firm, placing her fists firm on either side of her pregnant belly. “No, es NUESTRA odisea. We shared our nursery rhymes, I helped her translate an email, tutored Neon in Spanish,” she winked at us. Truly, she gets it, the spirit of this adventure. It is not one or two of us, it is all of us. Thank you, Marlyn, thank you all.
The Trip So Far
Hughes’s friend Lauren “Neon” Reed joined her for the South America portion of the trip. Their first section was a 1,400-mile stretch from the tip of Argentina to Bariloche, replete with road-walking, illness, bushwhacking, and the beautiful mountains of Patagonia. It took them four months to complete and they met countless people along the way as they began their collection of stories.
They visited a plethora of small towns, while also making trips to larger cities such as Santiago. But one thing was prevalent throughout all the towns—the extreme generosity shown by their hosts and local people. In their blog, they describe countless occurrences of strangers offering up their homes and people around them helping them maneuver through a foreign country. They experienced this before they even started, when they sorely discovered that there are no topo maps for Terra del Fuego. A local guide ended up taking them into his home, loaded routes onto their GPS, and gave them all the need-to-knows.
They wound through coastal forests, breached tree line to find fields of snow and returned below it, and passed by lakes and lagoons. Sometimes they would have a trail to follow, other times they wouldn’t. At times, their adventure seems relatable to a thru-hike of the one of the Triple Crown hikes: kindness from strangers, constantly changing terrain, and the dread of road walking, but then they describe how often they are route-finding, crossing multiple countries borders, and, oh, yeah, their incredible total distance.
Thru-hikers of the Triple Crown hikes have to plan town to town, while these two have to plan town to town and season to season. When they reached Barlioche in April of 2016, their time was up for season one. They had to wait out the winter before beginning their second season of their trek, which would last longer as they near the equator. They wove in out of Argentina and Chile, following parts of the Greater Patagonia Route, a 1,300-mile trail made up of dirt roads, paved roads, and single-track trails. They crossed the Bolivian border around mid-August, the Peruvian border in early November, and are currently hiking out of Cusco.
As they walked through South America, they expanded their focus as they learned about the water crisis in Chile and Argentina, and reached out to schools to promote the outdoors. Gathering information from the ever-present locals constantly populating their trek, they listened to personal stories and opinions on the matters, and created a story out of them to raise awareness about the current situation. Their Herstory and Story Time series continue as well, and even this early into their journey, these two women have collected enough stories to create their own library. The have touched the lives of many people simply by walking and showed them how to achieve goals. Through congenial conversation, Hughes is gathering local perspectives on issues and life and spreading the idea that dreams are more tangible than we think.
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