A 18,221-mile, 6-plus-year odyssey: Summit County woman completes journey from southern tip of South America to Arctic Ocean
Seven years is a long time for anyone. For those just entering adulthood, seven years may entail a high school graduation, a college graduation, marriage and possibly kids.
For Summit resident Bethany “Fidget” Hughes and her hiking partner Lauren “Neon” Reed, the last seven years have been focused on trekking 18,000-plus miles from the southernmost tip of South America to the Arctic Ocean.
Titled the “Her Odyssey” expedition, the duo was inspired to make the trek for several reasons.
“The inspiration for the journey came from a crosshairs of passion for enjoying slow travel, enjoying the outdoors and connecting with people who have different perspectives.”
Hughes and Reed originally met when they were both thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. After an awe-inspiring journey along North America’s West Coast, the pair continued to keep in touch until Reed decided to join Hughes on the journey across the Americas.
They started the first leg of their journey across the Americas all the way back in November 2015 in Ushuaia, Argentina. Over the first five months, the duo hiked 1,500 miles from Nov. 23, 2015, to April 19, 2016, and covered 13 degrees of latitude in the process.
Hughes and Reed set out to complete the nonmotorized journey by hiking, biking, kayaking, river rafting and canoeing their way across the Americas. Hughes and Reed originally set the goal of finishing their expedition in 2020, but the pair did not consider being hindered by a worldwide pandemic.
“We were traveling through really vulnerable populations in Mexico at the time that COVID started,” Hughes said. “There was no way I was going to put our ego and ambitions before the health of the people who don’t even have running water.”
Hughes and Reed were also forced to come to grips with their own humility over the 18,221-mile journey.
They learned “that nature will dictate when and where you can go and that we need to adapt our plan to the natural environment rather than enforcing ourselves upon it,” Hughes said.
The pair faced a choppy Caribbean Sea while trying to paddle, a landslide in a valley they were trying to climb and snow storms.
Beyond natural inhibitors, the “Her Odyssey” expedition was also halted by social unrest in some of the countries which forced the pair to reroute or wait.
The pair was also challenged to find a good balance of covering ground, producing content for their followers and taking care of themselves.
Outweighing the challenges, however, were the memories that were made along the way and the people the pair met.
“The time that I got to spend in the kitchens with women and families across the Americas were some of my favorite memories,” Hughes said. “Learning to cook food, singing, dancing. Some of my favorite memories of hiking are walking or riding into the evening at that time when your shadow is 10 feet tall.”
After traversing the Great Divide Trail in Canada, the Continental Divide Trail across the Rocky Mountains, the Greater Patagonian Trail in South America and ancient road networks, Hughes and Reed completed the journey on Aug. 24, 2022, six years and nine months after embarking on the expedition.
Despite the long trek, Hughes and Reed learned about the importance of slow travel. They say not only does slow travel allow people to stop and observe, but it allows knowledge to be passed between communities.
Hughes and Reed also broadened their understanding of the climate crisis, women’s empowerment, Indigenous people and wilderness advocacy.
Hughes hopes to use the knowledge that was gained throughout the adventure to continue to help the world.
“I want what we’ve done to build on the heritage of women walkers and to help shift the narrative of exploration from focusing on the lone conqueror toward more collective appreciation and acknowledgment of locals,” Hughes said. “I want to promote humility and flexibility as being just as much keys to success as determination.”
With the completion of the journey, Hughes and Reed became one of the few women-only teams to complete an unsupported bike-packing route across Mexico and Central America.
After crossing 14 countries over the course of almost seven years, Hughes and Reed will now rest before Hughes turns her focus to writing a book about her and Reed’s experience over the last seven years.
“My primary focus for the foreseeable future is writing a book,” Hughes said. “Then my focus will be more on educating and passing this opportunity on.”
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