Bethany Hughes is about to start walking. And she won’t stop for the next five years.
The 20,000-mile trek, called “Her Odyssey,” will begin in Chile and end in Alaska. While many long-distance hikers seek to accomplish personal goals, for Hughes (trail name Fidgit), the journey is much more than a hike. It’s a medium for collecting stories and sharing her own.
For the past three years, Hughes has formed relationships with individuals and organizations along the route, undertaken several long-distance hikes, and taken a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course through the Wilderness Medicine Institute. “[The WFR] has been huge in a sense of emotional preparedness and being able to practice being calm in dangerous situations,” she said. Her hiking partner Lauren Reed (trail name Neon) has the same certification.
“I think it’s important that we be able to speak the same language of care and know what we’re talking about and looking at,” Hughes pointed out.
Reflecting on her WFR experience, she said that NOLS in Chile is “training leaders who also dream audaciously and build upon what they see, so I’m really honored to be one of you guys now, one of us now.”
We couldn’t have a more impressive addition to the family. As she walks, Hughes will not only perform service work in the rural communities where she will spend winters, but also collect the oral histories of those communities. Some of those stories will form an anthology of bedtime tales, while others will build on the “Herstory: She Can” series that Hughes has begun compiling to highlight women “who are making journeys toward their own highest self, pursuing their interests and passions.”
As she prepares, one of the most important aspects she has emphasized has been self-care and sound decision making. Hughes will often be in remote, unfamiliar places, and she was often asked whether she was afraid or if she planned to carry a weapon. While she has taken self-defense lessons, Hughes asserted that “The greatest weapon is being self-aware and being intuitive and listening to that … I think our greatest safety features are internal to us.”
She added that these questions about safety are “often coming from a place of [other people’s] fear, and ... I can’t carry that fear with me, that’s not mine, I’m not putting it in my backpack.”
With this preparation and confidence, it’s easy to think that Hughes may be impervious to the coming challenges, but she admits that “It’s really hard on you when it’s been raining for a week straight and there’s mold in your hair. You do begin to wonder why it is that you’re doing it.”
Hughes answers that question by coming back to her goals and her family:
“When you can close your eyes and see a face, that for me is reaching down into my soul and finding the faces of those people and carrying them in my heart. That’s what makes me do what it is that I’m setting out to do.”
Her final thoughts before heading south? “Whatever you do, love your family and read to your kids, and keep us in your hearts because that’s what keeps us going.”
Hughes will be passing through Coyhaique, where NOLS Patagonia is located. Learn how you can take your own Patagonian expedition with NOLS here.
If you have a trip coming up, consider adding some wilderness first aid skills to your toolkit. Learn more about wilderness medicine courses here.