Bethany “Fidget” Hughes and Lauren “Neon” Reed are traversing the length of the Americas by non motorized means, connecting stories of the land and its inhabitants. Follow them at Her Odyssey.
The rhythm of my footsteps, alternating with the click of trekking poles, has become the cadence of my life. I wave hello to the young girl who has paused in the middle of her family field to watch us pass. She is pulling a till, her father ahead of her is plowing with a shovel, her mother in a pollera skirt is crouched behind them, planting. The sun arches low, casting long shadows across the Bolivian altiplano.
Step, click, step, click, got to get to the next town before night fall, step, click, breathe, smell a dead thing. Pull my Buff up over my nose and dig out my phone to photograph a dead dog in the ditch, wait for satellite to hone in on our exact location on this great round globe. A condor circles overhead, waiting for me to be done with my business so he can proceed with his. In that moment I am still amidst all these life cycles.
Walking the trails, railroad tracks, and roads we pass people working their animals and land, the same as their parents before them and their parents before them. Except now, in some areas, communities have pitched in together and share a tractor, though most of it is still done by hand and in community. If our break times happen to align with theirs we sit and share an apple, orange, or whatever either of us has. Sometimes we are rewarded with a story, sometimes we just watch the lambs caper. Life is hard but unhurried out here, seemingly outside the reaches of time, except for the newly paved highway with trucks full of minerals from the mines hurtling to and fro behind our resting backs.
Our hike follows also in a succession of tracks laid before us. Anthropologists estimate that South America was populated at a rate of about 10 km a year––we cover that kind of ground before lunch each day. The Inca conquered local populations and built roads––we roughly follow the one called Qhapaq Ñan. Then the early European explorers came, followed by the colonists. Next it was the Latin Independence Movements. Modern adventurers began in 1977 with George Meegan, then Karl Bushbuy walking the length of the Americas. In 2008 Adventure Scientists’ founder Gregg Treinish and Deia Schlosberg walked from Ecuador to Ushuaia followed by Joey Shonka, who in 2013 began a walk from Cabo Froward to Punto Gallegos, Colombia.
All of these cycles, creating the context through which we move, come together and just as quickly dissipate when I have to jump out of the way of a mine truck speeding past. Location found, photo and notes recorded. I take a deep breath and immediately regret it because this dog has been dead just long enough to be at the peak of rancid––but even that will fade. I pocket my phone, grip my poles, and keep moving north.