North

From Tierra del Fuego to Tuk: Two explorers travel across Americas by bike, canoe and foot

Travelling by canoe, Bethany "Fidgit" Hughes and Lauren "Neon" Reed are on a cross-Americas human-powered journey that will take them to Tuktoyaktuk, weather permitting.

The pair left Fort Smith this week, continuing the completely human-powered trip spanning nearly 7 years

Lauren "Neon" Reed joins Bethany "Fidgit" Hughes on a cross-America human powered journey that will take them from Tierra del Fuego to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. (Her Odyssey/ Facebook)

Bethany "Fidgit" Hughes and Lauren "Neon" Reed arrived on the shores of Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., on the summer solstice. Travelling by canoe, they are on a nearly seven year journey across the Americas that will take them from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic Ocean.

This last leg of the journey started in Hinton, Alta., where they put their 17-foot canoe in the water in late-May and travelled the Athabasca River to Fort Chipewyan, arriving just in time to celebrate Treaty Days.

Hughes, originally from Colorado, and Reed, originally from Utah, left Fort Smith, N.W.T., at the mouth of the Salt River on Thursday and will slowly make their way to Tuktoyaktuk.

Her Odyssey

The pair are calling the journey Her Odyssey and the mission is to travel the length of the Americas connecting the story of the land and its inhabitants.

Hughes and Reed started the journey together in November 2015 on the southern tip of South America in Tierra del Fuego. From there they walked across the continent following the Greater Patagonian Trail on the spine of the Andes.

Lauren "Neon" Reed, right, appreciates the landscape on Her Odyssey. (Her Odyssey/ Facebook)

"It's a lot of elders in the mountain so a lot of it was collecting those stories of the land and the lore," said Hughes.

The Inca road system connected them to northern South America where the adventurers tackled Central America by bike and sea kayaking. In the United States they split up, with Reed bikepacking the Wild West Route and Hughes hiking the Continental Divide.

'Move the narrative forward'

The idea came from Hughes, who grew up doing missionary work in South America. She said she wanted to revisit the land in a different spirit, to listen instead of teach.

"This was a way for me to move the narrative forward," said Hughes.

Each journey, Hughes and Reed rely on the contributions from the locals they meet along the way. Whether it's advice, knowledge about the area, equipment, guidance or skills. 

"We've really been enjoying getting to be on the waters and moving through the boreal forest," said Hughes.

"People have been so kind and the history is so deep and multi-faceted, just like these forests and the rivers."

Learning how to work with a rapidly changing environment is also an essential part of the journey. For that, Hughes praised the locals along the way for being kind enough to share their knowledge of the forest and river systems. 

Bethany "Fidgit" Hughes, left, is on a journey across the Americas. She and her travel partner Lauren "Neon" Reed are traveling by canoe, foot and bike from southern South America to northern N.W.T. (Her Odyssey/ Facebook)

"The solitude, expansiveness, and timelessness of the boreal is stirring and the resilience, curiosity, and compassion of its people are astounding," wrote Hughes in her blog post.

For Reed, it's the adventure in the journey that she holds sacred.

"You get to see the process of trees falling in the water, you see the process of animals crossing it, where they choose to cross it," she said.

"You're so quiet, I don't know if I've accidentally snuck up on so many things before." 

Hughes hopes Her Odyssey will inspire others to be brave enough to follow their dreams. 

"Those impossible challenges," said Hughes. "Even if in the end it doesn't look like the way you thought it would, it's the experience you needed to have."

The pair aims to arrive in Tuktoyaktuk approximately four months after leaving Hinton, ending their odyssey at the Arctic Ocean. 

"There's gonna be a long decompression time after that," said Reed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carla Ulrich

Video journalist

Carla Ulrich is a video journalist with CBC North in Fort Smith, N.W.T. Reach her at carla.ulrich@cbc.ca.

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