Her Odyssey Redefines Connections With Local Peoples and their Landscapes

Editor’s Note: The PCTA is committed to uplifting more diverse voices within the outdoor community, and here we highlight two of those voices. In 2010, Bethany “Fidget” Hughes and Lauren “Neon” Reed met while thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail at a time when women were far less represented in the long-distance hiking community. That meeting grew into an extraordinary journey that leaves us in awe of their accomplishment. We’re happy to help amplify their stories to the PCT community and encourage you to visit the Her Odyssey website to learn more.

The two-woman multi-sport athlete team of Bethany ‘Fidgit’ Hughes and Lauren ‘Neon’ Reed, known collectively as Her Odyssey, has completed a human-powered expedition traveling the length of the Americas, from the tip of South America to the Arctic Ocean. Along the way, they engaged local populations in storytelling, learning how humans and animals are adapting to a changing planet.

Fidget (left) and Neon paddling into Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories near the end of their journey. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

On August 24, 2022, Hughes and Reed paddled into Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada, completing the Her Odyssey expedition that embarked in 2015 from Ushuaia, Argentina. Her Odyssey created a one-of-a-kind route connecting modern long distance trails such as the Great Divide Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Greater Patagonian Trail with ancient road networks such as the Qhapaq Ñan across the Andes and First Nations’ river routes across North America. They crossed 14 countries in multiple legs over the course of 6 years and 9 months, traversing a total of 18,221 miles, ranging in elevation from below sea level to 18,000 feet.

At the 2015 start of their 18,000-mile odyssey in Ushuaia, Argentina. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

Their modalities included: thru-hiking, bikepacking, sea kayaking, river rafting, and canoeing. During their trek, they joined the short list of people who have walked the length of the Andes and became one of few women-only teams to undertake and accomplish an unsupported bikepacking route across Mexico and Central America. Notwithstanding the ultra-endurance sport roots of the undertaking, in their focus on sharing stories and learning from the communities they met along the way, Her Odyssey came to highlight the value of slow travel.

Central to Her Odyssey’s goal in embarking on this journey was a mission to redefine how the outdoor sport and long-distance community engage with local peoples and the landscape. Thus, they cultivated an approach that prioritized respect and connection with the land’s inhabitants over an accomplishment-driven mindset. In many cases, this meant re-thinking and re-developing their route, allowing for more meaningful interactions and experiences.

Fidget gives a talk at a local school in Salta, Argentina. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

A Quechua family in Bolivia who gave Fidget and Neon a place to sleep. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

Bikepacking across the Tropic of Cancer in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

Fidget described for us how the Pacific Crest Trail was the start of of a passion that grew over time:

I first heard about the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009, while living on a glacier in Alaska. It sounded herculean and I was instantly enrapt.

At home I was told it was impossible. That a long trail is no place for a woman. That I was too fat and undisciplined. So I moved away to a ranch in Montana. Working with the cattle by day and pouring over guidebooks by night until I had my own little itinerary, printed in size 6 font and laminated.

On the PCT, my trail family formed within weeks, and those individuals continue to brighten the course of my life. We were leapfrogging with another crew and that was how I met Neon. She moved with a steady resolve which I admired. Both our families made it to the Northern Terminus that year and thus I became a thru-hiker.

In the aftermath, pitching about for purpose and struggling to reintegrate, I was reading ‘Born to Run’ by Chris McDougal. He mentions that the Sierra Madres in Mexico connects the longest chain of mountains in the world, from the Andes to the Rockies. I was raised in the Andes and had come into my own as a backpacking guide in the Rockies. The realization struck and buzzed like lightning: I would connect the places which had formed me using my own two feet.

In the five years of researching, saving up, and preparing, I came to realize the breadth of what I would need if I had a prayer of completing this pilgrimage was well beyond my power—but I believed wholeheartedly and trusted that what I would need would arise.

In 2012 I got to support Neon as she thru-hiked the CDT and earned her Triple Crown. I began to realize what a formidable individual she is.
Afterwards, we would visit each other for mini-adventures. Neon asked insightful questions and I was always excited to share my dream with anyone who took me seriously. After giving it some thought, one day she said, “I’d be open to hike with you but I’ll only commit to South America.”

Of course Neon ended up going well beyond South America. She too remembers the PCT as the beginning of something much bigger:

The PCT was like no other trail I had been on; once I section-hiked southern Washington, I knew I had to see the rest of the trail. And the kindness of the surrounding community blew me away- I never expected Trail Magic and it kept showing up, from hitch-hiking to being invited into homes and fed. Little did I know at the time my thru-hike would affect me over the next decade, as I met one of my best friends, Fidgit, on the trail. She and I would go on to traverse the length of the Americas via non-motirized means, being the first modern women to do so. We hiked together on the PCT for probably a total of 3 days, and our it turned into nearly 7 years and over 18,000 miles traveling together on our Her Odyssey journey.

Camping at the high point of the Great Divide Trail in Alberta, Canada. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

Her Odyssey in the morning near Mount Assiniboine on the Great Divide. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

Paddling in 2022 across the Arctic. Photo courtesy of Her Odyssey.

Fidget and Neon shared stories and musings on the Her Odyssey blog and social media that frequently explored the intersection of the climate crisis, women’s empowerment, respect for indigenous voices, and wilderness advocacy.

Fidget says, “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. I want to promote humility and flexibility as being just as much keys to success as determination.”

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Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Content Development Director. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.