Since February, ArmaSkin has been following the epic challenge being undertaken by Lucy Barnard, an Australian woman, who has embarked on a 3-year attempt to “Walk the Americas.”
The adventure, already punctuated by a major snow storm, takes Lucy on self-planned routes from the southern tip of South America, through Central America with the final destination being Barrow, the northernmost North American town in Alaska.
She’s naive. She’ll be destroyed before she reaches El Chalten.
Lucy: “A kayaker said that in front of me, in Spanish, assuming I wouldn’t understand or find out what they had said.
It’s a shame because that’s the point. We’re so obsessed with success and failure when what we should be preoccupied with is having a go. The outcome doesn’t matter.”
ArmaSkin has interviewed Lucy, 5 months into her journey. The following series of questions and answers aim to illuminate Lucy, the person, as well as touching on some of her preparations for the journey and thoughts to this time.
Prior to this challenge Lucy’s longest walk had been a 10-day hike covering 150 kilometres in Patagonia. So without a background in long distance hiking, we asked Lucy what drove her to choose this as her entry to professional adventuring?
I grew up hiking with my family and my favorite sports (climbing and canyoning) involve a lot of hiking and navigation so taking on an expedition like this isn’t too left of field. I’m also not fazed by failure – I take on challenges to see how far I get and am more curious about what will stop me; mind, body, environment, legislation, or something completely out of the box. I think this attitude helps me find ways around obstacles. Attempting to walk the length of the world was sparked by the realization that among the handful of people who have, no woman has so I decided to give it a go. That and I didn’t start walking until I was 2 so I have some catching up to do!
What did your friends/family say when you told them what you were doing?
People seemed to react one of two ways; they were either really supportive and asked how they could help; or they were discouraging, so I was selective with who I told and the rest found out when the ball was already rolling which doesn’t allow for much room for negativity.
Hiking day in day out is a battle. You’re continuously concerned about the route, if your bearings are correct, if you have enough food and water, if the next river is flowing, what the weather is going to do, if your card will work in the next town?!
Three years is a long time to be away from family and friends. How difficult a decision was that?
It’s similar to when you tell your parents you’re move out. You know you have to be sympathetic but really you’re holding back excitement. Plus, my family and friends are a little harder to get rid of then that! We’re all in this marathon together!
How did you save up? Do you support yourself at all along the way?
I saved for a number of years, and am savvy financially. I routinely seek sponsorship and in-kind donations from interested organisations. Now that the walk is underway donations coming to my blog site are a major help to how comfortably I travel. I use travel apps like Couch Surfing to reduce accommodation costs but primarily I’m in my tent.
Did you do anything to get in shape before leaving?
Generally speaking I maintain a good level of fitness so all I had to do was tweak my routine a little before I left. I began to carry more weight when I was hiking and incorporated more hike specific exercises when weight training. I increased my body weight by about 5kgs to prepare for a more active lifestyle and to help keep me healthy in the face of exposure or injury. Otherwise, I continued on with my regular social sports.
What did you do with your belongings and home while you’re away?
This was tricky because I have sentimental items that need special care and my family don’t have the space to help me out with storage. I considered buying a container which I could leave on friend’s property but I was worried about climate damage. In the end, Fyshwick Self Storage in Canberra became so excited about the expedition they offered me free storage which meant I could keep some furniture too!
Lucy is an Adventure Scientist Volunteer. The organisation, Adventure Scientist, connects people who are out in the field with scientific organisations that are seeking field data. How is this role going?
I contribute to Adventure Scientists as a volunteer because their work has a global impact which benefits everyone. It is the best way I can give back to all the people who have supported me in one way or another. Currently I am signed up for the microplastics study which analyses the concentration of plastic found in water to assess how far up catchment areas are contaminated with plastics. However, this requires 1 litre samples of water, which I kept and end up drinking because the weight is too much to carry excess samples. So far I haven’t contributed at all but it certainly isn’t through lack of trying!
Which personal characteristics do you consider have served you best and why?
A sense of humour, humility and denial. I’m really familiar with plans going awry! Some might say I’m unlucky, some say I’m clumsy but one thing is for sure, being optimistic is much better than being miserable. I laugh at and share the disasters that could otherwise send me home because what’s the point of laughing if no one is laughing with you? As my sister likes to say; We’re only human.
In one of your interviews before leaving for Argentina you were quoted as saying you were going to have a dog companion on your trip. That was clearly a serious thought as your name Tangles and Tail reflected your curly hair and presumably not your Tail. We did see a dog at one point in your journey. Can you please comment on this and the rumour that you ate the dog.
You gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
I’ve had a lot of street dogs join me on the road, but travelling with an animal increases logistics including food, water and customs so I have to make sure I have a strong handle on those before making the commitment. So currently no dog in tow.
How many times have you thought of throwing in the towel. How do you work through that? Are you getting better at working through it?
I probably shouldn’t admit to this but I’ve become really good at throwing tantrums. Hiking day in day out is a battle. You’re continuously concerned about the route, if your bearings are correct, if you have enough food and water, if the next river is flowing, what the weather is going to do, if your card will work in the next town?! And then something small happens, like I spill some coffee grinds in my tent which I have nearly run out of, can’t shake out in the winds and are getting wet from the condensation and are smearing over everything…. Or I can’t find something in the dark because I didn’t put it back where it belongs.
These moments can be so frustrating that “I quit”… For a few minutes. They’re silly things but they kill me and these are the kind of mental battles you enter into with long streaks of solitude. I have only ever considered quitting seriously once when all my big ticket items broke and I became so sick I could barely walk.
They’re silly things but they kill me and these are the kind of mental battles you enter into with long streaks of solitude.
I met a woman who oozed love and serenity and somehow convinced me to take a day off and spend time drinking hot chocolates and doing nothing. The subsequent day may have been the one that resulted in the public humiliation (see Lucy’s second blog post) but that’s not the point.
Rest and time spent with good people set me back on track and it was a good reminder of how important it is to allow time to enjoy where I am.