Bethany has been climbing mountains since she was 4 years old, following her father up into the Andes of Ecuador and Chile. As an early teen, a lot didn’t make sense. The few things which did make sense came from being outside: a compass always points north, make a fire when it is cold outside, eat when you are hungry, walk until you get there. These things got her through the tumult.
Studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics in the Oxbridge Program at William Jewell College, Bethany began to comprehend a broader vision of public service, learning enough to know her core value is to be present in the journey alongside those she wishes to help. During the summers, she was also a Ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch. She had always dreamt of going north, so upon graduation, Bethany moved to Skagway, Alaska to work with Iditarod Sled Dog Teams in their off-season at Alaska Icefield Expeditions.
It was there that the concept of thru-hiking found her. What before had simply a way of surviving the Default World, (throwing her books and gear into a back-pack and wander until she could bear to return) was, in fact, a culture unto itself. That there were trails thousands of miles long all across the United States immediately sparked her interest.
She spent the winter working on Dancing Moon Ranch in Montana, plotting a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. In the summer of 2010 she walked 2,663 miles from the Mexico border to Canada and knew there was no going back to the way life was before the trail.
The inspiration for her latest undertaking came when she read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run and learned that the Sierra Madres connect the longest nearly-continuous chain of mountains in the world. Hughes has been planning and saving for a trek along the length of the pan-American backbone since then.
This November she begin the Her Odyssey trek, alongside thru-hiking Triple Crowner, Neon, who will join her for the South American portion of the journey. On this venture, over 20,000 miles and the next 5 years, she will travel the length of the Americas by non-motorized means, gathering stories of people along the way and encouraging others to pursue their own audacious dreams. Where her English and Spanish languages do not translate, she will have her trusty ukulele, Little Ghost, along to help communicate.
Rather than traveling with a message to share, she sets out this time to listen and learn. Asking people along the way to share not only their own experiences but also the bedtime stories they tell to their children. These stories will reveal the values various cultures pass on to their children and, she hopes, prompt those following her journey from the U.S. to consider what values they’re emphasizing in their own lives. By learning and documenting the stories people tell their children, we will gather an understanding of underlying cultural values and messages.
When Bethany returns to some of the areas where she first learned of the beauties and possibilities of the world—as well as the deep inequality many experience in accessing opportunities that others often take for granted—she hopes to inspire women and children to dream big and help them access the resources to make their dreams a reality.