Photo provided by Bethany Hughes
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(Don't) Hike for Change

Fidgit examines decisions to postpone or cancel a long distance hike through the lens of ancient Central and South American mythology and a 20,000 mile trans-American journey.

Bethany Hughes      My (Postponed) Trail Story       04/20/2020
Bethany Hughes
My (Postponed) Trail Story
04/20/2020
Alpacas at sunset in the Huayhash range. Photo by Bethany Hughes

(Don’t) Hike for Change

By: Bethany ‘Fidgit’ Hughes

Do you remember when people thought the world was going to end in 2012? The idea stemmed from the end of several Mesoamerican calendars. What the frenzy failed to do was what most frenzies fail at: following the information all the way through. The conclusion of the calendars marked transitions in eras, not the end of the world. As I look around now and back over the past few years, the changes and stressors are notable but nothing unexpected if we perceive this as a time of change.

Everyone goes to Machu Picchu, yet we had the entire grounds of the Inca ruins at El Shincal in Argentina to ourselves and the groundskeepers even let us sleep on their porch.

The end of the Mayan and Incan calendars marked the end of protracted cycles. For the Mayans it was one of 7 Ages of Man. For the Incas it was the end of an era ruled by “masculine energy” and the beginning of an era of “feminine energy.” That these transitions happened around December 21 makes sense since both cultures, like many around the world and across the ages, track the solstices. For example, even among the thru-hiking community, we ceremoniously engage in Hike Naked Day every June 21st.

Fidgit (left) and Neon (right) at the Ingapirca ruins in Ecuador which are ceremonial grounds for two different cultures: the Cañari who worshiped the moon, and the Inca who worshiped the sun. There is an incredibly well preserved and largely ignored multi-day stretch of the Qhapaq Nan which begins at this site.

My sources on that aren’t of an academic nature, they come from three years of walking across South America. They are stories and explanations from a grandmother at the foot of Ollantaytambo, Peru who, when I picked up one small rock from her table, carefully selected and insisted I take a second one, to balance their male and female energies. Or from days of walking and talking with chaskis (during the Incan Empire chaskis were runners who carried messages from the capital[s] to the far flung corners of the empire. The men I spoke with were modern day guides and unofficial guardians of segments of what remains of the Qhapaq Ñan) along the 3,000 miles of the Inca Trail we followed. Complemented this with some Googling. That and a lot of miles of walking, thinking, and watching as we strive to create a non-motorized route connecting the Americas.

Because of being such a deeply entrenched footpath after centuries of use and despite being a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, outside of cities and towns the Qhapaq Nan is most often used as a dump site.

In my final days of completing the Continental Divide Trail last summer, I crossed paths with Dahn, a fellow long traveler. We had been following one another’s international hiking adventures and had been trying to meet up, so of course it didn’t happen until the last 100 miles. In the few hours we walked together, we had one of those conversations that only happen on trail: diving straight into debating ethics and what kind of faces we make at cars on road walks.

 

I told him about the Incan idea of the calendar shift of power from masculine to feminine. He began to speak passionately about the rise of women, saying it was time for things to change! Frustrated that we haven’t had a woman President in the USA. There was a fervent bounce in his stride as he talked about it. If it’s our time, we need to rise up, RIGHT NOW and seize control.

The best things take time and immense pressure and sudden changes leave beautiful marks.

We sat in front of Saucedo’s Market in Lordsburg taking swigs off a jug of orange juice and eating bananas. I appreciated his vehemence and commitment to pursuing equal rights. I just did not agree with his perception that the change needed to happen abruptly. Rather, I thought our having that conversation was a significant indicator that things are changing. In fact, several times along the CDT I was impressed and inspired by the men I hiked and talked with who were reflecting on their personal roles and seemed genuinely committed to growing and changing, even where it meant questioning familiar structures designed to benefit them. 

 

In our earliest roles, men were successful as hunters because of: having singular focus, designating a leader, and tracking, attacking, and conquering game. Meanwhile the women were primarily gatherers and were successful because of observing surroundings as a whole, following growth cycles, and working as a collective to gather foods. It does not serve to pick a berry before its time. We grow humans within our wombs. These processes cannot be rushed.

Chatting with a local woman who was caring for her coffee beans during the multi-day drying process. Coffee is a major industry, much like quinoa, throughout this region of Peru.

The geopolitical and economic structures today are geared toward the hunter, big dog on top, thinking. We have been raised with scripts of:
“if you want it, grab it.”
“You have to want it more than the next guy.”
“Don’t let anything stand between you and your goals.”

Now more and more of us are looking around and acknowledging that this is not working. Not for our planet and not for us.

Learning bits of Quichua from cholitas in the Cusco region.

This is the end of the era of conquistadors and Victorian explorer thinking. Being first or fastest is less a matter of dominating one another and the land, than it is about expanding the bounds of what we can achieve when we work with each other and the environment. Minorities are stepping forward and making their voices heard in communities and conversations across the board. I am encouraged to begin seeing people of privilege supporting this and amplifying the message. Underneath the ills of our systems, down here at the dirt sitting hiker trash level, many people are making an effort to hear one another and are considering different perspectives. That is a big deal and a good start.

Fidgit (left) and Neon (right) with one of the many families who invited us in and insisted on sharing everything they had.

In the thru-hiking community, we identify by our determination, overcoming challenges, and pushing limits in pursuit of the coveted thru. The current state of human affairs, and in a larger perspective, the planet, are a mighty invitation to rewrite that narrative. Flip flopping because the snow in Colorado says “no.” Taking an alternate or following a reroute because of a forest fire. Changing our plans from a thru-hike to smaller adventures closer to home because of a virulent virus. Nature is pushing us, not to give up, but to reframe our identity to another critical strength: flexibility.

Neon following the Qhapaq Nan along the contour of the Andes.

That same demand to drastically change plans and let go of ego is at play this season with the quarantine efforts which, for many of us, are a direct call to set aside our wants and goals in the interest of others. As the call goes out to stay off the trails to honor our trail communities, thousands of us have made difficult decisions and huge sacrifices in our hiking plans. My travel partner and I made the choice to pull off mid-route in Mexico. Sure, there are yet a few who, for reasons of their own, are out there anyway. Rather than give our collective time and energy to being upset about them, let’s acknowledge and celebrate the fact that the majority of us opted to sacrifice. That means something. 

 

While the theatrics of social media are particularly alluring when you are frustrated to be stuck staring at a screen instead of climbing a mountain, this is yet another chance to change the narrative by not giving in to the bickering and the bitterness. The information, reasons, and requests to stay off the trail are out there. Hounding each other does not add anything to the conversation.

The ancient road was so well developed and traveled that in many areas beyond the reaches of the cities, the road continues clearly and follow toward beautiful passes. Fidgit (left) Neon (right)

Amidst the mess: politics, climate change, and the global responses to this virus, I see the power shifting from conqueror to community. Let’s not underrate that just because it isn’t happening in the same way or at the same pace as our history books have seen change of power before. Women and minorities in general are not weaker because we approach things differently. We are not passive, fragile, or fearful. We know trauma and physical hardship beyond what any trail can wrought. We are determined, adamant, and we are rising.

A section of road had been obstructed by a landslide and outside help was not coming so the local women organized themselves. There was a lot of laughter and tittering as they worked.

I see a fit for the Incan dichotomy of a shift in the balance between masculine and feminine  energies. I see harbingers of change between lines of thinking and how we approach one another. Do not be ruled by fear nor anger and do not rush but let us hurry into the work of our lives. We may not be thru-hiking at the moment but change is afoot.

“We’re all just walking each other home.” Ram Dass

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Colorado, Continental Divide Trail
Photo by David Getchel

Continental Divide Trail

Considered by many to be the most remote and challenging of the triple crown trails, the Continental Divide Trail is a 3100 mile adventure through five western states.

3100 mi (4980 km)
$39.99 full guide
Learn more
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About the Author

Bethany ‘Fidgit’ Hughes

Bethany ‘Fidgit’ Hughes is one half of the Her Odyssey duo. She and Neon have covered 13,000 of the proposed 20,000 mile journey crossing the Americas by non-motorized means. They would love to have you join the journey on any of the platforms below:

YouTube- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrSuZIGMOsyZILcYtR1bcRA
Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/_herodyssey_/?hl=en
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/herodyssey/