JUST GOING FOR A WALK: FROM ARGENTINA TO ALASKA WITH LUCY BARNARD
You’ve heard the story a million times. You know, the one where someone quits their 9 to 5, ventures into the wild, experiences enlightenment, and comes back radically transformed. It’s an appealing notion but rarely the reality, and Lucy Barnard is totally okay with that. This energetic Australian is currently on a mission to become the first woman to walk the length of the world, from Ushuaia, Argentina to Barrow, Alaska. Perhaps the most profound change she’s noticed is that her calves have doubled in size.
Lucy had a great life: a dream job, strong friendships, and regular rock climbing sessions. So what made her decide to do the 30,000km walk? ‘I watched a TED talk which said you have three seconds after having an idea to decide to do it or you never will. I had that moment on a bus in Argentina,’ she says. It was 2016, and her hiking trip wasn’t going to plan, thanks to chest and toe infections. But she’d also been reading about inspiring individuals like Gertrude Bell and had discovered that no woman has ever walked the length of the world. Lucy wanted to see whether she could be the first. Shortly after returning to Australia, she was hit by a car while cycling, but, she explains, ‘that accident is the best thing that ever happened to me because it made me change jobs and get really good support.’ She put together a massive spreadsheet and before long, had mapped everything out. On the 19th of February 2017, she set off.
The trip got off to a rocky start. Lucy had to kayak through treacherous water, lost a bag of food, and was rescued by a local in the middle of nowhere. After 1,000km, in El Chalten, she was ready to go home. She’d had water poisoning, her pack had broken, and she had a huge boil on the back of her foot. Sick and pale, she tried to hitchhike back to town. Seven cars drove past her until finally a truck carrying medical equipment pulled over and she hopped in. Over the next month, a local woman cared for her, one of many kind acts she’s received on her journey. Partly to prove she could do it and partly to not disappoint her well-wishers, Lucy continued, reinvigorated.
Now in the swing of things, Lucy has just passed the 6,000km mark. In Chile, she picked up a companion: Wombat, a cheeky Australian Cattle Dog. Their current routine involves going to bed at 6pm, waking at midnight, and alternating between walk and rest until around 9am. Most days, they’ll have walked 30km overnight, giving them the rest of the day to relax and play, away from the road. She’s conscious of her safety and has no qualms about stopping highway traffic when seedy men pull over to bother her. Wombat’s shown promise as a guard dog but, with his friendly nature, is still a work in progress.
Fortunately, Lucy’s interactions have been overwhelmingly positive. She’s regularly given piles of spaghetti and sandwiches, which, while not ideal for a coeliac, are greatly appreciated. ‘I get given food more days than I don’t get given food because people think I’m starving,’ she says. She’s also been blown away by the encouragement she’s received from around the world. ‘I’ve always had a love of people and the human spirit. The nice thing about this journey is that it’s not just mine – it’s mine and everybody else’s. Anyone who wants to follow can.’ The messages her supporters send get her through the stress of being permanently sleep deprived: ‘I’m either busy surviving or busy logistic-ing,’ she explains. The reality of worrying about finding drinkable water or a safe spot to sleep is a far cry from our romanticised ideas about journeys like Lucy’s.
30,000km. It’s no walk in the park. But if Lucy keeps putting one foot in front of the other, in a couple of years’ time she’ll have done something no woman’s ever done before. And that’s pretty incredible.
You can follow Lucy and Wombat on Instagram – @tanglesandtail
Words by Amy O’Toole