Good Life

Into the woods: State College native sets off for 7,000-mile hike through South America

Lauren Reed was a member of the Penn State Outing Club and has previously hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
Lauren Reed was a member of the Penn State Outing Club and has previously hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Photo provided

On Tuesday, Lauren Reed will embark on an international flight to Santiago, Chile. The seats will probably be cramped, the food unlikely to win any Michelin stars and odds are that the creative team behind the inflight movie will be sitting at home during Oscar season.

In all likelihood, it will still be the easiest leg of her journey.

Reed, a State College native who currently resides in Utah, will join her friend Bethany Hughes for part of a five-year, nearly 20,000-mile hike through South America and into Alaska.

She estimates that she and Hughes will walk between 25 and 30 miles a day, following the spine of the Americas while attempting to cut around certain peaks in the Andes.

“It still seems pretty unreal,” Reed said.

Real or not, her impending adventure seems like the natural culmination of a lifetime spent hiking. Reed was a member of the Penn State Outing Club and walked the Appalachian Trial while she was still a fresh-faced graduate.

Later, she became one of only 196 people to be awarded The Triple Crown of Hiking award by the American Long Distance Hiking Association after completing a 7,500-mile challenge that included the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail was particular grueling.

“We were going through snow for a good week or two,” Reed said.

That’s where she met Hughes, a fellow hiking enthusiast who had spent a nomadic childhood living in places like Ecuador and Chile.

South America was where Hughes’ love affair with hiking and began and she had always hoped to return one day.

“The landscapes have been in my dreams ever since I was tiny,” Hughes said.

Convincing Reed to come along for the ride took some time.

A person only walks so many miles in a lifetime and Reed had to decide whether or not she wanted to spend roughly 7,000 of them in South America. She first learned of Hughes’ plans back in 2011, but she didn’t formally commit to the hike until last January.

“I was like ‘I really can’t miss out on an opportunity like this. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,’ ” Reed said.

She estimates that she’ll be carrying about 15 pounds worth of supplies — not including the weight of her bag.

On a typical hike, Reed would lighten her load by mailing supplies ahead to the next post office along the trail, but she said that the mail system in South America isn’t as reliable, which will force them to back their bags just a little bit higher.

Another complication arose early in the planning process when the duo realized that many of the South American trails aren’t very well mapped. Reed anticipates that they will be doing a lot of bushwhacking and dirt road walking.

Even if Reed and Hughes have to stop and ask for directions, they’ll still be firmly on course in the direction of a much larger goal — discovering the local people.

“We really want to learn more about them and their day to day life and what their hopes and dreams are,” Reed said.

Their adventures can be traced by anyone who is willing to follow — just not on foot.

Reed and Hughes will both be posting blog entries to her-odyssey.org, where they can share the stories of the people they’ve met and the cultures they’ve encountered.

“It’s amazing how many people have already reached out to us,” Reed said.

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