Lucy Barnard, a 34 year old Australian is attempting to be the first woman in history to walk the length of the earth. Starting at the most southern point of Argentina in Ushuaia, she’ll trek around 30,000 kilometres, crossing 15 countries before reaching Barrow in Alaska and completing her adventure sometime around 2020.
The epic journey will take Lucy through an unimaginably vast array of locations and is set to include some of the world’s coldest cities, hottest deserts and even a climb to the world’s highest city.
When you make the decision to embark on an adventure experience of this scale, you are thrusting yourself into a world of unknowns and challenges to be overcome – many before you even set foot on the trail.
Lucy's preparations have been ongoing for almost 2 years just to get her to the starting line. Already over this time, there are some key lessons emerging we can all reflect on as leaders in the context of Lucy’s historic adventure.
1. Do something you love
Lucy is extremely excited about her own journey.
She’s often asked why she’s attempting such a feat – to which she explains that she is searching for her own kind of inner peace that only the wilderness can provide. While she’s a talented professional with a steady job back home in Australia, Lucy says that a huge part of her identity is a primal wanderer who just wants to be left alone to wander the world.
This self-awareness and clarity around what makes her fulfilled has led her on an adventure she can truly get excited about and love. Her passion and enthusiasm for what she’s doing has enabled her to create a wave of momentum and turn her ambitious dreams into a reality.
2. Get in the right mindset
Lucy’s longest walk to-date has been around 200km and so walking 30,000km represents a significant lifting of the bar. Getting in the right mindset, becoming focused and clear on the goal was essential to give momentum to Lucy’s preparations and ensuring her adventure became a reality.
In fact getting in the right mindset was half the battle won when it came to facing major setbacks – Lucy has already suffered a number of major set-backs during including being injured for months after a car collided into her while cycling and the death of her father last year. She’s also had to face the reality of saying goodbye to her beloved dog, who she may never see again if her journey is successful.
Despite these challenges, Lucy has been able to maintain a discipline around her training and stay focused on her goals, a testament to the power of a determined mind. Now at the starting line, Lucy is ready to treat the expedition like a job - following a routine, covering the distance and allowing time to unwind and deal with any number of challenges that she will face along the way.
3. Don’t rush
As you probably guessed, Lucy is a hard worker and remained in her day-job until just a couple weeks before leaving for her adventure. Immediately, she began wishing she had more time to prepare because she still had so much to do. From farewelling countless friends and family to fine-tuning the remaining logistic details of the trip, there was little time for sleep during this period.
The most valuable piece of advice Lucy received throughout her preparations was from fellow adventurer and mentor Trinity Ludwig who urged Lucy not to get too hung up on time. Trinity has only recently completed walking the length of South America and knows first hand that it's near impossible to avoid schedule changes while roaming South America. It’s most likely going to take longer to reach your destination than you think.
This advice is proving true for Lucy with her starting date delayed 10 days due to a border crossing issue.
Lucy is giving herself plenty of time to complete the walk and is flexible about her finish date but either way, the uncertainty of time has meant Lucy needs to remain resilient and adaptable. She has come to the conclusion that being patient and considered will have better outcomes than making snap decisions.
4. Do your homework
Lucy loves a challenge and adventure but this ambitious expedition is on a much grander scale than anything she’s previously done. Being prepared and doing her homework without shortcuts was the only way she was going to give herself a real shot at turning the dream into reality, especially considering that only a small handful of men and no women (yet) in history have successfully completed this mammoth journey.
There was no shortage of variables to investigate, but Lucy’s ability to start her journey this year in South America came only after giving careful attention to mapping her route, determining timings as well as making extensive security and logistics plans to support her 3+ year journey. The lesson here is simple - homework is key, don’t skip it and where possible, don’t rush it!
5. Adapt in the face of risk
A plan to walk the length of the world on foot naturally comes with many risks and the size of the unknown means that contingency plans will not only be made but most certainly followed. In dealing with the unknown and remaining adaptive, there is a constant element of risk within Lucy’s journey – will something happen or won’t it? And when it does, what response will be taken?
Already many risks have been managed in Lucy’s preparation. Basic homework reveals that parts of the South American continent as well as the Alaskan wilderness are quite unsafe for a solo traveller to merrily roam. As such, Lucy knows she’ll have to remain adaptive and take full care to reduce the size of her risk along the way. In fact, Lucy says her relationship with high-risk specialist Security Company, Phase Zero is one of her most important on this journey and is laser focused around assessing and managing risks.
Lucy’s experiences here highlights that risk necessitates adaptiveness. From tricky border crossings, to navigating in dangerous and remote places, Lucy’s journey thrusts her into the unknown and her ability to adapt will be a deciding factor in the success of her trip.
6. Get the right people around you
One of the most important things Lucy did throughout her preparation was proactively contacting more experienced adventurers who could mentor her on various aspects of her training and journey.
Lucy reckons this step of her preparation was absolutely critical - making this a particularly notable point to consider. For Lucy, having experienced mentors means that now it’s not just her doing the walk but rather a community of highly skilled people who are rallying around her.
The fact that she was able to rope-in such accomplished mentors is a credit to her resourcefulness and ability to inspire others to get on-board with her epic vision – in one case, she used Twitter to connect with modern-day explorer Ed Stafford who just became the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River – watch his incredible Ted Talk here.
Also on her list of mentors is pro hiker Andrew Skurka as well as the previously mentioned Trinity Ludwig who crossed South America on foot a few years ago both of whom will be in touch with Lucy at various points throughout the journey and providing supplies and support on rest days.
7. Have strategies to deal with challenges and setbacks
With setbacks inevitable and already impacting upon Lucy’s preparation and adventure, the notion of developing strategies to deal with setbacks became an important consideration point.
Some challenges, she has been able to anticipate, such as communicating effectively while traveling remotely in predominantly Spanish-speaking countries. To overcome this challenge, Lucy be taking audio Spanish lessons on the trail and views this structured learning time as a key ingredient for keeping her mentally focused.
Other challenges have been harder to conceptualise such dealing with extreme loneliness or encountering Polar Bears in the Alaskan wilderness but have required strategies all the same.
Lucy’s believes hard times can be remedied by focusing on something different and has carried this philosophy into her planning. She plans to turn to her skills as an artist in hard times to help reframe her mind. She will also carry a stack of inspirational quotes compiled friends back home to read when the going gets tough.
Another great challenge facing Lucy is the fact that she will often have to be self-sufficient for days and even weeks at a time including sourcing of food and staying safe. Her game plan here is to travel with a canine companion that can help secure food while providing extra personal security, companionship and a great boost for mental health.
From Lucy’s journey, we can learn that setbacks are to be expected on any great venture. At times they’ll be predictable and easy to plan around, at other times, they’re harder to see coming but still need to be considered if they’re going to be effectively planned for.
8. Understand your own limits
An important theme from our conversation with Lucy was the idea of understanding one’s own limits. Knowing what’s acceptable and what isn’t acceptable and being clear on this point – if the risk becomes too great to stomach, Lucy knows when to change the plan and she’s very willing to do so.
When asked if she’s worried about the trip, Lucy is quick to affirm. One cause for concern is the need to pass the infamous Darien Gap - an area in Panama where the road connecting North America to South America doesn’t exist. In this region, Lucy will have to make her way through a densely forested National Park renowned for drug smuggling and people trafficking.
She’ll be taking a local guide for this leg, but it’s still unclear whether diplomacy will see her through or if she’ll have to instead Kayak around Panama and head directly for the North American continent. Either way, Lucy has set her personal limits and will be acutely aware of them when faced with future decisions and challenges along the trail.
Preparation is key to overcoming challenges and setbacks as well as developing a effective plan for success. And in order to develop momentum and a community of support, you must first get your head in the game and make sure you're on a mission you can truly connect with and inspire others around.
Lucy's top advice for leaders preparing to achieve big things: Don’t over think it, take a big breath and go for it because any outcome is better than no outcome.
More about the adventure and how you can help Lucy
At time of publishing this article, Lucy has just arrived at the foothills of the Andes in Chile having completed 600km of her journey, navigating one tricky border crossing and already having to alter her route multiple times along the way.
While her trip has attracted sponsorship and even secured her the 2017 North Face Adventure Grant, she is still largely self-funding many sections of the adventure, so will be raising money along the way and needs your support.
For anyone who donates over $70 to her cause, Lucy will create an artwork on a postcard and mail it to them. We reckon that’s a pretty good deal, here’s the link to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/walking-the-world
We’ll check-in with Lucy from time to time on her 3-4 year journey on foot from Ushuaia to Alaska to see what other lessons we can learn from her remarkable experiences. In the meantime, you can follow her personal blog here: http://tanglesandtail.com/
If you’re interested, you can also follow her progress in real time via live GPS tracking updates: https://share.garmin.com/TanglesAndTail