Lucy Barnard is on a 40 million-step mission to be the first woman to walk from the bottom to the top of the world.
After resigning from her corporate job as communications account manager for Geoscience Australia in Darwin, Barnard began walking the length of the world in February last year, a 30,000km trek from Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of South America to Barrow, Alaska, at North America’s tip.
If successful—she aims to take her last step in 2020—it is believed the Brisbane-born 35 year old will be the first woman to accomplish the feat, visiting 15 countries across two continents.
“One time I went 10 days without seeing anyone and that loneliness was incredibly hard and a huge challenge,” Barnard tells WHO from Concepción, Chile.
“And I’ve become an expert at dressing my feet—I’ve had blisters the size of mandarins.”
Her inspiration for the feat came after a shocking accident.
Lying flat in a Darwin hospital bed in 2015 after smashing headfirst into a car that had pulled out in front of her during a fundraising bicycle ride, Barnard couldn’t feel her legs and stuttered when she tried to talk.
“I was doped up on painkillers, so luckily I don’t recall the doctor telling me I may remain paralysed,” says Barnard, who suffered head injuries in the collision.
Her paralysis, however, turned out to be temporary and after a few days her mobility returned and she began eight months of gruelling rehab. “At first I couldn’t even stand up from a squat without assistance,” says Barnard, a former PR manager for the lord mayor of Darwin.
“And as I got better, my doctor said my full recovery would be helped by being in an environment where I had to make decisions.”
Barnard took that advice to the extreme.
Though she won the North Face Adventure Grant for her mission, Barnard donated the part of the grant that would have paid for her accommodation to her Australian friend, Jason, who suffers from the rare muscle-spasm condition dystonia. Her sacrifice means that most nights she sleeps in a tent in unforgiving conditions.
While passing through Bajo Caracoles, in southern Argentina, she found herself facing a fierce snowstorm. As the temperature plummeted to -20C, Barnard waded through waist-deep snow, found a tunnel and set up her tent.
“A few days later a local explained to me that I sheltered where a puma lives,” says Barnard, who is also using her mission to raise money for Jason’s treatment on a GoFundMe page. “I had been bitten on the back of the legs by wild dogs, but that was a little too close for comfort.”
On another day, she had the unnerving experience of being followed by two men in their car. “I had to gesture to a passing bus that I needed help,” she says. “The driver was fantastic—he stopped then went straight over to chastise them and after that the men got off my tail.”
Mostly, however, the challenge has been one of endurance. Every morning at 2 AM her digital watch sounds her alarm in her tent.
By 3.30 AM, after a breakfast of rice, powdered milk and sugar, Barnard’s gear is packed, her hiking boots are laced and she’s on the road.
With two years of walking to go, has she ever thought of buying a plane ticket home?
“Only when the spine of my backpack broke and every step hurt because it was digging into my back and hip,” she says. “But I met this lovely lady on the road who spurred me on by saying, ‘You can do this—you just need to be gentle with yourself.’ I followed that advice and rested up for a week. Then I got back on the move.”
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To donate, including for Jason’s treatment, visit: tanglesandtail.com