French adventurer Virgile Woisard is only 22 but he's no stranger to incredible challenges. He's already completed a 3,000km hike on Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand and a 3,000km walk in Europe's Santiago de Compostela. But, this time, he's doing an even bigger expedition - The American Hike. Setting off in September 2017, he's aiming to walk from the most southern to the most norther tip of the Americas in 2.5 years.
In this new instalment of the #AwesomePeople series, Virgile tells us all about this amazing new adventure in a guest blog post. Read on and ask all your burning questions in the comments! We're sure you'll have a few...
Virgile Woisard - The American Hike!
So what's The American Hike?
This project is an attempt to walk and run the whole length of the Americas from the southern tip of South America (Ushuaia, Argentina) to the northern edge of North America (Inuvik, Canada). With a planned pace of 30 km (19 mi) per day, I will complete this journey of 27,000 km (17,000 mi) in 2.5 years, across 15 countries and their various natural and cultural environments!
A journey like this has never been completed before in the conditions that I'm imposing myself - non-stop, alone, without any assistance and most of all, focusing on nature.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea of my project didn't come from nothing - it's been maturing in my head for a long time ever since I first thought about starting a journey like this, at the end of my first long-distance hike in New Zealand.
When I first started, I didn't know anything about this at all, I'd never heard about the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail and I couldn't imagine that some people were actually up for walking these long distances for fun!! But once I got into it, I was hooked. From the very first moments, I absolutely loved finding myself in the middle of nature in remote places, the atmosphere on the trail and the solidarity with other hikers. But as I was getting closer to the end of the trail in New Zealand, after 3,000 km (1,864 mi), I had this feeling that I wasn't ready to stop, not yet.
Packing Light - photo: The American Hike
And more than that: I wanted to use this way of travelling not only on a well-known trail, but to discover the world far from the beaten path and to meet the people who live in those areas.
I spontaneously thought about starting with South America, because I'd been drawn to the Andes for a long time. I knew that there were some good opportunities to dive into some remote and preserved wilderness and at the same time, to meet some people living by ancestral traditions and keeping their culture alive. At the same time, I was also considering going to North America, where there are so many amazing trails that I'd heard about from my newly acquired hiking friends. And then, I just thought, "why not connect these two places I'd been longing to go to by also walking Central America"...So, The American Hike was born, with a simple idea at the heart of a very ambitious project: there's no border that could prevent anyone from walking to get to know the world.
The American Hike begins
So a few months after hiking in New Zealand, I took on the Camino de Santiago to improve my hiking abilities, particularly during winter. Once I got back home, my sole focus was this project: working to save money, planning my itinerary, investing in equipment and looking for sponsorship with companies and the media.
8 months later, in September 2017, I was in Ushuaia, the world's most southern tip. Was I ready? I don't know. I'd gone and that first step would take me further than I'd ever imagined.
Inspiring people of South America - photo: The American Hike
This project allows me to discover the Earth through the most fundamental way of being human: walking. Through the pleasure and also the pain that this outdoor activity provides, by discovering wild places and foreign cultures, I want to show everybody the human and natural marvels of our planet.
Walking and running in Central America
I'm now in the USA, ready to resume my walk in the Rockies on the Continental Divide Trail, after a long time spent on the road in Central America. It was quite complicated to find any trails at all in this part of the world and I also decided that staying on the roads most of the time would be the most sensible and safe option.
Central American fun - photo: The American Hike
But, since I like to look at any difficulty as an opportunity, I took this occasion to go running and walking ultralight with only a small Osprey Duro 6-pack backpack along an itinerary of 5,570km (3,573 mi) from Colombia to the US border. What an incredible feeling of freedom! Running through the incredible landscapes of Central America, waking up after a night in a hammock, having a sunrise bath in the ocean and spending the day on the road with only the essentials. And even if it was sometimes hard, most of the people I met on the way have always been very friendly and helpful. A driver stopped in the middle of the Mexican desert to give me a full bag of water and food!
Breathtaking South AmericaBut it's really in the Andes in South America where I had the opportunity to experience some incredible natural surroundings, like the fiords of Patagonia,
the Altiplano in Bolivia, or the volcanoes in Ecuador. That wasn't always easy, of course and on some very remote stretches, I had to carry up to ten days of food with my Osprey backpack.
The backpack after 3,000km in New Zealand and 13,000km in South America
But I've always fully committed myself to this endeavour, to keep going despite of snow, storms, white water river crossings and much more. That's how I became the first person ever to walk the whole length of the Greater Patagonian Trail in one season, one of the very few who have ever walked through the largest salt desert in the world and even climbed a 6,350 m (20,833 ft) mountain on my own.
The planet is amazing - and fragile
But all this time spent living on the trail, in nature, made me realize most of all how those marvels are fragile, despite of their apparent power. Glaciers of Patagonia are melting at great speed, water sources in Argentina are polluted by the mining industry, garbage is spread everywhere in the mountains.
The people who live in the most remote places of the Andes don't really understand what's happening, they're just struggling to survive day after day, trying to enjoy a little bit of what modern life has to offer - like sportswear, public transportation or sweets.
Views of South America - photo: The American Hike
But as the nature they've always been living is getting destroyed, it's their ancestral cultures and ways of life which follow the same destiny to slowly slide into history books. But some stand up against these abuses. They stand up, not only to protect the nature and their lives, but also to preserve the promise of hope for younger generations.
So, I strongly believe that this project isn't just an expedition for myself. My idea has always been to learn from and share with people along the way, but also to share this experience with the wider world, particularly through social networks.
That's why I'm working hard on spreading this adventure, by writing articles, taking photos and putting up a new video on YouTube every month. All of this work aims to showcase and allow others to discover other cultures, to promote social mobility and to raise awareness of important environmental issues.
You can follow my journey on:
Virgile's journey so far on the Hiking Map! Feeling inspired? Check it out here.