Amazing Nomads: Tenny and Claire - Walk the Border

Tenny and Claire have hiked the length of the US/Mexico border, taking six months to walk 2,000 miles, dodging mountain lions and rattlesnakes.

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Alongside delivering our fortnightly World Nomads destination podcast. we now share bonus episodes featuring amazing people doing amazing things while traveling. They demonstrate discovery, connection, transformation, fear or love through travel.

Friends Tenny and Claire are the first people to hike the US/Mexico border. It took them six months to walk 2,000 miles, dodging mountain lions and rattlesnakes.

In This Episode

00:08 Introducing Tenny and Claire

00:23 Claire and Tenny finish their hike – “woo hoo we made it.

01:02 How they became friends

04:07 The moment they decided to hike the Us/Mexico border

05:58 What they wanted to achieve

07:14 Warnings from the locals

09:10 What was their biggest issue?

10:08 How hiking is transformational

13:08 Hiking in Australia

14:29 What’s next for Tenny and Claire

15:37 What to do if you know an Amazing Nomad

15:56 What’s on the next episode

Who is on the Show

Tenny Ostrem and Claire Wernstedt-Lynch formed their friendship in the snowy North Carolina mountains while hiking the Appalachian Trail. They say hiking serves as a “peaceful, purposeful and often radical mechanism for personal transformation”. Recently, they hiked the length of the US/Mexico border, starting in International Friendship Park in San Diego and ending at the Boca Chica State Park in Brownsville.

They dodged mountain lions and rattlesnakes while carrying 38 pounds (17kg) of water.

They documented their extraordinary effort in this blog which has just as many posts as days walked.


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Speaker 1: The World Nomads Podcast bonus episode. Hear amazing Nomads sharing their knowledge, stories, and experience of world travel.

Kim: Well, Phil, we've featured a few guys in our Amazing Nomads episode, since we kicked them off with Sarah Davis. Who next month, by the way, she will paddle the entire length of the Nile. And I'm pleased to say we're featuring not one, but two amazing women in this episode.

Tenny: Whoo hoo, we made it to

Claire: Texas.

Tenny: Texas, whoo hoo.

Claire: Our last state, we're here.

Tenny: Last state, wow.

Claire: And we're almost in El Paso.

Tenny: Whoo.

Phil: Tenny and Claire formed their friendship in the snowy North Carolina mountains while hiking the Appalachian Trail. And it was there they hatched a plan to become the first people to, can you believe this, walk the entire length of the US/Mexico border. They started in International Friendship Park in San Diego and ended at the Boca Chica State Park in Brownsville.

Claire: There's a long-distance trail in America called the Appalachian Trail. It's the first long-distance trail, it goes from Georgia to Maine. And it's about 2,000 miles, so it was my first trail and Tenny's second long-distance trail. And we started in the winter so there weren't many people out there, and certainly not many women. So when we met each other, we were the first people we'd seen in a while and the first women. And there was just like an instant connection. Then we ended up hiking a lot of that trail together, along with some other people.

Kim: Which is, hence, where you cooked up the idea to do the border, and how long was that, in terms of miles and days and?

Tenny: Yeah, good question. Since there was no guidebook, it's hard for us to answer that question. But from day-to-day kind of estimations, we tracked probably around 1,800. Though our GPS read maybe more like 2,400. And then the actual border of US and Mexico, as far as stats go and official numbers go, it's 1,954.

Kim: Phil said, "If you're going to get shot, it's there." Did you realize that?

Claire: Oh, it was a big fear of ours starting out, was our safety. We were really nervous, we had heard a lot, mostly from people who hadn't been there themselves. There's a lot of sort of myths about what's down there and we had a lot of fear going in, but we had this trust that people are kind of the same no matter where they are and that it maybe wasn't as bad as people made it out to be. And that's overwhelmingly what we found. We really had no incidents that were even remotely dangerous or scary or anything like that.

Kim: A lot of the headlines of the articles that I've read are things like, "The first through-hike of the Mexican border", which it is. We've been calling it, around here, "Trump's Wall", you've walked "Trump's Wall".

Tenny: Well, Trump's very porous wall. It was only here and there, mostly in the most [inaudible 00:03:10] most states. So yeah, Trump's Rio Grande, the river is the boundary for a large portion of the border, and-

Phil: But I'm fascinated by border areas where it's basically either a fence or an imaginary line in the dirt.

Tenny: Absolutely, yeah. And at several places along the border where there wasn't a wall or there wasn't some physical barrier, we did walk in Mexico and then also walked in the United States probably switching off up to 20 times a day. And that is legal where the Rio Grande is, because the river corridor, you're allowed to walk on either bank. A lot of river trips and commercial groups go down it and use that area as so, so yeah, that's an interesting part of it.

Kim: Tenny, when was that moment when you both looked into each others' eyes and said, "Yeah, let's do this."

Tenny: Ha, ha. That was about maybe a year and a half ago now. Claire and I both do a lot of long-distance trails. They've been a really motivating force in our life and a transformative thing, just walking long-distance trails. And so we were kind of deciding maybe to do one called the Continental Divide Trail, and it felt a little wrong to disappear into the wilderness, just given the political climate and how many conversations there are about this and that issue around our country. Both Claire and I are interested in being engaged, so we didn't want to just disappear into the wilderness. We wanted to be part of a conversation and learn, so we combined a long trail with trying to learn and understand about an issue. So about a year and a half, I sent her a text and said, "Hey, what about hiking the Mexico border?" And I thought she would say, "no" and she said, "yeah". So-

Phil: But that was a deliberate plan then? You had thought, "Let's try and raise some awareness about what's happening along this area."

Claire: Yes, we really wanted to use hiking to engage with an issue. We wanted to raise awareness, but it was also a lot about our own education and transformation. Like Tenny said, hiking just changes you, it affects you in really long-lasting ways, and we wanted to engage rather than detach. Which is what I feel like normal people do when they go into the wilderness, is kind of take a break from society. And we wanted to use hiking to connect with a group of people that we didn't know much about.

Kim: Phil, if Tenny had come to you and said, "We're planning this trip, it's never been done before". From a travel-safety perspective, what would your reaction be?

Phil: We don't try to tell people to not go to an area, but we want people to be aware of the potential for trouble. So I would have spoken to the girls about that and about preparing for it, and getting some-

Kim: In your dad's voice?

Phil: In my dad's voice, I would have done that. "Are you sure you want to do this?" And you always-

Claire: We definitely had some dad voices.

Kim: I bet, I bet.

Phil: But I have to say that I would also have suggested exactly what you did, talk to the locals about it when you get to a place. Because that's what I do whenever I travel, is just check it with a local and go, "Is there anywhere I shouldn't go? Is there anything I shouldn't do?"

Kim: Well, Tenny, wasn't there a moment when you were in a car and the guy, the driver, said, "Are you sure you want to go there? It's really dangerous where you're heading."

Tenny: Oh, yes. I think most of the locals were excited to tell us about what was to come and that we would actually be okay. But we definitely still had voices in there. In particular, we had a Lyft driver in Calexico, we were about to go into a hotel for that night. And he picked us up kind of in a random location that we had to come back and hike from the next day. And we started talking to him and told him what we were doing, and he was very scared for us and he was like, "You know, I just have to tell you that it's really dangerous out there". Which, of course, Claire and I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he meant humans, the humans were the worry. And he quickly followed up and said, "The desert, it's really hot and then there are mountain lions. There's wildlife." And really, Claire and I were really shocked by how much we had read into that and misjudged that, what he was talking about.

Claire: Yeah, I think that was kind of a theme of the trip, is people who aren't in that area just have a lot of fears about what kind of people are there. And then people who are in that area, have fears about the desert and the wildlife, but not necessarily the people.

Kim: So you didn't run into any drug-smuggling bandits, but what about the mountain lions and the rattlesnakes? And did you run out of water?

Tenny: We did run into any serious animals or wildlife, no. Water was definitely an issue. We did the hike during the coldest months for that reason, so we wouldn't have to be as worried about crossing really extreme terrain and environments in the heat of the hottest months. So I think the water was probably one of our biggest worries. We carried, one time we carried 38 pounds of water, which is a lot. So there are a lot of towns along the border, there's probably a town every six days. In Texas, there are a couple more remote areas. And because there are so many towns, we were able to still get our share of water then, resupply then. So it was definitely a mix of both, worries about water but also there was plenty of infrastructures for us to get what we needed to.

Phil: Tenny, can I just go back to a point there that you were making about hiking being transformational, can you explain what you mean about that and in what ways have you been transformed?

Tenny: Yeah, great, great question. Something that's really hard to pinpoint. There are many things about walking that's transformational. Transformative in my life. Probably there's something about movement. One of the things I think about the most is, I have a tendency to think a lot about a problem or feel like something's out of my grasp. And it's really easy to ruminate and kind of get bogged down by all the worry and get really stagnant in your mind. And I feel like walking really allows a lot of fluidity in your thoughts.

So when you are starting to go down some of these like, "Oh, the world is bleak, or this issue is so overwhelming", often you can walk a little more and you'll have a spark. Or you'll see something or talk to someone, and it's enough to kind of get you out of your own, just out of your own mind, I guess, more than anything. And [inaudible 00:11:14] and re-stimulate your progress. And also I think, kind of along those lines, you do interact with so many different people, you interact with different landscapes, you interact with and you encounter many different things. And each of those things teaches you a lot. So you definitely are able to remove yourself from your own kind of like small, contained box when you walk.

Kim: What is it for you, Claire? Is it transformational for you, doing these hikes?

Claire: Yeah, absolutely. I agree with everything Tenny said. There's something about a quest that I feel like a lot of cultures have an understanding of. You know, like a pilgrimage or a journey where you have an end destination, and there's a simplicity to it that's really, I guess, addictive is the word I would use. Because you just have this goal that you're moving towards, and it's hard often, to get there. But you have a lot of pride in that goal, and you have a lot of simplicity in that it's just this target that you're going towards. And it gives you a lot of room to think about other things and have this structure that kind of guides your thoughts. So I would agree completely with Tenny.

And then, like she said, the people aspect, the community aspect of it, is really important. Just something about walking, people see you and they want to help you out. And it just brings out this really generous, compassionate side of people, I've found. Just really great people that want to help you, and then other hikers that want to support you. And it's hard to think of a negative experience that walking has brought me. It's always been a positive, affirming experience.

Phil: Hey, we've got a ... there is a little known long-distance trail in Australia. I'd like to kind of invite you to have a go at this one. I mean, we've got like the Larapinta Trail, and what have you, that goes through the desert. But there's actually an alpine one, we've got a mountainous region. And you can go from just east of Melbourne, in the [inaudible 00:13:29] land area, all the way to ... and I think you get as far as like-

Kim: In Queensland?

Phil: No, you can get as far as Cooma in New South Wales, the other side of our tallest mountain, Kosciuszko. Kosciuszko.

Kim: Kosciuszko.

Phil: Without crossing a tarmac road.

Tenny: Wow.

Phil: And there's a lot of people do that on horseback.

Kim: Yeah, my husband's done that.

Phil: Oh, has he really?

Kim: Yeah, Andrew's done that.

Phil: Can we get him on the show? Because I want to hear about it.

Kim: Yeah, definitely get him on the show. And he's done it ... is that a genuine invitation to the girls? Is that something that-

Phil: I'm not paying for it.

Kim: So it was a lame invitation, wasn't it? [crosstalk 00:14:03] A very lame invitation. So, Claire, what's next? Obviously, you've got this in your system, this hiking. I would love to hear what you've got planned next.

Claire: There are three long-distance trails in America. So I've done two of the now, and the third one is what we're supposed to do, but instead, we did this hike. So that's definitely still on my bucket list, but I don't know, I feel like this trip has really been very important in my life and I'll want to be focusing on this one for a while. So I don't know if I'm ready yet to go off into the woods again.

Phil: What is that third one? What is the one you haven't done?

Claire: It's called the Continental Divide Trail. That's the longest one in America and it also goes from Mexico to Canada, north-south.

Kim: Okay. Well, the invitation, as lame as it is, is here for you to come to Australia, and we'd love to take you out for a beer.

Phil: That's as far as it goes. [crosstalk 00:15:01]

Tenny: [00:15:04] Absolutely. I actually have a friend who just did a long trail there. Different from the one you just described, but it ended at the coast and was about 400 miles. And he saw lots of insects and lots of reptiles.

Kim: Thank you very much. You're amazing Nomads.

Tenny: Thank you.

Claire: Thank you for having us, it's great to talk to you guys.

Kim: Amazing Nomads. We'll have a link to their blog, which documented in [inaudible 00:15:28]. Which, I think, they had as many blogs as days that they were on the walk.

Phil: I know, and it's great reading as well. What a fantastic thing.

Kim: Yeah, it is.

Phil: Loved it. If you know an Amazing Nomad, someone demonstrating discovery, connection, transformation, fear or love through travel, then email us at [email protected] and we'll have a chat with them.

Kim: Absolutely. You can find our Amazing Nomads episodes alongside our Destination podcasts in iTunes, or download the Google podcast app. Next week, we've been promising it, and now we will deliver Uruguay. Bye.

Phil: Bye.

Speaker 1: Amazing Nomads. Be inspired.

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