When Sarah Field and her two friends set out to trek the length of South America, they knew it would be a daunting endeavor.
"We were hiking 20 to 25 miles per day," Field said. "We were living in one little tent for a year. There were times we were low on food."
They knew that keeping peace among the three women would be paramount to their success. So before they even started, they identified their purpose for the trip and outlined what they called their guiding principles - a list of priorities such as safety, growth, fun opportunity and flexibility.
From there, they crafted a mission statement: "We will hike, as much as our guiding principles allow, from Ushuaia to the Colombian border over the course of a year."
And it worked.
"If we were ever in a position where we had to make a decision, we'd to go our guiding principles," Field explained. "I think it was a unique factor for us."
Their "flexibility" and "growth" principles led to a three-day stay with an Argentinean gaucho, Don Rial, on his remote farm, a three days' journey from the nearest city.
It was the "fun" principle that prompted them to stay and watch a festival where farmers from neighboring villages fought one another as a way to relieve debt, in accordance with an antiquated custom.
But it was "safety and health" that urged them to leave that festival before nightfall.
The trip began Oct. 4 in Ushuaia, Argentina. But the idea was born more than a year earlier when friends Trinity Ludwig and Shelley Brook plotted it out over a glass of wine in Denver.
As the story goes, they called Field, a mutual friend from Carson City whom they met at camp as teenagers, and who was living in New York City at the time while pursuing her master's degree in food and culture.
Field, 28, told them she would think about it and get back to them.
"They claim it was 30 seconds I called back," Field said. "I think it was five minutes that I called back and said, 'OK, I'm in.'"
To make the hike through the formidable Andes mountains, the trio knew the key would be traveling light.
They each carried one backpack, and tried to keep it to around 20 or 25 pounds. They brought with them just enough food and water, sometimes running precariously low before finding the next source.
The maps they could find were primitive at best, so in traveling among villages and cities, they relied on a GPS and the instructions of locals, who would often draw the best route on a piece of paper. Often they forged their own paths; other times they followed faint traces of old cow trails.
Between major cities, they happened upon small villages, many of which were not accustomed to strange visitors.
"We would just come out of the woods into these villages," Field said. "One town we went to hadn't had a visitor in five years."
Despite warnings about criminals and other dangers in South America, Field said, they didn't experience any of that. Instead, she said, they were met with invitations into people's homes for meals and lodging.
"It was the most hospitable place," she said. "They have nothing to give, yet they gave it all. The scariest part was the dogs and the cows."
The greatest danger, she said, was the threat of intestinal illnesses.
"It was a mess," she said. "Our stomachs were bad. It was a problem."
But nothing that knocked them off course. In fact, she admitted, all three gained about 10 pounds during the trip.
Along the way, the ladies, calling themselves the Tres Chicas, documented their travels on a blog, which drew about 50,000 followers.
Field said they were surprised by the response, and even more surprised by the emails from other women who were encouraged to follow their own dreams after reading the blog.
"To know you're inspiring people and having that influence, especially on women, to get out and do something like this is really amazing," she said. "That was the biggest surprise of the trip. It felt like we were helping people."
Field came home six weeks earlier than her companions to attend a friend's wedding and save money. In three weeks, Ludwig and Brook will complete the journey, and all three will live in Denver.
What exactly the future holds, Field isn't sure.
"We've thrown out the idea of maybe doing a book or something," she said. "We kind of joke about doing an Asian adventure or a Middle Eastern adventure, but there's always life and finances you have to consider. We'll see."
But of one thing, she is certain:
"There were a lot of frightening moments, and it was hard, but never once did I ever question the decision to do this trip. It was the most amazing thing."
On the Web
Read the Tres Chicas blog at eathikesleephike.blogspot.com.