Editor’s note: Last week, we learned how Wendy Morrill and her father, Richard Bailey, did an impromptu 20-mile hike on the wild coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico, and how they returned the following year for another 20-mile hike near Cancun. After reading about Michel Peissel’s 200-mile hike along the same coast, they planned to hike 600 miles, from Cancun to Belize and beyond.
With just their packs and their wits, Wendy Morrill and her father, Richard Bailey, braved Quintana Roo for about 550 miles to the border of the nation of Belize, nearly triple the distance that Michel Peissel had hiked. Each year saw them hike about 120 miles over eight to 10 days.
They’d already done 40 miles, and Peissel had started far south of Cancun. For four years, they averaged about 120 miles per year, always over about nine days in May, before the hurricane and rain season.
There were myriad adventures: run-ins with the grumpy Mexican military, making friends along the way, exploring ancient Mayan ruins and sacrificial sites. Everything was so vastly different from Maine as to be almost like trekking across an alien world: the plants and animals, the landscapes and vistas, the people and culture, the clothing and architecture.
And it tested Morrill’s physical and mental limits.
“There were times when I’d think I couldn’t go anymore,” Morrill said. “But as long as you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you can keep going.”
At one point, a native family in southern Mexico took them in when they had nowhere to go, letting them sleep in a shed, feeding them fried fish, and giving them coconut water. Although the family spoke no English, Morrill was still able to play games with the children — Hopscotch and Tic-Tac-Toe in the sand, and Hangman.
“That was a huge part of the cultural experience,” she said.
At first during the expedition, there were those all-inclusive resorts every few miles, but the duo couldn’t spend money there; guests prepaid and wore identification bracelets, so the resorts had no way to take payment. When things got desperate, Morrill’s father hid in the jungle with their packs while she went in, wrists covered, and finagled food and water.
But the world changed dramatically beyond Tulum, where the 120-mile stretch to Majahual is a protected biosphere. No resorts are allowed; only cabanas are found, and the only electricity is by occasional solar power. It was truly wild, with rare towns and settlements, and very few people. Fresh water was scarce.
Morrill and Bailey returned every year from 2007 to 2010 to hike the distance from Cancun to the nation of Belize, including the narrow, 25-mile-long Belizean island of Ambergris Caye. In 2011, they returned to hike a remote part of the Mexican coast of Punta Herrero, an area they had previously been unable to reach.
So what rewards did Morrill earn from her experiences?
“The accomplishment that I was able to do it,” she said. “The time spent with my father, all the memories that we made … We always talk about, ‘Where are we going to go next? Are we going to do it again?’ Every single day I think about it.”
While working as the safety officer at the Maine Institute for Human Genetics & Health, she set up her final 100 miles as a fundraiser, earning $1,300 for the institute. Some of the MIHGH scientists wanted to do radiation experiments, which required someone with a license for that and a radiation safety officer. Morrill used the money to get certified as both.
Now at Husson University, Morrill has done many PowerPoint presentations for children and adults. She talks about her hike and shows photos and items from her adventures. She’s presented to schools and groups statewide and beyond, and is always eager to talk to any group.
Eventually, she began adapting her presentation into a book. She’s working hard to relate her experiences in the wondrous world that lies just beyond the safe walls of the resort, a world that most vacationers never know is there.
“They don’t go out off the beaten path,” she said. “Some do, but maybe they don’t realize that you could just keep walking.”
Robert Frost would likely approve of Morrill and Bailey taking that road less traveled by — or in this case, taking no road at all. And when her book publishes, Morrill hopes for one result.
“Make enough money so I can do it again,” she said. “And continue — maybe do the coastline of Honduras, and then right down Central America.”
And if she’s still energized — and it’s easy to suspect she will be — there’s always South America waiting in the wings.
This two-part article conveys only some of Wendy Morrill’s experiences. Morrill is available to tell schools, organizations, and businesses about it all. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.