My Purpose For Hiking the Great Divide Trail

Necessity of Purpose

Setting a goal or starting a project is always a large undertaking.  There are always hiccups, bumps and the path towards the finish line may feel like it comes to a standstill.  My purpose for hiking the GDT came before I had even decided to hike the trail.  Life had steered me in a direction where I felt required to do something drastic.  This became my purpose for hiking and starting a fundraiser.

In Zach Davis’s book Pacific Crest Trials, he talks about the mental fortitude and requirements needed to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  His main point, which he consistently reminds the reader, is about having purpose. Without a purpose, the week-long stretches of rain-soaked clothing, frozen shoes in the morning, sleepless nights, and never-ending hills can end a trip. The summer concerts, days at the beach, and climbing trips seem a lot more appealing than continuing the journey of misery.

A purpose is required so those bad days are put into perspective, it can fuel the drive to finish the goal and act as a mantra through the hard times. There will definitely be hard days on the GDT and I’m doing my best to try and prepare myself for these trials, or prepare to accept these trials before setting off.  In doing so, I will be motivated by having a purpose in hiking the GDT.

I found my purpose for hiking the Great Divide Trail through grief.

Chapters of Life

Eight years ago, I finished my undergrad degree and had no idea what to do so I worked at a ski resort.  While there, I met someone that would unknowingly leave a profound impact on my life.  We had two completely different lives but we grew exceptionally close over the next three years.  We lived a life of adventure, living in a van and driving up and down the West Coast to living in a bush camp in northern British Columbia working as tree planters, plus numerous other journeys in between. It was the kind of adventure that many people are never afforded and I am so thankful for the times and memories we made together.

Our first hiking trip together was in the West Kootenay Range of British Columbia; it was remarkable.  It was one of the first trips I had taken as an adult and completely re-established what hiking and backpacking meant to me. After this trip, we filled our weekends with many other trips around BC and Washington state and were fortunate enough to see some incredible places and create lasting memories.  However, as life happens we eventually split ways and we moved on to pursue alternative storylines. 

Grief

In the fall of 2019 it had been several months since we had seen each other, and a few since we had last chatted. It was a November morning in 2019 that I learned she had passed away.  There were more emotions, trauma, and grief than I am competent at putting into words. Dealing with the loss of someone you loved and shared such an intimate story with is devastating.   Having a foundational figure taken away leaves a void that will never be replaced.

I immediately felt the need to do something. Her independence and fearlessness of the unknown inspired me.  I knew I needed to keep that fearlessness and bravery in my life, to keep my memory of her alive. She is a remarkable person and did remarkable things, my hope is to keep her spirit present with me as I go forward.

It wasn’t long before I decided I was going to go on a thru-hike and my mission to do so fell into place.  When I saw someone so fundamental to my understanding of who I was, leave so quickly, I knew I needed to do something drastic in my life to feel that sense of vivid liveliness.

Purpose

Mental health affects nearly everyone. Given the sweeping societal changes through Covid, I have found that this silent pandemic of mental health is gripping the lives of even more people. I have had some dark chapters in my life. I have experienced the absence of color in life.  Not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and constantly feeling like I was falling deeper and deeper into a vast pit of emptiness, with no way out. It was exhausting and manifested itself through nearly every aspect of my life.

To me, suicide is when someone smashes a hole in that bottomless pit and climbs out the side.  No longer able to tread water and terrified of falling even deeper, taking the side exit seems like the only viable option.  It’s hard to say what the exact reason is for taking this route, but my heart aches for anyone that feels it is the only option available.  Trying to put myself in their shoes is incomprehensible and I would never wish it upon anyone.

Knowing someone that passed away from suicide is incredibly hard to wrap my mind around.  There have been so many stages of emotion, most immediately was guilt and bewilderment.  Now I am trying to turn these emotions towards making a change.  Mental health and particularly suicide are still so stigmatized in our culture.  Talking about suicide is uncomfortable but needs to happen.  This stigmatization isn’t helping anyone and is closing the door on so many people that need help.  Not talking about a problem has never solved anything.  This silence has created societal judgment of suicide and I want to do what I can to end it.

I Started a Fundraiser

My goal is to hike the Great Divide Trail ~1200km plus an additional 800km throughout the year, for a total of 2000km. In doing this, I am attempting to raise $10,000 for the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. CASP is a nationwide organization that focuses its energy on the changes I want to see. Two particular projects they have are implementing a national 3-digit crisis line and creating a national public health strategy specifically focused on suicide prevention.  This includes education around suicide and debunking the myths created through this silent social stigmatization. 

At the time of writing, I am already 30% of the way and am still 64 days from starting!  Hopefully with the money raised more campaigns can be run to help stop the prevalence of suicide and mental health in our culture, and give resources to those in need of help.  Additionally, I hope to instigate these conversations.  Organizations can help create top-down institutional changes but that is only half the fight.  Individually, we can start having these conversations to create open dialogue regarding suicide and mental health. It is OK to not feel  OK, and it’s very OK to talk about it.  

My purpose is to chip away at the prevalence of suicide in our culture through the fundraiser and through individual day-to-day actions.  Meanwhile, shaping my life as a supporter of others rather than turning a blind eye and pushing these issues aside.

Fundraiser

If you would like to donate to this cause please visit Hike4Hope.ca from there you will see the “Donate” link on the front page.  100% of all money raised goes directly to CASP.

 

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Comments 1

  • Avatar
    Sean Krausert : Apr 28th

    Way to go Austin!

    All of us at the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention are rooting for you in your journey, and are grateful and proud to be associated with you. All the best in the coming days!

    Best regards,
    Sean Krausert
    Executive Director
    Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

    Reply

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