Suffer Better and a Long Trail Thru-Hike
The woods have saved me many times over, and this time is no different. This last year has been the most turbulent, hopeful, crushing, heartbreaking, painful, and humbling experience of my life. I’ve gotten pretty lost at a few points along the way. Ultimately, I had a mirror put in front of me and I didn’t know who or what I saw; and I certainly didn’t like the person looking back at me.
Thru-hiking the Long Trail was on the itinerary to do at some point, but when life took its latest turn, it was clear that I needed to make this a priority. I got the few pieces of gear I needed, ordered the guides, and started my training with morning trail runs three times a week.
Before taking my second overnight backpacking trip, my daughter asked me why I was going for hikes and sleeping in the woods. To put it simply for a 5-year-old, I said, “Because it helps mommy in body, mind, and spirit.” And since kids have a way of asking or saying exactly what needs to be heard in any given moment, she responded by saying, “But how does it help other people?” Well, shoot. Don’t I just feel like a jerk, now?
Ultra-endurance sports have long been touted as a generally self-interested undertaking, a sentiment that I can understand while also seeing the value in them. Leaving my daughter for a weekend was never easy, but I could justify it by seeing how taking care of my body, mind, and spirit was good for the both of us. But her question kept popping up for the remainder of the weekend. How could this hike help others?
I thought about the access I have to the outdoors and how fortunate I am to experience the power of the trail’s solace. And how many people need it but either don’t have access to it or the comfortability with it, the way that I do?
As fate would have it, I listened to an old episode of Backpacker Radio the very next day that featured Peter Downing from Suffer Better. All of the loose ends with which I was wrestling had suddenly been tied together. Suffer Better connects endurance athleticism and a love for the outdoors as a means to give back. They recognize that we are privileged to be able to run, ride, hike, and ski in the magnificent outdoor places we do. They believe strongly that privilege comes with the responsibility to fight to protect our natural environment, support those less fortunate, and put our energy and efforts to good use to improve our world.
This was how my hike would help others. I emailed Peter that very afternoon, and we agreed to team up on my Long Trail thru-hike as a way to raise money for Big City Mountaineers and to fund a grant for the Suffer Better Foundation.
Suffer Better launched its grant program, Do Good Grants, in 2019. The grant offers financial support of up to $1,000 for individuals or groups with an innovative project or activity that combines a unique endurance activity and an integrated and meaningful charitable component. A recent grant recipient used the funds to create a 50-mile run that raised money for a family whose daughter is suffering from Leigh’s disease. Many grant applicants are focused on inspiring and encouraging others to explore the great outdoors as a means to understand its importance, and the need to protect and preserve our lands.
Big City Mountaineers is a nonprofit that harnesses the transformative powers of Mother Nature to leave a lasting impact on the lives of under-resourced youth. Their wilderness expeditions bring kids out of their comfort zones and into the wild, where they develop the confidence needed for more promising futures. Their programs focus on improving the self-esteem, sense of responsibility, group communication, and decision-making skills of nearly 1,000 youth annually. They engage youth in seven cities across the country, including Boston, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Organizations like Suffer Better and Big City Mountaineers allow us to share the benefits of nature. By supporting them, we can use one of the very things we love and value the most as a way to allow others to experience the same growth and healing that the trail affords us. As the saying goes, the trail provides; and that couldn’t be more true than it is right now.
My Long Trail thru-hike started as a way to save myself, and it has grown into a way to empower others to access that same transformative power of the trail. As they say at Suffer Better, give your all and give back. I choose to suffer better. This is why I hike. If you would like to join me in support of Suffer Better and Big City Mountaineers, please consider sharing this story and making a donation.
My name is Tracy (aka Scrappy) and I’m a lifelong outdoor adventure seeker. The trail is my happy place and I am most content when outside without cell reception. I’m thru-hiking the Long Trail this summer and spend nearly every weekend on the AT.
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