TEARing it up for Cerebral Palsy

Hey Trek Reader!

I’m Sidetrack! It’s been a while…

I last wrote for the Trek during my Appalachian Trail Thru Hike in 2022. Since then it’s been chaos.

I’m incredibly excited to be attempting the newly developed Trans European Alpine Route this year. This 4000+ mile behemoth is the stuff of dreams, and nightmares.

An introduction to Sidetrack

As a hiker with a disability, I am constantly confronted with the amusing and frustrating irony that my favorite thing to do is directly affected by my disability.

I have Cerebral Palsy which, in my case, affects my legs, making them overly tight, inefficient and nearly always painful. My love for long distance hiking is strange give how much it hurts, but the mountains make me feel at home.

I find joy in conquering.

My whole life I’ve felt different, lesser, broken. I hike to prove myself wrong. I hike to show to the world what disability can look like. I hike for the kids with Cerebral Palsy who don’t yet realize just how big they can dream.

Post Trail Blues

After thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2022 I felt capable, but I was broken in other ways

My priorities had changed. My life had been irrevocably altered by my long communion with nature. I didn’t fit in the “real world”.  How could I chase the dollar after nearly six months chasing summit views and sunsets?

Connections with co-workers seemed hollow in comparison to the bond of collective suffering between hikers. My mind had become accustomed to peace, and I found the noise of everyday life overwhelming. My body had been honed into a machine, tuned to hours upon hours of labor, in spite of my Cerebral Palsy. The return to sedentary life brought back a pain and tightness I hoped I’d left behind.

I needed a way out.


I had been talking with a trail friend about our plans for the next adventure. He introduced me to the TEAR.

The Trans European Alpine Route (TEAR) is a relatively new route that combines over 4000 miles of existing long-distance trails across Europe from Spain to Bulgaria. Its average elevation change is similar to the Appalachian Trail while being nearly double the length.

I was immediately interested. This was an adventure. This was a true challenge, both exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I was in, but a bigger challenge needed a bigger why.

The Cause

As a disabled person, I’ve always felt overwhelming gratitude for my ability to hike and wanted to pay it forward in some way. I needed something to keep me going on the days when quitting seemed the only answer.

I thought about my own journey, and all the therapy that has enabled me to hike. 33 people a day are diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. It is the most common life-long physical disability in the world.

In spite of this, many of us don’t have access to treatment, technology or information to help us maximize our potential.

I am looking to change that. That is my Why.

My Partners

After reaching out to several different non-profits, I solidified a partnership with Cerebral palsy Alliance Research Foundation (CPARF) to raise funds for Cerebral Palsy Research. CPARF is a 50c3 Nonprofit that funds research and new technology so that folks with CP can live better lives.

To learn more about their mission click here

In addition to working with CPARF I have the good fortune to be partnering with Sawyer Products and assistive technology startup BioMotum, as well as posting updates on The Trek.

Together we aim to raise $40,000 for life-changing research so that others with CP can get proper treatment and will have the opportunity to chase their crazy dreams. All donations are tax deductible and go directly to helping change lives!

To learn more about the campaign and how you can help click here

Trail Breakdown

The Trans European Alpine Route was developed and hiked by Canadian Dylan Ivens in 2019.

Having hiked across the United States on both the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails, Ivens wondered how one might thru-hike an entire continent in a single year. Europe was the most feasible for a single year thru hike.

Ivens plotted out his route, stretching from the Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria to the Atlantic Coast in Spain. It passes through 16 countries and utilizes portions of 31 trails (not including alternates). It traverses over 4000 miles, sticking as much as possible to major mountain ranges. Completing the route in 7 months requires an average pace of 18 miles/day.

The total elevation change on the TEAR is 1,550,686 ft of elevation gain/loss over 4,014 miles, averaging 386 ft/mi. To put that in perspective, below are the average elevation changes for the US Triple Crown trails, pulled from 2020 FarOut data.

The Appalachian Trail gains/loses 917,760′ over 2194.3 mi (avg: 418 ft/mi)

The Pacific Crest Trail gains/loses 824,370′ over 2668.8 mi (avg: 309 ft/mi).

The Continental Divide Trail gains/loses 917,470′ over 3029.3 mi (avg: 303 ft/mi).

To read a more in depth breakdown see Dylan’s article.

While the Appalachian Trail is steeper mile for mile than the TEAR, the 18 mile/day pace required means an average daily change of 6,984 ft compared to my average of 5,562 ft on my 2022 Appalachian Trail thru hike.

The overall TEAR elevation change is equivalent to climbing and descending Everest 27 times. At an 18mi/day pace, that’s approximately equal to one Everest summit and descent per week!

For those like me ambitious (or crazy) enough to take on this beast, Ivens separated the hike into seven stages.

The Balkan Mountains (555km/345mi)

The Balkan Gap (504km/313mi)

The Alps ( 1656km/1029mi )

Massif Central (628km/390mi)

The Pyrenees (621km/385mi)

Cantabrian Mountains (1026km/637mi)

For a more in depth look at the TEAR, visit Mountainsandme.ca

Logistical Challenges

Ivens was able to hike the entire trail 1-7 from west to east. Due to the addition of Croatia to the Schengen Zone in January 2023, and the recent addition of Bulgaria in 2024, a full Thru Hike for non-Europeans is nearly impossible.

The Schengen Agreement allows free movement between member countries without passport control, which is great for visitors. American citizens (and citizens of several other nations) may enter the Schengen Area without applying for a visa. Also great!

Read this twice, it’s confusing.

The problem is the time restrictions. Visa free entry to the Schengen Area is valid for 90 out of a rolling 180 days. What that means is if I spend 90 days in Schengen, I will then be required to spend 90 days outside the Schengen before I re-enter.

Gone are the days of jetting off to Serbia for a weekend in Belgrade and grabbing a fresh 90 days on the flight back to a Schengen member state.

When Ivens hiked in 2019 Croatia had not been admitted, leaving several hundred more miles to cover in 90 days. Its addition makes a westbound hike highly improbable within the timeline, but doable.

My original plan was a start at the Atlantic in Spain, eastbound to the Pyrenees, then a jump to the Central Massif to avoid the snows, then a flip to Bulgaria just before my 90 days, then a slow amble trough the former Yugoslav nations, before a final sprint through the Alps, and ending with a cleanup of the Pyrenees in early October.

With the addition of Bulgaria, that plan isn’t possible. When I saw the news in late December 2023, my hopes of a successful hike were initially shattered. I would now have an additional 500 miles to cover within the first 90 days, and I would have 500 less miles to occupy my 90 days out of Schengen. I wracked my brain for a solution.

Flips and Flops

Buckle up. It’s a doozy.

Start with Section 1 in early March, hike to the French border by the end of March.

Catch a flight to Bulgaria and a bus to the Black Sea Coast.

Sprint an average of 30 miles/day through the Kom Emine.

Take an alternate route to enter Serbia by mid-April.

A possible detour off the official route to exit Bosnia and Herzegovina further west.

Sprint across Croatia and through the Alps

On reaching the Massif Central, flip to the Pyrenees

Hike the Haute Route Pyrenees before the snows.

Finish with the Massif Central

Return home triumphant!

4000 miles and $40,000 for Cerebral Palsy

It’s going to be tough.

With that said, I’m glad for the extra challenge. It’s a chance to show what I can do if I put my mind to it. It’s a chance to show what people with Cerebral Palsy can do with the right support.

To follow along, follow my Instagram @Sidetrackhiker and stay tuned for updates here on The Trek!

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Comments 2

  • Jared : Apr 1st

    Hey Jake, I just wanted to say I found your post to be very inspiring and I wish you the best of luck in your epic journey! The world could use a few more folks like you! Happy hiking, safe travels, ✌️

  • Dylan : Apr 1st

    Yeah!!! Go get it!


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