Friday, February 22, 2019

What Hiking for a Cause Changes in your Preparations

Some free spirits embark on thru-hikes with very little preparation and somehow miraculously make it to the end in perfect health and happiness. For the rest of us, the months before departing on a longer hike can disappear in a blur of activities and preparations. These can include:

1. Choosing a trail and deciding when and where to start
2. Pouring over maps and trying to guesstimate a working itinerary
3. Deciding whether to create re-supply boxes or not
4. If supply boxes are a go, figuring out the associated logistics and assembling said boxes
5. Saving up enough money to ward off starvation during the hike
6. Putting your life on hold so there is something to return to, should you survive
7. The obsession known as choosing and obtaining gear. Combining with No. 5 can be a challenge.
8. At least pretending to do some physical training in all that free time you have left over
9. Everything else, such as working 1-2 jobs (see 5. and 7.), family commitments, walking the dog, etc.

If you're hiking for a cause, there are a few more things you might find yourself doing. In our experience, these additional preparations have been extremely time consuming, but also hugely rewarding. Here is a look at some of things that hiking for a cause adds to your preparations and a sense of what we've up to in the past 12 months:

Almost exactly one year before we planned to set off on the trail, we pitched our idea of hiking to connect families and youth to nature through birding to Bird Studies Canada. We hoped the collaboration would maximize the positive impact of our efforts for people, birds, and the environment. Trying to convince the head of an organization that we had something worthwhile to offer was a terrifying prospect. Thankfully we were successful, and since then we've learned a heck of a lot. There have been many presentations, discussions, and consultations, but the support, encouragement, and help have been overwhelming. Originally, we thought a year would be ample time to develop this collaboration, but as our departure date races towards us, we find ourselves left with a daunting amount of work still to do. The reality being that once you begin to collaborate and have sponsors there is always something more you should do as well as something more you can do.

Building Relationships
Since beginning our hike preparations we've met and spoken with many amazing people and organizations. Most of these contacts have been the result of our passion for finding ways to inspire youth to get outside and connect with nature. Science by the Seat of Your Pants, the Explorer's Club, and the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area network are a few of the groups we've been fortunate enough to interact with. This part has probably been the most fun, and the way it has expanded our perspective has been truly amazing. Reaching out and connecting with new groups and individuals has required a sustained effort, which will continue as we hike. However – to be honest – it has also lead to a lot more conversations, more advice, and more emails to be sent. In other words, while we are getting a ton of great assistance here too time is invested.

Hike Promotion
When hiking for a cause, obviously it is important to let people know what you are doing and why. To do this we had to have a recognizable (and simple) logo, design an online store, start a blog, made the 'Come Walk With Us' website, created a presence for our hike on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and promoted it through local, national, and international media. Generating appropriate and interesting content on a regular basis has been a challenge, but luckily an enjoyable one so far. With most of our posts, blogs, and podcasts being written at midnight after both daily jobs are completed, and after an evening of packing the house, planning the hike, or mailing resupply boxes.

Grants and Sponsors
Applying for grants and sponsorships does not have to be part of hiking for a cause. For us, it is a necessary part of undertaking a three year hike. Our savings give us a budget of $20/day for food, shelter, and supplies. Since we are hiking to give something back, there are a few grants we can apply for. We have also been applying for in-kind sponsorships from gear, clothing, and food companies. Although we have much of the gear we need to start, we're told we could go through 3-4 tents and up to 27 pairs of shoes each before we complete the trail! Thriving on rejection is a good quality to posses when engaging in this process. However, we have been incredibly fortunate to have a few great successes – here is looking at you Clifbar Canada!

To sum up, there is a lot of additional work involved in hiking for a cause. We can't remember the last time we went to bed before midnight....or even 2 in the morning. We've been doing so much computer-based work we're beginning to worry our legs might atrophy. Is it worth it? For us, yes it is. If you're thinking of doing something similar, my one piece of advice would be this: pick a cause you're passionate about. You will end up living and breathing it, so make sure you enjoy it. This is especially important because not all the responses to your hard work will be positive. Some people will even proclaim you're not a real hiker if you do it for a cause. My next blog entry will be my response to that accusation, and a few of my other favourites.

See you on the trail...

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