A Sidney woman and a Washington, D.C. man are steadily making their way across the United States to raise awareness of mental health and environmental issues.
Hannah Wood, 23, graduated from Sidney High School in 2014. Her trekking partner is Canyon Hunt, 21. The two met during their AmeriCorps service in October 2018, but didn’t talk much until one night before leaving for Christmas break, Wood said.
“We were just sitting in a room and Canyon was like, I’m going to walk across the country after this, I’m going to walk home,” Wood said. “I basically was like, that sounds really awesome.”
Hunt said the idea to walk home after his time at AmeriCorps ended came to him while on the plane from Washington, D.C. to Sacramento California to begin his service.
Though Hunt said the initial idea behind the trek was a desire to live more freely — and partly inspired by his favorite movie, “Forrest Gump” — it morphed to have even deeper meanings.
Hunt said he had just finished helping build a boys and girls club on the Flathead Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana. While there, he was able to see how those on the reservation lived in an environmentally conscious, mindful way. A conversation with a local made him think he should center the trek around environmental awareness, he said.
“If we’re destroying the planet or we’re not conserving wildlife ... in the end, we are nature as well,” Hunt said. “We live here, this is our home and we’re destroying ourselves, our bodies, our minds. It’s all interconnected.”
At almost exactly the same time, Wood said, she lost someone very close to her to suicide. Wood said she met Rachel Mckay when they were freshmen at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and they dated for three years. They broke up amicably, she said, and attempted to stay in touch after graduation. Wood said she tried reaching out to Mckay while she was in AmeriCorps, but their contact waned.
In April, Wood said she found out Mckay had killed herself. She was a sergeant in the U.S. Army at the time of her death, and previously a two-sport athlete who excelled academically, Wood said.
“We were broken up for a whole year but that doesn’t change how much I cared for her,” Wood said. “Losing someone at 23, especially to suicide, my whole friend group was distraught. It was just an awakening like ... this is an issue, people should not be killing themselves this young.”
With goals of environmental consciousness and mental health awareness, Hunt and Wood set out on their trek Aug. 10, from San Francisco, California. They said they hope to end up in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, by February, and have walked 1,002 miles so far. As of Oct. 31, Hunt and Wood had reached Moab, Utah, where they were taking a short break, Wood said.
In keeping with environmental consciousness, Wood and Hunt said they eat exclusively vegetarian food. They eat vegan whenever they can, though sometimes food options are limited depending on the location, and it isn’t always possible. They also stick to sustainable practices like reducing their plastic consumption, Wood said.
Hunt said they had a lot of fear projected onto them from others when they were first starting their journey. Eighty three days in, however, he said he’s realized these fears were false.
“I think if people were more loving and accepting and not so fearful, the world would be a better place,” Hunt said.
The two raise money both for food and for two nonprofit organizations: Save our Shores and To Write Love On Her Arms. Visit www.sole-freedom.com/ to donate, learn more about Wood and Hunt or follow along with their journey as they document it. For daily updates, follow @sole.freedom on Instagram and Walk for Sole Freedom on Facebook.
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.