Trail of tears and joy: Hikers return from incredible charity expedition

PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 September 2017 | UPDATED: 08:21 28 September 2017

Joel Strickland and Joe Boot at Cumbres Pass, on the border of New Mexico and Colorado, after completing mile 800. Picture: Joel Strickland

Joel Strickland and Joe Boot at Cumbres Pass, on the border of New Mexico and Colorado, after completing mile 800. Picture: Joel Strickland

Archant

Two students have returned from a 3,100-mile fundraising hike from Mexico to Canada, telling amazing tales of their experience.

Joel Strickland and Joe Boot, somewhere in Colorado. Picture: Joel Strickland Joel Strickland and Joe Boot, somewhere in Colorado. Picture: Joel Strickland

Joel Strickland from Baldock and friend Joe Boot embarked on the trek of a lifetime to raise money for the mental health charity MQ and the University of Leicester’s widening access to higher education programme.

Upon their return from the Continental Divide Trail, they told the Comet about their adventures and struggles – with sleep deprivation and battered bodies mixed with run-ins with black bears, moose chases and close calls with snakes.

Joel said: “The walk was a real mixed bag. There were moments of incredible joy being in these amazing landscapes amongst nature, with the endorphins flowing as we hit the big miles comfortably.

“Being away from computers, phones, social media and the trivial dramas of society was great and felt very therapeutic.

Joel Strickland from Baldock looks out across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Picture: Joe Boot Joel Strickland from Baldock looks out across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Picture: Joe Boot

“There was also an equal amount of moments when we’d really just had enough. We were extremely sleep-deprived, tired, dirty and cold, and couldn’t wait to get to that finish line!

“We would often tell ourselves: ‘every step, every mile is a step closer to home - and the comforts of civilization’, during the bad times.”

In the latter half of their journey they named scenic locations such as Yellowstone National Park, the ‘Chinese Wall’ located in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, and the Wind River Range as some of their favourite spots.

They also faced some new challenges in the last three months, like fires in Montana described as some of the worst in decades – which saw them walking through hundreds of miles of smokey air.

Joel Strickland straps on his snow shoes at San Luis pass in Colorado. Picture: Joe Boot Joel Strickland straps on his snow shoes at San Luis pass in Colorado. Picture: Joe Boot

“It was nauseating, and it obscured many otherwise amazing views,” Joel added.

“We had to take some large detours which meant long and boring walks along highways and missing out some big areas in Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.”

To make up for lost time, the young men upped their daily miles at the halfway point from 20 to 25.

Joel continued: “It was a lot of walking, with less breaks than before, but it was relatively easy to get used to.

“Walking with painful joints was to be expected, but the first few weeks were a shock to the system.

“We were basically complete novices. Things like working out how many miles you’re comfortable with, knowing your own trekking ability and working out ways to keep you losing your mind from boredom were difficult at times, but after a few weeks it just became habit.”

The reality of being back in the UK, however, is something the students are anticipating to be an adjustment.

Joe, 23, said: “We are not really sure what to do with ourselves at this moment.

“It’s a big positive boost getting all of the support on our social media pages now we have finished, and seeing our charity donations flood in. It really does makes us feel like we have achieved something.

“It is going to be a shock to the system going home because for the last six months we have been used to tiny mountain towns and living in our tents out in the wild.

“This has been our lives for over a year including all the planning, and now it’s over. Back to work and university.

“We are thrilled with the amount we have raised so far. It adds another motivational dimension to the trip – knowing you’re doing it for a fantastic cause.”

Donation pages are still open. To show your support or find out more, see facebook.com/walkingthecdt and joelandjoewalkthecdt.wordpress.com.

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