Bart Zych looks well-rested for a man who just walked from Hope to Calgary — that’s more than 1,100 kilometres — in 42 days to raise money for a charity that supports vulnerable youth.
When Zych first told his friends about his plans to take two months off to walk alone across two provinces, “They all said ‘Are you crazy?’” recalled Zych.
Zych’s walk idea, which quickly turned to an obsession, began in December 2012. He had just turned 40 and was feeling overwhelmed by recent tragedies involving youth. Amanda Todd’s suicide after alleged bullying in October and the fatal shooting by a teenager of 20 children and six adults in December in Newtown, Conn. made Zych ask himself why children were hurting themselves or others.
“These are symptoms. A lack of confidence, self-esteem… [youth] don’t have the choices my parents introduced me to… I had parents to talk to and I had behavior options,” said Zych who teaches business courses at Vancouver’s Ashton College.
He decided to do something personally challenging to raise money for the Children’s Aid Foundation, which helps underprivileged and neglected Canadian kids.
Having an idea is one thing, living out the reality of walking and camping along the sides of roads for weeks on end was quite another. Along the way he encountered more than a few wildlife “that might bite or kick.” And weather was a constant challenge, from torrential rains to suffocating heat to blistering winds, and he had to always be thinking of how he could beat the elements. There were also unexpected privacy problems.
“There are no restrooms when you get into Alberta, and it is all flat so there is no privacy,” said Zych laughing now at a scenario that was not so funny at the time.
His lowest moments were mental, not physical. The worst happened in Keremeos, in the southern Interior. He was sore and soaking wet, sitting in his tent watching cars on the road below whiz by, with most of the trip still to go. He said he thought about how easy it would be to give up and go home.
“But then I thought about the kids I was doing this for and they don’t have an option of taking a break from their lives.”
Zych said from that moment on he adopted the motto “this too will pass.”
The best moment was when he discovered “serendipity.” Camping in Moyie, a small town in the east Kootenay region, he met a woman walking her dog and they started chatting about his trip. It turned out she had been helped in her youth by the very charity he was raising money for. She ended up being one of his biggest donors to date.
So far, donations haven’t been what he was hoping. He has raised $5,000, only 10 per cent of his original goal.
Zych said it is just the beginning of a bigger plan to help youth. He calls his project “I for Community” and wants to speak in high schools, make a documentary out of video he shot along the way and write a book about his experiences.
For more information, see Zych’s blog at iforcommunity.org.