Burin Peninsula hiker completes barefoot walk of East Coast Trail for mental health supports

·2 min read
Donovan Byrd has completed his barefooted walk for mental health and hopes his journey can help others by promoting mental health and wellness. (Gavin Simms/CBC - image credit)
Donovan Byrd has completed his barefooted walk for mental health and hopes his journey can help others by promoting mental health and wellness. (Gavin Simms/CBC - image credit)
Gavin Simms/CBC
Gavin Simms/CBC

After 12 days of hiking the East Coast Trail from Cape St. Francis to Cappahayden, Donovan Byrd can finally put his feet up.

The 24-year-old began his journey down the eastern coast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula in August in an effort to raise money for mental health initiatives in the province.

But Byrd's trek came with a twist — walking over 260 kilometres barefoot.

"It feels pretty unbelievable that I've even gotten that far," Byrd told CBC News Saturday.

"Two-hundred-sixty kilometres, it's rough with bare feet on asphalt, but when you're on the trail it's even harder. So It's just unbelievable that I've done it."

Byrd said part of the inspiration to walk barefoot came from a hike in Quebec earlier this summer, when he forgot to bring his hiking boots and decided to hike 12 km without his running shoes on.

But the journey along the East Coast Trail was also fuelled by a different type of pain — the death of Byrd's cousin, Tyler Bolt.

"When someone commits suicide, nobody really blinks an eye," Byrd said.

"But when my cousin Tyler passed, I really wanted to make an impact, and to get that awareness out that mental health is a huge issue in our province and it needs to be dealt with."

Byrd said the biggest challenge to walking barefoot came in the first two days, and featured lots of bandaging. But as time went on and calluses began to develop, he was able to gain more ground each day.

"My feet just got stronger, the challenge sort of lifted away and it just became a fun hike," he said.

Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

He said he aimed to walk about 22 km per day on average, but was able to push to as much as 30 km on some days.

Byrd had initially set a fundraising goal of $5,000, but has now raised over $7,000 with donations from across the province. The donations will be split equally between the East Coast Trail Association to help tend the trails, and the Canadian Mental Health Association to help mental health initiatives.

He said he would like to try a similar barefooted walk in the future, either by himself or with a team.

Where to get help:

Newfoundland and Labrador Mental Health Crisis Line: 737-4668 or 1-888-737-4668

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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