You don’t have to tell us twice to spend more time outdoors, but to ensure more people understand just how important it is, a couple from Aylmer, Quebec, is embarking on a two-year journey around North America.
Tracy Guenard and John Rathwell began their cross-continent trip on Sunday by heading to Newfoundland, where they’ll officially kick things off. The writer and photographer are moving west across Canada, heading north to Whitehorse before dipping back down south into the United States to complete a massive loop around North America.
Along the way, they plan to document how people are using outdoor adventure to improve their mental health, sharing new stories and photo spreads online each week. Eventually they’d like to turn the compilation into a book, donating any money they make to suicide-prevention charities.
The couple raised more than $12,000 through a crowdfunding campaign last fall, and they’ve secured a number of sponsors to support the project, which they’re taking two years off work to complete. It’s been dubbed “Searching for Sero,” a reference to serotonin, a key neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, and has been linked to outdoor exercise.
The couple’s goal is to shed light on mental health struggles and suicide. Both of them lost family members to suicide in 2014, first Rathwall’s father and then, just a few months later, Guenard’s aunt. Rathwell said it quickly made them realize there’s more to life than just work, and that nature and outdoor sports helped both of them cope with their losses.
“It was a tough winter for both of us and we just found that getting out skiing made us feel better,” Rathwell told CBC News earlier this year. “We could go skiing and for those few hours, nothing else [mattered].”
The couple is hoping that by telling their story, and others like them, they’ll inspire more people to embrace the outdoors and reap its rewards.
“If we can make one person realize they need to make time for themselves and get outside and live a happier and healthier lifestyle, we’ll be pretty happy,” Rathwell said.
Of course they’ll be practicing what they preach: the couple packed skis, mountain bikes, kayaks, and surfboards into the 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van that they’ll be calling home for the next while.
And people are already responding to their message. If you visit their website, you’ll find pages of images tagged with #foundsero, alongside stories of people who’ve suffered from mental health, either personally or through a close friend or family member, and found salvation in pursuits like skiing, surfing, and yoga. It’s a discussion that Guenard says we just don’t have enough.
“You don’t have to be depressed, or clinically schizophrenic…to understand the importance of taking care of your mental wellness.”