Laura, here, one half of the dynamic duo that makes up Hike the World! Our focus on mental health has always been a source of comfort to Ryan and me because, at different periods of our lives, we have both sought solace in the woods. Through our community, we have met some amazing hikers who believe the same thing- that nature can do wonders for anxiety, depression and staying sober.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to Zach by a mutual friend. After spending some time exchanging emails back and forth and learning about Zach's journey, Ryan and I knew that we wanted to get him involved as an ambassador. Not only does he have an incredible passion for hiking but he is fervently dedicated to raising money for mental illness and the conservation of our national wilderness trails. We hope you enjoy his story and if you would like to support him in his mission, there is information about his fundraiser at the bottom of this article.
I grew up in Indiana and went car camping as a kid. You’d park the car in that little dirt spot with a picnic table and melted fire ring surrounded by all the other campers looking to escape life for the weekend. It wasn’t anything memorable except that I loved the outdoors and felt a sense of adventure with my family. Then I grew up, found other interests, and that world vanished. The tent got moldy, the cookpots rusted, that old Coleman lantern dimmed for the last time.
In 2007 I got my big break and began my career in the music business stage managing and guitar tech for the iconic Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. I traveled the world getting to see places I’d never even heard of. I branched out and worked for other artists including Cyndi Lauper and WILCO, but I always found my way back to Joan. We still remain a team to this day.
But I also began an addiction to drugs and alcohol which brought on the paralyzing duo of depression and anxiety. Years of airport and hotel bars, endless flights to random cities, tour bus parties that lasted months, and very little sleep had caught up to me and I finally surrendered and entered rehab in 2017.
Now sober and living a new life, I rediscovered the joy of hiking. I watched a documentary called Six Million Steps about a trail that went from Mexico to Canada…. I was hooked!! Two months later I was at the Mexico/U.S. border on the Pacific Crest Trail. Canada was a short 2,650 miles away. Standing in the way was the California desert, Sierra Mountains, lava fields in Oregon, and the Cascade Mountains in Washington. What was I thinking?!?! I’d never hiked more than 10 miles, let alone with everything I need to survive on my back. The journey started with one step and my life changed forever; six months later I had completed the PCT.
So how do I give back to a trail that gave me so much?? I partnered with Hike For Mental Health. A nonprofit organization that brings awareness for mental health issues and raises funds for mental health research and wilderness trail preservation. I had found my calling!! In late July 2020, I hiked the 40-mile Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood in Oregon while raising nearly $3,000 for Hike For Mental Health. I would also meet the incredible Laura Huisking via a family friend and post my first ever blog on Hike The World. As I write this I’m on a solo hike in the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington staring at Mt. Adams, watching mountain goats on the opposite cliff face, listening to waterfalls cascading all around me, and feeling so at peace with myself.
Hiking helps me reconnect with nature and myself. It challenges me in ways nothing else can. All these little accomplishments; a water crossing, a steep climb, a boulder hop, or a trudge through snow pays off with an incredible view that you can’t see out a car window. Hiking boosts confidence and team-building skills, and you are in touch with every emotion inside you. I’ve cried multiple times on trail feeling the power of nature run through me. The heavy burden of depression is lifted, the anxiety is replaced with excitement. I want to share this feeling with everyone, this wilderness is for us all. Follow me, I’ll follow you, and together we can HIKE THE WORLD!!
Zach is currently out on a fundraising hike called " The Tahoe Rim Trail" on behalf of HIKE for Mental Health. You can support him by clicking on this link to donate. HIKE for Mental Health is a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded on the vision of a world in which everyone, including those who suffer mental illness, can find the simple joy of living. Their mission is to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted by mental illness, eliminate the associated stigma, and foster responsible use of wilderness trails. As an all-volunteer organization, they distribute 100% of the contributions raised by their hikes. To learn more, visit www.hikeformentalhealth.org.
Eager for more of Zachariah's adventures? He will be providing us with updates as he spreads her love of the outdoors. You can also follow him on IG @zachariahnagy. Interested in becoming an ambassador for Hike the World? Click here for more information.