EAST LONGMEADOW — Michael Francoeur undertook a grueling 2,650-mile trek north along the Pacific Coast from the U.S. border with Mexico to Canada, traversing raging streams and snowy mountain tops in his bid to boost public awareness for better mental health.
His Walk for Wellness campaign involved traveling five and a half months along the Pacific Crest Trail to raise awareness of properly monitored mental health, suicide prevention specifically.
Partnering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Francoeur, a culinary worker, has been raising funds that will, as stated on the campaigns website, go towards research and educational programs on mood disorders and suicide prevention, and programs and resources for those affected by suicide.
“Suicide awareness is important to me because at different times in my life I have felt suicidal and know how awful it is to be in that mental state. I also know a lot of people that at one time or another have felt the same way same way or have been affected by suicide,” Francoeur said. “If people don’t discuss this problem then we are all suffering silently on our own island, unable to help each other.”
During his travels, Francoeur came across magnificent sites. One moment that really stuck out to him was when he made it to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which signified the end of the High Sierra.
“I felt so strong and confident in that moment because I had spent the last three weeks between 10,000 and 14,505 feet, traversed daily snow-covered mountain passes, forded raging streams and rivers and summited Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the contiguous U.S.). Before this trip I had very little experience backpacking so I finally felt competent in that moment,” Francoeur said.
Francoeur went on to explain that another memorable moment was when he reached the half way point, explaining that while he felt accomplished, be also felt “crushed”, seeing that hiking 1,325 miles with the equivalent elevation gain is the same as climbing Mt. Everest eight times.
Although this was a one-man journey, Francoeur did not travel through the trail without support. His brother, Alex Francoeur played a huge role in making sure his travel was safe and secure. While Michael walked the trail, Alex technologically monitored his journey.
Alex Francoeur monitored the weather, elevation, and mileage daily through a computer program. Much to his convenience, Alex Francoeur works for open search and analytics company Elastic and serves as one of the product managers responsible for their UI, Kabana, which helps monitor, manage, create, and simulate watches on Elastic.
Michael Francoeur used a GPS tracker called “SPOT”, and with his brother using the API available from this tracker, the GPS coordinates were constantly tracked, along with information on weather, elevation and Google Maps satellite imagery into Elasticsearch and even wrote two blog posts on it.
Alex Francoeur and his wife also sent resupply packages full of food to help him travel. The two talked over the phone when he had to vent and provide advice to him.
“I think it came down to family. If your sibling was hiking across the country, wouldn’t you want to keep an eye on them?” Alex Francoeur said. “I’ve always been very protective on him and do my best to give advice when I can, but hiking 2,650 miles over six months is scary. You’d be surprised at how much convincing it took Mike to take the GPS tracker with him. Once he did, I was in a pretty unique position.”
With hard work, dedication, and the will to raise awareness for an important cause took Michael Francoeur to various locations, but also allowed him to experience the good in people and family.
“This was an aspect of the trail that I was not expecting while preparing but ended up becoming one of the best parts of the trail. There is a term used in the hiking community called trail angels. Trail angels help out hikers in need out of the kindness of their hearts,” Michael Francoeur said. “This can range from giving us a ride into town, leaving a cooler full of beer and soda in the middle of the desert, setting up a barbecue in the middle of the woods or letting us into their homes to take a shower and escape the elements for a night. At first, I was hesitant to accept this kindness. I think because of my time in big cities I was expecting there to be a catch. I soon opened up to these strangers offering help and realized that there is so much good in the world that goes unnoticed.”
With support, and the determination to work towards a good cause, Michael Francoeur has shown to those suffering from mental illness that life is worth living and taking time out of your regular schedule to figure yourself out is a necessity.
“I learned how strong I am on a physical and mental level and that whatever you think your limit is you can go further,” he said. “I also learned that less can be more. Living out of my backpack made me appreciate the little things and realize how little we really need to be happy. I learned that there are a lot of amazing people out there willing to help out complete strangers in time of need. This was incredibly refreshing with everything going on in the world at the moment.”
To donate and learn more about his campaign, visit https://afsp.donordrive.com/