Journey follows path toward hope


  • Carter Robertson, 25, of Westminster, Mass., left, and his cousin, Aggie Halliday, 30, of Rindge, start out on their six month hike of the Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Aggie Halliday of Rindge, left, poses for a picture with her cousin, Carter Robertson of Westminster, Mass., on April 13 at the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • Aggie Halliday of Rindge enjoys a chocolate frosted cupcake on her birthday on April 13 before starting her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, which will take her from southern California to Canada.

“Every event that happens in your life changes the lens through which you view life. I never realized how prevalent mental illness is until I started talking about it,” Aggie Halliday of Rindge said last week.

Halliday’s uncle and brother-in-law each took their own lives within a few years of one another. The tragic and sudden loss of two loved ones, Halliday said, left her wishing she could do more to increase awareness about suicide and methods of prevention.

“I’m not envisioning an ideal world, but I am hoping for something better,” she said. “We have to have some forward motion so that other families don’t hurt, too.”

A recreational hiker and lover of the outdoors, Halliday had hiked all 2,184 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2008. Soon after, she set her sights on the West Coast and a new goal: conquering the Pacific Crest Trail.

But Halliday said she wasn’t going to hike the 2,650 miles of trail just for personal enjoyment. This time she was going to fight for something bigger than herself.

“That’s when I learned about NAMI,” Halliday said of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which provides access to services and treatment for millions of Americans annually.

Halliday said she contacted NAMI’s New Hampshire chapter in Concord last year to let the nonprofit agency know about her trip this spring, and her fundraising goal.

“Mental health and suicide is something that does need to be talked about and not kept in the dark,” Halliday said. “I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but I know NAMI is making progress everyday.”

Joined by her cousin, Carter Robertson, 25, of Westminster, Mass., Halliday set out on the Pacific Crest Trail in Campo, Calif., on her 30th birthday, April 13. Robertson lost his father — Halliday’s uncle — to suicide in 2005, when Robertson was just a teenager.

Hiking an average of five to 20 miles a day, Halliday said the pair plans to reach Canada and the end of the trail in less than six months. Halliday said she hopes to be able to hike 20 miles a day in the near future.

“It’s wild to be out here,” Halliday said by phone on April 21, a week into her journey. “We’ve hiked 110 miles so far. The biggest challenge has been my feet. Going through the blistering process is painful.”

The only physical training Halliday did was in the two weeks prior to leaving for California. That training consisted of walking around Rindge with her approximately 50-pound backpack, she said.

“Carter and I are just letting it happen organically,” Halliday said of the conditioning process. “But we did put in a lot of time logistically, figuring out how far we’d walk each day, where we’d rest, how we’d get food mailed to us, etc.”

Halliday and she and her cousin walk with about a week’s worth of food and will coordinate with Halliday’s mother two weeks in advance to have food mailed to the hikers’ next resting stop.

“We’re mostly living out in the wilderness and setting up a tent every night,” Halliday said. “We’re not having fires at all because the conditions are so dry. But we’re usually in bed by 8 o’clock anyway.”

Last December, Halliday graduated with a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She said living in the wilderness is “comfortable and uncomplicated.”

“There’s something very calming and peaceful about being in the woods with just your thoughts and no outside influences,” she said.

On the pair’s first day of hiking, they met a man familiar with NAMI who had faced mental health issues of his own. That meeting and the one-on-one time with her cousin, Halliday said, have aided in her personal healing process.

“You ask me, ‘What’s my personal experience with suicide?’ It’s hard to wrap my brain around,” Halliday said. “There are just no words for it. And yet it’s something that we as a society need to address.”

Those interested in donating to Halliday’s cause can visit “2013 PCT Hike for Hope” on Facebook.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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