Thirty-five days, 272 miles, 755 names, $6,500, two dogs and one man.
When Chris Balch of Wilton stepped out on Vermont’s Long Trail system, a hiking route that travels from the Vermont/Massachusetts border to Canada, it wasn’t his first time on the path. In fact, it was his fourth – and the third time for a cause.
Balch is a family friend of Steve and Tonya Dreher of Peterborough, and it was through them and their youngest son Gus that he learned of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disease that affects mostly young boys. The disease is currently 100 percent fatal, killing those diagnosed before they turn 30 years old. Gus was diagnosed with the disease when he was 5, leading his parents to found Hope for Gus, a foundation tasked with funding Duchenne research.
“I was an instructor for a national outdoor leadership school,” explained Balch. “After I retired, I found I had a desire or an urge to do philanthropic things rather than working.”
Balch has done several extended hikes with his two Vizsla hounds, Xerxes and Sarik – including portions of the Long Trail and a hike to the Mount Everest Base Camp earlier this year – to raise money for the Hope for Gus foundation. This hike, in which he completed the entire Long Trail, he raised about $6,500 for the cause. It took over a month for him to finish the hike
“My purpose was really three-fold,” he said. “One is just to raise funds. The other is to raise awareness. The last is to read the names of those affected with Duchenne into the wind, and send a message of hope.”
As Balch mounted peaks along the trail with a good vista and a wind, he would take out what he called the “Tapestry of Hope” – a flag featuring photos and names of hundreds of children with Duchenne, and he would read out their names, a few hundred at a time. It was a tradition that he also participated in earlier this year, at the Everest base camp.
“It’s meant to be a message of hope,” said Balch. “I would hike for days, reach a peak, and read maybe 100 names, and so on.”
And it could be quite affecting, he added, some times more emotionally striking than others. He recalled one day when he had to put off the summit hike to Mount Mansfield due to bad weather. But in the course of a day, the weather turned around and went from snow and ice to 65 degrees the next day, allowing him to top the mountain to beautiful vistas. And along with the names from his tapestry, he also spoke the name of his uncle, who had recently passed away.
Balch had plenty of time and plenty of peaks to choose from for his special moments, as he spent more than a month walking the trail end to end, starting on Sept. 14.
“When I started, the foliage was still green. By the time I got to Canada, there were no leaves on the trees.”
Since Balch began to hike to raise funds for Hope for Gus, he has logged more than 850 miles. He hopes to, by the end of this year, put in two more hiking trips – one a training endeavor this summer, and another trek to the Everest base camp in the fall to make it an even 1,000 miles. He will make it a goal of that trip to have 1,000 people donate $20 in support, to raise a total of $20,000 for Duchenne research.
Article Source: Monadnock Ledger-Transcript