This summer, Gabe Shonerd
will celebrate his 23rd birthday
That’s because from April 23 to mid-September, Shonerd, a 2004 University graduate, will be hiking the entire 2,658-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as part of
a fundraising effort for Ashland-based REACH Family Institute. The trail starts at the California-Mexico boarder, goes through Oregon a
nd Washington and ends at the Canadian border.
“I wanted to hike the trail and use it to make money for a cause I believed in,” said Shonerd, who hopes to raise $60,000 in donations with the hike.
REACH Family Institute is a non-profit organization with local and international initiatives to help children with developmental difficulties and brain injuries. If Shonerd is successful, he will raise enough to grant two-year scholarships to
30 children from low-income families, allowing them to take part in the REACH Home Program, which helps teach parents how to educate children with functional disabilities.
Shonerd named the project
REACH Co-founder Charles Solis said Reach Quest is a brand new fundraising project for the institute, which he and his wife, Conceição Solis, founded in 1998.
“(Shonerd) came up with the idea of backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail to help an organization in the Rogue Valley that needed funding and he felt he identified with,” Charles Solis said.
“The money that’s being raised will be used to provide scholarships to families throughout the U.S.,”
Shonerd said he believes in REACH because the program has been successful.
“It’s such a pure, functional program,” Shonerd said. “I have been given a lot in my life, and so I am in a position to help people. I feel like I have an obligation to help them out because people who aren’t given much don’t have this opportunity.”
The Solises have been working with children and training professionals all over the world since 1975, according to their Web site. After being recognized in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, the duo founded the REACH Family Institute to expand their work.
Charles Solis said he’s excited about Shonerd’s trip because he’s a hiker himself.
“In 1978, I did something very similar,” Solis said. “I backpacked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. I did that as a part of a project that I worked on where I took
six brain-injured young adults
and backpacked with them that entire trail.”
Solis added that his group is
the only one to ever accomplish
the feat. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a 2,174-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia
“For me, Gabe’s hike is kind of my Appalachian Trail story come full-circle,” he said. “It’s exciting to see a young guy like him filled with so much enthusiasm to go out and help people — to go out and help the community.”
Shonerd called Charles Solis’ trip on the Appalachian Trail one of the most unbelievable feats he’d ever heard of.
“It’s a miracle that he was able to do that,” he said.
In preparation for his trip, Shonerd has spoken with others who have hiked the trail and has compiled five months’ worth of food. He said because he can’t carry his entire supply of food the length of the trail, his parents will ship boxes of food to him at different points on the trail every 4 to 10 days.
Shonerd has hiked around his home in Medford to get in shape for the trip.
“I’m hiking about four miles per day right now,” he said. “I’m loading down my backpack with my mom’s cast-iron pans.”
This summer, he’ll hike about
25 miles each day with about one day of rest per week. Even though he’ll be hiking the trail alone, Shonerd said he’s excited about the trip.
“I don’t go hiking enough, and when I get out there I realize what I’m missing and I ask myself, ‘Why don’t I do this more often?’ because it’s so refreshing and liberating and cleansing,” he said. “When we’re in cities and towns all the time, by buildings and concrete and exhaust and horns, we forget how beautiful and calm it is out there.”
“It’s very natural to me to do this,” Shonerd said. “I think it’s the natural course of my life. If I had come from a rough background, where I hadn’t been given much, I don’t think I’d be much like this at all. But I’ve been given all of this, so I’m giving it all back because I can.”