Hunter Nelson, the wonderful volunteer from Fundacion Marajuera in Choco, Colombia, passed away on July 4, 2018. We feel a great loss for Choco, Colombia. Few people in the world do what Hunter did. To go out of their way to raise funds for children in extreme poverty, who are suffering malnutrition and go barefoot every day of their lives. Hunter wanted to have the barefoot experience, and wanted to gift the children with tennis shoes and cleats. We are all very sad for his loss. Here is a special writing from his friend LP Kiatoukaysy.
Thanks Hunter, you will stay in our minds and hearts, and help us multiply your efforts to assist the many children in Choco, who are suffering.
The first time I met Hunter it was like meeting a younger version of myself.
Kindred spirits I thought.
Bright eyed. Optimistic. Full of energy and desirous of everything life had to offer.
He was mad. Not mad as in angry, but mad as in hopelessly desirous of life, like the great Jack Kerouac describes in his masterpiece “On the Road”.
But there was something else. Self-awareness. A sense of authenticity that only comes from living a full life.
I was impressed.
So when Hunter told me he was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail I myself have hiked three times end to end, I was thrilled; and when he next told me he was going to do it barefoot, I had my doubts, but I knew from my own experiences of people doubting my own enthusiastic proclamations of walking across this great continent that I needed to support my friend.
You see, I know a thing or two about traveling this world. I’ve seen North America by foot, hitchhiking and thru-hiking in some of the most remote stretches of wilderness, often for weeks with no human contact, crisscrossing this beautiful continent over and over and over again.
I know how the trail changes you...
On trail you are the best version of yourself. You are more giving. You are more forgiving. You depend on the kindness of strangers for rides to town for resupply. You in turn help strangers in need of food, or are injured, or simply in need of companionship. Your faith in humanity is restored.
You are returned to Mother Earth, and in that return your spirit is balanced. You wake and fall asleep with the sun, and you sleep under billions of the brightest stars spread out across the darkest of night sky. You realize your place in this world. You understand your own insignificance.
You drink unspoiled water directly from the source, and are nourished eternally for the journey ahead. You appreciate the natural resources of this beautiful world, and you make a vow to protect it.
You are presented with the most painfully beautiful natural scenery: distant snowcapped mountains; the whitest of clouds above; sunsets so piercing every fiber in your being pulsates with LIFE; the haunting sound of a loon on a quiet lake; the quiet laughter of nearby campers on a warm summer night; the cool breeze in the morning as you wake...
The trail reminds you how precious life is.
Anyone who knows Hunter knows he has already mastered all of this, understands this, but I knew a hike on the PCT would permanently change him. I knew it would allow him, give him permission, to be the best version of himself.
I told him “go for it!”.
When he told me he was doing it to raise awareness and money for the youth and the community of Fundación Marajuera - I was proud. I immediately went into networking mode and put him in touch with some of the connections I’ve made in thru-hiking circles. I helped him secure a sponsorship with “guthook”, who generously donated his “app” of the PCT.
Hunter was thrilled.
Over the next year we talked about my experiences living on trail, writing and art, poetry, what inspired me to choose this thru-hiking lifestyle, the great Beatniks and vagabonds of a generation ago, music, philosophy...and we ultimately crafted a strategy to meet his goal.
We decided on a start at Crater Lake, Oregon, logistically easy to Seattle and stunningly beautiful, with a finish in Washington. I encouraged him to consider hiking as far north as possible with the hopes of getting as far north as Goat Rock Wilderness.
In his enthusiasm, and no doubt a personal challenge, he would sometimes focus on mileage and keeping continuous footprints, all barefoot of course.
And I would gently remind him ... “it is not the destination, nor is it how many miles you hike a day, or even if you hike it all barefoot, because the terrain may call for some type of footwear, and in the end it doesn’t matter if you hike 1 or 100 miles - it is your intention to be of service to the community of Fundación Marajuera...to discover who you are meant to be”.
Respectfully, he would always thank me for the kind reminder.
We talked for hours and hours about the physical and mental challenges of trail life, where and how to resupply food drops, gear, how to manage and care for his feet, how to use the GutHook App, how to hitchhike, how to read maps, trail food, first aide, safety, wildlife encounters, understanding Pacific Northwest weather patterns, camping and leave no trace protocol, and so much more...
But what I most enjoyed was when we spoke about life, and to hear about his dreams and aspirations, who he was in love with, and thoughts on art and society, and music, and how excited he was at future opportunities of being of service to other disadvantage communities.
And now he is gone.
I recall a cold winter day last December when we had a late afternoon chat over the phone. We were talking about getting ready for the trail and he asked me if I thought he was mad.
I instinctively quoted the great Jack Kerouac:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
And now another eternal candle burns brightly across the night sky.
I will miss talking with my friend.