The End of an Era

After over 6 years of intensive research and community development work in and around the Yachana Reserve, GVI Amazon is coming to a close. We have finished our final research project (look forward to our Road Effects paper, coming soon!) and are handing over the project to our partner, The Yachana Foundation. They will continue to maintain and monitor the reserve, using it as an hands-on science education center for students -- we're very excited to see what fabulous things this next generation of scientists find! For more detail on GVI Amazon's closure, and our accomplishments over the years, please read on...
GVI Amazon Closure Statement

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

GVI Amazon volunteer hikes over 4 months to raise money for GVI Charitable Trust!

How far are YOU willing to go to fundraise for a cause you believe in?  GVI Amazon volunteer Leif Middleton has set the bar pretty high in terms of fundraising events, and hopefully his story will inspire all of you GVI fans out there to start your own CT fundraiser challenge!  It doesn't have to be quite as massive as Leif's trek; CT fundraisers can be anything from a sports adventure (a race, marathon, mtn climb - whatever you love to do) to a theme party at your home or favorite bar!  The important thing is that you plan something fun, ask for support, donations or sponsorship, and most of all, that you share your passion for supporting GVI's conservation and community cause!

Check out Leif's story to get inspired, and then GO FOR IT!

Leif at the start of the trail

GVI Amazon volunteer Leif Middleton came away from Ecuador with not only great memories, blowdart skills, newfound friends and an in-depth knowledge of fieldwork and monitoring in the rainforest; he also took back with him a deep respect for the work being done around the world through GVI’s Charitable Trust (CT).  Always an adventurer, Leif’s next major journey after leaving the Amazon was to challenge himself with a massive trek all the way up the eastern side of the United States, following the Appalachian Trail as it winds it way through the mountains from Georgia to Maine.  The Appalachian Trail (AT) is one of the longest hikes in the US, covering 2,184.2 miles (3515 km) through the Appalachian Mountain range along the entire length of the East coast.  Only an estimated 10% of people who start the trail actually arrive at the end; those who do take an average of 4-5 months to complete the journey, carrying a 30-40lb pack on their backs, and sleeping in tents and shelters along the way.  Leif chose to take this vastly challenging hike one step further, by making it a fundraiser for the GVI CT, asking friends and family for “sponsorship” through a donation to the CT.  At the time of writing this article, after finishing his journey, Leif has raised over £1,300 for the CT, and donations are still coming in on his site, “Leif’s Walk in the Woods – JustGiving”

Why the GVI Charitable Trust?  In Leif’s own words,  “To be honest I decided to do the AT and then thought: ‘it'd be a good chance to raise money for something... what good charities do I know?’ The answer was obvious.”  He explains, “I have worked with this charity in the past and truly believe in what they do. The charity operates in many countries, combating poverty, lack of education and [providing] disaster relief. A good example of their work is what I saw them doing first-hand in Ecuador: raising money to provide educational supplies to combat illiteracy, teaching English and science in the local schools of isolated communities in eastern Ecuador. This is a genuinely good cause that I think deserves a little bit of support that it didn’t ask for, to help it do the incredible job that it does.”
Leif on McAfee's Knob - a trail highlight in Virginia
Along the way, Leif faced all manner of obstacles, from literal ones such as car-sized boulders and the even worse “ankle-busters” that wreck your joints and even destroyed two pairs of Leif's boots, to mental obstacles such as finding the strength and motivation to carry on day after day, and challenging one’s own beliefs about people in order to accept help along the way.

“Just the last two days I did 53 miles in the rain to get here and every hiker has similar tales, yet there is no drill sergeant screaming in our ears, no parent goading us on... the only thing pushing us is ourselves. Needless to say most do not make it this far, Stats are difficult to calculate but some put it as low as 20% get here. I know that I was the 406th to start at springer and I am the 186th to arrive here. Those that are left are a 'hardened few'. 

The ATC recognizes the 'hardened few' with a picture adorned with their trail name and placed in an annual. I was proud today to have my photo taken and placed amongst these 'hardened few'. But for all that said, and everything that we have been through, we are not even halfway yet. We have 1200 more miles to go, only half of the 'hardened few' will make it our final goal.”

“…what has kept me going and my spirits high through all of it was the trail magic. This much talked about phenomena combined with the hospitality of the south is a combination of charitability and kindness like which I have never experienced. You see the trail is constantly watched over by 'trail angels': ex-hikers, churchgoers determined to help the needy (us), and just good natured people who want to help those of us coming through and see us through to Maine. I will never forget the countless snickers bars and honey buns given to me out of a hikers pocket, the cans of soda left in a cooler by an under used road. One particular act of kindness was at a town called Burke's Garden. The local pastor's wife took us in from the trail, drove to her house, gave us a showers, laundry, a hot meal and organised a bed for the night. I hadn't slept in a bed for 3 and a half weeks at that point. In the morning she made us breakfast and drove us back to the trail. What amazed me was not that she didn’t ask us for anything in return, she wouldn't even accept the money we offered in return. She was doing god's work, she said, and that was enough for her. The truth is all AT hikers are backed up by an army of supporters determined to see us succeed. And they call us the heroes!”

Cascades along the Trail
From Georgia to the Virginia border, the first two months saw over 400 miles of trail and “all the extremes of weather from searing 85°F (27.5°C) heat to 4 inches of snow and all the points in between! “Later challenges included the 6288 ft (1917 m) Mt. Washington, which holds the record for most lives claimed on the trail, and boasts the highest wind speed ever recorded on Earth’s surface, followed by Maine’s daunting 100 Mile Wilderness, and at last, the final, and hardest summit of the trail, the northernmost point of the trail, Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  He hiked at quite a fast pace, finishing the trail in just over 4 months (134 days) – pretty amazing for someone whose longest hike prior to the trail was only 10 days! Leif’s updates from the trail are full of great stories – challenges, adventures, injuries, mishaps and even one very close encounter with a bear.

His favorite spot on the trail?  Mahoosuc Notch:

“This 1 mile in southern Maine has a reputation and it lived up to it! It is a mile long boulder run situated between two mountains, which we have to 'spiderman' our way across (scramble, jump, crawl – anything but walk!). The biggest surprise down there was how cold it was – there was snow and ice in the crevices, in July! I also remember sideling across a ledge and looking down, realizing it was 8 feet to the bottom if I fell, and thought: 'this is awesome!' There was also the 'hole' itself, 2-3 feet wide and 4 yards long (you can squat in the middle, but the opening is only 2-3 feet wide), you have to crawl through. That one mile was like something from another planet!”

Boots drying in the sun
Beyond just a great, and challenging, time in the mountains, the trail was a learning experience.  While defining himself as someone who doesn’t plan things out ahead of time, Leif is a believer in constantly learning, from anyone and anything that is part of his path.  He held this philosophy during his time volunteering with GVI, and took it with him while hiking the trail, building on things he first began to see in the Amazon: “far more important than the skills you'd memorize for a job interview, I learned to appreciate life on a far greater scale; I learned that the natural world is far more beautiful than I, a conservationist, first supposed; I learned that the bug that buzzes around my head has a story to tell as much as the bear that tried to share a shelter with me. That’s what you really take away from a program like GVI, and that’s what really stays with you.”

A deer alongside the Trail
His two most important lessons from the trail itself?

“What have I learned over the last 134 days in the woods? Don’t judge people, the best trail magic (help) came when I was least expecting it and from people I never expected it from. The most important thing I learned, though, was that we are all stronger and more capable than we think we are. I don’t think I ever really thought I'd get to Maine [when I was] in the south or even reach Katahdin, but I did, just by sheer grit and determination. We all can do what we want, as long as you believe in yourself, keep your wits about you and stay determined to finish.”

Leif’s grit and determination makes him a hero in our book, and we want to take this chance to congratulate him on this incredible accomplishment, and to thank him publicly for his phenomenal effort in support of the GVI Charitable Trust and the work we do around the world.  Way to go Leif!

Leif at the end of the Trail, in his GVI Amazon t-shirt!
For those of you thinking of undertaking similar grand fundraising challenges, some advice from Leif as to what worked for him on the AT:

1) Just do it! I had less than a month's planning for the whole adventure and just jumped head-long in. I know loads of people who planned for months in advance and found they didn’t enjoy it, and if you don’t enjoy something as massive as the trail, you won’t finish.

2) Another good one is actually not to make the fundraising the total focus of the adventure, don’t go for sponsorship, etcetera. I know others who fundraised in this way and got pledges of thousands and thousands of dollars for their hikes off businesses, etc., and they put themselves in a position where they HAD to finish... if they didn’t they didn’t get the money, and some of them were really, really hurting and even if they did finish... 4-6 months of suffering later... it kind of wasn’t worth it.

134 days trekking... what an achievement!