Walking for Wells: James Joins the Team

Sep 10, 2020

One year ago, James Stiely was desperate for a change in his life.

After working for 19 years in Real Estate and Community Management near Scottsdale, Arizona, the grind had simply become tiresome. He was seeking a new type of adventure, pending a well-earned retirement. James has always been an outdoor enthusiast with a love for rock climbing, mountaineering, kayaking, sailing, and even working as a rodeo cowboy at one point. He sought the opportunity to get back in touch with nature, and after watching videos of thru-hikers on YouTube, the goal became clear. James wanted to complete the Triple Crown by hiking the three major US hiking trails––The Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Appalachian Trail.

On July 7, 2020, three months later than he originally planned due to Covid-19, James started out in Rawlins, Wyoming, on The Continental Divide Trail and headed north, with the plan to return to Rawlins once he reached Canada. The first days of a thru-hikers journey are often the most challenging as one adjusts to life on the trail, and things were no different for James. As he began his 3,100+ mile journey in the Red Desert, James couldn’t believe some of the water sources he was forced to drink from, including stagnant water ponds intended for cows. The water is scarce, and the sun is hot in the Red Desert. Even though he had a filter with him, James couldn’t help but wonder how difficult life would be if his water were not clean and readily available as we are so accustomed to.

Outside Rawlins, Wyoming where James began his walk in the Red Desert.

One of the water paddies in the Red Desert that James would share with the cattle to get water.

After a week in the Desert, James finally made it to the town of Atlantic City, Wyoming, where destiny was waiting. James entered the Grub Steak Cafe & Bar seeking some protein and a cold drink and heard a voice at the end of the bar say, “Hiker trash over here!” He wandered over to the bellicose voice to meet for the first time another thru-hiker, Kurt Freudenreich. Kurt is The Sonder Project’s Man on a Mission and the founder of the Walking for Wells campaign.  Kurt had been hiking since April 2nd, all the way from the Mexico border, and so it goes, James and Kurt swapped stories. Kurt told James the intentions of his journey with The Sonder Project, which intrigued James.

James arrives at Yellowstone National Park.

In the Grand Tetons, James enjoys just one of the many epic views along his journey.

James always wanted to hike to bring awareness to a specific cause but struggled to find the right fit. Coming out of the desert, hearing about Kurt’s focus on increasing access to clean water in communities that needed it most via The Sonder Project seemed like a perfect fit for James as well. Thus, Kurt connected James with The Sonder Project, CEO, Chad Zibelman. He discovered that 100% of all donations for The Sonder Project went directly to the groundwork because the organization’s Founding Partner, 360 Blue, covered all administrative costs. After hearing this, James was fully committed to joining him.   

James Stiely (right) and Kurt Freudenreich spent a week together hiking the CDT and joined forces to Walk for Wells.

Kurt and James continued on together from Wyoming and spent a week together on the trail, getting to know one another and sharing tips. Soon after that, Kurt pushed on ahead of James, as his trail legs were more developed at that point, but their shared mission was confirmed. James joined Kurt’s Walking for Wells Campaign and committed to walking in solidarity for the 800 million-plus people in the world without access to clean drinking water. Collectively, Kurt and James’ goal is to raise $110,000 to fund the installation of ten wells through The Sonder Project. As of the publication date, the Walking for Wells campaign has raised $10,670, just $330 short of the first well. 

Kurt went on to reach Canada and finish the trail on August 25, 2020, while James is currently about 1-2 weeks shy of the Canadian border before he heads back to Rawlins and heads south. Both have set up donation pages for contributors to support their efforts and follow along throughout their journey. Ultimately, their funds will provide access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa through The Sonder Project’s programs in Burkina Faso and Malawi. Please consider making a donation to encourage James on his efforts by visiting his fundraising page HERE and supporting Kurt by visiting his page HERE.

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