Walking for Wells: An Interview with a Man on a Mission
146 days is all it took for Kurt Freudenreich to complete 3,300 miles on the Continental Divide Trail. Kurt was the first person to finish the trail in 2020. Although the official trail is 3,100 miles, Kurt walked an additional 200 miles on alternative paths due to threatening snow conditions. However, Kurt’s mission is not over. Kurt backpacked the Continental Divide Trail to raise awareness for Walking for Wells. He’s pledged to keep on walking until he has reached his goal to raise enough in donations for the construction of ten wells through The Sonder Project’s global program. After completing The Continental Divide Trail, Kurt has surpassed the $11,000 needed to fund one well in Burkina Faso and still has nine more to go.
The endless trail ahead as Kurt started out in New Mexico.
Kurt packed up and ready to go for another day in the Rocky Mountains.
We recently caught up with Kurt to discuss his experience on the trail.
A mirror image along the trail
What were some of the greatest challenges you dealt with on the trail?
The physical challenges. Keeping myself from getting tired out and staying hydrated. Until this trip, my longest backpacking adventure was 158 miles. I thought it was just going to be several trips like that, but I didn’t realize the sustaining impact. Day after day, it took a toll on my body.
Also, through the desert sections, it was trying to find water to drink. There were a couple of times when I felt like I wouldn’t find any. Once in the Red Desert of Wyoming, 3 of the supposed water sources I saw on the map were dried up. It wasn’t pretty, but I did a lot of wringing out my sweat rag into my mouth. Another time in New Mexico, the water conditions were atrocious. I ended up on a canyon route, and as I was going along, I realized I didn’t have enough water. I looked at several online maps I had on my phone, and none were showing water. I did some praying, and suddenly, a cow came out of the brush and mooed at me. I followed the cow for about a mile, and it led me to a pond that wasn’t on my maps. They say, ‘the trail will provide,” and it certainly did that day.
Did you ever think to give up along your way?
The first few days were the most difficult. I was overweight and out of shape, and the desert sun in New Mexico was brutal. Water was scarce and my body ached. I thought maybe I was in over my head. I started hiking at night instead of during the day to beat the heat. I slowly gained stamina and lost 80 pounds by the end of the hike.
What motivated you to wake up every day and start hiking?
I had an image in my head of the first well going in and the African sun. I would see little kids dumping water on their heads and playing in clean water. There was so much joy. My body was buckling, I was starving, I was aching, but that image helped to push me through.
Kurt’s tent set-up for the night along the trail.
What did you eat on the trail?
For breakfast, I would wake up in the morning and have 3 packs of instant oatmeal. I would mix that with 3 peanut butter packets, and then I would add honey. Sometimes I would include Breakfast Carnation Essentials to soak it in. I would also have a couple of protein bars, and generally a Snickers bar or 2. For lunch and dinner, I would have 1–2 packets of Ramen Noodles, often with a packet of tuna. I did carry a mini stove, but it became too much work for lunch and dinner, so cold soak was just fine. It helps you really see how food is just fuel for the body. I would use the stove to heat some water in the evening for a little herbal tea.
What would you like to say to the people who supported you and made contributions to your cause?
I couldn’t have done this without you. I am nothing more, and continue to be nothing more, than a mouthpiece. You are the heroes. I’m just a loudmouth trying to get your attention. Thank you for listening!
One of the many vast views.
What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a thru-hiker?
Make sure to love yourself. What takes people off the trail the most is themselves. You can push through physically, but you have to be mentally ready. I thought I was. I ended up becoming a little more hardened in some areas and softened in others. You have to be ready to spend time alone in your mind. I also didn’t anticipate the vastness of being as lonely as it was. When you’re getting to the top of mountains with 40-50 miles visible in front of you, you fight to get up there. You feel so big and powerful, and then you look at the landscape, and you just feel so insignificant. The emotions I had were so different from what I perceived them to be, and if you aren’t accepting of yourself, it will wear you down.
You have the goal to keep Walking for Wells until you raise enough funds for 10 wells, $110,000, so what’s next?
I’m going to keep walking. Starting in January, I’ll be hiking from the Southernmost point in Florida and through the Appalachian Trail all the way to Maine. I may even continue through Canada. I’m walking in solidarity with women who spend hours every day collecting water, and I’m not planning to stop until they do.
100% of all Sonder Project donations go directly to our programs on the ground because our Founding Partner, 360 Blue, covers all administrative costs for the organization.