This De Pere Couple Embarks on Epic Backpacking Trip to Support Mental Health Access

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Image: Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott, a married couple from De Pere, will embark on a six-month backpacking journey on the Pacific Coast Trail in April. A six-month hike along the West Coast is certain...

Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott, a married couple from De Pere, will be embark on a six-month backpacking journey on the Pacific Coast Trail in April. They are using the epic hike to spur donations to Bigger Than The Trail, which pays for counseling sessions for people. Image: Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott, a married couple from De Pere, will embark on a six-month backpacking journey on the Pacific Coast Trail in April.

A six-month hike along the West Coast is certain to be life-changing for backpackers Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott. But they hope their epic adventure will have a significant positive impact on other people as well.

On April 14, the married couple from De Pere, Wisconsin, plan to embark on a 2,655-mile backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). As they complete this thru-hike, their mission is to raise money for Bigger Than The Trail, a nonprofit organization that provides treatment options and support for individuals struggling with mental health issues.

Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott pose for a photo at the top of Mount Whitney in California, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Image: Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott pose for a photo at the top of Mount Whitney in California, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

Developing a Love for Epic Backpacking Trips

Ott, a computer programmer, and Konopasek, a physician assistant in cardiology for Prevea Health, are both 32 years old. They have been outdoors enthusiasts all their lives and have been a couple for about 13 years, recently celebrating their four-and-a-half-year wedding anniversary. Their passion for hiking began with a goal to visit all 63 of the country's national parks. Along their journey, they kept hearing the same thing from rangers: "Hey, all the really cool stuff is in the backcountry."

Intrigued by this notion, they delved into backpacking, the best way to experience the backcountry. Their first overnight backpacking trip took place in 2019 on a segment of the Ice Age Trail in the Kettle Moraine, where they hiked 13 miles to a campground, stayed overnight, and hiked back. Despite the hardships they encountered, such as fatigue, heat, sunburns, and mosquito bites, they fell in love with the experience.

They gradually extended their backpacking adventures, exploring sections of the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado, sections of the PCT in the North Cascades in Washington, and finally completing the thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in the Sierras of California in 2022. The demanding journey, marked by challenging weather and even a dramatic helicopter rescue of a fellow hiker, made their accomplishment even sweeter.

Making Their PCT Thru-Hike About More Than Themselves

Konopasek and Ott are no strangers to mental health struggles. Konopasek survived a near-fatal car crash in 2014 and battled anxiety and panic attacks in its aftermath. Therapy played a crucial role in her recovery. Similarly, Ott has faced his own challenges with anxiety and depression.

Recognizing the transformative power of therapy, they decided to use their PCT thru-hike to raise money for Bigger Than The Trail, inspired by trail runner Tommy Byrne, also from De Pere. Byrne, who has experienced the impact of mental health issues in his own life, founded the nonprofit to destigmatize reaching out for mental health treatment and help people access counseling services, removing financial barriers.

Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott on their backpacking trip. Image: Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott on their backpacking trip.

By connecting with Byrne and receiving his support, the couple's fundraising efforts have become more accessible. They now have a team, including Konopasek's sister, Kayla Konopasek, a tattoo artist who designed a whimsical logo for their cause called "Hiking for Happiness."

As their departure date approaches, Konopasek and Ott plan to update their website regularly with posts about their progress and share captivating photos of their journey. However, the true excitement lies in the idea of traversing the country by foot while being fully immersed in the breathtaking landscapes of the West.

"To be on the trail is to be my best self," expressed Konopasek. "You're focused on walking... You're very in the moment, very present."

To Donate to the Hiking for Happiness Cause

If you'd like to support Maggie Konopasek and Kyle Ott's mission, you can donate to Bigger Than The Trail through their website here.

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