Donovan Byrd is hiking the East Coast Trail — in his bare feet. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

Donovan Byrd didn’t plan on becoming a barefoot hiker.

When the 24-year-old set out for a hike in Quebec early last month, he forgot to bring along his hiking boots, so he decided to go with no shoes at all.

“All I had were these flat skater shoes, and they really sucked on my feet because they’re just flat pieces of rubber, so I said, you know what, instead of wearing these crappy shoes, I’m just going to take them off,” he said.

“I did a 12 [kilometre] section in La Mauricie National Park and it was beautiful. That’s the main reason, honestly, it was a mistake.” 

But what started out as a mistake has now given Byrd purpose, after a recent unexpected trip home to Newfoundland and Labrador from Ottawa.

Byrd is raising awareness for mental health issues one step at a time by hiking nearly 300 hundred kilometres of the East Coast Trail without any footwear.

Byrd said his family is a big motivation for his barefoot walk. (Submitted by Norman Byrd)

“People asked me, they said, ‘why are you walking barefoot?’ And I never really had an answer, so now I think I have a cause, I do have an answer,” he said.

“I recently had a family member pass away, on Aug. 15, so when I flew home, it was last minute. I had to fly home to a funeral and it hit me pretty hard, so I just want to get out here and walk, walk for my family so they know I’m here for them and I’ll do anything for them.”

That family member was Byrd’s cousin, Tyler Bolt. He said Bolt’s father died by suicide and Bolt wasn’t able to get the help he needed after his father’s death: what he described as a “repeat trauma” for his family.

LISTEN: Donovan Byrd speaks with the St. John’s Morning Show’s Gavin Simms about his hike:

St John’s Morning Show7:50Barefoot Hiker

We meet a young man who’s hiking the entire East Coast Trail with his bare feet. 7:50

Now, that pain is fuelling Byrd’s barefoot hike.

“The pain he experienced and the pain my family experienced, it’s going to my feet. Even though some sections of the trail, they’re harder than others, there’s always an end and you can always get to the end,” he said.

I’m using the shock and awe factor to raise the attention that … mental health is a huge thing- Donovan Byrd

Byrd is now taking part in the Trail Raiser, a fundraiser organized by the East Coast Trail Association and the Canadian Mental Health Association in Newfoundland and Labrador which promotes mental health and wellness while supporting the trail system.

The money raised is split evenly between the two charities. 

“I think it’s a great place to get out and be active, and it really helps me a lot [and] a lot of other people really connect with the land, with nature, and it frees your mind up,” Byrd said.

Byrd says hiking is helpful for his mental health and he hopes his journey can help others by promoting mental health and wellness. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

He’s now hiking between 22 to 30 kilometres a day for the cause. 

“I’m using the shock and awe factor to raise the attention that, especially in the pandemic, mental health is a huge thing and I think we need to come together,” he said.

“There’s a lot of problems with our mental health system here. It’s hard for people to reach out in small, isolated communities … family is not always close.”

Byrd said he wants to encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to seek help and talk about their struggles.

“You should always reach out to your family, close friends. Never dwell on anything. You’ve got to speak about things.”  

Where to get help:

Newfoundland and Labrador Mental Health Crisis Line: 737-4668 or 1-888-737-4668

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | 

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling at

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Source From CBC News

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