Freeport resident and owner of Arbor Barber Trees, Kurt Freudenreich, will take social distancing to the extreme. Starting April 2 of 2020, he will through hike the Continental Divide to raise money for The Sonder Project’s clean water initiatives.
This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Northwest Florida Daily News or the Panama City News Herald .
FREEPORT – Social distancing won’t be an issue for Kurt Freudenreich – at least not in the foreseeable future.
Starting Thursday, the Freeport resident and owner of Arbor Barber Trees will through hike the Continental Divide, a 3,100-mile trail that touches New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, for an estimated six months. His goal is to raise $110,000 to put toward 10 water wells for The Sonder Project’s mission to provide clean water to global communities in need.
"It’s crazy that I picked this trail," Freudenreich said. "My wife said I’m allowed to attempt one. If I succeed in it, I get to go for the triple crown (Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail). Of course, if I’m gonna only get to do one, I’m going to pick the biggest, baddest, nastiest one there is."
The trail is the longest and most isolated in the United States – weirdly, a blessing, said Freudenreich, 42. Large sections of the Appalachian Trail are shut down because of the coronavirus.
People can donate to his hike at support.thesonderproject.org/Manonamission.
As a member of the Mid Bay Bridge Rotary Club, he also invited fellow members to pledge a dollar amount for each mile he walks to raise money for The Rotary Foundation’s water initiatives and The Sonder Project.
frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen>
With the help of his wife, Kim, and a handheld GPS tracker, Freudenreich will vlog his journey on the YouTube channel, Man On A Mission Walking For Wells.
Freudenreich has a passion for water projects since sponsoring a Bangladesh girl through Compassion Ministries in 2016.
"I started finding out (that) her little town in Bangladesh – she was spending more time fetching water that was really unpotable and sick instead of being in school," Freudenreich said. "I thought, ‘What can I do to help? I’m just one person.’"
Freudenreich had always wanted to do a through hike, so he thought it could be a fundraiser. After working with the Sonder Project after Hurricane Michael, Freudenreich approached CEO Chad Zibelman.
"Kurt’s an amazing individual," Zibelman said. "He approached me with this plan over a year ago and he has not wavered – even in the face of great challenge of the current situation. He’s committed to the cause. It’s certainly admirable."
Freudenreich has trained for the Continental Divide by hiking sections of trails in Florida, Alabama and North Carolina. But, COVID-19 has drastically changed the way he will aproach this trail, he said. He can no longer stay in hostiles or hotels and hitchhike into towns for groceries.
"It’s become more of a hassle and a nightmare," Freudenreich said. "It’s made the hardest trail in the United States about 10 times more difficult. Now, 100% of all my food will be shipped to post office boxes ahead of me into towns or private locations where somebody is willing to accept my package, drive it out to a trail head and set it on a park bench for me so I can get my resupply to keep my point of contact as minimal as possible."
While Zibelman recognizes people are focused on their families right now, he also thinks the coronavirus acts as a reminder of the significance of their organization’s work.
"This is all about clean water," Zibelman said. "The communities we’re partnered with in Burkini Faso and Malawi don’t have clean water and, as a result, are more susceptible to infectious disease everyday of their lives. This risk that we’re all feeling now certainly reminds us of the risk that some of these communities face in their daily lives when they don’t have access to clean water on a regular basis. By providing clean water, we are supporting health and sanitation around the world."
Freudenreich believes his hike will keep him safer from the coronavirus than if he stayed home.
Kim will coordinate the box drops. And, she isn’t worried about his hike one bit, she said.
"Kurt was made for this," Kim said. "He can survive the outdoors. He’s so stubborn. He’s 110% drive, drive, drive. I’m not even concerned about the wildlife. He’s been outdoors since I met him – even before that when he was young. It’s just natural for him. I believe in my husband, and I’m just glad that he never gave up on his desire to do this – especially now more than ever."
As for Freudenreich, he isn’t getting any younger, he said – or lighter for that matter. At 266 pounds, he hopes to lose weight and pursue self-growth.
"I wanted to do something that would give me a different perspective on the world, spend some time thinking about the last 41 years of my life," Freudenreich said. "In somewhere that’s that isolated and that long of a distance, I felt like I would be able to have time to come up with my game plan for the next five to 10 years."
The couple has two sons: George, 19, and Dustin, 18. Kim plans to help them with online school for their high school senior year because of the pandemic.
Freudenreich thinks his hike will set an example for them before they pursue adult life.
"They’re about to go off in the world and be their own men," Freudenreich said. "The last thing I can do for them is show them that with sheer determination, will, pure grit and not quitting no matter how bad things get, you can get where you’re wanting to go and do what you want to do. This is the last thing I can do before I send them off to be men is to go off and be a man myself."