James and Elizabeth Gunnett have participated in Pacific Crest Trail Ultimate Hike since 2018, raising critical funds to support the next breakthrough in childhood cancer.
The two struck up quite the conversation out on the trail for their very first hike. So much so, they ended up hiking a few extra miles together that day! Little did they know, that very first trek on the Pacific Crest Trail would lead to a walk down the aisle three years later!
A life-changing experience
2018 was a difficult year for James. He lost his parents within just ten days of each other, went through a divorce, and was laid off from his job. That’s when his friend and coworker, Chris Morton, convinced him to take on the Ultimate Hike. Morton has been a longtime Ultimate Hike coach in honor of his daughter, Violet, who survived a rare liver cancer, hepatoblastoma.
“I arrived to hike day in quite a state. Chris started explaining what we were about to do,” James said.
James wasn’t sure he was feeling up to it, but Morton convinced him to see it through- and it turned out to be a life-changing experience in more ways than one!
“Little did I know that my future wife was in my hiking group.”
Elizabeth was also going through a trying time in her life when she first heard about the Ultimate Hike.
“I had begun solo hiking to combat severe depression,” she said. “I was privately bemoaning my lack of experience and wondering how I could learn more. That’s when I happened upon the CureSearch info session at my local REI.”
After attending the information session, Elizabeth felt she had the support and encouragement that she needed to take on the challenge. And also, the inspiration.
“I was touched and impressed by the concept of such a physical effort to match the financial effort to support children affected by cancer,” Elizabeth said. “I signed up that same day and began baking cookies and muffins by the dozens to raise funds.”
With her hiking boots stolen just two weeks before the hike, Elizabeth was close to giving up before she even hit the trail. With loads of encouragement from her coach, she made it through. And even experienced an unexpected connection with a fellow hiker.
“James and I had no idea what the other was going through that day,” said Elizabeth. “I walked in a timid, miserable stranger in new hiking boots, and was welcomed by people who I now consider family.”
“She said yes!”
Eventually, after a few gentle nudges from friends, James finally asked out Elizabeth. Two years later, he proposed in Big Bear Lake, CA – on the very same trail where they first met.
“On October 11, 2020, we were hiking and walking around the lake, talking about the happenstance of us meeting and how wonderful the last years had been. Finally, I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me down by the lake. She said yes!”
James and Elizabeth were married one year later on October 11, 2021.
The couple has participated in five Ultimate Hikes and counting, and although the Pacific Crest Trail brought them together for the first time, it’s not the only reason they’ve continued to hike.
“The PCT Hike was, whether I had found the love of my life or not, a catalytic moment,” Elizabeth explained “The remarkable folks who show up for this event have put their time, money, hearts, and bodies into it. We can see the individual lives changed and the impact of our joint efforts. That’s what keeps us coming back every year.”
About CureSearch Ultimate Hike: Ultimate Hike is the only national hiking endurance event dedicated to childhood cancer. Hikers from across the country trek 20-30 miles in a single day, all to raise funds for next-generation research and to honor loved ones who have been affected. Since its inception, the Ultimate Hike program has raised more than $9 million to support CureSearch’s mission to end childhood cancer, and put research on a fast-track to becoming new therapies. If you’re interested in participating in an Ultimate Hike or creating a hiking adventure in your own community, visit http://ultimatehike.org/.