Hike for Harvey: The Smart Pivot of a First-time Fundraiser

By Deborah Peel, guest blogger

“Ch-ch-changes…time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” Those David Bowie lyrics were on my mind as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, attempting to scuttle my first ever fundraiser for The Longest Day! The Hike for Harvey Longest Day was modeled after the annual Hike for Harvey that I founded after my dad, Harvey Wallace, died from Alzheimer’s disease.

Deb Hikes for her dad Harvey who died with Alzheimer's
Deb on the trail

This year’s Hike for Harvey Longest Day, carefully planned and poised for promotion, was extra special. I would be setting off on May 14, 2020 with my lifelong friend Kristine Fuimaono to hike 96 miles across Scotland on the West Highland Way. Then COVID-19 hit, and we hunkered down at home to protect ourselves and others. I found myself relying on one of the most critical skills a hiker can master – the ability to pivot as the trail demands to insure an epic journey.

Love of the trail
My dad was my first hiking partner and helped grow my love of the trail. My first memory of hiking with him was around age four in Lake Tahoe, California. I became thirsty and he held my hand as we stepped onto a wide rock in a rushing creek. He showed me how to squat down, cup my hand under the whitewater cascading over a stone and slurp it up.

Over fifty years later, I gather water in a similar fashion, but I now squat to place a backpacking filter into the creek, gathering safe, refreshing drinking water before hefting my backpack and hiking through the wilderness.

Small town man earns success
My dad was known for his brilliant mind, his quiet demeanor, and his Silicon Valley business success. Born in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, he came from humble beginnings. It was big news around his hometown when that little boy grew up to make good in the high technology industry and retired when he was just 50 years old.

During his retirement he took time to urban hike all around his California neighborhood and on the trails in the nearby hills. Sometimes I got to go with him. It felt like a big occasion scuffing the dirt together and talking about life.

He learned to sail and bought his own 27-foot boat, the “Starry Night,” sure my mom, Joyce, would overcome her sea sickness and sail across the bay with him. She never did and he sold the boat.

My parents were married for 56 years when my mom passed away due to an aneurysm. Suddenly alone, it was clear that something was not right with dad.

Deb and her dad Harvey who had Alzheimer's
Deb and her dad Harvey

Supporting my dad
My sister and I discovered that mom and dad had made an excellent team. She used her sharp brain to manage their household and he physically carried out instructions that kept them independent. Living hours away, they slipped under the radar.

In the beginning, we attributed some of his confusion and odd behavior to shock after losing my mom. However, it became evident that his cognitive function was suffering, and we took him to a new doctor for baseline testing and confirmation that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia was at work.

I traveled often to join the rotation of family and friends alternating to help support him in his home. He was very confused, unsure of what had happened to mom, sleeping late into the day, wearing the same clothes until a new set was laid out for him, avoiding the shower, and simply sitting in his recliner. The avid reader had no book in hand and no interest in anything on television. He asked me the same questions repeatedly and I told him the same stories over again.

Moving dad into a care facility
The next year, physical symptoms such as issues with dehydration pushed us to make the difficult decision to move dad to a care facility. When the small group home proved a poor fit for dad, further research and interviews led to another move to a more structured memory care facility. We were novices evaluating compassionate, appropriate care, doing our best to preserve dad’s dignity during his journey.

Reminiscing with dad
Within four years of my mom’s passing, my dad followed. Sitting alongside him during his last week, I showed him pictures of Lake Tahoe and reminisced about our vacations and got a little smile when I suggested we go fishing there. When I asked if I could borrow his fishing pole, he nodded.

In long silent hours, I sat scrolling through my smart phone and an advertisement for the Skyline to the Sea Trail popped up. I looked at my hiking dad and with one click of a web page button the Hike for Harvey was born. I was lucky. It was not until the last few days that he didn’t know me.

Starting the Hike for Harvey
In 2018, I decided to go on a really big hike and I called it the Hike for Harvey. It was my first backpacking experience. At age 55, I strapped on a purple-for-Alzheimer’s pack loaded with essentials and hiked the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Starting at the summit of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, I hiked all 30 miles of the trail and ended with hot, tired bare toes immersed in the Pacific Ocean.

Deb holds her Wallace hat in honor of her father who died with Alzheimer's
Deb with her dad’s Wallace hat

I wore my dad’s Wallace hat to take him with me. For me, it was epic! It was an adventure and it was a positive way to honor my dad after the ups and downs and diminishing moments of clarity along his Alzheimer’s trail.

Continuing the tradition
The inaugural Hike for Harvey was a private tribute to honor the man who had introduced me to hiking and will always be a strong leader in my life. By the 2nd Annual Hike for Harvey, friends and co-workers said they wanted to Hike for Harvey too! I opened it up as a virtual hike with a registration page, using social media to promote it. I offered some basic facts and figures about the 5 million+ Americans with Alzheimer’s.

In year two, 68 hikes and walks were registered and over 2,300 miles donated to signify the need for more Alzheimer’s research, care, and support.

I want to hike with you
This year will be my 3rd Annual Hike for Harvey and I no longer hike alone. I hike with all of you! I invite hikers and walkers of all abilities to join the Hike for Harvey Longest Day  team and help intensify the light we shine on Alzheimer’s.

Like so many businesses, activities, and best-laid plans, I did a coronavirus virtual 180 to reimagine the Hike for Harvey Longest Day. Rather than specific in-person hiker gatherings, I am excited to present this flexible virtual opportunity to “hike your own hike wherever you like” anytime, anywhere from May to October 2020. This smart trail pivot has me joyfully doing several Hikes for Harvey and I invite you to hike or walk for the Harvey in your life.

You hike your own hike and I’ll hike mine. Together, we’ll get our boots and shoes dusty from a safe pandemic distance, have an epic trail experience, and make a valuable donation (tax deductible!) toward research, care, and support.

The Hike for Harvey unites us in raising funds and in honoring those we have loved and lost or people we care for who are currently on their Alzheimer’s journey. No bagpipes, no tartan, just ch-ch-changes.

Join Deb in her 3rd Annual Hike For Harvey by joining her Hike for Harvey Longest Day Team. You can also start your own team at alz.org/thelongestday.

Deborah Peel is a writer, blogger, mother, hiker, and lover of big trees and isolated mountain tops. She founded the Alzheimer’s awareness Hike for Harvey in 2018 to honor her father, Harvey Wallace, and all the Harveys taking the Alzheimer’s trail to the very end.

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