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68. Hiking Across America For Mental Health and Building Legacy with Zach Smith
Episode 6810th March 2021 • The Imperfect Pod • The Imperfect Pod
00:00:00 00:54:10

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On this episode, Zach and I talk about his solo hike trip across the Pacific Crest Trail and his biggest takeaways, as well as the positive influence of Bell Let’s Talk in the mental health community.

Key themes of the episode:

  • Why Bell Let's Talk is good for society
  • Why he went on his trip across the Pacific Crest Trail
  • What the feeling was like at the end of his trip
  • How much he missed ice in his drinks
  • Who his inspirations were for the trip (Jesse Itzler and Dave Goggins)
  • The importance of mindset in building your legacy

About Zach: At age 23, Zach set out on a solo hike from Mexico to Canada to raise money for youth mental health. The journey took 4 and a half months, and he was able to raise over $10,000 for a charity that specializes in youth mental health and youth peer mentorship. He is a young entrepreneur, scaling a digital content production company and sustainable e-commerce business SickBirdProduction. He has worked at numerous start-ups, and has a business degree in finance. He values personal growth, and challenging oneself to achieve greatness. Zach's Instagram. Zach's Website.

As always, feel free to follow me on Instagram @theimperfectpod or shoot me an email at luke@theimperfectpod.com

Transcripts

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:00:08] 20, 24. I had to think about that for a second. I'm a 96 yeah, 24 turning 25 next week. So totally forgot what my age was for a second there.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:00:40] No time is definitely a manmade construct.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:00:43] I strongly believe that.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:01:08] Cool. Um, That's an interesting question, I think a great dinner guests now that I'm just thinking of podcasts right now, I think a great dinner guests would be Joe Rogan. I'd love to be a guest on his podcast. I don't know if I have enough of an interesting story to be on Joe Rogan yet. Uh, Have a conversation with him. He always seems to have interesting things to talk about.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:01:55] Yeah, I agree. I think it's important to the, the whole thing about having a platform is having conversations and you know, his podcast is for entertainment. Yeah, sure. It's educational as well at times, but the purpose of the podcast is entertainment. So, he can really have whoever he wants on what I think I'd, I'd cook for him.

I'd probably ask him to bring some elk meat and uh, we'd probably cook that.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:02:24] Oh, you'd have to have hunted it for sure.

Luke: [:

He also introduced me to another guy that I had on the podcast. And we're recording this on bell let's talk day which is a weird convenience. Didn't know that it was going to be this when we wouldn't be set this out. But I'm curious before we get into your story, like, do you have any opinions on, on Bell Let's Talk? Some people hate it. Some people love it. Some people are in between. Like, what are your thoughts on, on the day as a whole

Zack: [:

An organization that was, that relies heavily on Bell Let's Talk funding. I know firsthand where the funding goes. You know, the organization I was working at, they, they relied on those funds the same way that they rely on government funding, the same way that they rely on fundraisers to raise funds for their operations.

And those funds go directly towards changing kids' lives. And Bell Let's Talk is extremely transparent to the level of where they're sending these funds out to. So maybe sure bell gets a little bit of you know, publicity or it gets its name out there. But it's all advertising that they've paid for.

So I don't, I don't see them as profiting off Bell Let's Talk. I see what they're doing as an amazing thing that those funds that are going directly to local charities within communities that are, that are making a huge impact. And I, I, I get pretty upset when I see people on social media that are bashing it.

Luke: [:

And it might cause me to donate $10 or someone else to donate $10. So it's more than really just. Likes and tweets and everything. It's just about the conversation. And I think that's really important.

And it's true. Do I wish it was just more than a one day thing? Do I wish bell donated more money? Of course. At the end of the day. Like if they're a for-profit business and that's what for-profit businesses do, and they need those to support not-for-profits because they don't have a revenue system that is as good as a for-profit business like bell does. So there's lots of layers to it.

Zack: [:

You know, what are, what are those individuals doing on an individual level to make an impact? You know, even if you added up everything that everybody was doing on an individual level, it probably wouldn't reach the hundreds of millions of dollars that, that was donated to mental health over the past few years.

So I have absolutely zero problems with it. I'm a big supporter.

Luke: [:

I think I wrote down here that it's 4,273 kilometers of a distance. Where did that come from? Why did you do that? Paint us a little picture about that experience and, and why you made it.

Zack: [:

So during that year, I, I went home, worked construction, and I worked a job that I, I kind of hated to kick my ass into gear and start taking responsibility for my life. And it was during that year when I realized that at my age, Both of my grandparents had fought in a war. And so I could say that about my grandparents. When my grandfather was 20 years old, he fought in a war.

There was something that was like tangible attached to his legacy. And I didn't, I didn't feel like I had any accomplishments that I had of my story of, you know, what is the book of my life going to read? Like, so it was then when I decided I wanted to do something big and I didn't tell very many people about it for a couple of years, but I had this plan in the back of my mind that I was going to walk from Mexico to Canada.

And then it was during my last year of university that I sort of came public on this, that I was going to be doing this after I w after I left Western. And it was a combination of both wanting to add something to my legacy. And then once I realized that, you know, people run marathons and raise thousands of dollars just to run a marathon, I was going to be walking a marathon a day for four and a half months, I figured I may as well try to raise some money and make a good cause out of it. So I decided to do it for charity as well.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:09:01] Yeah, I raised just over $10,000 for a local charity here in Toronto called Youth Assisting Youth. They're a mentorship and mental health charity that helps at risk youth by providing them mentorship and providing the mentors with mental health training. So the youth are kids with mental health diagnosis whether that's ADHD, depression, anxiety learning disabilities, and sort of like the big brothers and sisters, but they have this mental health kind of twist on it where they're providing those kinds of services as well.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:10:29] Yeah, I think it, it kind of comes from wanting to have an interesting story when at the end of my life, like I'm able to look back and look at all the individual chapters in my life, be able to sort of put a tangible achievement or you know, yeah struggle and coming out the other side. That tells for an interesting story.

So when we're looking at like a brand story, for example telling the story, the hero's journey you know, there has to be the hero that runs into a challenge and overcomes the challenge to become something better on the other side. So I realized that I, at my age, at that time, I hadn't really had any big obstacles that I had to overcome or accomplish anything from.

Luke: [:

We want to grow. We want to force ourselves into those positions, getting out of your comfort zone. But I guess I never really look at it as like building a legacy. There's just things I want to explore and things I want to do. Which is an interesting cause I don't think it's really different, but I guess I just never put the word legacy on it.

But as I learned more about young men and what they're doing, it seems like a lot of us are lost. We're trying to find struggle because, you know, I, I live a pretty privileged life in the sense that I, I I've had it pretty easy most of my life. And I do have to go out and create hardship for myself to experience and almost empathize with people because you can only really empathize once you've been through an experience like that.

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:12:33] So tell me a little bit about, I mean you said you were walking a marathon a day and it's on the West coast. So it can't be flat ground. It's not like Saskatchewan or like the Plains of, of America. So. Did you train before going or did you just go and then being there was you, it was your training.

Zack: [:

But um, to talk about some of the, more like the technical aspects of the, of the trail specifically. The trail runs from the Mexican border in California through California, Oregon, and Washington along a mountain along different mountain ranges the whole time. So it's a hiking trail up and down mountains on average going up and down the CN tower, about two and a half times per day. And doing about a marathon in distance each day.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:14:07] Yeah. So it's a balance between finding enough calories that doesn't weigh that much. So foods that are really high in caloric count but aren't that heavy. So like potato chips are, are pretty solid. You can crush them up. Pop-Tarts great. Ate a lot of tortillas, a lot of packets of tuna and packets of mayonnaise on top of everything. Cause it's got a lot of the calories in it and uh, Packets of rice, pasta sides and rice sides for dinner every night.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:14:58] Oh, every time, every time we go into town. So about every five days, approximately the trail crosses a road where you can hitchhike into town And then from there you pack up, you go to the grocery store pack up and get back out on trail or you stay in town. Some people take a couple of days off, but the name on a, on the location.

And yeah, every time I would go into town, absolute binge burgers. My favorite thing to get when I was in town, the thing that I always craved was a soda with ice, like a Coke or Sprite with ice, because when you're out in in the, in the woods, there's, you know, you can't get any ice. And if you're, I was, I listened to a lot of podcasts and on some of the podcasts, you wouldn't take sips of drinks.

And I would hear the ice clinking around and in the middle of the hot desert or in like the dry heat of the summer there's nothing that you want more than just a glass, a cold glass of Coca-Cola.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:16:05] I carried two plastic water bottles almost the entire time. Two smart water bottles. They're the ones that fit best with the water filter that I use. And I used them until they were pretty beat up and I switched them out about halfway. So I think I went through just four during the course of the four and a half months.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:16:24] About one litre each. Yeah.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:16:33] Yeah, you fill up water with like, you have a water filter that you screw onto the bottle, and then you fill up a bladder bag at a Creek or a river or a Lake, and then you squeeze the bladder bags through the filter, into the water bottle. So you do this like two times a day. Every time you, you got to a different water source, you fill up on water.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:17:00] Pacific crest trail.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:17:11] It's pretty well marked. There's, there's parts that are not very well marked, but um, you use an app on your phone that there's, there's a bunch of different trail maps that you can get for your phone. And that sort of shows you on GPS, GPS, you don't need data. So when you're up in the mountains at like 12,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountains there's no, there's no cell service, obviously. But you're able to, to track yourself on the map using GPS.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:17:45] Yeah. There were, there were a couple of times had slept at some pretty crazy Heights or just interesting spots. One of the craziest was in North Northern California. We, me and one of the guys I was hiking with We just wait out our stuff on top of this plateau rock plot, though, that was basically like a 400 foot cliff looking over expansive wide Valley.

And we saw the sunset at one end of as far as we could see and rise at the other. And that was an insane moment. We just slept under the stars. No tents.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:18:26] Yes. Sometimes for sure. I didn't sleep with I slept with a tent most days.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:18:37] No, after doing, after hiking a marathon every day, you're with a 50 pound backpack on you're pretty exhausted. As soon as I got into my tent I was lights out.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:18:53] I was permanently sore the entire from day one until the end. And then for a couple months after.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:19:08] So that was for a portion of it. Him and I actually started on this, started on the same day together and met each other that day. He's my, my friend, Peter from Prague Czech Republic. And we started together on the same day, went for a couple of weeks together and just went separate ways for about a month and a half, two months maybe.

And then came back together at a certain point, just ran into each other and started going the two of us and the two of us finished out the rest of the trail together. So that's like we would camp together, eat meals together during the day. Most of the time we would just hike on our own. And then just sort of congregate together and camp. Sorta sort of made like a lifelong friend there.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:19:57] Yeah. So for, for some of the time that I was alone, there were some days that I rarely saw another person. And then. There's some parts where it sort of acts like a funnel. People are really spread out for some parts and then people get funneled into certain areas and there's tons of hikers around.

ere's a, probably about maybe:

Luke: [00:20:29] How does it feel to be on that list?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:20:37] Oh, there's a, there's a full certification process and everything. Like, how do they map out that you did the entire thing?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:21:01] what was your like main uh, focus for getting through? Like, was it. Determination, like, was it the legacy aspect? Like what made you keep going? If so many people quit every year,

Zack: [:

My knees were fine from there, but the blisters were terrible. It was. It was a mess the whole, the whole time, pretty much maybe until around two and a half months in, I hit my stride and I was feeling good. Still exhausted, still exerting myself every day. But um, yeah, the pain at the beginning was, was pretty intense and I never thought I never actually considered quitting.

I thought about it a lot. I never actually considered it. It was never an option. Like I was never thinking to myself, I can't do this. It was always thinking, how am I going to figure out how to do this?

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:22:32] I think it's, it's more around the definition of like being specific about my words. So for example, I was thinking to myself, I could quit rather than I should quit. Um, I could have quit many times, but I never actually considered following through with that thought.

Luke: [:

I guess what, like, is that something that was ingrained in you as a, as a kid? Like where does that mentality come from? That quitting wasn't even an option specifically for this cause I'm sure there's other things you've quit, but like why or why for this.

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:24:14] Who, who are some of the people that you look up to for that mindset? Cause I'm imagining that there's some leaders or cause I'm thinking like Dave Goggins he's quite like literally insane. I'm reading his book right now, but I'm wondering if there's anyone else that uh, you like look to for that motivation for that inspiration.

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:25:06] I actually know who that is, but only from like two weeks ago, I don't think I knew who he was the last time we talked, but I had someone who have had on the podcast share one of his Instagram stories. I'm like, Oh, this guy seems interesting. And then he's also married to the woman who founded Spanx. So, I mean, it seems like a pretty big power, couple if I've ever heard of

Zack: [:

So we had David Goggins come live with him and train him for six weeks I think it is. And just the insane regimen that he put them through and the crazy learnings that he got from him makes for an amazing book. So that was, that was how I found out about Jesse and found out about his story and since then, I've just been very motivated by him and follow him on all the social medias and read everything that he puts out.

Luke: [:

So much trauma. And then to see where he is now. Like, I look at that and I think, Oh, that can be really corny to have that much you can't hurt me that much armor. Cause I look at it as kind of like an unnecessary shield to a lot of things, but I also can't knock it cause I mean, he's successful for a reason and it's because of that mindset that he is successful.

So like, is there a balancing act to you when it comes to those things or is that something that it does fuel you? Cause I'm thinking of another guy I've read tribe of mentors by Tim Ferriss. And there's the stories in there about these, this guy who has climbed all seven of the highest points, Kyle monitored or something, I think that's his name, something like that.

And this guy is, he's like, I love pain. I love struggle. And I'm like, bro, you're insane. But I respect you a lot. Like what, what's the balance for you? Is there a balance for you or, or do you just see it all as inspiration?

Zack: [:

Colin O'Brady is another person that I woke up to and he's the, his story is really interesting. After he graduated university, he was drunk on a beach in Thailand and was doing the fire jump rope. Got caught in the jump rope, burned his entire body. Serious burns doctors told him he would never walk again and he was stuck in a Thai hospital for months. They brought them back to the States, did a bunch of surgeries. He went through a ton of rehab, finally learned to crawl and walk. And then a year later he ran his first triathlon and won. And since then, he's just gone world record after world record. He climbed the seven summits and touched the North and the South pole all in the same trip.

And did that in the fastest amount of time. He rode across the Drake passage, he crossed Antarctica on foot, just an absolute beast. And yeah, so. Pushing through adversity and consistently going up in the ring to challenge yourself, to just be always constantly pushing yourself. I always find that inspiring and it's something that I like aspire to be like mentality wise.

Luke: [:

So when you said that you, you found a lot of inspiration from David Goggins book, which is called can't hurt me by the way, for anyone interested, did you have it like an audio, an audio book on the trip, or did you just like, remember it and called back to it when, from memory when you're on the trip?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:30:09] Yeah. So music wasn't like, did you listen to a lot of music or was it mainly audio books and podcasts?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:30:24] Was the music more for relaxing or pumping up? Did you find a different use for each of them or was it all just, I need, this is just a distraction from my pain?

Zack: [:

So then, you know, if you've got no stimulus, you're just kind of moving. You can actually have your mind run and either have no thoughts or have really profound thoughts. But music could also be for just relaxing or could also be for serious pumped up. I gotta get myself going to get up this hill kind of thing. Walking to the beat is always good. Like house music was great.

Luke: [:

And I can find a lot of clarity without that sound or noise or music or anything, but I can't do it all the time because I I don't really listen to music throughout the day when I'm working. So you, well, you kind of mentioned how you do silence or, or nothing. Like what were those experiences like?

Did you find a lot of reflection in those times or was it mostly just nothing?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:32:42] Yeah, I would say that the fact that so many people aren't afraid being alone with their thoughts is probably one of the core damaging things to society right now, because it's so easy when you are alone and be on your phone, be listening to music, distracting yourself, not actually sitting alone with your thoughts.

And I think it's probably one of the reasons why we have so much so many problems with one another with understanding one another, because we never look internally at the problems that we have. So it's harder for us to think of empathy for others. And, and I think that is a really big problem. So I like how you brought that out.

And, and when you say you journaled religiously, is that something that you carried beyond the, the trip to, is that something you still do or was it mainly on the trip that you did it?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:34:01] Yeah, no, it's true. And I've had to build a routine into my life and I still fail it because there's so much that can happen in a day to day when there's so many distractions. So without kind of getting too specific I'm wondering what might've been some of the biggest reflections that you've had from the trip, whether it's something from your journal or just like a thing that came to your mind without getting too like personal, I guess, but what would some of those revelations be that those aha moments that you had

Zack: [:

I'm running towards the border. And as soon as I get there, I feel a little bit empty. I thought it was going to feel like overwhelmed with joy and super excited. I felt a little bit empty. It was at that moment that I realized that it's super cliche and I always feel really cliche whenever I say this, but it's so true.

And it was, it took me walking from Mexico to Canada to realize it, but the journey is more important than the destination. And there really is no finish line. Because as soon as I got to the finish line, the only thing I could think of was what's next? Like, what is the finish line just moved somewhere further.

There, there, you know, it's the same thing as like, I don't really want to get to a place where I retire and I put my feet up and sitting on sitting on the beach like I don't want to get bored like that. And lazy, I guess. I don't know if that's the right word, but the, the, yeah, exactly.

Getting complacent. The finish line just moves once you cross this goal. What's the next one? What is going to be the next accomplishment and the journey that you're going to go on? Yeah, that was that was the biggest thing for me.

Luke: [:

I also can't really stop it sometimes. Like I really do struggle with shutting off my brain. So I relate in a different sense, but yeah, it's it's yeah, it's, it's true what they say and how cliche it is, but there's a reason people say it. So one of the things that you mentioned too, was no texting and no like interaction, like, were people worried about you? Did you ever get to call anyone? Like, what was that process like? Because that would be the hardest thing for me is the fact that there's no internet and things like I would be able to stay off Instagram and Facebook and all that stuff I think I would just miss being able to text my friends or call my friends when I wanted to

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:37:56] That would have been scary.

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:38:13] are you a Raptors fan or are you just a Toronto sports fan?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:38:26] I was downtown that night. It was exactly how it felt or what it looked like. It was, it was like, that's a, that's a memory and a half, and you'll never see a crowd like that after again, after COVID probably so,

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:38:43] and it was fortunate. So kind of going back to your experiences with mental illness and were, were you constantly facing a mental health battle while you were on the trail too? Or was that like, how did you overcome and deal with those issues while you were on the journey? Was that a part of your reflection or was that a part of your development that you felt like to where you are now?

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:40:07] Hmm. So how did you CA carry that same mentality off the hike when maybe process and progress isn't as, as linear as it is. As you mentioned, it's you wake up, you hike, you go to sleep. It's not that linear outside of that. How do you, how do you view progress now that you're beyond that,

Zack: [:

And I'm doing somebody similar in March. I'm going to do a four, four miles every four hours for 48 hours which is a David Goggins inspired challenge. And so having those challenges that I'm working towards keeps me on track as far as like working towards a goal and feeling those accomplishments along the way.

And again, like the journey is still more important than actually finishing the goal. I'm glad that I, I had never really run before in my life. And during that months that I trained leading up to the 50 I ran pretty much every day and getting out there and stepping into the ring and learning how to run.

I hate running to be honest, I'm not a, I'm not a natural runner, but I, I always say this, like "I always dread going for the run, but I never regret going." So before I always dread getting my shoes on and then getting out there and it kind of sucks while you're out there. Maybe it's cold, maybe it's raining, whatever it is.

But then afterwards you got a sense of accomplishment. You get those endorphins and you don't regret doing it.

Luke: [:

Yeah. And it's true when I don't feel like doing it. But when I, I finish, I'm very happy that I did it and that I can be proud of myself. And I started my day proud of myself, which is the opposite of what happened today is today you slept until seven and then I felt lazy till seven 30. And then I wasn't proud of myself to start the day.

So I already started in a negative mindset for who I am, but. W a lot of your outcomes and goals and progress don't really seem work oriented. So is this something that you do to fulfill yourself outside of work or, or what's kind of going on there?

Zack: [:

If you're being on this emotional roller coaster when you're in sales or when you're in a revenue driving position there's going to be ups and downs. And if your whole life is, or if your happiness and fulfillment is tied around that you're going to be gone for a roller coaster ride. So, I'm learning and I'm trying to be better at not tying my, my fulfillment, my feeling of fulfillment to that.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:44:38] Yeah, I'm in uh, the fortunate and also unfortunate position that both of my adventures are sort of entrepreneurial where it is sort of directly tied to me and my output and my, the results are tied to my output. So there is a lot of weight there and um, like I've mentioned, like I'm learning, how to sort of not tie my emotional state to the businesses.

Luke: [:

Two things that I find a lot of men are interested in, in philosophy and a lot of philosophy is poetry, but a lot of men aren't into poetry. So, it's kind of a weird process there, but I'm curious to have a little conversation about that.

Zack: [:

I want to say. And yeah, I think that one that one's important to me. If, you know, if you're gonna put effort into doing something. You may as well see it through to the end. Like if you're going to try, go all the way, what's the point of just giving it a half-assed effort?

I think that one's pretty important.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:46:46] Every time I find a new one, I scribble it down here and then that that's a chance to go back and look at them. And I also have a note on my phone that I I take a look at it from time to time.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:47:18] Tough mudder.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:47:37] Yeah. Yeah. I think another one that sticks out to me recently now that I've. got two businesses that um, you know, scrambling to try to try to figure out what I'm doing here. It's if you're, "if you're going to do anything big, you're going to be unqualified doing it." And that's a quote from Watson, correct?

Who discovered the structure of DNA? Pretty cool. I think that, that one, that one speaks to me. You know, if you're going into uncharted territory you're not going to know where you're going and that's just the name of the game, but uh, be comfortable in the, in the uncertainty.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:49:02] No Good story started with salad.

Luke: [:

And, you know, I don't look at it through the lens of my, my grandparents fought in Wars, my grandma escapes war, there's still part of us that, that desires legacy desire as a story for us to be told. And I love how you communicate that. And you did it as like literally you're 22 when you went on this trip or I guess it would have been

Zack: [:

Luke: [00:49:50] That's insane. Like insane. I, I, the only thing I can think of that's even close to being similar is I lived in Japan for four months on my own, which is a completely different culture, but it's, and it was a huge growth thing for me. But it wasn't the same daily pain and loneliness, although it was lonely in some aspects.

Zack: [:

You're just a human experiencing your own life and whatever is the challenge that you have in front of you. It may be the toughest thing that you're doing. So I don't think that there's a fair ranking system. Everything is, everything is relative.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:51:05] Yeah, so, um, wrong-generation.com is my e-commerce business. I'm saving vinyl records from landfill. Handcrafting them into a couple of different types of housewares fully sustainable business, really proud of part of what we're, what I'm doing there. And fakebirdproduction.com. Helping brand brands create amazing content to connect with their audience.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:51:40] If you liked my story, you can follow me. zucc_smett on Instagram. I'm not super, super active there, but yeah.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:52:20] If you're going to try, go all the way.

Luke: [:

Zack: [00:52:27] Thanks so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

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