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Cross-country trek for mental health? Check.

Mark Pesklewis has his long-distance walking shoes ready, and probably a lot of changes of socks and perhaps a first aid kid with foot blister cushions. Best be prepared as he sets off on a cross-country walk this summer.
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He's got his backpack and his $10, and a big smile on his face. Mark Pesklewis has been planning a cross-country trek for years, and is soon to make it a reality. SCOTT HAYES/St. Albert Gazette

A long walk can be a really good thing for your mental health. Walking across Canada would certainly qualify. Being creative and making new friends sure are good for the spirit, too. Mark Pesklewis has all of those things in his mind as he prepares himself. 

The local photographer and arts supporter has a plan to make his upcoming cross-country journey partially by foot but mostly by getting rides from whomever he can. The idea was already in the gestational stage a few years ago but the current pandemic really drove home the necessity of it. Recovering from a bad accident that left him with a punctured lung and broken ribs and collarbone has also been a challenge. 

"I shelved it for a couple of years because of COVID. I couldn't really see how it was going to work. The whole thing started with this idea in my head that someday I'd like to hitchhike across the country," he said. "And then I was informed by a couple of friends that hitchhiking is illegal." 

Those friends then suggested that maybe he could find a different method of getting rides. 

"That's the goal. That's the aim: to make my way across the country without sticking out my thumb." 

He named his project Ten Bucks for Gas. He plans to make his way east starting from Victoria sometime during the next few months. Rather than thumbing it, he will offer $10 for gas money to each driver who can take him 100 kilometres or so.  

His idea is bigger than just a travel gimmick, however. On the website he created for his journey, Pesklewis writes that he has been living with mental-health issues and has known the struggles of depression and anxiety, which can be debilitating. He intends to use this adventure of expanding the attention people give to men's mental wellness by fundraising for three organizations: the Mental Health Foundation, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Alberta Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health. His goal is to raise $200,000. 

“I think a lot of people had a lot of isolation and a lot of mental-health issues through COVID. I think COVID exacerbated a lot of what was already going on and just made it worse. Certainly, in my case, it did,” he said, adding, “It's rampant. In 2018, the leading cause of death in kids aged 10 to 14 was suicide. It's scary. Everybody talks about the homeless and everything else, but part of that whole problem is derived from poor social mental health.” 

Along the nearly 7,000 kilometres of his pathway, he also hopes to upend the stigma of mental illness and spread some of his positive energy around. At one point, he described part of the philosophy of Ten Bucks for Gas as a method of kickstarting him back into being social and meet new people. 

As he meets these people, he hopes to learn their stories and take their photos. Ever the creative force, Pesklewis is holding the potential of producing a book after he returns. He’s in no rush to cover the distance either. 

“I want to take my time and mix it up and meet people and try to spread the word for mental health and get people's stories in the process, not necessarily stories about mental health and mental illness, but just stories about Canadians and who they are: ‘Why did you pick me up and where do you live? Tell me about yourself.’ Get a cross-section of Canadian personalities in the process.” 

He is hosting a fundraiser at the Thirsty Rooster on June 23 from 7 to 10 p.m. to help rally the mighty forces to aid his bold plan. Tickets are $10. Visit for details.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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