A lot can change in a year. Amy Tunstall is living proof. In February of 2017, she had sought help for depression and anxiety. In the past twelve months alone, the Niagara-raised Tunstall has hiked the Bruce Trail, raising over $3,000 for her home branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association; fought one of the busiest forest fire seasons in British Columbia; backpacked throughout Costa Rica and Nicaragua; and hiked the entirety of the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain.
All it took was a car crash for a change of perspective.
It happened in Montana–part of the 3,000-kilometre annual trip to begin the fire season. Tunstall was hit with a snowstorm in April on a remote stretch of mountain road — “we got about 30 centimetres of snow in a two-hour period,” she says — and she spun out on black ice, crashing into a berm.
“I was just stuck there, shaking,” says Tunstall. “In that moment, my life could have been over … If I was 200 metres down, I would have hit the curb and completely went off [the cliff].”
She was lucky. Not long after, a truck driver with a tow rope happened to pass by, helping her get back on the road and wait until police arrived.
“If I had gone any further down the mountain pass, I wouldn’t have had any cell reception to call the police,” she says. “I had been driving down this road for two hours, and I had not seen a single person on this road.”
Before the crash, says Tunstall, she had been wrestling with questions about her purpose and life’s direction. Entering her mid-twenties, she had already cycled across Canada, completed another cycle trip across New Zealand, and finished yet another cycle trip from Brazil to Peru. Still, the doubts entered her mind.
“What am I doing with my life?” she says. ”I’ve been focusing a lot on travel, and a lot on adventures, and that’s not necessarily society’s way of wanting you to be.”
With a realization of how close she might have come to the end, she started thinking about what would become her next step: something that would benefit others and show them her love for the outdoors, too. When fire season ended, she left to hike the Bruce Trail and fundraise for the CMHA, calling it “A Million Steps for Mental Health.”
“A lot of the trails, I had hiked when I was younger, and that was really my introduction to the outdoors — just playing around,” says Tunstall.
Over the course of a month, she walked over 900 kilometres from Tobermory to Queenston Heights. For Tunstall, who lost her father to suicide and knows the experience of mental illness quite intimately, it was also a chance to get people actively engaged in their mental health.
“It’s been quite a process, but in the last year, I feel a lot more grounded, more balanced, and more aware of what’s going on. I’m not in this repetitive thought process […] I’ve started to move forward and really work on goals that I want.” – Amy Tunstall
“It was amazing,” she says. “The final twenty kilometres, my family met up with me, and by the time I made it into Queenston Heights, I had about fifty people walking with me […] It was just an unbelievable experience.”
Not long after, Tunstall left for Central America, intent on buying a motorcycle and teaching herself to ride. After surviving a crash and an infection scare that left her in the hospital — “anything and everything that could go wrong, probably did go wrong,” says Tunstall — she returned to Canada for a short stay before packing up once again and heading to Europe to hike the famed Camino de Santiago… never mind that it was winter.
“We’d get up to the top of the mountain pass, and it would be a full-blown snowstorm,” she says.
Some might have called the idea of hiking the Camino in winter crazy.
To that, Tunstall has one reply: “The crazy ideas are always the best ones.”