Hike No. 4 is local fundraiser’s ‘swan song’

Published 10:00 am Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bryce Gaudian of rural Hayward has been involved in grassroots fundraising for different causes for two decades now, raising in excess of $534,000 for nonprofits such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Operation Smile and Youth Villages, according to a press release. Lately, significant funds have been raised for Hill Country Youth Ranch and Big Springs Ranch for Children in Texas.

Gaudian’s method in raising funds through an annual event has included primarily direct mail to a vast network he has built up over the years of friends and acquaintances, and through people he has never met. He said he requests support for the causes he is passionate about, and then usually runs a marathon (he has run 17 marathons), or through “UltraHiking.” Support has come from as far away as Germany, England, Canada, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii and 35 other states, he said. Over 1,000 people have come alongside his efforts.

Two years ago, Gaudian became acquainted with two sister ranches in Texas founded by Gary Priour. Hill Country Youth Ranch (outside Ingram, Texas) and Big Springs Ranch for Children (near Leakey, Texas) exist to pour care, hope and love into the lives of children who have been abused, abandoned and are in distress, he said. For 40 years now, these epicenters of compassion have offered residential treatment for severely traumatized children, family care for those who have stabilized, transitional living for young adults and life-long family-based support for alumni, Gaudian said.

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Since that time, Gaudian has accomplished four separate UltraHikes — hiking a total of 194 miles and raising funds for 39 separate “Dream-List” projects/enhancements at the ranches.  The Dream-List items are hoped-for items that normal funds weren’t there for, but if they were, would provide new opportunities for fun, joy, healing, wholeness and community for the children, he said. Gaudian has since visited the ranches three times and said he knows they are tremendous stewards of the funds people have given.

UltraHike1 was in September 2014 and was a 49-mile hike in the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, and then additional miles at the south rim raising $52,443.22 and accomplishing four projects.

UltraHike2 followed in August 2015, with Gaudian hiking 45 miles in Sequoia National Park and the Mohave Desert, accomplishing 10 Dream-List items through the $72,219.60 raised.

UltraHike3 was earlier this year on the Hawaiian island of Kauai on Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali coast and in Waimea Canyon, hiking 42 miles and raising $49,238.31 for three projects.

Gaudian just returned from UltraHike4 in the Grand Teton mountains of Wyoming, hiking 58 1/2 miles. Donors from coast to coast provided support for 22 Dream-List projects, he said, sending exponentially more than has ever been raised through a single event in two decades: $178,027.81.

Projects funded by UltraHike4 were:

  • Swimming pool upgrades and climbing wall
  • Two sensory playrooms at HCYR
  • Seven DSLR cameras between both ranches
  • Barbecue trailer and tools to be utilized at both ranches
  • Low ropes course at BSRC
  • New media equipment for cabins
  • Outdoor harmony park at BSRC
  • Sensory playroom at BSRC
  • Regulation soccer goals
  • Keyboards for cabins
  • Outdoor storage building at HCYR
  • Ten starting blocks for sprinters at BSRC track
  • Prayer trails and prayer points at HCYR
  • Tack upgrades for the horse program at BSRC
  • Seven kayaks
  • Picnic gazebo on the Frio River_Bridge to the springs at BSRC
  • Thirty hurdles for the BSRC track*
  • Eight paddle boards
  • Harmony park at HCYR
  • TCU trust-based relational intervention training for four staff at HCYR/BSRC

“We all are on the trails of life. Sometimes we experience trials, complications, set-backs, major difficulties, disappointments, excruciating fatigue and all manner of challenges,” Gaudian said. Contrasting this, we all hope to be blessed with seasons and stretches of clear sailing, blue skies, a complete absence of pressure and stress, and great accomplishment. We long to triumph in and over the circumstances we find ourselves in.

“In the midst of the journey, there is such a high calling to endure, persevere, and keep going. It is a fallen world. That is for sure. I can’t even fathom the pain, distress, trauma and fear the children at the ranches have had to endure in their very short lifetimes,” he said. “But, I give thanks and praise to God, that in the midst of this fallen world, there are those who are called to be a light and bring help to others out of a complete and utter spirit of unselfishness. Once I became aware of Hill Country Youth Ranch and Big Springs Ranch for Children, I knew that they were such genuine places worthy of support. I rejoice that I have had the great privilege, joy and honor of having had these opportunities to fundraise for them, and that such a multitude of you have shared my passion to try to make a difference.

“UltraHike4 was blessed to be an extraordinary ‘ordinary’ experience. There can be, and was, spectacular in ‘normal.’ God is present with us in moments of danger and crisis, but also in moments of everyday routine,” Gaudian said. “The Grand Tetons are certainly not ordinary or mundane — but what a blessing to experience UltraHike4 free from inclement weather, danger on the trail and feeling physically healthy and fit. I’ve experienced some real ‘doozies’ in the past fraught with great challenges, dangers and grave concerns. The trails of UltraHike4 found me filled to overflowing with unbridled energy, enthusiasm, inspiration, joy and experiencing profound beauty and peace.”

Gaudian was joined on the hike by seven friends from California and Georgia who he knows through his work with nonprofit organizations, and by local State Farm Insurance representative and friend, Dave Klatt.

Their feet hit the trail at 4:02 A.M. Aug. 23, their headlamps lighting the trail until the sun came up. The group Gaudian was with somehow missed a trail turn-off and ended up doing at least an extra three miles to get back on track. It didn’t bother Gaudian, he said, as he had to get in a lot of extra miles anyway.  After they were back on course, an enormous bull moose was right alongside their trail.

Windy conditions met them head-on as they got to higher elevation and nearing the summit of Paintbrush Divide at 10,700 feet.  A snow field to cross, a red fox ran by a secluded lake, a ptarmigan sat in the path eating seeds, the spikes and spires of the Grand Tetons encompassed them all around, Gaudian said. The group hiked 22 miles that first day, seeing the beauty of places like String Lake, Paintbrush Divide, Lake Solitude, Cascade Canyon, Inspiration Point and the shores of Jenny Lake.                                                      

The next day, Gaudian started hiking early in the morning. It was cold and he said he could see his breath. Later in the morning, while all the others in his group kayaked and canoed, Gaudian continued hiking, putting in another 22-mile day. He saw some deer in a meadow, wildflowers, and Leigh, Bearpaw and Trapper lakes.

Aug. 25 was a 9.6-mile hike through Lupine Meadows past Burned Wagon Gulch and across from Garnet Canyon, to Surprise Lake and Amphitheatre Lake with Teewinot Mountain within view. There were 19 switchbacks on the ascent, Gaudian said.

Before reaching the top, Gaudian said he heard pinecones dropping from a tall pine tree. Looking up, a bear was making his descent right down the tree Gaudian was under. Gaudian said he moved down the trail a ways.  The bear started meandering parallel to the trail as Gaudian observed its activity. 

“What an absolutely fascinating creature! And diet,” Gaudian said. “I saw him eating ants out of some dead trees and foraging through the grass for tubers. I was so grateful for having the opportunity to witness a bear in the wild.”

At the top, Gaudian found a stream feeding one of the lakes and sat by it and said he lifted up in prayer every child, young person, staff, volunteer, auxiliary, board member and others associated with Hill Country Youth Ranch and Big Springs Ranch for Children. He had the name of every person with him, he said.  When Gaudian got back to Jackson Hole, he hiked along the National Elk and Wildlife Preserve outside town, to end up with 58 1/2 miles for UltraHike4 — 58 1/2 is Gaudian’s age.

UltraHike4 was Gaudian’s “swan song” fundraising effort, he said. He promised donors in his appeal letter that this would be his last.

Gaudian said last two decades of pouring his heart into fundraising for worthy causes has brought great fulfillment, joy and happiness. He salutes the great kindness, graciousness and generosity of so many who came alongside his efforts to try to make a difference.  He said he hopes others are inspired to take up the mantle and try to help make a difference in the lives of others.