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Bonds of friendship strengthened after Blue Mountain duo make trek for mental health

‘It can be really hard to take that first step sometimes, but when you do, you’d be surprised at what can happen,’ says Meaford hiker

Their hike lasted 32 days, but their friendship could last a lifetime.

Friends Lesley Ciarletti and Silvia Weismann recently completed the PEI Island Walk. Weismann, who lives in the Town of the Blue Mountains and Ciarletti, of Meaford, bonded over experiencing similar mental health strains earlier this year, so when an opportunity came up for them to complete a month-long physical challenge together while raising money for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s PEI chapter, they jumped at the chance.

The duo bonded throughout COVID-19 over similar mental health strains.

“We both had just recently retired,” said Ciarletti. “We’d known each other for six or seven years through our husbands. About three years ago, I went on a mental health leave from work.”

“As I came out the other side, Silvia started to go through the same thing,” she said.

Weismann recalls she and Ciarletti had an instant connection when they met. However, she said they became closer when they bonded over similar struggles.

“I had a mental breakdown last summer. She knew what I was going through, and she would check in with me,” said Weismann.

Ciarletti and Weismann started walking their dogs together regularly on local trails, building a closer friendship.

“It started to become like our church. COVID-19 was so hard. We went around and started just enjoying nature here,” said Weismann.

In the fall, Ciarletti and her husband decided to go on a Maritime cruise in their RV, as travel outside the country was impossible due to COVID-19.

“When we crossed into PEI, we crossed the Confederation Bridge and I was Googling where to go, and this news story popped up about the Island Walk,” said Ciarletti.

The PEI Island Walk is a physical challenge and adventure where interested participants can walk the entirety of the circumference of Canada’s smallest province. The route is split into 32 sections, and covers 700 kilometres. The mapped route takes walkers along the ocean, much of the Confederation Trail, red dirt roads, beaches and through quiet secondary roads throughout PEI.

“I sent it right away to Silvia and said, look at this!” said Ciarletti. “She suggested we do it in the spring but I wanted to do it now.”

Weismann was on board, but had one stipulation: the friends had to complete the trek between her mother’s 80th birthday on Oct. 10 and her father’s 80th birthday on Nov. 15 so she wouldn’t miss either milestone. Ciarletti took on the challenge of planning the trip, to fit it into the days in between.

“Eleven days later, we flew out,” said Ciarletti. “It was awesome!”

Ciarletti says she and Weismann grew closer as the days wore on. Some days they walked in silence, on others they would talk about their lives, triumphs and struggles. Toward the end, they noted they started finishing each other’s sentences.

“There’s this bigger thing going on in the universe. If you spend a lot of time with someone, you become so connected,” said Ciarletti.

The trip wasn’t without its challenges.

Ciarletti ended up with bursitis in her knee, which meant she used a walker for about 350 kilometres of the journey. However, the duo powered through and supported each other, still managing to reach their goal.

“I checked on it everyday to make sure it didn’t get infected and sought some medical advice,” said Ciarletti. “I said I wasn’t giving up until I could no longer put one foot in front of the other, and that never happened.”

“We had each other’s back,” said Weismann. “It was a really wonderful experience. It’s still hard to believe that we did it.”

The duo raised nearly $4,000 between donations from supporters, and themselves pledging to donate $1 for every kilometre walked. The funds will be donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s PEI chapter.

Looking forward, Ciarletti and Weismann are considering their next physical challenge will be one much closer to home, and for a local charity. As of now, they’re considering a hike of the entire Bruce Trail, while raising funds for a South Georgian Bay mental health charity.

“This personal journey for Silvia and I really cemented our friendship,” said Ciarletti. “Everybody’s got a struggle. It can be really hard to take that first step sometimes, but when you do, you’d be surprised at what can happen.”

The duo has an Instagram account called Hiking Lucys where they chronicle their travels. To follow them, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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