Man hikes Continental Divide Trail toward recovery

Courtesy photos Ben Phantom has spent the last several months hiking the Continental Divide Trail in the name of recovery. Along his journey, he has earned the trial name ‘Shredder’ and has found personal growth in learning how to take responsibility for himself and plan his journey accordingly. Ben Phantom has also found a huge support system along his journey and now that he is passing through Colorado is grateful to be safely on his way to his journey's end in Canada.

CREEDE — With 600 miles behind him and 2,400 more to go, Asheville, N.C., musician and videographer Ben Phan — stage name Ben Phantom — is hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in support of PIVOTPoint WNC, a nonprofit therapeutic adventure group that helps those in recovery and those at risk of substance use disorder.

After dodging forest fires in New Mexico, Phan has just crossed into Southern Colorado. He’s sharing his five- to six-month journey through video updates filmed on the trail.

“As a person in recovery who has really benefited from the therapeutic experience of being in the wilderness, I want to help others who are struggling have that level of healing,” says Phan. “Because many people don’t have the resources or skills or confidence to experience the benefits of being in nature, PIVOTPoint fills a real need. Wilderness adventures can be life-changing — they have been for me.”

Serving the Southeast region, PIVOTPoint provides community-based, behavioral health interventions that focus on inter- and intra-personal skill-building. Through hiking, rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing, and paddleboarding, PIVOTPoint is stepping in to provide what Executive Director Matthew Nannis sees as a powerful enhancement to more traditional, standalone offerings.

“We are providing practical, usable skills and strategies for people trying to reframe a relationship with either substance use or underlying factors hindering growth, health, and pro-social development. Our work supports folks in reflecting on the internal landscape while exploring the wilderness through outdoor engagement,” said Nannis.

Phan openly shares his journey of recovery and says that for him, the wilderness itself is healing.

“When I’m a part of something greater than myself, the wilderness and big mountains, I feel right-sized — it feels good to be ‘a part of,’ instead of thinking everything’s about me,” he says. “And it forces you to be present — the decisions that you make have immediate consequences.”

The CDT is a “choose your own adventure trail,” says Phan, offering alternatives as hikers wind their way through its mountains, valleys, and deserts. Phan started at the Mexico border and is following a continuous footpath through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, all the way to the Canadian border in Glacier National Park. The route can add up to anywhere between 2,800 and 3,100 miles.

If Phan makes it to Canada, he’ll have completed the “Triple Crown” of hiking the three long-distance trails in the U.S. He hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2008 and completed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2014.

“I first started writing songs on the PCT,” says Phan. “Every so often it’s important for me to take an extended journey into the wilderness, to have time to step back and reflect and listen — to get in touch with that true creative source that comes from something bigger than me, that doesn’t originate or end in me.”

Phan will be carrying a guitalele, a guitar-ukulele hybrid, that he’ll play on some of his trail videos.

Through Phan’s trek across the CDT this year, Nannis says he hopes that others are inspired by the transformative powers of the natural environment.

“PIVOTPoint is creating this peer-2-peer campaign to celebrate Ben and raise funds to purchase the equipment needed to outfit our 3-day, 2-night mini-immersion programming. These therapeutic camping excursions provide the at-risk and recovery communities with a foundation of the connection that Ben finds out on the trail,” says Nannis.

To follow Phan’s journey and to make donations, go to pivotpointwnc.org/hike-with-ben or text HIKEWITHBEN to 44-321.

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