Ottawa

'Searching for Sero' couple hit the road on 2-year mental wellness project

A couple from Aylmer, Que., are setting out Sunday on a two-year road trip across Canada and the U.S., in an effort to share stories of people using outdoor sports to help their mental well-being.

Couple will travel around Canada, the U.S. in 1991 Volkswagen camper van

Tracy Guenard and John Rathwell will spend the next two years living in this camper van with their dog, Rain, while they travel around Canada and the U.S. (CBC)

A couple from Aylmer, Que., are setting out Sunday morning on a two-year road trip across North America as part of a project to tell the stories of people who use outdoor adventure to benefit their mental well-being.

Their project is called Searching for Sero, short for serotonin, a neurotransmitter believed to contribute to happiness.

John Rathwell and Tracy Guenard said they're "excited" and anxious to hit the road, after their departure date was delayed due to mechanical issues with the 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van they will call home on their tour. 

The couple will head toward St. John's, N.L., on Sunday, where they'll officially start their trip.

During the next two years, they plan to publish a story on their website each week of someone they've met on their journey who is using outdoor sports to bring happiness and mental wellness into their life.

Both Guenard and Rathwell lost family members to suicide in 2014, and they say they turned to nature and sports to help with the grief.

Mental wellness 'everyone's business'

"There's not enough of a discussion happening in terms of mental wellness for everyone," Guenard said. 

John Rathwell says it's taken ten months to revamp the couple's 1991 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van. (CBC)

"And it's everyone's business. You don't have to be depressed, or clinically schizophrenic … to understand the importance of taking care of your mental wellness."

Guenard left her job, and the couple has rented out their Aylmer condo in order to make the trip possible. They also have several local companies sponsoring their project, and have raised more than $13,000 through online crowdfunding.

Rathwell said they've heard from people around the world during their year-long planning process, which they've shared with their online followers. 

"It's been unbelieveable how many people have already reached out to us from all over North America and beyond…saying, 'Hey, this is my story. And you know I've faced some tough times, and found happiness through kayaking.'"

Plan to publish photo book of trip

Rathwell and Guenard have packed skis, mountain bikes, kayaks and surfboards to use during their travels.

"After we lost our family members to suicide we just realized that life is more important than working...You need to get outside, you need to enjoy nature," Rathwell said.

The couple's van has enough space to sleep four people and has a solar generator to power their electronics. (CBC)

"If we can make one person realize that they need to make time for themselves and get outside and live a happier and healthier lifestyle we'll be pretty happy."

The couple plans to publish a photo book at the end of their trip in Spring 2018, and donate the proceeds to suicide prevention charities. 

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