Amy Tunstall Explains How Spending Time Outside Will Improve Your Mental Health

Adventurer Amy Tunstall may not own a house or a fancy car, but she has travelled for over 17,000 kilometers by walking, paddling and cycling across two continents, ten provinces and five countries.

In this interview, she shares her best adventuring tips and experiences – and why she believes that spending time outside and exposing yourself to wilderness has many health benefits (including improved mental health).

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Amy Tunstall and originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, but I’ve spent the past three years out West working as a wildland firefighter for the province of Alberta. Since it is a seasonal job I travel during my winter months completing a number of different expeditions raising money and awareness for Mental Health.

So far I’ve completed three major expeditions, which were over three months in length, plus a number of smaller treks ranging from 4-15 days. I’ve worked in the Outdoor Industry since I was 18 and have managed to make my way over to Forestry, usually keeping myself outside and active.

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

How and why did you get into cycling?

I have always been the type of person to say yes to random, crazy ideas. It was the summer of 2011 — I was 19 at the time — when I got a call from one of my college friends. He asked me if I wanted to go on a rather long cycling trip, by rather long it was nearly 7,500 km from the West Coast to the East Coast of Canada.

Within a couple days, I had my ticket booked to Vancouver, British Columbia and it would be nearly a year before we actually departed on this epic adventure. Before that, I had little to no cycling experience, I had no idea what to bring or what to expect, up until that point I had never even slept on the side of the road. But nothing can describe the feeling you get when you take off for something so massive your brain can’t even comprehend it.

After three months, we completed the this incredible journey that taught me more about life than school ever had, we reached St.John’s, Newfoundland. Instead of being excited, we made our finish line, my mind quickly jumped to what’s next. I had books ready, maps drawn up and new plans stored off deep in my mind.

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

Why is adventuring and traveling important for you?

I never would have expected to be where I am today. My life for the past three years has been like living a live version of Nat Geo. Exploration/Adventure/Travel — Whatever you want to call it — has taught me so much about myself, when you spend upwards of three months in your mind it’s incredible what you can discover. It teaches you how to be independent, to problem solve (things never work out the way you expect it to).

My first couple trips had been an experience to teach me about myself but once I got to know the real me, it turned into what can I learn from the world. On my last trek, I spent three months cycling across South America. To me Bolivia was the most eye-opening experience because people truly did not have a lot, but they were happy. People worked together and shared their resources — it was beautiful to see.

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

What has been the best and difficult parts of your adventures and travels?

The best part of my travels have been the connections I’ve made along the way. You get to meet such unique individuals, see a different way of living, working and collaborating with companies and other athletes. From these adventures, I’ve been able to build my own mini community of some very incredible individuals.

The most difficult part is always going to be that internal mental struggle you face. Long days on the saddle or hiking, usually a typical day for myself will range from 10-12 hours extended over a three month duration. In a day, you experience every type of emotion known to man, the lows and highs plus everything in between. But it slows things down and allows you to actually experience a country or culture.

One of the biggest dangers I face is always other people, mainly with driving. Although, I personally haven’t had any close calls as a number of cyclists this past year have been killed by motor vehicles, it’s something that is always in the back of your mind. During my last trip to South America as we climbed up the Andes, we followed small roads that could barely fit a vehicle. Yet trucks would cruise up these Amazonian, unpaved roads, which slick with mud from the start of the rainy season. One side of the road would huge the massive mountain while the other would drop off into the abyss.

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

For all my trips, I’ve camped through out the entire journey. When I’m lucky, someone will offer me a bed or a piece of grass to pitch my tent. If I haven’t showered for a number of days then I might splurge on a hostel or hotel room for myself. I’m completely self-supported and usually keep about 2-3 days worth of supplies on me at all times.

My sleeping set up I use:

Tent
MSR ELIXIR 2: I absolutely love this tent! It’s held up well in every condition and is very roomie for being a two person tent.

Sleeping Bag
Marmot Angel Fire

Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir

Cooking System
JetBoil Zip Personal

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

What are your best advice for new adventurers and travelers?

My biggest piece of advice is to not wait around until other people share the same dream as you. I think Nike has the best quote, “Just Do it”. What’s the reason you are not doing the thing you love? Relationship? Financial Problems? Family? What ever it is, if you want something big enough, you will work your hardest until it becomes your reality.

How do you prepare for your adventures and travels?

Most of my trips come right after I work a fire season, so I’m already quite in shape before I take off on the trip. Through the summer, I’m constantly running, lifting weights and work in general can be quite physically demanding.

I try and get at least one cardio and three gym days in per week but you can train all you want, these trips come down to approx. 10% physical and 90% mental. On my first trip across Canada, my buddy Jonathon ended up losing almost 30 lbs. Your body trains itself as you go!

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

How do you finance your adventures and travels?

All trips are financed out of pocket and can range from 5-7 thousand dollars. I work a lot during the summer so that I can adventure during the summer. I, currently, run a blogging website that raises money for Mental Health initiatives. There is still a lot I would like to do in terms of fundraising but my time is extremely limited during the summer. Every now and again, I will get a gear donation, which helps out a lot, gear can be extremely expensive so the more money that goes towards the expedition the better.

How do you balance normal life with adventuring and traveling?

My year is split approx. 50/50 between work and travel, it’s a really nice balance. I was always someone who really valued experience, I don’t have a home or fancy car, my laptop is quite out of date but at this stage in life it’s all I need!

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

Under $100.00 would be my favourite piece of gear, Chaco Women Sandals, I’ve taken these on all my trips and they’ve lasted almost three years. Whether hiking or biking, I will wear them in most occasions since they have quite a nice tread and I find them fairly sturdy.

What other favorite gear do you have?

1. Jar of Nutella (Absolute Must)

2. MSR Elxir 2 Tent

3. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir

Cyclist Amy Tunstall

What will the future bring?

This year I have two important trips planned from September to November. I will be thru-hiking a local trail that goes from Tobermory, ON to Niagara Falls — my home town. The Trail is 900 km and will take approx. 38 days to complete, I’ve grown up on this trail and cannot wait to see all of what it has to offer.

The best part about this trek is that it is a charity event called, “One million Steps for Mental Health.” It aims to encourage people to get outdoor because I believe that there is a huge correlation between time spent outdoors & active and a bettered mental state.

Also, a month after I leave for Cuba to walk the length of the country! I can’t wait for it either!


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One Comment

  1. YESSSS ,,, all what Amy said is true ,,
    thank you Amy

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