For Gail Muller, chronic pain was a fact of life. In her teens she was told that she’d be wheelchair-bound by 40 and struggled for years to find ways to manage her condition. Through hope and determination, she has well and truly defied the odds, refusing to be defined by the supposed boundaries her illness set for her. Now in her 40s, she’s an author and adventurer who spends her time pushing her own limits and working to inspire others to do the same by heading outside.
Later this year she’ll be taking on the Continental Divide Trail, a 3100-mile route from Canada to Mexico. But before heading off, she’s taking close friend and fellow invisible illness sufferer, Kris Hallenga, on her first multi-day hike along Scotland’s West Highland Way, to prove that the outdoors really is for everyone – and raise some money for charity along the way!
Here, Gail and Kris tell us more about what the trip – and their friendship – means to each of them.
Get to know Gail:
Photo credit: Morgan Cartlidge
In my early teens I was told by doctors that I would likely be wheelchair bound by the age of 40 due to musculoskeletal issues, a heavy piece of news for anyone, let alone a child. For over fifteen years I struggled with my invisible illness and the chronic pain that arose from it, but never gave up hope of finding resolution. I was determined to one day realise my dream of long-distance hiking and adventuring. Eventually I found a solution and was able to manage my condition, and in 2019, at age 41 and after years searching for cures for my physical and mental health, I successfully embarked on one of the world’s toughest treks – The Appalachian Trail, Southbound.
I continue to work with my ‘different’ body and my pain condition in order to hike long trails and push my limits. Last year I hiked the South West Coast Path, and this year I will hike the West Highland Way and then the Continental Divide Trail Southbound; 3100 miles from the Canadian border through the USA to the Mexican border in the south.
I am a huge advocate for wider representation in the outdoors and the power of nature as a healing modality. As an outspoken woman and invisible illness sufferer, I proudly fly the flag for those who might feel unseen in our current outdoors narrative, and strongly encourage people of all shapes, genders, abilities and ethnicities to step into their rightful place in the wild.
These passions and my hiking brought me to London to give a talk one wintery evening in 2019. It was here that I met Kris Hallenga, also on the bill to speak. Both living in Cornwall we connected instantly, and our friendship grew. Kris’ determination and vision for speaking out about breast cancer, saving countless lives and sharing her own vulnerabilities and journey are a constant inspiration to me. She and I are on the same page with our passionate belief that people who are managing chronic conditions should have just as much right to be represented in the outdoors as anyone else.
Adventures, large or small, are for everyone, and immersing in nature can be exactly what people who are suffering need.
On the West Highland Way, I’ll be taking Kris on her first multi-day hiking adventure, showing her that it is possible to manage a chronic condition and still hike, explore and experience the benefits of getting wild. As women we are often underrepresented in the outdoors, but with the additional barrier of invisible illness we rarely see ourselves anywhere in mainstream media, having fun and exploring. I seek to change this, and between us we’ll show just how much wonder, joy and healing a dose of the Green Prescription can bring, whatever it is that ails you.
I couldn’t wish for a better trail buddy to hike this stunning route with. Kris has been through a lot and has more to tackle, and she’s about to realise that she has even more in the tank than she knew already. Aside from taking our wonderful friendship outside and into the glorious unknown, I’m also looking forward to lungful’s of fresh air and the simplicity of a day with clear goals; walk, eat, drink and find shelter. Surrounded by green mountains and open vistas I know I’ll remember how strong I really am, and how we can all do hard things and absolutely thrive in the doing of them. I can’t wait.
Get to know Kris:
Photo Credit: Morgan Cartlidge
Hi! I’m Kris. I’m the founder of breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!, swimmer in cold water, lover of cats, baker of cakes and now officially an author – yikes. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 at the age of 23. By the time the disease was found it had travelled to other parts of my body and was thus deemed incurable. But here I am over 12 years later about to embark on an epic long hike in aid of CoppaFeel!
My life’s mission is to pretty much ensure you check your boobs and that the world understands the importance of advocating for your own health, being a boss of your own body and being aware that it’s totally possible to live an epic life WITH cancer and beyond.
I met Gail at an evening of talks in a bar in London. I was pretty intrigued to meet her as she was A. From Cornwall too and B. About to talk about an adventure she hadn’t even done yet. She was about to head off on her first ever long thru hike of the Appalachian trail – something I’d never even heard of, and her enthusiasm and energy really struck me. And thus we became pals.
When Gail asked me if I’d like to do a shorter but still epic long hike with her, I was promised cheese, wine and flowery meadows in the Alps. But thanks to COVID we had to shelve the Tour De Mont Blanc and settle for the West Highland Way instead. I’m obviously still beyond excited as I ADORE Scotland, but I am sad about the cheese.
I like to take on a fairly big challenge to raise money for CoppaFeel! every year – last year I bounced on a trampoline for 12 hours and raised over £60k! This year I thought I’d take on the great outdoors. My only long-ish hike was in Iceland in 2016 but I didn’t have to carry all my gear, so this is a bit of a step up from that.
I am excited I get to see Gail in her true element, and I trust her wholeheartedly to get us through some of the tougher times, since she has experienced, and gotten through spectacularly, many of them on previous hikes. I think there will be days of physical pain (I still have active cancer in many bones) and if the rain and midges come to the party, I might be battling a bit of mental anguish also. I am pretty sure this walk won’t be easy, but I learnt many moons ago that anything worth doing isn’t meant to be easy. I do know for a fact it will be stunning and that we will do everything in our power to have a bloody good laugh.
Follow their journey on Instagram:
You can donate to Coppafeel! at https://tiltify.com/@boob-chief-kris/boobs-bitches-and-bothies