Des Plaines native and Elk Grove High School alum Joel Mertes is taking off from his life in Waukesha, WI, to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Beginning April 30, the 28-year-old engineer will embark on a six-month journey up the Pacific Crest Trail, extending along the Pacific coast from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Through a fundraising partnership with the foundation, Mertes will raise $2 per mile during the 2,600-mile trip.
“After my friend Katie passed away from cystic fibrosis at only 26, it broke me. It made me rethink life entirely,” said Mertes of his decision to hike the trail. “Her passing made me realize that I need to live more like she did and do those things today, as tomorrow isn’t promised.”
Through his school days at St. Zachary and Friendship Junior High in Des Plaines, Mertes was always a lover of nature and a fan of backpacking. After graduating from Elk Grove, he moved to Wisconsin and obtained a bachelor’s degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering as well as a master’s degree from University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
“He’s just a wonderful, good-hearted kid, always out to help people,” said Des Plaines Ald. Dick Sayad (4th), a family friend of Mertes.
Mertes’ cousin, a Lake-in-the-Hills resident, is currently battling cystic fibrosis.
“Every second of every day, it’s on their minds, yet they still manage to live their lives,” Mertes said.
While he travels the PCT, Mertes will be disconnected from technology, lodging and many other modern conveniences.
“I’ve always felt that nature is healing,” he said. “It helps you realize that maybe your problems aren’t as big as you think they are.”
This extensive journey was inspired in part by shorter hikes sponsored by the foundation.
“Those looked nice, but I felt like I needed to do more,” he said. Mertes was also motivated by “Wild”, a book by Cheryl Strayed that chronicles her hike of the trail after losing her mother to lung cancer.
Those interested in donating to Mertes’ cause can visit www.gofundme.com/