When Harry Firth fulfilled his life-long ambition of hiking the epic Pacific Crest Trail this year, he decided to raise money for us as a tribute to his girlfriend's dad, who lives with incurable prostate cancer. Among the close encounters with wildlife and thrilling scenery, it was a campfire proposal that would leave the biggest impression and make his future father-in-law most proud.
There can be few more picturesque places to get engaged than the rolling hills of Oregon. But Harry Firth's campfire proposal to Beanie Merson under the stars in America last October only strengthened what was already a powerful bond with his new fiancée's family.
At the time, 23-year-old Harry, from Heaton, Northumberland, was well on the way to fulfilling a lifetime ambition of completing the Pacific Crest Trail – an epic 2,669-mile trek across America. He was also aiming to raise more than £2,100 for Prostate Cancer UK while he went, after learning of his father-in-law-to-be Charlie’s diagnosis with the disease.
When Beanie, who grew up in North Yorkshire, flew over to hike as section of the trail with him for a month, they covered a gruelling 26 miles and a monumental climb on their first day together. That evening, after inspecting and popping several of Beanie’s blisters, Harry also popped the question, asking her if she’d journey with him for the rest of their lives. She said yes.
Encountering some spectacular sights on his once-in-a-lifetime adventure – including bears, mountain lions and tarantulas – brave Harry also battled a 40-degree heatwave in North California, the snowy summits of the Sierra mountains, and the harsh terrain of the Mojave Desert.
“The last few nights in the desert, we started seeing a large number of tarantulas, which was kind of freaky,” says Harry. “And in Washington, we battled through snow fields up mountain passes with a constant risk of slipping a few hundred feet down – but I guess that’s all just part of the trail and you kind of get used to it after a while.
“The hardest part of the trip was definitely the mental game. There were many times where you’re tired and hungry, and your feet, ankles and knees hurt. You just want to go home. Luckily I had friends and family – and of course my amazing fiancée – to help me keep sane and keep pushing through the bad times, as well as the thought in my head that I'm doing this for a good cause.”
In particular, it was Beanie's dad, Charlie, that Harry would think about. He was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2011 at just 51-years-old, when the disease was already incurable, which came as a massive shock to the family.
“Charlie has been really positive about it all since I first met him and keeps extremely fit and well,” says Harry. “He recently gave up work so he can enjoy a retirement, but still works part-time farming and riding his bike most days!
“The fact he still manages to live life to the full and make the best of a bad situation is truly inspiring and is what motivated me to finish this trek and raise as much money as I can.”
Despite his best efforts, Charlie was unable to join Harry’s quest, but he's hugely proud of his new son-in-law.
“I'm honoured and delighted that Harry decided to raise awareness and funds for Prostate Cancer UK with this enormous challenge,” says Charlie. “I am even more pleased that he has decided to become my son-in-law. As a keen walker, my only regret is that I was not able to walk part of the trail with him, but I was always there with him in spirit and I am truly proud that he has completed this remarkable journey.”
You can still donate to Harry on his JustGiving page. He plans to auction off some of his stunning photos from the trip to raise even more money, too.