SPRINGER MOUNTAIN, GA- On a chilly, rainy St. Patrick’s Day, 14 veterans of Warrior Hike 2014 departed for their six-month trek along the Appalachian Trail. Among them was 84-year-old Robert Crampton.
Over the last six months, since the class of 2013 made it to the summit of Katahdin, WH founder, Sean Gobin has been working to sift through the multitudes of applications for this year’s program, which now includes the two other major national scenic trails of the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide.
“It’s been overwhelming, but reassuring to know how much support we have out there and how much interest there is from our veterans,” noted Gobin.
Gobin hiked the AT in 2012 to walk off his own war, get a feel for what future warriors would have to endure and just how healing the trail could be for those returning home from service, as well as those who served years ago and never had an opportunity to process what they endured in service.
While veterans walk the length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, WH has organized town functions for them to keep involved with communities along the way.
“It’s great for them to have interaction in the communities that are supporting them,” stated Gobin. “Even though they’re on the trail to heal, part of that healing comes from interacting with everyday society, too. Knowing they haven’t been forgotten and they do have support.”
As the 2013 program came to a close at the summit of Katahdin, this reporter had the opportunity to meet with several of the warriors and followed up with them in the months after their completion of the trail to see how it affected each of their lives.
Three of the six who made it to Katahdin were willing to share their thoughts.
Mama Goose learned a lot about herself while hiking and noted, “I have a lot more to learn about myself and about the world around me. The AT was a very social experience and we spent a lot of time in trail towns. I would like a thru hike that would allow myself and the other Warrior Hikers a bit more solitude. It’s so easy to cover up feelings while socializing, partying, and getting lost in the crowd. I think it’s crucial for me to concentrate, process and work through the remaining issues that I would like to finally resolve. The PCT and the CDT are trails that could definitely provide me with such a venue.”
Mama Goose has plans to finish a 500 mile stretch of the AT that she missed last year, and over the next couple of years has already made plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as Kilimanjaro in Africa and part of the Himalayas.
Another Warrior, Rob, shared, “I can honestly say that the trail was an experience that I will always hold near and dear to my heart. It was the most physically demanding and most mentally relaxing time of my life. I feel I have really accomplished something for me. For many years I have done what other people wanted me to do, or done collective things that benefit myself along with others. My country, my family, and my soldiers, just to name a few. This was something I did just for me. I know that what I did also helped or will help others in the long run, but the reward of completing such a demanding journey still gives me an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.”
Like Mama Goose, Rob plans to take to the long distance trails again, but first is enjoying some family time after spending most of his adult life in the military.
The youngest of the 2013 warriors, Rosie, was touched very deeply by her time on the AT.
“I was very worried that I would keep feeling the pain from the past, but I truly left the negativity on the mountain. Things haven’t been perfect, but I don’t worry as much as I used to about things that I let plague me. By hiking the entire trail, it helped me to make friends and get to know what civilians are like. I know it sounds weird, but it’s hard to talk and find common ground with strangers that don’t have military background.”
Rosie continued, “The trail became common ground, everyone was equal and every single person was out there because something was missing and needed to be fixed in their lives. I was disillusioned when I returned from service, seeing all the negative protests and the lack of support for our men and women who are dying overseas. It made me so heartbroken to see celebrities being honored and looked up to by millions, and now to look at how our veterans are being treated. I lost faith in the people of our country. The vast majority will never understand how changed on the inside you become and they don’t care enough to reach out.”
The trail helped Rosie work through some emotional struggles she was having with broken relationships and even helped strengthen her faith in God. She noted, “He helped me on the trail and I would like to continue trying to find my faith through such pilgrimages. It’s a great way to find out who you are.”
Each of the warriors mentioned above, as well as the rest of the 2013 group, found healing, strength and camaraderie while on the trail, all while learning how to help themselves heal through nature. By allowing the encouraging words of complete strangers’ who followed them on Facebook and those they met in towns, the 2013 veterans were able to find faith in humanity again.
Since the warriors began their hike on March 17, they have been accompanied by warriors from 2013, received encouraging moments of trail magic, as well as uplifting words through Facebook. Unfortunately, Robert Crampton took a fall early in his journey and decided it was best for him leave the trail at this time.
Won’t you consider following and encouraging the Warrior Hike program either through their Facebook page or their website, http://warriorhike.com. Your financial support is always welcome, as the warriors depend on generous sponsors and support from fellow Americans for their gear supply. Your donation is tax deductible.