What was I doing on Saturday, surrounded by a group of Warrior Hikers?
Quick answer: answering questions about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina
About thirty veterans gathered at Connestee Falls, Brevard to talk, listen to music and eat barbecue.
Mostly, we were all here to celebrate the inclusion of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail as an approved Warrior Hike. The Warrior Hike program is quite new but the purpose came from Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran who walked off the sights and sounds of the war by hiking the Appalachian Trail. Shaffer was the first person to walk the A.T. as one thru-hike, something that the chattering classes said was not possible.
To quote from the Warrior Hike website,
Following in Earl Shaffer’s footsteps and in recognizing the therapeutic effects of long distance hiking, Warrior Hike has created the “Walk Off The War” Program which is designed to support combat veterans transitioning from their military service by thru-hiking America’s National Scenic Trails.
Saturday, I talked to Sean Gobin of Charlottesville, VA, the founder of Warrior Expeditions. Sean, a former captain in the Marines, hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2012. He understood that veterans needed to process the war experience and decompress. They also needed about three to six months to figure out what they’re passionate about.
“Otherwise,” Sean says, “veterans take the first job that they can find.”
Sean went to an A.T. fundraiser. Through a chance encounter with my husband, Lenny, he met other Appalachian Trail Conservancy board members who had been talking about warrior hikers. With Sean at its helm, Warrior Hikes was born. The first class of veterans were on the first A.T. hike in 2013–including Sharon, Mama Goose, Smith.
Sharon, an Air Force combat medic, fought in Desert Storm. She then became a physical therapist. She got her trail name on the first day, staying behind on the long climb to Springer Mountain to help slower hikers.
“Though my combat experience was a long time ago, I was able to go on a warrior hike.” Veterans need to have combat experience to participate. Sharon, who lives in Western North Carolina, then hiked the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 2014 with another veteran hiking buddy. She’s now is a big proponent of the MST, as another great trail for veterans.
When asked the inevitable question of what part of the trail is the best, she answers as I would:
“Walking the road. The best part is meeting people.”
Sharon will be the feature speaker at the Friends of the MST annual meeting on Saturday February 6, 2016. Save the date. More about this later.