Monday, July 14, 2014
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Warrior Hike conquering the Appalachian Trail
PAWLING – Six US combat veterans stopped in Dutchess County Sunday afternoon on their way from Georgia to Maine to “walk off the war.”
The soldiers, from all branches of the military, are traversing the Appalachian Trial. The trail is the longest continually marked foot path in the world covering 2,186 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the Trail’s northern end at Katahdin, Maine. It goes through 14 states.
The Warrior Hike program was founded by Marine Corps Captain Sean Gobin in 2012 when he did the hike himself.
Gobin explained that before modern transportation, armies would march home from war, and it would take months. This time spent marching unintentionally provide the opportunity for soldiers to decompress and to come to terms with their wartime experiences before returning home.
“Now after the age of modern day transportation we find ourselves coming back and forth from the battle field in a matter of 72 hours,” Gobin said. “So for all three of my combat deployments I was home in three days. And that makes for a really difficult transition for a lot of service members. And I think that’s evident with today’s current stats with over 20 percent of our vets coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; and the suicide rates in 2012 which were 22 per day.”
The first person to hike the AT was Earl Shaffer, a World War II vet, who did the through hike in 1948. He told his friend he was going to “hike off the war.” This has become the tag line for the warrior hike program.
All through hikers on the AT are given a trail name. Todd Rodgers, originally from East Greenbush, NY, is aptly known as Bigfoot. He and the other five hikers have been on the AT for six months. They hike approximately 12 miles a day carrying packs weighing 30-40 pounds.
Bigfoot recounted one of his favorite memories of the trial. “I was in the Graceland Highlands and there’s all these wild ponies over there. These ponies will literally come right up to you and start licking your leg, because they’re trying to get the salt off you, and you can pet them and everything,’ Bigfoot said.
For the soldier, the hike views were the most memorable.
“The view points, so to get on top of ridgeline, a mountaintop, and look over the landscape,” Gobin said. “As a veteran it was great because it validated what you went to fight for. So you’re fighting for the beautiful land we live in and the freedom to choose to live your life the way you wish.”
All the hikers have beards because AT folklore says its bad luck to shave while on the trial. They expect to be in Maine on or around September 12.