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CC’s Outdoor Journal; Warrior within, Part 1
Editor’s Note: Recently, our staff reporter, Cherri Crockett, was invited to join the Warrior Hike, Walk Off The War program, as they hiked the last of the Appalachian Trail to Baxter Peak. Part 1, will focus on the warrior’s journey and how you can become involved with Warrior Hike. Part 2, which you will find in Issue 40, will focus on the personal adventure Cherri experienced, as well as her role in the rescue of an injured hiker.
BAXTER STATE PARK- Nothing was going to get in the way of Warrior Hike 2013 completing their mission by summiting Maine’s highest peak. At 5,267 feet, the journey to Baxter Peak was the last 5.2 miles of their 2,186-mile hike from Georgia. And they made it, with their Warrior Hike founder, Sean Gobin, leading the way.
I was so honored to be invited by Gobin to summit Katahdin with his warriors and quiet the voice that had been calling me back to finish what I started two weeks prior on the Hunt Trail. As soon as Gobin met me in the parking lot of Katahdin Stream Campground with a big smile and said, “Failure is not an option. You will make it to the top today.” I felt a sense of courage and confidence that I had never even imagined before. Is this what the warriors have felt since their departure from Georgia on March 17?
Meeting everyone at the last campsite before the trail, we were ready to go by 7:30 and for the last time the warriors joined the ends of their hiking poles in the center of their human circle and cheered for their final ascent.
Looking back to the beginning of their journey at Springer Mountain, Georgia, I was curious if they all stuck together.
“I set up a hike schedule for them,” noted Gobin. “And in the beginning they were only hiking a max of eight miles a day so they could get into shape. I wanted them to become acquainted with how to handle their gear and of course, I wanted to prevent injury. If someone wanted to hike more than that, they could and then take a zero day as everyone else caught up for whatever function was happening off the trail. We had amazing support from many hosts this year.”
On this day, Rob, trail name, Rob, was the first up the trail and that’s where he remained, with Gobin close behind.
From the very beginning, warriors laughed, joked, some listened to their music as they made their way up the trail. After passing Katahdin Stream Falls and enjoying the opportunity to take a few photos, the group continued up the granite stairs and another leg closer to their final destination.
Not far up the trail, the result of two days of off and on heavy rain became evident by the mud holes in the trails, and a little further up, the once dry, rock-filled trail bed was now a roaring stream. Warriors trudged on not giving notice to the water.
“They’ve hiked through snow, mud, rain, extreme heat and then more rain and mud,” stated Gobin. “You name it, they’ve hiked it. I’m sure they’re ready for some creature comforts.”
Clearing the tree line and seeing the view from where my friends and I had stopped for a snack two weeks earlier was just breathtaking. I was in awe. I just couldn’t believe that I was back on the mountain, making my way, one step at a time to the summit with some of America’s finest.
I could hear the warriors exclaiming their joy over a distant waterfall coming out of the side of the mountain, the disbelief in the size of the boulders they were climbing over and looking up to where they had to go.
I was helped up over a section by Kevin (Grape), just like I was one of the warriors. Their family bond was impressive and I could feel it extending to include me.
In speaking with Gobin, he mentioned that one of the objectives of Warrior Hike is to help the veterans bond with other warriors, as well as hikers, and people throughout the towns they visit. “They’ve seen a lot. They’ve been through a lot to get back home. Finding that human connection again can be difficult.”
At one point, Steph (Rosie) looked back at Liz (Flo) where the trail took a steep climb over a rock face and told her, “We have come too far to take the easy way around. You can do this.” And up they went, sisters of the trail.
It was amazing to witness but a small glimpse of the warrior in each of them. To feel the concern they had for one another and everyone who passed by and those of us hiking with them. I was learning more about the warriors and realizing just how special of a group they are.
Over the next mile and a half up the steepest ground with the largest boulders I’ve ever seen, I saw some amazing views of the surrounding area. I continued to listen as warriors made their way, helping and encouraging others, planning what they were going to do when they finally had their moment with the sign at the top, and humoring me when I asked them to describe their journey in one or two words for my camera.
I know it was a bit of a task to ask them on the spot, but in all honesty, that’s where you’ll get the most honest answer. As a matter of fact, Grape replied, “Wet and long. I’ve thought that the whole way. Wet and long.”
Making it to the Tableland was out of this world. I could see Gobin, Tom and Rob ahead, but the distance was deceiving. As this section of trail is fairly flat, there are signs to keep hikers off fragile plant life, with sections where you have to walk between some fencing. It was our very own Maine tundra; otherworldly, absolutely breathtaking. It was then that I began to hear the distant cries of success echoing across the landscape.
Wanting to keep ahead of the two lady warriors; Momma Goose and Rosie, and their warrior at heart, Flo, in order to get their reactions at the summit, I picked up my pace a bit and just went over and over inside my head that I was actually on Katahdin. I was so close to the top.
If I was feeling so emotional over the accomplishment I was making in getting to the top, what were the warriors going through? I just couldn’t imagine what they were feeling, thinking. I turned on my camera and decided to ask Popeye, who was close behind me, what he was thinking being so close. And, to my surprise and relief, he had tears in his eyes and simply smiled at me and stated, “It’s pretty emotional,” and kept making his way. How powerful that moment was.
In the distance, up the short hill I could see the outline of the summit sign, I could make out the shadows through the cloud cover of those who had made it, like ghosts on the mountain. I took a couple shots, but trudged on. I was almost there. I could hear those cries of joy even clearer now, and it made my heart sing for the accomplishments that were being made, and that I was able to be witness.
I thanked my Heavenly Father for helping me make it this far and for those who made it possible for me to be on the mountain. I praised His amazing creation that challenged every fiber of my being. I looked up and I was there. I made it!
I snapped shots as the warriors each took their turn with the sign, tears streaming down my face, capturing a fraction of the emotion that was coursing through their moment in time. Rosie spraying Flo with champagne in excitement, Rob with his cigar, Momma Goose and her rock that she brought with her from Georgia; each of them with the American flags that were left for them to carry up the mountain on the last leg of their long journey.
I found myself wondering if they felt at peace with the struggles that drew them to the trail, and if the completion of the trail brought new struggles to mind. What will their entry back to civilian life be like? But, for that moment, I had to steal myself back and bask in the here and now. It was my turn to have a picture taken with the sign and I asked to be surrounded by the three amazing women who had made it. They happily obliged and you could have blown me off that mountain with a single breath. I was weightless, feeling like I had just conquered the world with eight new friends.
Thanks to Sean, Tom, Kevin, Rob, Sharon, Steph, Carl and Liz, I had found the warrior inside. And, I could hear her loud and clear.
The only sound that broke through the cry of my newly-discovered warrior, was that of the real warriors giving those on the mountain their best war faces and proclaiming their success with a cheer, which I captured on camera. The sound still sends shivers up my spine. How proud I am to be an American.
The warriors said their farewells to the sign and began to choose which trail they were going to travel to make it back down the mountain. We all split up between Knife Edge, Abol and Hunt.
The adventure was over. We had made it to the summit. I envisioned Forest Gump when he was done running and just stopped, turned around and walked back the way he came. But, for all of us, there were no heads hanging low. Each of us had discovered something on that peak, but for the warriors, their trail from from Georgia was filled with discovery.
I’ll be anxious to follow up with the warriors of 2013 to see how the weeks following their completion of the six month hike were. Whether it was easier than they anticipated, or very much what they expected.
Gobin stated that his plan for Warrior Hike 2013 blew his expectations out of the water. “I must have spent 10 hours a day responding to emails, scheduling hosts in various towns, and of course, the day they were headed to the summit, my phone blew up with correspondence. It was definitely a success.”
If you’re looking to host Warrior Hike along their journey in 2014, please contact Gobin at 919-606-4947.
If you’re a veteran who served in combat and received an honorable discharge, and would like to know how you can participate in Warrior Hike 2014 to help you Walk Off The War, log onto warriorhike.com or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/warriorhike.