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CC’s Outdoor Journal; Warrior Hike
GRAFTON/RUMFORD- As Saturday’s mid-afternoon temperatures soared into the lower 90’s, Deanna Petrie, Barbara Rajaniemi and I set out to meet and greet Marines Mark Silvers and Sean Gobin of the Warrior Hike when they came into Grafton Notch, as they were scheduled to spend the night at Baldpate Lean-to.
Silvers and Gobin began hiking the Appalachian Trail in March from Georgia and have been stopping off at VFW (Veteran’s of Foreign Wars) posts along the way to fundraise for their Warrior Hike. They’re raising money for amputee soldiers to afford adaptive vehicles.
Their goal is to make it to Katahdin by July 31 and we wanted to be the first to welcome them to Maine and our beautiful countryside.
Our plan was to hike to East Baldpate and then on our way out we would make a pit stop at the lean-to for an on-the-trail interview. I had received word from them the day before that they were a little behind schedule and figured we were going to hike anyway, why not take the chance and stick to our plan. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Little did we know that Silvers had been bedridden with a mysterious illness for five days in Hanover, New Hampshire and Gobin was on his own, making his way to Rattle River Shelter in Gorham as we hiked in to the Baldpates.
Armed with our American flags, a hopeful and energetic attitude, a spring in our step and plenty of water, the BCD Warrior Hike Sistahs, as we dubbed ourselves, were off to greet the two men who had traveled so far to help their fellow soldiers.
Even before we left the parking lot, section hikers stopped to question why we had flags and were dressed in red, white and blue. It wasn’t long before the heat of the day forced us to stop for hydration and, of course, with flags sticking out of our packs, other hikers were curious as to what we were up to.
Owen, a handsome, red-headed boy no older than six or seven was hiking with his parents when I asked him if he would help me out by placing a flag at the beginning of the trail, as I had forgotten to. He was more than willing to help and with a smile on his face, made his way, waving the flag down the trail.
We placed flags sporadically along the trail, just to let the Marines know someone had been there supporting them. With a flag left at the corner of the Baldpate Lean-to path at two miles, we continued on talking, laughing, imagining what we were all going to say or ask the Marines when, if we saw them.
It seemed so nice hiking with Deanna and Barb, we are all very like-minded, amazing women who have transformed our lives by making healthier choices. They wanted to change because they knew they were missing out on life with the extra weight they carried around and I needed to change due to my health issues.
We were empowered by one another throughout the hike with each story that was told, each step further up the mountain, and especially at the point at which we questioned our timing.
It was 5 p.m., we had gotten on the trail at 1:48, and we were still not at West Baldpate peak. It was so hot and we were just dragging. As we sat at the bottom of a steep granite staircase, Barb was stating that we needed to step outside our comfort zone, Deanna wanted just 15 more minutes to see if we could make it to the top, and I was battling the voice in my head saying how tough it might be to travel back in the darkness, because I still wanted to stop by the shelter.
We all agreed, once we got food in our bellies we would push it hard for 15 minutes and see where we ended up.
Off we went, Deanna in the lead, me giving loud praise to our Heavenly Father that He blessed us with coming this far and asking him to help us stay safe and strong, and Barb pulling up the rear.
As I looked up to see where Deanna was, I was met with a grateful smile and overwhelming tears looking back. I continued to pray and a second later when I looked up, Deanna was gone. She disappeared into the thick growth of trail.
I finished my conversation with God and all of a sudden, “Wahooooo!” Deanna had made it. I yelled back. Barb echoed from behind me. Deanna had asked for 15 minutes, God gave us five.
Cheers of victory came from each of us, we had all dug deep to get to this point in the heat of the day and it was extra special because it was Deanna’s first trip, Barb’s first time in many years up to that point and the last time I was there, well, it was another very blessed day last fall.
With the sun shining brightly, a haze over the landscape and a dust trail in the distance from the rally cars speeding around Richardson Lake, we couldn’t have asked for a better moment to share.
The customary summit pictures were taken, complete with Deanna doing pushups on top of a mountain and Barb with her victory pose that she takes at the top of each mountain she summits.
As the three of us stood there holding hands at the edge of the trail in prayer and praising our Heavenly Father for the strength, perseverance, and guidance He provided, and asking for continued safety as we descended back to the trailhead, it was agreed that there had been some most amazing blessed moments that afternoon.
In no time at all we had descended to Baldpate shelter and hiked in the tenth of a mile to find a south-bound hiker, Kite Runner, from Virginia Beach relaxing in his hammock and heard a couple of french-speaking girls giggling in the distance of the tent area.
We chatted with Kite Runner and found out that he was trying to fly a kite on every summit and that Bigelow was his best experience to fly so far. He stated that he had been thinking about the trail for many years and now that he finally decided to do it, he underestimated his age and the trail.
Our bodies getting stiff and the black flies becoming numerous, we signed one of our last flags for the Marines, told Kite Runner our story and wished him safe travels. We had a little more than two miles to go and the sun was setting.
As we made our way to Route 26, we saw the flag that I had asked dear Owen to hang for us and before crossing the road, we allowed the aches and pains of the day to reveal themselves.
We made it out a little before 8 p.m., but there was no sign of the Marines.
All of us agreed that our Warrior Hike had been amazing in itself and that our flags would show them that we supported their mission.
On Monday morning, while at the office, I made a call to VFW Commander Gerald Francis to ask how their Sunday event went without the Marines being there and was surprised when he stated, “It was great. In fact, I have one of them here right now!.”
Upon visiting with Gobin, he told me how Silvers had fallen ill, they had to separate to stay close to schedule and how they made arrangements to be picked up in separate locations in order to make it to Rumford for their fundraiser.
“This place has been super-supportive,” noted Gobin. “They had a lobster dinner waiting for us when we got here and they generated a lot of support.”
Gobin stated that the Rumford VFW had raised $1,050, that was more than double what they have been averaging during each of their visits through the states. That brings their total fundraising to date up over $30,000 and they still have a few more to go before they reach Katahdin.
Gobin shared that Silvers had been brought back to Hanover, NH that morning to get back on the trail where he left off and that he was headed back to Grafton to pound out as many miles as he could.
“I underestimated the trail when I was making the schedule of 20 or so miles a day. We were keeping up really well until we hit New Hampshire and Maine. Now, I’m hiking that distance, but I’m not stopping until 10 or 11 at night.”
Gobin hopes Silvers will be able to make up time on the trail and meet him in Millinocket by July 31 in order to summit Katahdin together and finish their four-month mission.
“This has been a great way to transition from military life to civilian life,” noted Gobin. “I’ve had a chance to enjoy nature, learn more about myself. It’s been phenomenal seeing the support from small town America, just incredible. A wild couple of months.”
To learn more about Warrior Hike or to donate to their cause, visit www.warriorhike.com or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Warrior-Hike.
Even though the BCD Warrior Sistahs didn’t hook up with the Marines while we were on the trail, it was a day of self-discovery and fellowship between three women that normally wouldn’t have crossed paths.
I pray that you are encouraged to get out and enjoy nature. Who will be by your side as you make your next adventure?