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Warrior Hike; Just passin’ through
ANDOVER- Mark Silvers and Sean Gobin made the inaugural Georgia to Maine walk along the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 2012 to help raise awareness of how the journey could be beneficial to those returning from combat or for those who have served in our military and desire a time to find themselves before re-entry into civilian life.
At that time, Silvers and Gobin made contacts with the Rumford VFW, who this year, picked the hikers up at the trail on East B Hill, brought them to the Rumford post, fed them and brought them back to Andover.
Recently, while the 2013 warrior crew was passing through and staying at The Cabin, owned and operated by Honey and Bear (Marge and Earle Towne), in East Andover, this reporter had a chance to visit.
Stephanie, trail name Rosie, started the trail with 14 other warriors on March 17. She spends some of her time sewing her hiking pants, as she would rather save her money since she’s so close to the finish line. Rosie served in the Navy from 2002-2008 in the Persian Gulf and South East Asia.
She is a motorcycle mechanic who lived in Hawaii prior to her warrior hike and when she gets off the trail she is heading to Florida to begin schooling for a business degree and will help assist Gobin with future Warrior Hike programs.
“I’m already stressing about what life is going to be like after the trail, but I’m trying not to think about going home. I’m focusing on getting to Katahdin. Now’s the time to stay focused on the prize. I’m really looking forward to having my moment with the sign. I’ll be on top of that mountain for me. It’s going to be amazing.”
Rosie stated that the group, beginning with 14, now only numbering six, were taken from the trail as injuries that wouldn’t heal and family issues took their toll. “It’s not an easy feat being away from your family for up to six months,” stated Rosie. “Even though we have contact by phone, it’s still difficult.”
When asked what parts of the trail have been most challenging, Rosie noted, “Each state has its’ own issues. Pennsylvania is known for the slippery, loose rock and the Whites are just difficult. As we entered Maine we had to make a straight up climb. It’s been mentally grueling. It really wears on you.”
Rosie stated that she has a good support team out on the trail, whether it be other warriors, individual hikers or those citizens providing trail magic. “They are really nice people and they love hikers and enjoy helping out,” she stated of those providing trail magic.
“Facebook has been a great resource,” added Rosie. As she has more friends each day that she doesn’t even know. “It’s heartwarming to know we have so much support and that we only have 15 days left.”
When asked how far they were able to travel each day and how it varied from state to state, Rosie stated, “In the beginning we averaged eight miles before getting to Virginia. From Virginia to New Hampshire we were averaging 16 and now that we’re in Maine we’re only averaging 12.8 miles a day.”
Sitting at the picnic table with Rosie is Liz, trail name Flo, she’s the groupie/support staff/photographer who’s been with them since the beginning. She works with another warrior, Tom G-Funk, at an outdoor gear store in Pennsylvania. She’s always wanted to hike the AT and figured now would be a great opportunity.
As the Bill and Dave arrive from the Rumford VFW, they carry with them the familiar orange and white box of Dunkin Donuts. Rosie quickly grabs one and sticks a candle in it for fellow warrior, Carl, trail name Popeye.
The team sings happy birthday to Popeye, who retired from Marine Corp on February 28 and began hiking the trail on March 17. Popeye, from Indiana, stated that he has been planning to hike the trail for the past five years.
Popeye belonged to a wounded warrior battalion and wants to present the warrior hike as a way of therapy for other soldiers in need. He holds a purple heart for his service in Iraq and wants to help other wounded warriors.
He stated that he will come back to the trail in 2014 as a mentor. He is asking the military to re-evaluate him after the hike to see where his mind is at compared to the beginning. “It’s done wonders for me and I know it can be really beneficial for others.”
Rob, trail name Rob, served in the Army for 32 years and always heard his title. “Everyone looks at me funny, but now that I have no more title it’s time for me to learn my real name.”
Rob, being slated to retire in July, took leave to use time coming to him to start the trail in March. He noted, “The trail has shown me a new love of nature and I’ve lost a lot of weight. I left lots of fat on the trail behind me.”
Rob misses his family but has been able to keep in touch, even taking two weeks off to go home for his daughter’s wedding. “It was hard getting back on the trail and getting in shape again. It took me a week to get back to where I felt comfortable hiking the miles.”
Rob stated that he’s traveled as little as three to four miles a day and up to 34 miles a day. “None of it’s easy, especially the steep hills in the south and then there’s Rocksylvania,” Rob laughed.
Tom G-Funk from Pennsylvania joined the crew outside as he and Rob were headed out for the 10 miles from East B to South Arm, they were planning to return that night for a lobster feed put on for them by Honey and Bear.
Tom, a retired Marine, stated that he’s always enjoyed hiking. He’s looking forward to getting to the top of Katahdin to visit with his grandfather, who was a World War II Navy veteran, as his ashes were scattered there when he passed.
“I have no fear of the transition back to life,” stated Tom. “I’m going to head to the west coast to hike the Pacific Crest trail next year. It’ll be a little harder with an extra 500 miles to go beyond the length of the AT. But it will be good. I’m excited.”
The group is lively and excited to get on the move in the days to come, as they plan to summit Katahdin via the Hunt Trail (Appalachian Trail) on September 13. Each of them having their moment with the famous sign.
Warrior Hike, by recognizing the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits of hiking the Appalachian Trail, has partnered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to create the “Walk Off The War” Program. The Walk Off The War Program is designed to support combat veterans transitioning from military service by thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.
If you would like more information on Warrior Hike, please visit http://www.warriorhike.com/.
Currently, Sean Gobin is the soul operator, organizer, contact for the Warrior Hike program, all while attending grad school. Local VFW’s have been a great support of Warrior Hike and Gobin continues to welcome any donations being made to the program.
If you would like to follow Warrior Hike as they make their final push to Katahdin, please visit https://www.facebook.com/warriorhike.