The Saratoga Sun -

Veterans take 3,100 mile walk

 

Doug Radunich

Left to right, Shawn Murphy, Thomas Gathman and Rob Voorhis, are participating in the Warrior Hike.

Three ambitious military veterans from across the U.S. are hiking the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST).

The veterans-Thomas Gathman, Rob Voorhis and Shawn Murphy-are hiking the 3,100-mile trail as part of a "Walk Off the War" trek done through the Warrior Hike program. The program is designed to support all veterans transitioning from their military service by "thru-hiking", as it is called, along America's National Scenic Trails.

According to the program website, Warrior Hike was founded by Sean Gobin, a Marine who returned home from three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2012. After hiking the Appalachian Trail, Gobin recognized the therapeutic effects of long-distance hiking, and later created the program.

Warrior Hike's "Walk Off the War" treks allow veterans to experience a journey and transition process with the camaraderie of other veterans, who also understand the challenges facing today's veterans. In addition to the CDNST, the program trails include the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.

Out of the hikers currently on the Continental Divide, Gathman and Voorhis are both Marines. Gatham is from Lewisburg, Penn., and Voorhis is from Chenango Forks, N.Y.

Murphy, who had served before 9/11, is an Army veteran from Auburn, Wash.

The three vets took a break in Encampment June 13 as part of their journey along the trail. All three began thru-hiking along the CDNST on April 13 this year, and according to an estimate from Gatham, they are roughly more than 900 miles into the trail thus far.

"Today we hiked to the top of Bridger Peak, and we had about a foot of snow over our heads in many places," Gathman said. "There were six of us at the start of the trail, but the other three injured themselves and had to quit. On a trail like this or any long-distance trail, you're going to have a high attrition rate. Just because we put in our time in the military, that doesn't equate to everyone hiking a full long-distance trail because injuries and accidents happen."

The veterans began at the trail's starting point in Mexico, and will keep heading north, expecting to finish at the trail's end in Canada by mid-September. The CDNST runs through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana before ending in Canada.

"The three of us have done every single mile so far, and we aim to try and do every single mile from here on out too," Gathman said. "An Army Blackhawk Pilot with us fractured his foot and had to take time off to heal, but he's hoping to catch back up with us by July 1. He wants to pick up on the trail where we are and continue on. Another guy with us had a herniated disc issue that stemmed from an issue in combat, and another had a torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery."

From 2006 to 2010, Gathman served in the Marine Corps and did two combat tours to Iraq. After completing the Appalachian Trail, he said he wanted to try his luck along the Continental Divide.

"I did the Appalachian Trail last year with the Warrior Hike, and I loved it so much I wanted to keep hiking," Gatham said. "I got the bug as soon as I hiked the Appalachian, and I realized I wanted to continue doing this. This is one of the best trails on the market so I figured I'd give it a shot, and so far so good. We haven't even hit the hard parts yet as far as I'm concerned."

Voorhis, a Marine for five years, served in Afghanistan and took tours in Southeast Asia after 9/11. He said he had also heard good things about the Continental Divide Trail.

"They call this the king of all trails, and if we haven't hit the hard parts yet, we've hit enough of it," Voorhis said. "It's pretty difficult, and I've even traveled around a bunch before this. This was a great opportunity to get out here and really give the thru-hiking thing a shot. This is my first thru-hike, and I didn't choose the Continental Divide Trail, it chose me."

Voorhis said it is easy to get lost at times during their journey along the divide.

"A lot of the trails are not completely marked yet and there isn't really a defined route, unlike the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails," he said. "You can't get lost on those trails, especially Appalachian, but on this one you can get misplaced a lot. I've been misplaced dozens of times so far, but you always find your way back and it always works out in the end."

Murphy served in the Army from 1984 to 1990. He said he mostly served during peace time, but dealt with the United States invasion of Panama near the end of his service.

Before attempting the CDNST, Murphy said he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail all by himself.

"I love thru-hiking, and I've done the Pacific Crest Trail on my own," he said. "I was going to do this one as a solo hike, and Sean Gobin, the director of Warrior Hikes, asked if I'd go with these guys. I jumped on it on it because I thought, 'You mean, I get to hike with a bunch of Marines?'"

Gathman said they usually hike between 20 and 30 miles per day, but hike around 10 or less miles if walking through a town that day.

Gathman added, the whole hiking experience gives them a way to prepare for life outside of the military.

"We're using this experience, adventure and journey as a way to give ourselves a little bit of a different perspective on life," he said. "We can kind of work through sights, sounds and experiences that we may have had in combat while in the Middle East and Afghanistan. This will better help us determine what we want to do next in life after those experiences, and it's a good tool to give yourself a goal to work toward. We can find some kind of solace and use nature as a tool to have some decompression time, which is what this program is all about."

 

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