Warriors on the Trail

Walking off the War!

 

by Taylor Goodrich, Communication and Media Specialist, American Trails

When you visit the website of Warrior Expeditions you’re immediately met with a picture of Earl Shaffer. In 1948 Shaffer became the first person to ever hike the length of the Appalachian trail because he, in his own words, intended to “walk off the war.” It was Shaffer’s journey that, over 60 years later, inspired Warrior Expeditions founder, Marine Corps veteran Sean Gobin, to walk the same trail when he returned from deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2012. The long distance trail had a therapeutic effect on Gobin that he knew other vets would benefit from, and by 2013, just one year after completing the hike himself, Gobin had founded Warrior Expeditions with the express purpose of giving other returning warriors the same opportunity he had.

That first year Warrior Expeditions helped 14 vets complete the journey from the start of the trail to the end, providing them with top rated gear, a 300 dollar a month stipend while on the trail for any supplies they may need, and community support along the way in the form of food, lodging, and ongoing communication. It wasn’t long though before Gobin realized that in order to truly serve all vets and open this opportunity to everyone he needed to create a more adaptable program that could also serve those coming back from deployment with injuries.

As Gobin describes it, realizing that a paddling expedition could better serve returning warriors with lower extremity injuries, he got out a map of the United States and looked for the longest line of blue he could find, which turned out to be the Mississippi River. He then researched if it was even possible to paddle the entire length of the Mississippi, reading message boards and any other information he could find about it, and officially started “Warrior Paddle” in 2015. Now in its fourth year, Gobin describes Warrior Paddle as very successful as an adaptable program that helps ensure Warrior Expeditions is able to serve all vets.

When it comes to creating an accessible program however, Warrior Expeditions did not stop there. They further added “Warrior Bike” in 2016, which offers vets the chance to bike the Trans America Trail. The organization offers any participant who would need it a customized recumbent bike for the journey. As Gobin himself points out, returning soldiers have a variety of injuries, not just from combat or IEDs, but also back and leg injuries that are less obvious and can be the result of everyday work as a soldier. For Gobin, and Warrior Expeditions, it was important to take into account all possibilities when creating these opportunities for returning soldiers.

When it comes to creating an accessible program however, Warrior Expeditions did not stop there. They further added “Warrior Bike” in 2016, which offers vets the chance to bike the Trans America Trail. The organization offers any participant who would need it a customized recumbent bike for the journey. As Gobin himself points out, returning soldiers have a variety of injuries, not just from combat or IEDs, but also back and leg injuries that are less obvious and can be the result of everyday work as a soldier. For Gobin, and Warrior Expeditions, it was important to take into account all possibilities when creating these opportunities for returning soldiers.

The effects of the program are incredibly positive. Two expert researchers, Dr. Shauna Joye and Dr. Zachary Dietrich, specifically studied Warrior Expeditions and the benefits of these journeys to the vets who undertake them. The results were astounding, sleep quality went measurably up, while anxiety, depression, and other negative feelings went measurably down. The program was shown to help vets feel supported and maintain a sense of community by connecting them to others in the program, as well as serving as a great tool towards gradual reentry into civilian life, allowing time for both solitude and reflection, as well as socializing.

Gobin and Warrior Expeditions have successfully taken the spirit of what Earl Shaffer was talking about when he declared he was going to “walk off the war”, and extended that opportunity to those who, for either physical and financial limitations, would otherwise never be able to undertake it. Trails have been used as therapy for as long as trails have existed, and by thinking outside of the box and incorporating multiple kinds of trails and maintaining an adaptable philosophy, Warrior Expeditions is now able to help forty veterans a year take time out from the world and use trails to find their way home.

About the Author

Taylor Goodrich started with American Trails in January 2018 as Communication and Media Specialist. Taylor currently lives in Dallas, Texas, which is also where she grew up and where she attended the University of North Texas receiving her degree in History. While in college she started doing freelance work editing and writing, and also got into graphic design and discovered she loves the creativity and craft of digital arts. After college she traveled quite a bit, and lived in both the Pacific Northwest and in New Mexico, and while in both of those places took full advantage of what the outdoors had to offer. After moving back to Texas she started moving towards doing graphic design, social media, and communications work full time, and she has contracted with several companies from tech startups, to music festivals, to law firms, to grow their social media and digital communications presence. Taylor loves hiking and kayaking especially, and is glad to be working with an organization that fights for further accessibility and stewardship of our nation’s trails. She feels very lucky that in this position she will be able to use her professional skills and passion for something she is also very personally passionate about, and in helping to grow American Trails.

Contact: taylor@americantrails.org


More Articles by this Author