Hiking 101, RWB JBLM

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Blog written by: Tom LeMaitre; Team RWB JBLM Hiking Coordinator

A while back, Earl Shaffer “The Original Crazy One” and his hiking buddy, Walter, made plans to hike the newly complete Appalachian Trail after the war that they knew the U.S. was about to enter.

Fast forward to 1948.  Earl is home, Walter was killed in the invasion of Iwo Jima, and life had changed.  Earl decided to make good on the attempt of the Appalachian Trail after reading that no one had yet to do it in a single season of hiking.  He was quoted as saying, “I did it to walk the war out of my system.”

Earl and many others like him knew of the restorative power of nature.  With the motivation from that idea in mind, Team RWB JBLM decided to hold a “Hiking 101” series each Sunday starting in June.  Each hike was planned to get a little longer and a little tougher, but still in the realm of doable by most.

For me, these hikes meant sharing something I love with the people that I care about. It is relatively easy to lead an event when it is doing an activity that you already enjoy!  Hiking is my personal passion; I wanted to pass that on to other Eagles.

It’s not a secret. The trails have healing properties! When we go out, head up a mountain or to a lake, we can and must maintain focus for safety. The day-to-day world, a little at a time, gets cast off and if, but briefly, forgotten!  There are groups all over the country using this same therapy and guiding veterans on some of the major through hikes.  Connecting with nature allows one to refocus, to process feelings easier and sometimes to just enjoy the quiet. Sensory overload that is a part of everyday life is replaced with sensory stimulation of the grandest kind! At the end of a day on the trail, the veteran will come out with more clarity and calm. When we add civilians to the mix we find the divide that often occurs between civilian and veteran gets stripped away! Both realize that the divide they are in fact very much alike! This can carry over to day-to-day living in the community with a greater understanding and mutual respect. Skeptical?  Let’s go for a hike!  

I wanted to share the most important part from my point of view.  I call it the inchworm effect.  Any time a group shares a trail, the lead goes out and the tail hangs back… then the lead slows for the tail to catch up.  Why was this so important?  What does it do that many other activities don’t? It gives people a chance to talk. Their position changes throughout the hike, and so many different people get to connect on many different levels to each other.  It was amazing that such a diverse group could find such a connection!  Each week people talked and got to know one another by sharing the trails.  Plans were made to get together and spend more time with one another after hikes.  Each destination was picked for some “wow” factor and it didn’t disappoint!  So many people never get to get out and experience what nature has to offer right in their own community, but for these four Sundays, we did just that.  For me, seeing someone in awe of a view or hearing two people laugh and talk – that was the whole purpose and how I determined it to be a success.

We just completed our last hike on June 26th.  Some did one, some did a few, but by the last hike we had 17 different Eagles come out to join!  Throughout the series, we did just over 17 miles, visited two Cascade waterfalls, and three Alpine lakes!  There were prior service, active duty, spouses, children and civilian participants.

Once we finished our last hike, a mom told me “I’m sad that we’re done”.  But, really, we are not even close to done!  We will be out more, sharing trails, listening to the kids get excited, and sharing more time in nature, healing and being together.

Nature is a very powerful drug, but needs constant follow up.  Back to Earl. In 1965 he did the trail again, from North to South, becoming the first two way through hiker…  To commemorate his first hike 50 years earlier, he did it again in 1998 at the age of 79!  And so shall we!  

If you or your chapter would like to try some outdoor exploring and want to use some of the resources I used, feel free to contact me! [email protected]

 

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