Taking a Long Walk: Wilderness Therapy for Veterans

Several outdoor adventure and wilderness therapy companies and organizations are offering specialized outdoor adventures for veterans. These can range from fishing and camping weekends to rafting and wild river trips, to Outward Bound for Vets. Some are designed as a quick relaxing getaway, others are man versus nature and full of an adrenaline rush. One wilderness program, Warrior Expeditions, is different, and offers the support for vets to take a long walk.

The first man to walk the entire length of the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine was taking a long hike to recover from the memories of war. Earl Shaffer decided to walk off his war, to get the sights and sounds and memories out of his head and heart, and find out who he was. He wanted to discover how the war had changed him, and what he had left of the person he was before. This was in 1948, and it took him four months of walking to complete the trail.

When Sean Gobin returned from multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he also took to the Appalachian Trail, and found that the time, the quiet, and the act of being in nature gave him time to process memories and issues he had kept buried. The process reminded him of the way military people used to walk home from wars, or take long slow boats. Those long trips home gave people time to process and transition from military to civilian life. With modern transportation and the quick turn-around today, veterans can go from a battlefield across the world to their kid’s elementary school within a week.

Sean decided to start Warrior Expeditions because of the benefits he found for himself in the long hike. The organization provides support of several kinds for veterans who want to make a long hike. They offer gear and equipment, a small stipend, food and supply restocking along the trail, and support partners in small towns along the trail, veterans and their families who host hikers for a hot meal and a night in a bed.

Since Warrior Expeditions first developed their Warrior Hike program, they’ve expanded to supporting hikes on long trails across the country, from the Pacific Coast Trail, the Continental Divide, and others. They’ve also started river expeditions, a long canoe trip down the Mississippi, and long biking trips for vets with disabilities.

The support is very necessary for the trips to be successful, but the true value of the expeditions comes with the time, and the quiet. Being outside in nature with a like-minded friend or just yourself, with only the immediacy of the trail, you have time to think, or not think and just feel.

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