HACHITA — Six men – veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea – embark on an epic journey to “walk off” the wars they left behind.
They begin deep in the bootheel of New Mexico, the starting point of a 3,100-mile trek along the Continental Divide Trail. They will walk through four states over roughly six months, ending at the Canadian border.
“I want to get out in nature and find myself again,” said Chris Rickert, who left the Marine Corps two years ago after serving in Afghanistan and describes his time out of the military “as a kick in the face.”
“This is going to give me, I guess, the self-confidence that I lost,” he said. “Because everything for the past two years has been down.”
An organization called Warrior Hike is sponsoring Rickert and the five other hikers on this trail, as well as more than a dozen other veterans on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails.
It’s the third year Warrior Hike will sponsor veterans on through-hikes, with the goal of providing a therapeutic experience in nature, a chance for veterans to rediscover themselves after the military.
Sponsorships include all the gear necessary to complete a long-distance hike as well as coordinating trail town support all along the way, including food, lodging and social events with local veterans.
“The National Scenic Trails are opportunities for people – when they’re lost, when they’re looking, when they’re searching – to come to a place where they can disconnect from all the noise that gets in the way of finding clarity,” said Teresa Ana Martinez, director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. “What this whole program is about … is providing that space and that opportunity where they can have that moment of transcendence and transformation.”
Although the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails may be better known, ContinentalDivideTrail.org describes the trail as “the highest, most challenging and most remote of our National Scenic Trails.”
The hike will take the men through the desert and forests of New Mexico, across the mountains of Colorado, through Wyoming and Montana to the U.S.-Canada line.
The trail is frequently unmarked and, in New Mexico at least, especially challenging for the heat, lack of water and venomous snakes.
In New Mexico, they’ll walk through the southern desert region, through the pine forest of the Gila, into El Malpais National Monument and across the western edge of the Carson National Forest. Along the way they’ll stop in Lordsburg, Silver City, Pie Town, Cuba and Chama and meet with local veterans.
Ricky Davis spent 10 years in the Marine Corps and served in four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He has struggled to reconnect to civilian life in the year and a half since being discharged for medical reasons, he says. Davis hopes to face “some of the anxieties I have, the memories, the self-guilt.”
“I’m trying to process that,” he said.
After three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a soldier named Sean Gobin hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Gobin recognized the therapeutic effects of long-distance hiking and in 2012 founded the Warrior Hike “Walk Off The War” program.