by Tom Walogorsky
This summer, once again Pawling had the opportunity to be a part of a truly special event as the Warrior Expeditions 2017 “Warrior Hike” passed through the Harlem Valley. This non-profit outdoor therapy program supports armed forces veterans as they travel the entirety of the Appalachian Trail to “walk off the war.” On Friday, July 21 a group of hikers came into Pawling, where they were greeted with hospitality from members of the Harlem Valley Appalachian Trail Conservancy (HVATC). This provided a much-needed respite from the hot trail for the returned warriors, and afforded local citizens a chance to be a part of their therapeutic adventure.
Founded in 2012 by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sean Gobin, the Warrior Hike is an annual program that allows veterans from all branches of the U.S. military to make the 2,185-mile trek up the Appalachian Trail. This journey takes participants through 14 states, beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and concluding at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Taking roughly six months to complete, the trek is aimed to provide the restorative effects of long-distance expeditions for combat veterans transitioning out of military service.
This year’s group consists of ten participants, each traveling the trail at their own pace. The small group that arrived on July 21 consisted of Navy Cryptologic Technician Jacklyn Roberto, Army Captains Justin and Manuela Jay, and Wesley DeMauro, who served in the U.S. Army Military Police. All four had been deployed to Afghanistan. Also joining them for this leg of the hike was Andrew Clark, an Air Force veteran who participated in the 2016 Warrior Hike.
The hikers were in good spirits and undeterred by the rigors of the journey. Beginning in Georgia on March 17, they encountered every type of weather, as well as close encounters with rattlesnakes and numerous bear sightings. “It’s tough, but so worth it. It’s a great way to see a lot of the country. You meet so many people from different walks of life with one common goal,” said Wesley DeMauro. The hike is doubly special for Justin and Manuela Jay. “This is actually our honeymoon! We got married the day before he deployed,” Manuela explained.
When they arrived, the hikers were met by representatives of the HVATC. The conservancy is a joint effort between the towns of Dover and Pawling to promote and protect the Appalachian Trail and to offer shelter to travelers passing through. In addition to accommodations for the weekend, the HVATC arranged for a sendoff breakfast for the military hikers. Held at the Brookby Farm Store in Dover Plains, the meal prepared by owners Jaime and Steve Vincent would help fuel the participants for the long walk ahead. After breakfast, the hikers were shuttled back to West Dover Road in Pawling, where they returned to the trail.
The generous efforts of the Warrior Expeditions staff and the HVATC volunteers helped to make the hikers’ journey through the Harlem Valley a success that will hopefully be continued for years to come. “As the newly designated Harlem Valley AT Community, we welcomed the first class of Warrior Hikers in 2013, and they changed our lives,” said Stancy DuHamel, Co-Chair of HVATC. “Supporting these vets as they process their combat experiences has become a way for us to give back in a small but hopefully meaningful way, providing a rest – and a bountiful farm breakfast served up by the Vincents – on their journey to Katahdin.”