It's peak season for north-bound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers here at the Nantahala River. And while everyone who attempts the 2,185-mile trek amazes us, this week we hosted 14 exceptional hikers: the second-year class of the Warrior Hike.
Started last year by two Afghanistan War veterans, Sean Gobin and Mark Silvers, the Warrior Hike follows in the footsteps (literally) of the first AT thru-hiker Earl Shaffer who embarked on the AT in an attempt to "walk off the war." The Warrior Hike sponsors 14 veterans every year, offering them a chance to experience the "physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits of hiking the Appalachian Trail."
We caught up with one of these Warrior Hikers, Adam Bautz (an infantry machine gunner with two Iraq deployments) for an update on how everything's going so far. Here are some of his key observations:
Adam Bautz, a four-year veteran and outdoor guide from Las Vegas, NV is one of this year's 14 Warrior Hikers.
- Last year the first class of the Warrior Hikers enjoyed 70 and 80 degree temperatures throughout the months of March and April. This year they've encountered two-foot snow drifts, temperatures in the teens and cold rain.
- The Warrior Hikers may be the most spoiled hikers on the trail: VFW posts and American Legions along the trail are holding receptions for them. In Franklin, NC the local American Legion raised over $2,300 at a cookout event. This money goes to support current and future Warrior Hikers.
- The group believes in "Hiking Your Own Hike," so the team spreads out on long trail stretches and then regathers on zero days (when some hikers don't hike at all) in towns or at hostels.
- Warrior Hiker ages range from 26 to 52 years old and the group includes veterans with anywhere between 32 and four years of service.
- There's potential that the Warrior Hike may expand to do a Pacific Crest Trail section in the future as well. When he's finished with the AT Adam would love to donate his time to helping the Warrior Hikers on both coasts.