The Story Behind Warrior Hike’s “Walk Off The War” and Interview with Founder Sean Gobin

warrior hikeIn the dis­tant past, after a gru­el­ing war cam­paign, mil­i­tary units would have a long jour­ney on foot to get back home. This allowed time to wind down and process what they had just been through. In this day and age, mil­i­tary units can be relieved of duty and back home in days if not hours, not real­ly afford­ing much time to decom­press. That’s where Sean Gob­in and his War­rior Hike “Walk Off The War” pro­gram comes in.

A Lit­tle His­to­ry
Sean Gob­in served three com­bat deploy­ments: twice to Iraq and one to Afghanistan final­ly return­ing home for good in 2012. While wait­ing to start col­lege he took off to hike all 2,185 miles of the Appalachi­an Trail and raise funds to help dis­abled Vet­er­ans. After rec­og­niz­ing the ther­a­peu­tic effects the hike had on him, he was inspired to cre­ate the “Walk Off The War” program.

What They Do
“Walk off the War” pro­vides gear and the sup­plies nec­es­sary to com­plete a thru-hike on any of sev­er­al Nation­al Scenic Trails. They also coor­di­nate with var­i­ous vet­er­an and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions to pro­vide overnight lodg­ing, food, and trans­porta­tion along with the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al sup­port the hik­ers need to meet the chal­lenges ahead of them.

That’s a Lot of Hik­ing
The pro­gram began with the Appalachi­an Trail and has since expand­ed to include the 2,650-mile Pacif­ic Crest Nation­al Scenic Trail which trav­els from Cana­da to the bor­der with Mex­i­co There is also the 3,100 mile Con­ti­nen­tal Divide Trail run­ning from north­ern Mon­tana south to the bor­der of Mex­i­co, the Ice Age Trail which mean­ders through Min­neso­ta and Wis­con­sin and the Flori­da Trail which cov­ers the length of that state from Pen­saco­la to almost Miami.

I had a chance to talk with Sean Gob­in and ask a few questions.


Michael Ryan: How did this all start?
Sean Gob­in: I got back from Afghanistan and had 5 months before school start­ed and I had always want­ed to hike the Appalachi­an Trail. We did the fundrais­er to raise mon­ey for grants for vets but about 2/3 of the way through the hike I had like an epiphany and real­ized this could be designed as a tran­si­tion­al ther­a­py for return­ing vets.

MR: Did you have any idea this would take off like it has?
SG:
Not at all, I did stops at vet­er­an orga­ni­za­tions at trail towns along the way and they helped with dona­tions and fundrais­ing. It went so well we were able to give grants to vets with mul­ti­ple ampu­ta­tions to get vehi­cles so they could dri­ve and help them plug into their communities.

MR: How did it grow from there?
SG:
2013 was our Beta test to see if it worked. This last year (2014) we had 14 hik­ers on the Appalachi­an Trail, we had 5 on the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide and 6 on the Pacif­ic Crest. We’ve tripled the pro­gram this year adding the Ice Age and Flori­da Trails and are plan­ning a pad­dling trip down the entire Mis­sis­sip­pi for 2015.

MR: Which is the most pop­u­lar and which is your favorite?
SG:
The Appalachi­an of course is the most well-known and pop­u­lar. That’s the only one I’ve had time to do so far.

MR: Do you get to hike the trails?
SG:
Not at all. This is a 15 hr. a day job. I’m hop­ing to get a few folks onboard, maybe a staff of 6 or so to help in the next year. We have grown so fast. I need to get some “Me” time to enjoy some hikes.

MR: How do your spon­sors help?
SG:
Our spon­sors give us gear for the hik­ers and some of the fund­ing we get goes toward stipends for the hikers.

MR: How can our read­ers help out?
SG:
Of course they can donate online and we have t‑shirts and stick­ers to buy. If they’re near a trail they can help out with the hike.

MR: How does that work?
SG:
A big com­po­nent is the huge net­work of sup­port we get. They can pro­vide din­ners and host hik­ers for the evening. This lets them clean up and show­er, do laun­dry that sort of thing.


How you can help
War­rior Hike has part­nered with Oper­a­tion Mil­i­tary Embrace mak­ing all dona­tions tax deductible and 100% of all dona­tions go towards sup­port­ing the War­rior Hike “Walk Off The War” program.

Dona­tions can be sub­mit­ted online at warriorhike.org and t‑shirts and stick­ers can be ordered there as well.