Four veterans hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with Warrior Expeditions stopped in Dunsmuir to rest and refuel early this week, sharing their tales of “walking off the war” over locally brewed beers.
Ruben Munoz, Joseph Jamison, Dan Janes and Jimmy Sellers met one another for the first time at the Campo trailhead in Southern California on April 11, and have been catching up to one another along their independent, yet collective journeys along the PCT ever since.
The stop in Dunsmuir came shortly after the crew’s halfway point in their 2,650 mile hike. “It’s been brutal, but tons of fun,” said Janes, a Navy veteran hailing from Iowa who also hiked the entire Appalachian Trail last year. Janes held on to his Appalachian Trail name, “Bare Bones,” for the PCT.
When asked about the trip highlights thus far, the four warrior hikers unanimously exclaimed, “breweries!” A fitting answer, seeing as the crew was gathered at Dunsmuir Brewery Works for dinner.
They also agreed that hiking through the cold and snowy Sierras was the greatest challenge so far.
Each hiker had his own story to tell about getting involved with Warrior Expeditions, a program that seeks to help veterans via trail therapy by supporting and outfitting them on various adventures across the nation. The program was started by veteran Sean Gobin, who experienced the therapeutic effects of “walking off the war” on his thru hike of the Appalachian Trail after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Warrior Expeditions started off as Warrior Hikes, but has since grown to include a variety of outdoor excursions, including paddling and cycling across America.
Gobin continues to walk with each group of hikers for the first few days of their journey. He also meets up with them toward the finish.
Navy veteran Munoz explained that his trail name, “Dreamer,” comes from his tendency to space out along the way. “You have a lot of time to process memories on the trail,” he said, “and you get a good outlook toward the future.” Munoz is from Miami, Fla., and has also hiked the Appalachian Trail in sections over the course of three years.
“There are mornings I wake up and feel like I’m in Iraq again,” said Jamison, an Army veteran originally from Portland, Ore., who now calls Colorado home. Jamison, who goes by the trail name, “Rant,” due to his proclivity to do just that, said he sees a lot of parallels between serving in the Army and hiking the PCT.
“You’re dirty all the time, eating not so great food- you’re hot, cold, stressed out and carrying a heavy load,” he said.
Jamison said he was inspired to apply for Warrior Expeditions after meeting another warrior hiker while hiking on the PCT near Mt. Hood in Oregon. “I thought that 215 mile hike would have prepared me for this, but it’s been extremely challenging,” he said, adding that the PCT traverses about five different ecosystems.
“It’s a lot more difficult than I thought it would be,” said Sellers, an Oklahoma native who has served in both the Marine Corps and Army Special Forces. “I came out here with a lot of confidence because, serving in the Special Forces for 19 years, I came upon a lot of grueling shit, but hiking for six months is really intense.”
Sellers goes by trail name, “Slim Jim,” because he started out eating a lot of jerky.
He mimicked Jamison’s sentiment on feeling like he was in Iraq some mornings, waking up in the desert of southern California.
“It’s nothing like Iraq for me,” Munoz said. “I can see the connection with the hardships and the bonds created, but we have the freedom to wake up and leave whenever we want.” He added that he’d take freeze-dried backpacking food over an MRE any day.
Additionally, all four warrior hikers were provided with Fitbit wristbands to track their activity, sleep and weight. This isn’t typical of Warrior Expeditions, but the men are participants in a research study based out of Georgia Southern University focused on the psychological effects of thru hiking on veterans.
“It’s really great to see all the support for veterans,” said Janes, who shared that he wrote a thank you letter to each of over 40 sponsors that helps to support Warrior Expeditions.
In addition to getting outfitted with gear, food and supplies, the hikers’ itinerary and visits to towns along the way is planned out for them by a woman they refer to as their “trail mom.”
“Not only is [Warrior Expeditions] helping vets on the trail,” Jamison said, “but it’s connecting us with older Vietnam veterans in the communities we visit that we wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to talk to. And we’re meeting a lot of veterans on the trail who are just doing this on their own.”
All four hikers highly recommended veterans consider applying for Warrior Expeditions. More information can be found at warriorexpeditions.org. To follow their journey, check out the Warrior Expeditions Facebook Page.