Many veterans struggle to adjust to normal American routine. Sean Gibbons on the other hand, fulfilled a long-term goal with his friend, Mark Silvers. In 2011, Sean and Mark hiked the 2,185 miles of the Appalachian trail raising money for other veterans. Today, they will be taking a step further by giving thirteen veterans the opportunity to begin their own journey through the Appalachian. Talking to Sean while he was still preparing for the hike to start gives some insight into the inspiration and the history behind the “Warrior Hike“.
Rebekah: Can you talk about Earl Shaffer, and how he may have inspired this program?
Sean: He was the first person to hike the whole Appalachian trail. He did it after World War II. He was supposed to hike it with a friend, but his friend died in the war. No one thought he could do it, but he did it in four months. It was interesting because for him it was really therapeutic. When Mark and I did it last year, we had the same experience. We thought, ‘What can we do so that other veterans can do this too?’. So we partnered with the trail.
R:What originally made you and Mark Silvers decide to hike the Appalachian Trail?
S: I always wanted to hike the Appalachian trail in college. I couldn’t get enough time off to do it while in the Marines to hike it. In 2011 I decided I was going to get out and go to grad school. So while Mark and I were in Afghanistan I told him and asked if he wanted to go. When we got back, we both hiked the trail and raised 50,000 dollars to purchase adapted vehicles for wounded soldiers. That’s essentially how it came to be.
R: Is there something unique about the Appalachian Trail?
S: There’s three long distance trails in the US: the Appalachian Trail, Pacific West, and Continental Divide. The Appalachian trail was the first that was created with a fully marked foot path. It’s the most popular.
R: What made the trip most worth it for you?
S: I don’t know; there’s a lot of aspects. The ability to ability to actually complete it, when only 20% actually make it the whole way. That we made into a successful fundraiser, and now it’s a non profit for veterans.
R: Why do you think so many veterans are interested in hiking?
S: The trail definitely has a huge appeal for veterans. The same things that attract people to the military attract people to the trail. I think the military definitely has a unique advantage of being outside, and being used to discomfort. It’s not as much of a shocker for someone from the military.
R: With the start of the hike coming this Monday (17th) how is everyone preparing for the trip?
S: Everyone’s traveling today or tomorrow. We’re meeting up tomorrow, we’ll give everybody their gear. Talk every body through the trail; all the things we did right and wrong last year. We’re going to start at Springer Mountain. There’s a state park right there, Amicalola Falls. I’m going to go the first week with them and show them what we did right and wrong.
R: Do you predict a lot of growth for the program?
S: I do. There’s definitely a huge percentage of veterans who would want to do this. As the word’s getting out, a lot of people have contacted us who want to do it next year. We’re planning to expand to two other trails: The Pacific West and the Continental Divide. That way no matter where people are from, there’s a trail close to them with the same model set up.
R: Is there a way people can support the Warrior Hike?
S: People can go to our website If they want to support us. For those who want to follow the trials and tribulations of the hike, we have a Facebook and Twitter page where we’ll upload real time photos, videos, and stories.