A Path with Heart: A walk for the wouded, part 1

Greetings, dear reader. I’m on the trail again, this time near my current home in Friday Harbor, Wash. I was born and raised in Rockford. Many of you may have followed my previous adventures over these last 10 wonderful years. I began this series, A Path with Heart, walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail back in 1995. In ‘97, I walked the 2,700-mile Pacific Crest Trail. In 2000, I rode a bicycle 4,800 miles, coast to coast, on the American Discovery Trail. Most recently, in 2002, I took a canoe 1,500 miles down the Mississippi River.

This year, from Sept. 6 to 14, I’m walking the Wonderland Trail 100 miles around Mount Rainier, East of Seattle, Washington. This trail is much shorter than my others, but there’s a more important difference in this walk: I’m raising money for The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). This remarkable non-profit organization, founded and run by military retirees and veterans, promptly supports wounded men and women returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world. Most of these wounded warriors have permanently debilitating injuries.

The Wounded Warrior Project

First, The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) delivers much-needed toiletries, clothing and phone cards directly to the injured recovering in military hospitals across the U.S. and overseas. Phone cards are the No. 1 request from wounded at military hospitals. The WWP also subsidizes travel, lodging, daycare and food so families can visit their wounded soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen.

Per the WWP’s Web site: www.woundedwarriorproject.org: “As of December 2004, The Wounded Warrior Project has delivered more than 6,000 ‘Wounded Warrior’ backpacks and transitional care packs to service men and women at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, Camp Lejeune, the joint VA/DOD Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, and Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany.”

Why here, why now?

I may be able to hike, bike and canoe 11,379 miles, but I’m too old to re-enlist in the Army. I turn 40 during this walk. Until the Army tells me they want me back (or I get over my mid-life crisis, whichever comes first), I must settle for doing anything and everything I can for my comrades in arms. I feel combat veterans are America’s greatest citizens. So many of them were and still are being asked to pay the ultimate price. I must give them my highest honor, and would walk to the very ends of the earth for them.

A tough task

The Wonderland Trail (WT) is 92.8 miles long as the crow flies. In nine days, I will have climbed AND descended 22,786 feet (yes, that’s 22,000). Mount Rainier is a 14,411.1-foot-high volcano; like your hand on a table with raised knuckles. To walk around a volcano I must climb up and over all those fingers stretching out for many miles in all directions.

For the purpose of my fund-raiser, I’ve called the trail distance at a nice, round 100 miles when it’s actually more like 126 miles, factoring in ups and downs. My longest day, I’ll climb 3,786 feet and descend 5,079 feet in total; up and down, up and back down, over 13 miles. The highest point on the WT is on the east side of Mount Rainier: 6,901 feet at Panhandle Gap above Summerland Camp. This will be the only stretch of snow-covered trail left this time of year (unless it snows). The lowest point is at Ipsut Creek Trailhead at 2,320 feet along the Carbon River at the northwest end of Mount Rainier National Park.

My itinerary

I start my walk at the Box Canyon Trailhead Sept. 6, and continue clockwise around the mountain. My supplies will come from two boxes I’ll drop off around the park the day before I start. This way, I won’t have to carry nine days of food, which would weigh 25-30 pounds by itself. The boxes will be at Longmire Wilderness Information Center on the 7th, and at Sunrise Visitor Center on Monday the 12th. My pack weight is greatly reduced by only carrying, at most, five days of food.

Averaging 11 miles a day, I’ll carry 45 pounds of food and gear. Water is abundant on Mount Rainier, so I won’t need to carry much. Each night, I’ll tent at a wilderness trailside camp, hanging all my food (toothpaste, soap, etc.) and any gear I don’t need in trees or on cables to keep the black bears and varmints away. There are five shelters along the WT, but they are designated group sites. At the Finish on Wednesday the 14th, I’ll be eating dinner like a starved animal at the Longmire National Park Inn.

Until the 4th of September, you can e-mail me at thruhiker@aol.com or call (360) 298-1013 if you have any questions about my Wonderland Trail walk or The Wounded Warrior Project.

Next week (during my walk): The beauty and challenges of Mount Rainier National Park.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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