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Thanks to YOU, #GivingTuesdayNow was a great success!

May 14, 2020

Your generosity and partnership will enable us to provide a continuum of care and supportive community to disabled veterans who are struggling and alone.
Thanks to you, we can continue helping them navigate the isolation and uncertainty of COVID-19 through virtual meetings and peer-support from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing programs.

But our work has only begun. We know that with you by our side, we will continue to provide physical and emotional recovery, encourage engagement, and extend our community where our participants can heal. These virtual programs rekindle and build community by creating hope and happiness where there may be feelings of isolation, loneliness and fear.

“I look forward to these [virtual] events as a way to help me work on focusing and being useful. The networking is very helpful as I tend to isolate..I am certainly a more productive and positive person with you all caring and showing your love, patience and understanding of disabled veterans dealing with life-altering trauma.” – Colorado Veteran

We are truly humbled and honored by your tremendous support of our cause and the disabled veterans we serve. Thank you!

Mission Accomplished: Gerry and Rex Complete the Appalachian Trail

December 9, 2019

We are beyond thrilled to share the twelfth and final update from Gerry and Rex Leonard who have successfully completed hiking the Appalachian Trail! WOW! Their 161 day, 2192 mile adventure from Maine to Georgia focused on raising funds and awareness of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the disabled veterans we serve.  Join us in congratulating them on this absolutely incredible accomplishment. Check out their final dispatch, trail highlights, and photo gallery below. 

You can show your support and thank Team Leonard for completing this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

You can read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans


Family & Friends,

Greetings from Jamestown, Rhode Island! We kept our promise and made it home for Thanksgiving. The final 164 miles of our journey was a whirlwind as we raced through North Carolina and Georgia in order to make it home for Thanksgiving. We averaged 23 miles a day during our last week on the Trail. We climbed Springer Mountain on Saturday, 23 November, exactly five months and one week after we started. The weather on Springer was windy, wet, and cold…but for us, it was a beautiful day. When we reached the final white blaze (or the first for NOBO hikers) and famous AT Hiker’s Plaque at the peak of Springer Mountain, we were overcome by emotion. We threw our hiking poles in the air, ripped off our packs, and hugged like we had just won the Olympic gold…and we may have shed a tear or two. One week removed and it is still hard to believe we walked 2,200 miles through fourteen states, beginning in Maine and finishing in Georgia. In fact, it feels like a dream. We made memories to last a lifetime. And while we’re excited to be home with family, we miss the woods and the people we met along the way. Here are some highlights from the final leg of our journey and a summary of our overall experience:

– Final Leg: North Carolina. The final leg of our journey took us from Fontana Dam, NC to Springer Mountain, GA. The southwestern corner of North Carolina reminded us of Maine. It was pristine with no roads or towns within view. The only thing we could see from our mountaintop vantage points were other mountains as far as the eye could see. Beautiful, sweeping views. Many 4-5K mountains. The only complaint we had against North Carolina was that the trail itself was poorly maintained in some areas, which resulted in me gashing my head on a low-hanging tree limb. Overall, however, the groups of volunteers who maintain the AT do a phenomenal job and we hikers are forever in their debt. 

-Final Leg: Georgia. The AT stretches through Georgia for 79 miles. We hiked through it in three and a half days. It rained a chilly rain for two of those days. Besides Springer Mountain, six things stood out about Georgia. One, the Georgian volunteers who maintain the AT in their state do an awesome job. It was the best maintained portion the Trail. Two, Georgians love to hike. Despite the poor weather, the Trail was packed with friendly, upbeat hikers. As we passed them, they all congratulated us on our soon-to-be-complete journey. Three, while not huge, Georgia’s mountains were steep and demanding, with very few switchbacks. Four, in Georgia, the AT actually runs right through a hiking outfitter store! The outfitter makes a killing off hikers, particularly NOBO hikers because it’s the first outfitter and resupply point they reach after leaving Springer. Outside the store is a large oak tree with thousands of boots hanging from its limbs, thrown from NOBO hikers who called it quits shortly after departing Springer. Six, mice! Though we heard about mice problems in the many shelters along the AT, the first mice challenge we encountered was in Georgia…on our last two nights. Trying to sleep with mice crawling through your clothes or running across your sleeping bag is difficult at best. We will NOT miss the mice!

– Springer Mountain and Amicalola Falls. Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, sits 2,192 miles south of Mount Katahdin. Unlike Katahdin, which is the tallest mountain in Maine, Springer is not the tallest or most challenging mountain in Georgia to climb. Standing about 3K feet high, it is unimpressive in size and it lacks great viewpoints. What makes Springer special is its status as the southern terminus, complete with the white blaze and AT Hiker’s Plaque. Eight miles south of Springer Mountain, is the stunning and beautiful Amicalola Falls, which, in our opinion is the prettiest waterfall on the AT. The eight-mile path between the two is called, “The AT Approach Trail”. When we set out on our journey, we told you we were hiking 2,200 miles. The eight-mile Approach Trail, combined with the 2,192 miles before it, gave us those 2,200 miles. At the end of the Approach Trail (the beginning for NOBOs) sits the famous Arch, which serves as a photo-spot for thousands of thru-hikers every year. Here, Pony Express and I took our last AT picture!

– Fontana Dam. We’d be remiss if we did not mention Fontana Dam, which grabbed our attention because of its size, design, and relationship with our efforts to help heal disabled veterans. Built between 1942 and 1946 at the request of President Roosevelt, Fontana Dam generated massive amounts of electricity needed to expand and accelerate war production. Apparently, the electricity generated at Fontana powered Tennessee’s aluminum plants and resulted in the production of over 50,000 aircraft that helped tip the scales in our favor during WWII. When completed, this engineering marvel (2,365 feet long and 480 feet high) was the second largest dam in the world. Besides its connection to WWII, Fontana Dam has a connection to our more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the veterans who served there. According to a local citizen we met, Mohammad Atta, one of the 9/11 terrorists, reconnoitered Fontana Dam before September 11th. Fortunately, the terrorists did not succeed in targeting the Dam, but as we walked across it, we were reminded of why we chose to raise awareness of and money for Project Healing Waters. Many of the younger veterans who participate in PHWFF programs selflessly answered our nation’s call following 9/11. They volunteered–many right out of high school–to fight those terrorists in the darkest corners of Afghanistan and Iraq. Many came home mentally and physically wounded. As we crossed Fontana Dam, we reflected on their sacrifice…and our journey. We hiked to help them heal from the injuries they sustained wearing our nation’s cloth. Never Forget. 

Summary of Highlights:

Favorite State: Maine (Diesel); Tennessee (Pony Express)

Least Favorite State: Pennsylvania (Diesel); Pennsylvania (Pony Express)

Favorite Mountain Range: Roan Highlands (Diesel); Franconia Ridge (Pony Express)

Favorite Town: Hot Springs, NC (Diesel); Warwick, NY (Pony Express)

Favorite Pit Stop: Lazy Hiker Brewery in Franklin, NC

Best Beer: Anything at Lazy Hiker Brewery

Best Food: Little Red Hen in Andover, ME. Awesome owners; awesome breakfast!

Favorite Hostel: Woods Hole Hostel, Pearisburg, VA

Favorite Trail Name: “Baby Milkshake” (Diesel, see Update #2); GoGurl (Pony Express)  

Most Challenging Climb: Mount Madison (Diesel); Mount Garfield (Pony Express)

Most Challenging Moment: Arguing with Pony Express about me trying to go too fast (Diesel); Trying to keep up with my Dad! (Pony Express)

Worst Decision: Getting a pedicure to reduce calluses on my foot (Diesel), which resulted in a second degree chemical burn on my big toe! This set us back a week as it healed. 

Biggest Disappointment: Not finishing the hike by Veteran’s Day and under five months.

Most inspiring moment: Seeing a blind man hike a portion of the trail without assistance

Number of days on the Trail: 161.

Miles per day: 14

Number of Zeros: 30 (high number due to hike-related injuries)

Miles per day (without the zeros): 17

Number of pounds lost: 35 lbs (Diesel); 15 lbs (Pony Express)

Thank you for all the love and support!

Happy trails,

Diesel & Pony Express

 

 


Let’s show our support and thank Team Leonard for completing this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Passing Mile Mark 2,000 – Gerry & Rex Hike to Heal Veterans

November 19, 2019

We are thrilled to share the eleventh update from Gerry and Rex Leonard who are hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise funds and awareness of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the disabled veterans we serve. In this travel log entry, they highlight the Great Smoky Mountains, passing mile mark 2000, the first snow of the season, trail angels, and their thoughts on nearing the end of the trail! 

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans


Family & Friends,

Greetings from Fontana, North Carolina, the southern end of the Great Smoky Mountains! We are inching our way closer to Springer Mountain, Georgia…the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Even though finishing the Smokies was a big deal for us, the bigger deal–which we’re excited to announce–is that we’ve passed the 2000-mile mark! As of today, we have 164 miles left in our journey! We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and while I hate to admit it, the romantic sense of adventure we shared for most of our journey has given way to a businesslike, “let’s get this done” mentality. The snow, howling winds, and sub-zero temperatures we dealt with in the Smokies may have brought about our changing attitudes. Since our last update from Damascus, Virginia, we’ve passed mile-markers 1800, 1900 and 2000, climbed 27 peaks, including Clingman’s Dome, the tallest mountain on the AT, hiked through the beautiful Roan Highlands, and enjoyed a zero in Hot Springs, NC. Here are a few highlights of our last 306 miles:

– Roan Highlands, Big Butt, and Max’s Patch. The Roan Highlands, a series of bald (or treeless) mountains which straddle the TN-NC border, were a definite highlight of our journey and they provided us with our first taste of snow of the season. The balds of Grayson Highlands were beautiful, but the Roan Highlands may have topped them in our book. From these grass-swept mountains we could see unforgettable panoramic views in every direction. One word…breathtaking. If you live nearby, visit them…they’ll inspire you. Just south of Roan, we crossed Big Butt Mountain, which was an amazing ridge that reminded us of Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire. Three miles long, the Big Butt ridgeline gave us magnificent views of mountains to the east and valleys to the west. This ridgeline is relatively easy to access and well worth the minimal effort to climb. And if you get lucky, like we did, you may find some trail angels atop the ridge eager to share a treat. The day we crossed the ridge, we met four wonderful women who called themselves the “Gourmet Hikers Club” enjoying a feast fit for a king or queen. As we passed by them, they offered us unbelievably great tasting guacamole, fresh salad, and cinnamon apples. Heaven! Another inspiring mountain in our trek from Damascus to Fontana was a 5K named Max’s Patch. This mountain, like the Roan Highlands, was a bald. The weather the day we crossed over it was picture perfect and, not surprisingly, the mountain was covered local photographers capturing panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, including the Smokies, which we were about to ascend.  

– Winter in the Smokies. The weather on our first day in the Smokies, Veteran’s Day, was awesome. The climb up into the Smokies was hard, but rewarding…we ascended over 4000 feet in less than five miles. The beating sun left us drenched in sweat and exhausted. After cresting the first summit, we spent the rest of the day hiking along a beautiful ridgeline. We ended the day after 18-miles in a shelter with “Steady”, a SOBO hiker who we first met in NY. The three of us hit the rack that night thinking we were ready (so we thought) for the cold front expected to hit the next day. Our physical and mental preparation for the cold front was in vain. While we were greeted in the morning with a beautiful blanket of snow, that beauty did not last long as the howling winds and cloud-covered sky began to bring our spirits down. As temps dropped below zero with the wind chill, our beards began to freeze and our bodies began to shiver. The miles seemed endless as we trudged slowly through the thickening snow. Our pace slowed considerably and our goal of hiking 20+ miles gave way to the need of finding shelter and reprieve from the wind and cold. After 12 miles, we stopped at the appropriately named Icewater Shelter for a late lunch. In the shelter, we found eight teenage boys and their teacher/mentor who had ended their hike early to escape the weather. Their offer to share the shelter for the night was an offer our shivering and tired bodies could not refuse. After a cup of hot chocolate, we unrolled our sleeping bags and curled up inside to hopefully gain some warmth back. We eventually drifted off to the only true escape…sleep! The good news is we learned that our gear (down sleeping bag, plus layering system) worked…we slept like two hibernating bears. We were greeted the next day with blue skies and our dear ol’ friend, the sun. The warmth of the sun, despite the still subfreezing temperatures, brightened our moods and gave us the motivation to move on. The next few days were worlds better than the bone-chilling day we experienced on 12 Nov, but the grind to get out of the 6,000-foot Smokies and into the warmer weather was ever present. We pray we make it to Springer before the next cold front hits!

– The Birdcage. During our journey, we’ve met a number of wonderful trail angels who we will never forget. Their generosity and support enabled and inspired us. But of all the trail angels we’ve met, Robert Bird is a first among equals. He is also the most unique and most exceptional. This seventy-plus year old man sports a mohawk haircut (he’s part Mohawk), chain smokes cigarettes, pounds Mello-Yello, and drives a white van with a Casper the Friendly Ghost logo on the side (the inscription under the logo reads: “The AT Friendly Van”). He’s never hiked a day in his life and he is probably the last person you’d envision providing trail magic. We met Robert in Dalton, MA on a hot summer day. He offered us a well-needed cold drink and snack. He also offered to “slack pack” us for four-days and eighty miles (for free) when we reached his home in Tennessee. (Slack-packing is hiker lingo for hiking with a small, lightweight day pack instead of your full kit. Then, after so many miles of slack-packing, you marry up with your full pack and continue hiking or return to a hiker hostel for the night.) After reaching Robert’s home turf, we and three other hikers took him up on his offer…and it was well worth it! We hiked twenty-plus miles every day and ate like kings at the local diner or AYCE (All You Can Eat) Golden Corral for dinner. At night, we took turns enjoying a hot shower while Robert washed our clothes. We crashed in his apartment and repeated the cycle the next day. We are not sure how he affords to do what he does, but each year he provides trail magic and free slack packing services to over 400-hundred worn out hikers in Massachusetts (where he rents a cabin during July/August) and Tennessee. He calls his base in Massachusetts, “Birdcage North”, and his apartment Tennessee, “Birdcage South”. For us, he was an angel sent from heaven…he took me to a podiatrist to treat a corn and he gave my knees a four-day reprieve from hiking with a 45lb pack. Thanks Rob…we are going to finish strong! If you’re interested, we recommend watching the recently released thirteen-minute, critically acclaimed documentary about Robert, titled, “One Wing in the Fire”. You can find it at: https://ripepearproductions.com/        

– Hot Springs. Another great trail town worth mentioning…Hot Springs, NC. We zero’ed in Hot Springs and enjoyed a hot mineral bath, cold beer and a steak. Much like Damascus, this quaint town is nestled in the mountains and it provides a number of outdoor activities for adventure-seekers. It is most famous for its hot mineral springs, which get pumped into a number of outdoor jacuzzis that line the local river at the Hot Springs Resort. If you live in NC or TN and you want a weekend getaway…visit Hot Springs. You can hike during the day, rent a jacuzzi in the afternoon, and grab a great meal at the town’s fancy restaurant or a great burger the local tavern. Wish we visited when we were stationed at Camp Lejeune!  

– Way Ahead. As we mentioned up front, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Barring injury or more unseasonably cold weather, we believe we’ll climb Springer Mountain somewhere between 23 and 26 November. More importantly, we’ll be able to keep a promise we made Rex’s mom…be home by Thanksgiving! With that said, we do not expect to post our final update until after we finish our journey. Until then, thank you for supporting us and for your generosity in supporting the efforts of our partner, Project Healing Waters. Your support is helping to heal our disabled veterans.

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

The Changing Seasons: Gerry & Rex Hike to Heal Veterans

November 9, 2019

We are thrilled to share the tenth update from Gerry and Rex Leonard who are hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise funds and awareness of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the disabled veterans we serve. In this travel log entry, they highlight the dramatic changes to the weather (winter is coming!), the beauty of Virginia, time spent at the Audie Murphy Memorial, Hiker Town USA – Damascus, Virginia.

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans


Friends and Family,

Greetings from Damascus, Virginia! We have finally reached the end of Virginia! Damascus, known throughout the hiker world as “Hiker Town, USA”, is the southernmost town along the AT in Virginia. We are taking a nero today to enjoy the fall weather and to soak up the history of this quaint, but famous hiker town. Tomorrow, when we resume our hike, we will say goodbye to Virginia and hello to Tennessee. Damascus sits three miles away from the Virginia-Tennessee border. Since our last update from Troutville VA, we have hiked 263 miles, crossed the 1700-mile mark, climbed over and around 33 mountains and peaks, to include eight 4K’s and two 5K’s, and passed through the stunning and majestic Grayson Highlands. Most importantly, we have completed three-quarters of the Appalachian Trail!! With the end in sight, here are some highlights of our last 250 miles:

– Changing Seasons. The weather is changing…dramatically. Three weeks ago, we hiked through a heatwave with temperatures reaching the mid-90s in the mountains. Hiking in those temperatures alone was a challenge, but a lack of water due to a late summer drought compounded the challenge. Rain and near-freezing temperatures replaced the drought and high temps about half-way through our journey between Troutville and Damascus. While the heatwave zapped our energy, the near-freezing temps crippled our productivity…because neither of us like to get out of our sleeping bags in the colder temps. Besides temperature changes, the days are getting shorter. Instead of the twelve hours of sunlight we enjoyed in New England, we’re getting about eight hours of now. The most dramatic change we’ve seen is the emergence of fall colors. Hiking through a sea of yellows, oranges, and reds, or sitting on a mountain and looking out across a valley of brilliant fall colors is breathtaking and inspirational…and it makes the toils of climbing 4-5K peaks worthwhile. We hit southern Virginia at the perfect time!

– Southern Virginia. Virginia gets prettier and prettier the further south we hike. Northern Virginia was terrific…few places on the AT can compete with Shenandoah National Park. Central Virginia, with its beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, was even better. Southern Virginia, however, is in a class by itself and it may have supplanted Southern Maine as our favorite stretch on the AT. Southern Virginia combines the grace, charm, and beauty of Vermont with the majesty and ruggedness of New Hampshire, yet the trails are smoother and the ascents and descents more gradual. The breathtaking views from places like Tinker’s Cliff and Dragon’s Tooth left an indelible impression on both of us. One of our favorite spots was Mcafee’s Knob. Here we stealth camped (i.e., not a “sanctioned” campground) with our hiking mates, Sunshine and Steady, in order to watch the sunset and sunrise from a cliff on top of the Knob. Check out our pictures! Another breathtaking view was the one from Chestnut Knob. From this knob (mountain), you look straight down at a perfectly manicured Amish community nestled within a ring of mountains that form a barrier to the outside world. Locals call the view from Chestnut Knob, “God’s Thumbprint”, because the green valley nestled in the ring of mountains resembles a giant thumbprint. 

– Audie Murphy Memorial. We would be remiss if we did not mention the Audie Murphy Memorial that sits atop Brush Mountain. Somewhere in the vicinity of the Memorial, our nation’s most decorated soldier tragically died in a plane crash in May 1971. The shrine memorializes his life and legacy. WIth hundreds of dogtags and personal artifacts adorning the shrine, we remain hopeful that future generations of Americans (and AT hikers) will never forget his bravery, courage, and sacrifice.

– Semper Fi Farm. As we made our way south, our good friends, Tim and Shannon Maxwell, invited us to spend a day relaxing on their farm in Rural Retreat, VA. Tim, who is an old Marine Corps buddy, and Shannon have been fighting for and taking care of disabled veterans for years. In fact, they regularly open up their home and farm as a place for disabled veterans to heal from the scars of war through farming and physical labor. What Shannon and Tim are doing on their farm is similar to what our partner, Project Healing Waters, is doing to heal disabled veterans on our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Not surprisingly, the therapeutic and recuperative benefits of performing physically and mentally challenging tasks outdoors and in nature continues to gain steam in the medical world. Tim and Shannon, thank you for what you do…you are American heroes!

– Grayson Highlands. Maine’s mountains were rugged. New Hampshire’s were majestic. Vermont’s were stunning. But our (new) favorite mountain chain is the Grayson Highlands. This mountain chain, which includes a number of balds and Virginia’s highest peak, took our breath away. Perhaps it was the perfect fall weather, blue skies, and great temps, but nothing in our 1700-mile journey matched the beauty and inspiration we felt during our two-day walk through the Highlands, with its wild ponies, longhorns, green grasses, fall colors, and awesome views. Since we started our blog, we’ve made a number of recommendations for those interested in hiking portions of the AT. If we had to pick one place to visit…go see the Grayson Highlands. You won’t regret it!

– Hiker Town, USA. Among the many towns and villages we visited during our journey, Damascus, VA stands alone due to its location and history. It sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains interlaced with rivers and streams. The AT runs right through town. Hiking and biking trails are everywhere. Hiker hostels abound. A number of outdoor stores cater to hikers, bikers, and outdoorsmen. Besides being hiker-friendly, Damascus hosts “Trail Days”, the most famous hiker party in the hiking world. For a four-day period every May, AT hikers, past and present, flock to the town for a celebration and reunion. For some, this is the Woodstock of the hiking world. We plan to attend next May!

– Way Ahead…winter is coming. Next up for us is Tennessee and North Carolina. Snow has already fallen in the mountains of Tennessee. We’re expecting more, particularly in the Smokies. Fortunately, we were able to pick up some warmer clothes, rain gear, and a stove in Damascus. We have some tough hiking ahead, but we’re starting to see the end of the tunnel. Until then, thanks for partnering with us in our efforts to heal disabled veterans!!

Happy Trails,

Diesel and Pony Express  

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans

The 3rd Annual Healing on the Fly – Boston Online Auction is Open!

October 16, 2019

Presented by Ropes & Gray, the 3rd Annual Healing on the Fly Boston is an evening in support of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and the thousands of disabled veterans they serve each year across the United States

The online silent auction for Healing on the Fly: Boston is now open! Filled with incredible gear, trips, experiences, art, and unique specialty items the auction is a great opportunity to support the thousands of disabled veterans served by PHWFF each year while simultaneously angling for some awesome items.

The auction will close on Tuesday evening October 22, 2019 (at approximately 8 pm EST)!  Click the button below to view the auction and start your bidding.

All proceeds going towards supporting the recovery and rehabilitation of the thousands of disabled veterans served annually by PHWFF nationwide.

The Harper’s Ferry Halfway Point: Gerry & Rex Hike to Heal Veterans

October 1, 2019

We are thrilled to share the 8th update from Gerry and Rex Leonard who are hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise funds and awareness of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the disabled veterans we serve. In this travel log entry, they check-in from the symbolic halfway point in Harper’s Ferry, WV; review their time in Pennsylvania, and tackle the 4-State Challenge! Be sure to view the incredible photo gallery at the bottom of this post!

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans


Family and Friends,

Greetings from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia…the symbolic (and psychological) halfway point on the Appalachian Trail! Since our last update, we have hiked 276 miles, passed the 1000-mile mark, crossed the true halfway point (mile-marker 1,096 in PA), walked across the Mason-Dixon line, and closed out Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. We also hiked 44 miles in a single day, a new personal best for us (our previous high was 25 miles). Here are some highlights of our journey:

Pennsylvania Rocks! After taking five-days off to recuperate from a foot and knee injury, getting back on the trail in northern PA was no picnic. We quickly discovered that PA’s reputation as “Rocksylvania” was well deserved…particularly the northern two-thirds of the state. While not physically demanding from an endurance perspective, northern PA was brutal on the feet and the mind. For the most part, the trail in northern PA ran along a ridgeline, with very few mountains and valleys to climb. What made Pennsylvania so brutal was the trail itself. It was littered with ankle-twisting rocks of every size, shape, and form. Trying to hike fast was out of the question. Slow and steady…watching every step…was the only way to go. Over one 18-mile stretch, which included “Knife’s Edge”, rocks shaped like knives pointed out of the ground in every direction. One old hiker described it this way, “the devil came up from hell and threw every knife-shaped rock he could find down the trail”. Outside of a few postcard views, we would not recommend the northern PA to the casual hiker. 

In contrast, southern PA was awesome. Here, we walked across rolling hills dotted with farm fields, meadows, hardwood forests, and small towns like Boiling Springs. Gorgeous. Most importantly…smooth trails! Besides the nice terrain and great views in southern PA, we enjoyed overnighting at two famous “hiker hostels”, the Doyle Hotel and the Ironworks Mansion. Finally, we learned a valuable lesson…pay attention to the AT guidebook when it says, “trains may pass this campground.” On one of our last nights in PA, we camped about 30 yards from a railroad track and were woken by a slow moving freight train every hour. Neither of us slept a wink. I felt a bit like Joe Pesci in “My Cousin Vinny”!

4-State Challenge. The 4-State Challenge is a gruelling 44-mile race/hike, which starts at the PA-MD border and ends at the WV-VA border. While we did not set any records, Rex would have made Stonewall Jackson proud. He finished the hike with his full kit (~40 lbs) in under fourteen hours, at a 3.1 MPH pace. I, on the other hand, finished in eighteen hours at a 2.4 MPH pace. Jackson would have been kicked me out of his army! Here’s Rex’s perspective on the Challenge:

The day before the 4-State Challenge we prepared by hydrating, resupplying with high-calorie energy bars at Walmart, and carbo-loading at Applebee’s. Having done everything we could to prep for the Challenge, we set up camp on the Mason-Dixon Line (starting line) and went to sleep.

I slept like a kid on Christmas Eve, full of excitement and anxiety. 4:00 AM couldn’t come soon enough. When my alarm sounded, I rolled out of my hammock, ate my oats, and packed up camp. Although the moon was full, the tree canopy blocked all light. It was pitch black when I stepped off.

Stumbling along the semi-rocky trail with my headlamp leading the way, I began to hear noises throughout the woods. Because this was one of my first times hiking alone at night, my nerves began to kick into high gear. I looked around for the source of the noises. I could see glowing sets of eyes staring at me from the dark woods. I tried to convince myself the eyes belonged to a family of deer and not a family of bears. I pressed on…knowing my fears would disappear with the rising sun.

Right after sunup, I passed my Dad (he started hiking at 3:00 AM) and I began to pick up my pace. The terrain was generally flat, which allowed me to pile up some big miles rather quickly. I began to think the Challenge wasn’t so hard…I decided I could afford to stop along the way and enjoy the sites and scenery of Maryland.

Two sites stood out in particular: the original Washington Monument and a Civil War battlefield. I spent time wandering around and taking pictures of the Original Washington Monument, which was built in 1827 and rebuilt by the CCC in 1930. While the view from the top of the Monument wasn’t extraordinary, it was a nice break from speed hiking. Not long afterwards, I slowed my pace again to soak up some Civil War history (the AT crosses over two small Civil War battlefields where a few engagements took place prior to the Battle of Antietam). 

By 1:00 PM, I had hiked 27 miles. I took a much needed lunch break. Physically and mentally I was feeling great! I was excited and confident I could finish the Challenge with a solid time. I pressed on.

With less than seven miles to reach the finish line atop Loudoun Heights (WV-VA border), I sat down to take a mental break. I could see the finish line in my mind. Seven miles was nothing compared to what we normally walk. Boy was I wrong! Those seven miles were most challenging miles I’ve walked since we started our journey in June. The only thing I could think about was laying in my hammock and drifting off. The desire to stop was strong, but I set out to complete the Challenge…I was going to finish it.

Slowly shaving off the miles and taking breaks when needed, I made it to Harper’s Ferry, WV, the symbolic halfway point and home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I had been looking forward to this moment since we left Maine. Halfway! Happiness was soon followed by misery when I realized my day was not done. I sat for a while looking up at Loudoun Heights. It looked like a steep, steep climb. I began to walk…and climb. 

Step by step, I made my way up the mountain, eventually reaching the peak. There was no “welcome to Virginia” sign. Disappointed, I continued to walk south along the ridge, hoping I hadn’t missed it. I asked a hiker heading in the opposite direction if he saw the sign…”no” was his response. I began to feel defeated. Walking slowly forward, I prayed to find some sign or indication I had reached Virginia. Finally…fourteen hours after I started and twenty miles longer than I had ever hiked in my life, I found the “welcome to Virginia sign”. I Finished!!

I was proud of myself. I was happy to be done. I hung my hammock up and went to bed. I remember thinking, “where is Diesel” as I dozed off.

Way Ahead. We made it to Virginia four days later than our goal, but at least we made before the first day of Fall. At roughly 540 miles, Virginia represents a quarter of the entire AT. We expect to spend the rest of September and most of October hiking through it, but we look forward to the adventure and for a planned rendezvous with our partners at Project Healing Waters in Troutville, VA in early October.

Until our next update, happy trails,

Diesel & Pony Express

 

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans

Support the disabled veterans we serve: The 2019 Healing on the Fly – NYC Auction

September 29, 2019

The 6th Annual Healing on the Fly – NYC Auction is now open!  Click the button below to view the auction and start your bidding.

Filled with incredible gear, trips, New York City experiences, art, and unique specialty items the auction is a great opportunity to support the thousands of disabled veterans served by PHWFF each year while simultaneously angling for some awesome items.  All proceeds going towards supporting the recovery and rehabilitation of the thousands of disabled veterans served annually by PHWFF nationwide.

 

Presented by Aon, The 6th Annual Healing on the Fly NYC Gala Dinner and Auction is set to take place at 6:00 pm on October 1, 2019 at The Metropolitan Club.  All proceeds from the event will go towards providing the thousands of injured and disabled veterans served by PHWFF with the support they need on their journeys to recovery

Casting for Smallies

September 9, 2019

Casting for Smallies
By Joseph Smith Outing Lead
PHWFF Indianapolis, IN Program
Flint Rainbow Club Outing 8/13-18/2019 

On August 13, six vet participants from across the United States representing the Army, Marines, USAF, ARNG, and Navy came together at the Flint Rainbow Club in Baldwin, Michigan for a few special days. This private club, which was our generous host, was founded in 1913 by a group of Michigan industrialists and sits on a bluff overlooking the legendary Pere Marquette River. The building, a framed structure, is steeped in history as it has been dismantled and rebuilt military barracks but with modern conveniences. 

    Jason and James, the local Orvis Fishing Manager and Guides from the store in Royal Oak, Michigan led the full day classes the next day. These included a fly casting refresher, an on stream course in entomology, bugs, (most of them in the water), wading safety, and a guided wade trip on the famed Pere Marquette for the elusive Salmo Trutta. 

Days 2-4 were spent drift boat fishing on the Manistee River for smallmouth bass. Hawkins Outfitters guided our gang of six and fish were caught, but heads were shaking.

    One participant was overheard the previous night mentioning that smallmouth were “easy” to catch. He learned on the following days that they can, and will be, as elusive and tough, once hooked, and live up to their reputation as the “fightingest game fish pound, for pound.” These fish stood their ground and didn’t come easily to the net. They are gamers! But, so were the PHWFF participants.

Side trips and post-floats included a factory tour of the legendary StealthCraft Boatworks, the historic Pere Marquette River Fly Shop and the must stop in Baldwin, MI, for Jones Handmade Ice Cream.

Once fueled for the next day from Chef Mary’s fabulous and hearty family style meals, the evenings were spent around the campfire, tying flies and sharing local patterns and techniques from their respective streams.  

As we drove away for early flight departures on Sunday, the mood was reflective of the time and kinship established in the five days spent together. 

Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker to Emcee Gala Benefiting Disabled Veterans

September 5, 2019

Presented by Aon, the 6th Annual Healing on the Fly NYC will take place at 6:00 pm on October 1, 2019 at The Metropolitan Club in New York City.  The evening is being held in support of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the thousands of disabled veterans they serve each year across the United States.  

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is honored to announce that Erik Schatzker of Bloomberg will serve as Emcee during the Healing on the Fly-NYC Dinner Gala this October 1, 2019 at The Metropolitan Club in New York City. Now in its 6th year, Healing on the Fly NYC has raised over 1.2 million dollars since its inception in 2014 enabling thousands of disabled veterans to benefit from a program recognized as an innovative leader and model in the field of therapeutic outdoor recreation for the disabled.

Erik Schatzker is a New York based correspondent focused on high-profile events and interviews.  Over two decades Schatzker has covered everything from technology to commodities in postings and on assignments around the world. Today his main focus is on Wall Street, and he speaks regularly with the most powerful executives in banking and top money managers includung BlackRock’s Larry Fink, Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman, Carlyle Group’s David Rubenstein and Citigroup’s Michael Corbat. Schatzker also reports live from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles.

Prior to joining Bloomberg Television in 2007, Schatzker led Bloomberg’s print coverage of financial services in the Americas. He began his career with the South Pacific Mail in Santiago, Chile and served as a correspondent in Santiago and Toronto for Knight-Ridder Financial/Bridge News before starting with Bloomberg as a technology reporter in 1998. Schatzker’s past positions with Bloomberg include Toronto Bureau Chief and Senior Writer for Bloomberg Markets magazine.

Presented by Aon, the evening also will feature a cocktail hour with silent auction, seated dinner, a short program featuring PHWFF veteran guest speaker Sergeant Lisa Ornelas US Army (ret) – a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan whose healing journey with PHWFF strengthened family bonds and fostered her physical and emotional recovery.

This lovely annual event is being co-chaired by two great PHWFF supporters and champions: Commissioner of Major League Soccer, Don Garber and Michael Bateman, Senior Vice President for Willis Towers Watson.  Thanks to their leadership and presenting sponsor Aon, a very special evening has been planned to raise funds and awareness for this top-tier veteran service program.

For over a decade PHWFF has focused on healing those who serve.  It is through the tremendous contributions of supporters and volunteers nationwide that PHWFF served over 8,300 deserving members of our armed services in 2018.  To learn more about the event please visit www.projecthealingwaters.org/fundraisers/healing-on-the-fly/

800 Miles Completed: Gerry & Rex Hike to Heal Veterans

August 29, 2019

We are thrilled to share the sixth update from Gerry and Rex Leonard who are hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise funds and awareness of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and the disabled veterans we serve. In this travel log entry, they highlight a few major milestones: their arrival in New York State, the physical toll of the trail, and gorgeous campsites.

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans


Family and Friends, 

Greetings from NY…Pony Express checking in with our 6th update from the Appalachian Trail. Since our last post, my Dad and I have hiked 110 miles, passed the 800-mile mark, finished New England, crossed the Hudson, and climbed 7 mountains and peaks (truth be told, I am having a hard time telling the difference between a big hill and a mountain…the mountains of southern New England and New York do not resemble the Greens or the Whites!).  One huge difference–and a welcome relief–between New England and New York are the delis and pizzerias. In NY, it seems we pass through a town with a deli and/or pizzeria almost everyday. We love deli sandwiches and coffee…and it sure beats our field rations! With this update, I thought I’d take a different approach than my Dad’s rigid, military writing style. 

Diesel’s Bum Knees.  My Dad’s knees have bothered him since he took a tumble during a rain storm somewhere near the Maine/New Hampshire border. Well…he finally decided to see a doctor in Great Barrington, MA and discovered he sprained his knee when he took that tumble. The doctor recommended 10-15 days of rest, but Diesel, being a tough/stubborn guy, decided to continue with our plan of reaching New York by 16 August. Coming out of Great Barrington, we hiked 21 miles. The next day we hiked 23 miles, which put us within striking distance of the Connecticut/New York border. We planned to push across the border the next day, but Diesel was hurting. The constant inclines and declines over short distances, coupled with the large mile days, were not helping his injured knees. We then came up with a more reasonable plan to hike shorter miles and have my Mom meet us in New York where we could take a few zeros and give his knees a few days to rest…and give me some good ‘ole fashion lazy time. 

Wham! The night of our 23 mile day, we stayed at a beautiful campsite with some other SOBOs we met way back in Maine at the beginning of our hike. It was great to catch up! During the night while everyone was sleeping peacefully, WHAM, my hammock ripped and I crashed to the ground. Having sent my tent home to enjoy the comforts of the hammock life, I now had nowhere to sleep other than on top of hard, uncomfortable picnic tables. Fortunately, I was able to purchase a foam pad during our next resupply which made sleeping a bit more comfortable until my new hammock arrived.

Zoo Animals. One day, while my Dad was in a grocery store, I found a shade tree to lay under and test out my new sleeping pad. A short time later, my Dad came out of the store with a shopping cart full of food, popped it over the curb, and parked it right near me. He then proceeded to lay down beside me in the shade to ice his knee and escape the blistering heat. A few minutes later a car pulled into the grocery store and parked beside us. As the driver got out of his car, he stared at us and then looked at his young passenger and told her, “this place turns into a zoo this time of year!” I can only imagine what we looked like laying in the grass with our things scattered around. After a good laugh and a fantastic siesta, we made our way back into the woods (apparently where we belong) and found a nice lean-to to stay for the night. 

Let’s show our support and wish Team Leonard our best as they continue with this courageous feat in support of the many disabled veterans whose lives will be changed as a result of their sacrifice.  

Read all their dispatches from the AT here:  Gerry and Rex Leonard Hike to Heal Veterans