Veterans Follow in the Footsteps of Appalachian Trail Pioneer

FRONT ROYAL, June 21 — Tom Gathman always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. His grandfather’s ashes are scattered atop Mount Katahdin, where Gath- man will end his trek in September. Like his grandfather, Gathman is a veteran, one of 14 who started hiking the Appalachian Trail together in March. The seven veterans who are still hiking with the War- rior Hike “Walk off the War” program stopped in Front Royal on June 21, where they shared their experiences and had dinner at the VFW headquarters.

Gathman, 30, of Lewisburg, Pa., served on two tours in Iraq. He and fellow veteran Adam Bautz were picked up from the trail by the Front Royal trolley. They were greeted by a group including Warren County Supervisor Dan Murray and his wife, members of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Cooking with the Troops, an organization that provides meals to veterans. “My beard didn’t always look like this and I looked nothing like this without it,” Gathman said.

Bautz, too, was a changed man after completing a por- tion of the hike and stopping in Front Royal, where he got the letters “AT” tattooed on his body as a permanent reminder of the trip. Bautz said he had gone to Blue Diamond Tattoo before coming to the VFW headquarters. “I was (the artist’s) 1st paying customer,” Bautz said. “He’s that new.” Bautz said his tattoo would provide extra incentive for him to complete the 2,185-mile hike from Georgia to Maine, which only a small percentage of hikers are able to do.

Already, a few of the veteran hikers with “Walk off the War” have given up the hike, which Gathman and Bautz admitted isn’t easy. “It’s been a really, really wet year,” Gathman said. “It’s been driving people to go home.” Veterans Stephanie Cutts, who served in the Navy in the Persian Gulf and in Southeast Asia in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and retired Marine Corporal Steve Clendenning arrived Friday in a canoe after going about 30 miles on the Shenandoah River. “It was no clouds. It was all sun- shine,” Clendenning said. Asked what was the most difficult part of the hike, Clendenning said, “Probably being away from the public eye, but actually it’s been peaceful in that you just don’t have the everyday life. You don’t have to worry about shopping and loud cars and loud people.” Gathman, Bautz, Cutts and Clendenning are all hiking as part of the Warrior Hike “Walk off the War” program.

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