OLD TOWN, MAINE — On July 22nd four military veterans departed the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, MN. Their mission: To paddle the entire 2,320-miles of river to the Gulf of Mexico. Their mode of transportation: Old Town NEXT canoes. Their status: They are now halfway done with the monumental journey, with two months remaining for a November 22nd arrival at the gulf.
The excursion was developed by WARRIOR HIKE, a non-profit program that helps veterans decompress from their military service through long-distance travel in the outdoors. What began as a hiking program on America’s historic trails has now evolved to include paddling, and the 2015 river trip is the inaugural voyage. The positive effects of these natural experiences include camaraderie, confidence building and the easing of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, some participants of WARRIOR HIKE’s long-distance journeys have been the subjects of PTSD research, and the benefits of the program are well documented.
A fifth member of the Mississippi paddling team is Abby Kaeser, a civilian outdoor enthusiast, writer and photographer. She joined the adventure to chronicle the experience on her “Abby and the Vets” blog. Her daily entries describe the natural wonders, humor, challenges. friendships and personal fulfillment that all the paddlers are experiencing on their epic voyage.
When Old Town heard about the monumental river trip, they enthusiastically donated the paddling equipment needed for all four veterans, including Old Town NEXT Canoes, matching Carlisle NEXT Paddles, Extrasport Striper Life Jackets, and Canoe Carts. Old Town will continue to provide gear for future trips.