MILLINOCKET, Maine — A 2,180-mile journey ended Tuesday for two former Marine captains who walked the Appalachian Trail in its entirety, raising money along the way to help disabled veterans adapt to civilian life.
Mark Silvers, 27, of Virginia and Sean Gobin, 36, of Rhode Island reached Mount Katahdin’s summit at around 11 a.m., 4½ months and roughly 5 million steps after their hike started at Springer Mountain in Georgia. The pair left just two weeks after Silvers returned from deployment in Afghanistan.
During their journey, Silvers and Gobin stopped at nearly 40 Veterans of Foreign Wars halls to raise money for Warrior Hike, a nonprofit organization that helps cover the costs of adaptive vehicles for wounded veterans. Even with the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a vehicle for a disabled veteran can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000 out of pocket, according to Gobin.
As of Tuesday, Silvers and Gobin had raised more than $31,000, Silvers said.
They added more than $3,500 to that total Tuesday night during a fundraising event and dinner in Millinocket, where local veterans, bikers, politicians and residents from across the state gathered to welcome the Marines.
“It just seemed wrong and anticlimactic to have this epic journey … get to the top of Mount Katahdin, take a picture at the top and drive a rental car home,” Gobin said. “It just didn’t seem right.”
The two Marines organized fundraising events in small towns, many of which have VFW halls, along the trail. They managed to do much of the scheduling and event coordination through their smartphones while on the trail and during brief stays in small-town hotels.
Silvers’ mother and father assisted in scheduling during times when lack of cellphone service hindered their efforts. VFW halls and other organizations in communities along the trail were more than willing to help the cause.
In New York they even made a quick appearance on the “Today” show for an interview with Al Roker in June.
Silvers and Gobin ended active service this spring in order to attend graduate school and decided to use their transition time to do something for wounded servicemen and servicewomen. Gobin had always dreamed of hiking the trail, but Silvers agreed to come along only on the condition that they use the trip as a fundraising opportunity.
The two have served together and worked together in the military in the past, building a strong friendship that was occasionally tested on the trail, Silvers said with a grin.
“We had our brotherly spats along the way, but I think we’re still friends,” Silvers said.
They also had quite a few run-ins with wildlife, including a baby deer that wandered onto the trail and started licking the hikers’ legs.
“We had a woodchuck that tried to fight us one time,” Silvers said. The woodchuck, which they came across somewhere in Pennsylvania, won and forced the two Marines to give it a wide berth as they walked around it to continue on the trail.
The Marines agreed that the Maine stretch of the trail was the most difficult, but also the most rewarding.
“It was just so exhilarating to see the sign at the peak of Katahdin after so many miles of hard hiking,” Gobin said.
“It’s just great seeing the outpouring of support from smalltown America for wounded veterans,” Silvers said.
At the end of the trail, Gobin and Silvers were greeted by about 150 people packed into the Millinocket American Legion Hall for a spaghetti dinner. They received a standing ovation and a pair of American flags for their efforts.
They said Tuesday that Millinocket has given them one of the warmest welcomes so far on the trail.
Among the politicians who spoke at, submitted statements for, or attended Tuesday’s event were: U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, state Sens. Doug Thomas and Cynthia Dill, state Reps. Herbie Clark and Doug Damon, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Maine first lady Anne LePage, Maine Attorney General William Schneider, and Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers.