On Saturday, Aug. 20, two dusty hikers emerged from a forestry road near the Brown Mountain Overlook on Highway 181. After weeks on the Mountains to Sea Trail, veterans Jacques and Michelle Revoir were picked up by members of the Newland post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for some rest and relaxation.
The Revoirs are brother and sister who grew up in a military family — their father is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant. Jacques was a Marine Corporal who served five years in the infantry and Michelle served 11 years in the Air Force as a broadcast journalist, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant in a Combat Camera unit. Both siblings deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan while on active duty.
The hike along the 1,150-mile length of the Mountains to Sea Trail is sponsored by Warrior Expeditions, a nonprofit organization that was founded by veteran Sean Gobin after he hiked the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail. Gobin recognized the therapeutic effects of long-distance hiking and started Warrior Expeditions to support combat veterans transitioning from their military service by participating in long-distance outdoor expeditions. In addition to hiking, veterans can participate in biking and paddling expeditions.
Veteran participants can hike on various trails across the country, including the Pacific Coast Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Florida Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail. The organization supports them with equipment, care packages and coordinators who arrange respite stops along the way. Many of these stops are sponsored by veteran’s groups such as the VFW and American Legion. By the time the Revoirs arrived in Newland, they had already walked for 20 days and had come all the way from Clingman’s Dome, with weekend stops in Maggie Valley and Asheville. The trail took them across Mount Mitchell and up through the Linville Gorge.
After a chance to clean up, the Revoirs were taken to the Newland VFW Post for a home-cooked meal and fellowship with the members.
“One of the best things about hiking with Warrior Expeditions is the weekly veteran stops,” Michelle Revoir said. “Not only does it give us a chance to reset for the week by showering, doing laundry and sleeping in a real bed, but it also gives us the chance to connect with other veterans. At each town stop, we get to sit down and talk with vets of all ages from all walks of life and all different combat experiences. It’s interesting to see how vets from Vietnam, Desert Storm and even World War II dealt with coming home after deployments and to hear their stories.”
Since 2001, more than 2.5 million veterans have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but many of them have never transitioned from their experiences. This is evident by the recent report from the Department of Veteran Affairs which states that more than 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Hiking gives you a chance to ‘walk off the war,’” Michelle said.
After an evening with the VFW, the Revoir siblings retired to a local motel and were taken back to the trail the following morning. They ventured off to the north, with the next stop in Wilkesboro. On Sunday, Oct. 23, the pair reached the finish at Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. After 84 days and 1,150 miles, the expedition was complete.