By Morgan Wall | Mount Airy News | Mtairynews.com | October 23, 2011
DOBSON — Not rain, nor cold, nor wind, nor injuries will keep the Fortunate Sons from attaining their goal.
A group of 18 Marines are three weeks into a 42-week hike that will take them from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks along the Mountains to Sea Trail to benefit the Semper Fi Fund. These Marines are participating as teams of two in a relay hike that will take them 1,000 miles across the state to help other Marines.
The Fortunate Sons is an organization of Marines who make it their mission to help their fellow Corps members. A group from Camp Lejeune formed the organization and decided to hold the benefit hike for the Semper Fi Fund, a non-profit organization for Marines and sailors attached to a Marine unit.
“It goes outside the box of what the Marine Corps will do if you’re injured in the line of duty,” said Staff Sgt. David Seymour, one of the hikers. An example would be outfitting a vehicle so a double leg amputee can continue to drive or installing a handicap ramp at a house.
The Fortunate Sons decided to seek help from Scot Ward, who wrote a guidebook for the trail, for guidance and to answer questions along the way. Ward, however, had other ideas.
“I saw the idea and the plan they had and thought I could be more help walking with them than just answering the phone when they had questions,” said Ward. “I could make sure the logistics were taken care of, provide moral support and make it easier for them.”
Each team of two has a set distance to complete in their week of hiking. They all have their unique set of challenges to face. The first two teams hiked solely in the mountains. The first team consisted of the Marines who had the original idea and set the tone for the rest of the hike. The second team finished a day early by pushing through 34 miles in a single day. Team three arrived in Surry County this weekend, the final stretch of their hike.
“They’re the first team to complete all their mileage with the original two members. The previous teams had an ankle and a knee injury. We had back-ups though so we were able to keep two Marines on the trail at all times,” said Ward.
Seymour and his fellow team member Sgt. Rick Brandana were looking forward to reaching the end of their journey by the time they reached Dobson early Saturday morning.
“We’ve hiked seven days, around 20 miles a day. We have 19 miles left,” said Seymour of the trail that for them, ended in Pilot Mountain Saturday night. “The first four days were in the mountains. Thursday was our last leg in the mountains for about 11 miles.”
An added challenge for the Marines is the fact that they are trying to complete a trail that takes Ward 82 days to hike in just 42 days.
To prepare for the event, the Marines have been taking hiking classes at Camp Lejeune. They hiked 50 kilometers with 75-pound packs, thinking if they could do that hiking 20 miles with 40-pound packs would be easy.
“It’s flat ground there. We think with 40 or 50-pound packs we’ll be fine. It’s like carrying a feather,” said Seymour. “But we’re in the mountains here. Each group learns from each other along the way. We’ll go through the packs of the next group and tell them what they don’t need. You don’t think five pounds makes that much difference but it does.”
Seymour and Brandana faced their own sets of challenges along the way, but were amazed at the outpouring of support and the willingness of people to help them out with food, lodging or even driving their packs to the next checkpoint so they can get a short break from the extra weight.
They enjoyed a small festival at McRitchie Winery, ate with a fire marshal in Watauga County and stayed in a house on top of a mountain where they were able to shower and get a hot meal. The shower and hot meal came at a price however, as it rained all the next day. Seymour recalled they ended up in a shelter on top of a mountain with both he and Brandana about an hour away from experiencing hypothermia.
“Their dedication to the cause is phenomenal. There have been no complaints from any of them,” said Ward. “The amount of outside support throughout the journey is growing.”
Despite the personal challenges they have faced, Brandana and Seymour see the push as being worth it.
“We’re doing this to give back. We want to show them that more people care than just the families. We’re here to help our brothers in arms,” said Brandana.
Seymour added that the Fortunate Sons hope to do something like this every year. If that happens, Ward hopes to continue being involved as a guide.
“All my life’s been preparing me for this event. I’ve been looking for some purpose to what I’m doing,” said Ward who, because of his many trips along the trail has been able to establish 50 camping locations and plenty of friends to lend a hand.
The next stretch of the trail will run from Pilot Mountain along the Sauratown Trail.
For more information about the Fortunate Sons and the Semper Fi Fund, to track the Marines as they hike or to donate to the cause, visit www.fortunatesons.org.