Finding Community After Combat: An Interview with Tony DePricio of Warrior Expeditions
Hi y’all, Oats here! I’m the Social Media Wiz for The Trek back on IG Live with another interview from the Appalachian Trail. Today, I am joined by one of the veterans currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail with Warrior Expeditions, Tony DePricio.
Warrior Expeditions is a nonprofit that provides veterans with everything required to complete a thru-hike at no cost to the veteran. Eighty-seven percent of every dollar donated goes directly to the veterans in the program.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos courtesy of Warrior Expeditions. The full recorded interview can be found here @thetrek.co on Instagram.
So Tony, thank you so much for taking some time from the trail to talk to me and share your story! I know there’s plenty of town chores to be had and you also hiked 16 miles today so let’s dive right in. It’s possible introductions are still in order, because I only know you as Tony Depricio… have you gotten a trail name yet?
No, I haven’t gotten one yet – I’m just going by Tony. There was a young man from Lincoln, Nebraska named Spice Rack who zoomed by me going up one of the many climbs the other day and he said, “You know, you have the best posture!” So at least I’ve got that going for me as I’m plodding up the hill.
So, the Warrior Expeditions Program has three different options for veterans to apply for – Warrior Bike on the Great American Rail Trail, Warrior Paddle on the Mississippi, and Warrior Hike, which includes the triple crown trails and more. How did you first hear about the Warrior Expeditions program and what really drew you to choosing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail? What specifically about the program made you think, “This is something I’m absolutely going to do”?
About a year ago, I got an email from the VA that had an exposé on one of the hikers that had been in the program before me, her trail name was Penguin. I had always been intrigued by long-distance hiking trails and being from Georgia the Appalachian Trail is closest. The fact that there is a footpath that extends from GA to ME with the physical and mental challenges offered really intrigued me. I watched the videos and read the materials and sent in my application. On Christmas Day, I got an email saying “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted to the Warrior Hike Class of 2022,” and I felt like the dog that had finally caught up to the car – it became real. I knew I needed to commit and be prepared.
Had you done any long-distance hiking before or was this the seed that planted the desire in your mind?
Nothing more than three or four days at a time. I had done some white water rafting through the Grand Canyon and bikepacking but it doesn’t even compare. I just love being outdoors and spending time with friends – the beauty and feeling of being totally immersed in nature is really humbling.
Would you say that your goals as a member of the Warrior Expeditions team are different than the goals of a “typical” thru-hiker?
I think everyone on trail is just searching within themselves and coming to terms with their own issues – maybe trying to be a better person, husband or wife, brother or sister. Spending all that time alone and getting in a routine gives you a lot of time to process things you may not have dealt with in the past.
“Everyone is in the same boat and we’re all just trying to help each other out. Just today I had a trail magic spaghetti dinner right before a second hamburger dinner – it’s incredible to see people paying it forward. That’s certainly a common theme we all share.”
So, tell me a little about what milestones you’ve reached so far on trail. With the first steps under your belt, what do you think are the most important lessons you’ve learned in these first few weeks and what are your proudest accomplishments?
I’m proud of the friends I’ve made on the trail and with this class of Warrior Expeditions. There’s something about being in the military that you are able to walk into a room with all these men and women and feel like you know them already. You share this common bond whether it be boot camp or being on trail, you know what the other person has been through as a rite of passage. I miss that about the military, working hard and playing hard with the close bonds.
Little milestones like crossing state lines was nice – there wasn’t any pomp and circumstance, it was just a little sign nailed to a tree, “Welcome to North Carolina.” We reached the 200-mile mark near Clingmans Dome, I looked to my hiking partner and said, “Well, it’s all downhill from here.”
We’ve also been dodging bad weather when we can, and putting in 20+ miles on days we can. Scott (founder of Warrior Expeditions) is probably shaking his head right now saying, “I told y’all not to go that fast in the beginning!” That’s another great thing about Warrior Expeditions – besides the incredible community support and gear manufacturers – they have 10 years of data from hikers that have gone through the program with information on what to do and what not to do. I followed it to a T and I can’t say enough how it helped me get to this point. To the people that have done it before me: I thank you for the knowledge and experience you’ve passed down and I hope to do that for future classes.
As far as lessons go, I don’t want to carry an ounce more than I have to and I’m finally starting to get a better feel for resupplying on food. I’ve learned I should always eat before resupplying or I’ll love everything I see and just put it in my bag, forgetting I had to carry it. I’m also getting really good at breaking down camp and now I’m usually on trail by 7 am. The first day I was the last one packed up out of camp and I started stressing; but then I just got in a rhythm and I can be ready to go in 10 minutes. I’m starting to feel like I’m finally settling into a routine and getting in the swing of things.
A “typical” thru-hike would have tramily members coming and going, but it seems you have a de facto tramily in your Warrior Expeditions group. How do you think your own experience of the trail compares to what your fellow veterans are experiencing alongside you?
We all started together for the first five days and were shadowed by the Warrior Expeditions staff and alumni. I picked all of their brains about the trail (and hoped I didn’t bother them too much). In Hiawassee, we resupplied and then we were on our own. There were different levels of fitness, preferences on how much we want to hike each day and how fast we want to hike, so the 10 of us split into groups of two or four. Being from GA, I had already seen most of the local attractions and I really wanted to put in miles with nice weather outside. So, I decided to hike with another Warrior Expeditions member who has a deadline and is totally whooping my butt.
“Boy, women are tough. And everybody knows that, but four of the five veterans on the Warrior Hike last year on the Appalachian Trail were women.”
What sections of trail are you most looking forward to?
The last trail magic I found I chatted with a gentleman when he said, “You think this is hilly, just wait until New Hampshire and Maine – it’s just straight up.” I decided to try not to think about that – we’ve been working really hard to stay present and in the moment. I’m really looking forward to getting some flat miles in Virginia and to the weather warming up because I’m ready to send home some winter clothing. We’re supposed to get a storm here in a few days – it’s fun when you’re in a storm at your house, but when your house is a tent and everything you have is getting soaked it changes things a little bit. But hey, that’s a part of the experience.
Has the journey been healing? Are there ways that people can help those in the program have a more fulfilling experience?
I’d love to touch on the community support we have here at Warrior Expeditions. There’s a huge group of people that just want to help. If you go on the website you can find ways to volunteer and get involved, provide support, and educate others about what this program is all about. To be picked up yesterday in the rain where I had a hot shower and a warm meal – it just means a lot when people really care. To see that amount of support in the community is really humbling.
What are your plans after you reach Maine?
I haven’t even thought about it! I’d like to pay it forward to the next Warrior Hike Class. I was talking to a gentleman that did the PCT (who cooked us some awesome hamburgers) and he said it was life-changing to help others experience what he experienced.
You know, if you can change someone else’s life, that’s really a life with purpose. To help others is ultimately the best way to leave your mark on the world, so I’d love to pass on my experience to others so they can then pass theirs on to the next class and so forth.
A huge thank you to Tony and Michelle from Warrior Expeditions for making this interview possible. Follow Tony @tonydeprici and @warriorexpeditions on Instagram and head over to their website www.warriorexpeditions.org for more information about the program. I’m Oats, signing off until next time – Happy hiking!
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