Walking Distance #19 | Walking Toward Peace ft. Cindy Ross & Travis Johnston

In this episode of Walking Distance presented by The Trek and hosted by Blissful Hiker (Alison Young), we are joined by Cindy Ross, a Triple-Crowner, writer, artist and speaker, and Travis Johnston, a Triple-Crowner and veteran. Cindy Ross has authored books about her own adventures on the trail, but her newest, Walking Toward Peace, highlights 25 veterans and their stories of the trail. Cindy and her husband run a nonprofit called River House PA that helps veterans suffering from trauma. Travis is a veteran who became a Triple-Crowner after serving in Afghanistan, starting with hiking the Appalachian Trail in the memory of Zach Adamson, his friend and assistant gunner.

Blissful Hiker covers the stories of veterans in Cindy’s book Walking Toward Peace, Travis’s experience hiking as a veteran, and how healing the outdoors can be.

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Interview with Cindy Ross

1:38 – Background on Cindy Ross

2:50 – How did you get started in working with veterans outdoors?

3:57 – How did you go about chronicling the stories of these veterans?

4:45 – Was trusting each other an issue?

6:40 – You introduce several ideas in the book Walking Toward Peace, from veterans about hyper-engagement while walking trails in particular. Can you talk about that?

8:20 – In the book you introduce us one by one to these people using the trails, and one person is Earl Shaffer, the first person to hike the AT, who made mindfulness a thing before it was a thing. One thing you talk about that I found interesting, is that people go outdoors to heal and accept the past, not to forget.

9:50 – I also found Eileen’s story interesting in your book. She didn’t need to get away from her combat experience necessarily, she needed to recreate the sense of being focused and purposeful. I found that surprising, that she needed the trail for some type of reason to be.

11:17 – I know I’ve quoted you saying that “the puzzle pieces don’t fit coming back,” as after doing two thru-hikes, I know I’ve felt very strange coming home, like everything else has stayed the same, but you’ve changed.

11:38 – You bring up the idea that nature instills awe in us, in a manner that disallows arrogance and entitlement. Do you think that kind of awe helps vets who are suffering from PTSD or guilt?

13:19 – How have the vets changed you and your attitude towards trails?

Interview with Travis Johnston

17:45 – Background on Travis Johnston

18:26 – Can you talk about Zach Adamson?

21:33 – You said there are differences between military veterans and thru-hikers, in what ways?

22:30 – Would you say it was the people you met that led you to hike the Appalachian Trail yourself, or was it mostly in memory of Zach?

24:06 – You describe him as not practicing leave no trace, because his spirit is everywhere on the trail.

24:30 – You’re now a triple-crowner. What do you think is unique about backpacking that invites healing?

26:26 – You mention enjoying the present moment, but also the future and planning for it, and appreciating being alive while you’re walking. Did you notice a progression when you went from the Appalachian Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail, and then the CDT?

29:04 – You carried over 60 lbs as a ranger, so you were fit when you started the trail.

30:10 – What was the hardest part about hiking? Was it being alone or making friends, trusting people?

33:24 – You meet your wife on the PCT. How did you meet, and were you ready to meet her?

34:06 – You talked about how when you were at Zach Adamson’s funeral, how different the ranger friends were from the trail friends. Do you feel like you transformed a bit into these “tree hugger friends” as you called them?

37:14 – Veteran Resources

Mentioned in this episode:

Cindy Ross’ website

Cindy Ross’ books

River House PA on Facebook

Warrior Expeditions

Outdoor Buddies

Tina Mullen’s review of Walking Toward Peace

Get all of the Walking Distance Podcast episodes.

About Alison Young

Alison Young, aka Blissful Hiker, is a former host and producer at American Public Media and professional flutist. She’s thru-hiked New Zealand’s Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as long trails in South America, South Africa, Europe, Pakistan and all over the US. In her podcast Blissful Hiker, she shares personal essays from the trail along with collected sound. Her goal in life is to hike until she drops.

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