by LAURA HAYES
The sun is still high in the sky when Bart Lindberg pulls his canoe from the shore of the Prairie Island Campground into the Mississippi River.
His two traveling companions, Abby Kaeser and Mark Fox, still stand on the shore, waiting for the bulkheads of Kaeser’s kayak to be repaired.
“We have a meeting place, but we’re on our own when we want to be and together when we want to be,” Fox explained. “It seems to be working pretty well.”
Lindberg, Fox and Kaeser are the participants in a prototype canoe expedition down the Mississippi River through the Warrior Hike, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition from their military experience by traveling through scenic trails across the country. When their boats landed in Winona, the three had put in over 600 miles on the river.
Created in 2012, the Warrior Hike helps veterans deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), using these hikes as an alternative form of therapy. “I think it’s been great being with different generations of military,” said Lindberg, of Brainaird, Minn., who finished his deployment in Kuwait with the United States Army in 2015. “Learning their triggers more and my triggers more has made me feel less insane and that I’m not an anomaly. I realized I can survive in the wilderness alone and that brings a sense of primitive awareness that I can keep on surviving.”
Currently, the Warrior Hike offers expeditions along six trails, including the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Both Fox, of Eagan, Minn., who served with the United States Army in Vietnam, and Lindberg were selected to participate in the prototype for the latest expedition — a four-month canoe journey for 2,200 miles down the Mississippi River. They’re joined by Kaeser, a civilian who photographs the journey and keeps a running blog to document each day.
According to Lindberg, one of the goals of this prototype trip is to see if the expedition down the Mississippi would be accessible to disabled veterans, allowing them to participate in the Warrior Hike. “Since we’re doing the research, next year there will be other veterans in the program with maybe a prosthetic limb or a bad back,” Lindberg said. “They would like to get a couple of them on the river to see if we can make it possible.”
All three travelers feel comfortable on the water. While Fox was selected to be part of the prototype because of his experience on the river as a volunteer fire fighter, Lindberg served as a watercraft operator while he was deployed in the army. Every day they canoe, stopping at night to camp along the river or be hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in homes or hotels.
Both Fox and Lindberg have been sponsored by the Warrior Hike, who have provided them with all of the gear to make the journey. All three thank their sponsors.
“For me being a Vietnam veteran, we came back to negative views in the media,” Fox said. “It’s great to be welcomed and thanked endlessly for my service for a change.”
Those interested in participating in the Warrior’s Hike may visit warriorhike.org. On the website, there’s a link to donate money to help support veterans like Fox and Lindberg.
To follow Fox, Lindberg and Kaeser’s journey, visit Kaeser’s blog at abbykaeser.com.