Siblings and combat veterans Michelle and Jacques Revoir stopped in North Wilkesboro this weekend while hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail from one end of North Carolina to the other.
The Revoirs are hiking the 1,150-mile trail as part of the Warrior Expeditions program.
The motto of Warrior Expeditions is “walk off the war,” which is from Earl Schaefer, a veteran who said this while hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1948 and realized the therapeutic benefits of long-distance outdoor exercise.
After hiking the Appalachian Trail with Warrior Expeditions last year, Michelle saw firsthand how hiking could be therapeutic.
Two men in the last group she hiked with started out bitter and angry, but by the end of the six-month hike, they were completely different people.
“It’s good to have eight to 10 hours a day to think, process things and talk to veterans and other people you meet,” Michelle said.
Michelle said she knew her brother would benefit from hiking, and urged him to come along with her on this hike.
Jacques left the Marines after five years because he said he was burnt out after three deployments overseas.
“You lose your faith in humanity, but then you do things like this and you meet people on the trail you realize how many great people there are out there,” said Jacques.
Sean Gobin founded Warrior Expeditions in 2013. The program soon transitioned to add a Warrior Bike and Warrior Paddle.
Other trails hiked in the program are the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, Arizona, Buckeye, Continental Divide, Florida and the Ice Age.
This is the inaugural hike of the Mountains to Sea Trail for Warrior Expeditions. Michelle said she is hopeful that next year they’ll have more veterans on this trail.
Jacques and Michelle began their journey Aug. 1 on Clingman’s Dome, near the border of Tennessee, and will end in Nags Head on Oct. 23. Each weekend they stop in local Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion posts to share their stories.
Members of VFW Post 1142 and the post auxiliary organized a gathering with food for the pair on Saturday at the post home in North Wilkesboro. They also took them out to eat Friday night and provided them transportation to and from the trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“Lots of people are turning to alternative therapy,” Michelle said. “It’s a way to turn away from drinking or drugs or just talking.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 veterans commit suicide per day. Both Jacques and Michelle have known people they served with who either committed suicide or died due to drug/alcohol usage.
Any combat veteran is eligible to participate in an expedition, no matter when they served.
Jacques was a corporal in the Marines. He served five years in Bahrain, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was an infantry rifleman and received a purple heart. Jacques is now a tree-climber.
Michelle served as a staff sergeant in the Air Force. She was a combat videographer and served for 11 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Michelle now does freelance video work.
Most days the siblings don’t hike the entire time together, preferring to walk at their own pace. Michelle usually starts around 7 a.m. and likes to take breaks every hour or so. Jacques usually starts around 10 a.m., walking at a steadier pace with fewer breaks. They pick a point on the trail to meet up with each other.
The past weeks have covered mountainous terrain, but the upcoming section of the trail will be more road-walking, according to Jacques.
“I love North Carolina,” Jacques said. “I spent a lot of happy years here and I’m happy to see North Carolina in a way 99 percent of the people who live here don’t get to see it.”
Each section they walk through, Jacques and Michelle have a point of contact, either someone who is from Warrior Expedition or someone who is knowledgeable about the trail. Oftentimes, they will hike with them through parts of the trail.
Michelle’s pack weighs about 32 pounds and Jacques’s weighs 35 pounds. They carry a lot of dehydrated food because it so light.
“It’s the best diet plan you could possibly do,” said Michelle.
Michelle said that she normally tries to buy healthier foods found on the outer aisles of the grocery stores, but when she’s hiking, she sticks to the middle aisles where the higher caloric foods can be found. They try to get in as many calories per day as possible.
Michelle said her favorite hiking food is a snickers bar.
They usually carry about a liter of water each, but have the ability to carry up to three. Water weighs them down, but is necessary not just for drinking, but for hydrating food.
Warrior Expedition provides hikers with a stipend for food, as well as gear provided by sponsors such as Crocs, Camelbak and Adidas.
After they finish this hike, both siblings say they have plans for more. Michelle intends to hike El Camino in Spain, and Jacques said he would like to take on the Pacific Crest Trail.