The blind leads the blind on a trail named perseverance

Appalachian Trail hiker and author Cindy Ross accompanied Bob Barker and Bill Irwin on a trail hike on the A.T. near Harpers Ferry.  After two days, they had covered only five miles, but no one had billed this hike as a marathon.

If you saw Bob Barker and Bill Irwin hiking down the Trail, you, too, would wonder at their chutzpah.  There they were, both loaded down with full packs and accompanied by Seeing Eye dogs.  In adition to the obvious obstacles, Bob was using a crutch and trying to ignore the multiple sclerosis that had crippled him.  He had hiked the A.T. before, with the aid of his crutches, but near-blindness, due to glaucoma, was a new impediment.

Bill, who thru-hiked the Trail in 1991 with the aid of Orient, his Seeing Eye dog, had convinced Bob to get a dog.  So, here were the two men and their dogs, out on the Trail for a trial hike.  I was invited to join them for companionship and my sight.

All the bases seemed to be covered.  Bob had been training for half a year by walking 30 miles a week, rain or shine.  The section of Trail we were hiking was near Harpers Ferry, W. Va.  Bill could use his cellular telephone to call friends at the Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters if any problems arose.  We were planning to hike as far as we could in four days.

Bob left his second crutch home.  He’d need one free arm to hold the harness on Cheetah, his Seeing Eye dog.  The pair had worked together before, but not climbing over rocks and up and down steep terrain that we would encounter on this hike.  Nearly all of their training had been on roads, where Cheetah was well behaved.  Once in the woods, however, the young pup was more interested in chasing toads, slopping in creeks, and sampling grass along the way. Bob was having a difficult time remaining in charge.

“I like a challenge,” he commented at one point.  “That’s why I’m here.  I missed the Trail. I knew it would be difficult, the first time with a dog.  It was difficult the first time I hiked with multiple sclerosis, too.”

Bill noted that when he and Orient began hiking the A.T., he fell as many as 40 times a day, due, in part, to flaws in their communication.

Bob appeared to be equally determined.

I didn’t realize how determined until he took a particularly hard fall.  We had crossed a stream on slippery rocks, about an eighth of a mile from the Trailhead.  Cheetah stood broadside in front of bob, determined to get a drink of water.  And, Bob tripped over the dog, fell hard, and twisted his foot.  On the next switchback, the exact same scenario was repeated.

“I know what a sprain feels like, and this feels different,” he said.  “The pain is going all the way up my leg.  It feels like I broke it.”

It looked like our hike might end soon after it had started, but Bob said he wanted to keep going.  Who were we to argue with him?  He had me wrap an Ace bandage around his leg and force an ankle guard over the rapidly swelling joint.  He downed some pain pills, and we continued climbing.  Once the drugs began taking effect, we settled into our pace, Bob’s pace, of one-quarter mile an hour.

We were in no hurry, in fact, over the course of the two day hike, I spent much time standing still.  I’d walk a few yards, turn around, and wait for Bob.  Bill and Orient brought up the rear.  Sometimes, I’d take Cheetah’s harness and give Bob my hiking stick to use as another crutch.

There was time to enjoy the beautiful weather, to watch sunlight and shade patterns, smell wildflowers, and think how my busy, fast life back home contrasted to this.  There was also a lot of time to talk.  The men discussed what they thought was more difficult- being totally blind, like Bill, or being nearly blind, like Bob.  (Bob’s vision is limited to about a two-foot radius in which all is blurred.)

“I think you’re worse off than me, because you hike as though you can see, although you really can’t, and Cheetah guides you as though you could, too,” Bill told him.

Bob told me how he continued to garden and to mow his lawn.  “I place five-gallon white buckets int he corners and point my lawn mower in each bucket’s direction.  After I cut a strip, I move the bucket over for the next cut.  I keep moving buckets until it is done.  I never watch the mower but just stare at the blurred white buckets.

“I also put in a large garden this summer. I stretched a white string between two stakes, for each row, and followed it with my hand as I crawled on the ground.  I used a stick that’s three feet long with holes drilled into it. I dropped seeds through the holes and covered each with my hands.  I operated my tiller the same way as the lawnmower, and, for closeup weeding, I relied on feeling.  I know the difference between crops and weeds and grass.”

In camp, Bob listens carefully to his stove, to tell when the pressure (of escaping gas) built up enough to light it.  All his cooking gear is laid out on a sheet of plastic.  When he unfolds his tarp, all cords and tie-downs are exactly where they are suppose to be.

After two days of hiking, we had covered only five miles and had run out of water twice.  Bill, who functions as though he can see, went ahead to a store at a road-crossing to call ATC. An ATC staff member met us at a nearby road crossing, and took Bob to the hospital.

“I would have never given up,” Bob insisted.  ” I would have walked out on my own, had it taken me three more days.  Once, I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to do something, it’s hard for me to quit, even though things have not gone according to plan.”  And, Bob’s broken leg bone was definitely not planned.

In the midst of all the hospital-shuffling, there was talk of retuning to the Trail after Bob’s leg healed.  Perhaps he could hike a more gentle stretch with his grandson or with friends who have knee problems and are slow hikers themselves.

Bob’s fall and aborted hike disappointed him, but his life has been one of perseverance.  The hike taught him many things that he needed to learn and would now act upon, one of which was the fact that Cheetah needed more training.

As I drove home, I thought of all the reasons hikers abandon their A.T. hikes -rain, loneliness, aches and pains, lack of preparation, etc. -and the incredible feeling of failure that they usually have as they leave the Trail.  But, words like, “difficulty” and “hardship” have new meanings for me since hiking with Bob Barker and Bill Irwin.  And, they have shown me that the only real failure in life is to stop trying.



In Memory Of Bill Irwin

 The first blind man to hike the entire Appalachian Trail as one continuous thru-hike

By Cindy Ross


…Something our suffering veterans might find inspiration in…

…….(Bill Irwin died this past March. In honor of him, I have retyped my story that appeared in The Walking Magazine many years ago, so that you might know of this amazing human being too. There will be another story being posted soon about a weekend hike where Bill taught another friend and amazing human being, Bob Barker, to hike with a seeing eye dog. Bob had MS and hiked the entire AT three times on crutches with a full heavy pack , beginning at the age of 63! These posted stories are a prelude to a story that will come out in AT Journeys magazine about what Bill Irwin did with the rest of his life after his epic AT hike. )

Imagine walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail while carrying a 35-55 pound pack, over rocks and roots and mountains, finding your water, shelter, not to mention your way, with your eyes closed! That’s what Bill Irwin, 50 year old family counselor from Burlington, North Carolina accomplished with  his seeing-eye dog, Orient back in 1990.

He did it without seeing the trail in front of him, without seeing the white blazes that mark the way, the signs at intersections, the boulders he had to climb over, the cliffs at his side, the fords across rivers, the fallen trees in his path, the snakes, the bears, the water sources, and the roads into town to re-supply. Yet he and Orient, managed to complete in one stretch, what so few sighted people are physically and mentally able to do…hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.

How could he possibly do it? Bill’s data was on cassette tapes, where the shelters and springs are located, routes into town to re-supply and mileage inbetween.  On the trail, Orient found the right way to go by smelling hikers that have gone before, even weeks before. Long distance hikers don’t get many opportunities to shower so their scent is a strong one.

“I’ve been lost a lot more in the company of other hikers than when Orient and I are alone,” Bill admits. “People get to talking, keep their heads down and miss a turn blaze. After awhile, Orient just learned to look for and read blazes himself.”

In Georgia, Bill used to test the ground and lock his ankles before putting any weight down, but the pair couldn’t make any time. Now he just plods along. “My ankles have twisted so many times that the ligaments are all stretched out. It only hurts for a minute or two.”

Seeing Eye dogs are trained to guide their owners through city streets and are taught to alert them of a step two inches and higher. This really slowed them down so wit practice, Orient learned by trial and error what height he could get away with and what height Bill couldn’t tolerate. Orient amazingly reads the terrain on the trail and communicates back to Bill.

“He’s got a terrific span of vision,” Bill praises. “and knows exactly how tall I am. He always clears my head by about six inches, when a tree is blown down across the trail.”

Orient will stop and it will be up to Bill to discover what the problem is. Bill takes his ski pole that he uses as a hiking staff and swings it in a scooping motion from the ground up, until it catches on the obstacle. The pole hitting the object alerts Orient that Bill has discovered it.

I’ve watched the pair rock hop across a stream when we hiked together in PA. Bill places his size 214 feet right where you would put them had you seen the stepping stones. How? He feels the movement of his dog’s body through his harness and leash. When Orient takes a big step, Bill knows he must take a bi step too.

Bill falls down a lot. In Georgia, he was falling forty times a day. He wears knee pads, always has wounds healing on his legs, broke a rib on a fall, and smashed a finger so baldy my husband Todd had to drill a hole into the nail to relieve the built-up pressure of the blood and pus. When he falls, he feels grateful he wasn’t hurt. When he’s hurt, he’s grateful he wasn’t hurt worse! As an any long distance hiker knows, your success is more dependent on your psychological ability to withstand the hardships of the trail. It is your good attitude, you burning passion, more so than your strong muscles that keep the miles clicking by.

“Attitude is the key to my world,” Bill says. “Accept the sun, accept the rain, accept the cold, accept the Appalachian Trail.”

A sense of humor helps too. He told me of the town stop where he received a care package and woofed down a package of “beef jerky.” It wasn’t until he thanked the sender of the tasty treat did he learn it was doggie chews for Orient for he couldn’t read the package! “They were great!” he exclaimed.

When I asked him about writing in the registers, the notebooks left in the shelters along the trail where hikers sign in and communicate with one another and make it possible to find you should an emergency arise, he replied, “I can feel the previous entry on the page and know where to start. I must remember everything that I’ve written so I don’t repeat myself! Oh, I can write everything! I just can’t read it!”

It’s important to Bill to find joy wherever he can for his trip has been one of extreme hardship and fatigue. Dealing with pain has not been the most difficult part of Bill’s hike. Exhaustion was. Besides the physical rigors of wlaking15 miles a day, up and down mountains with weight on your back, it took so much concentration for Bill to execute the trail. He could rarely relax, except on ascents where he used rock climbing techniques, his hands to feel depressions in the rocks while keeping his body low and close. Orient cannot climb so Bill must lift him over his head. One place in the Whites of New Hampshire, there was a 25-foot drop in the trail, over a rock slab. All the saplings for hand holds were pulled out so Bill had to rely on a crack to wedge his hand into while Orient occupied the other hand. While he was teetering, full pack on, trying to throw Orient up, his hand began to slip!

The slippery, narrow bog  bridges in Vermont dunked them in the oozing mud more than once, completely submerging Orient.  Because Bill took so long to complete his hike (8 months to Thanksgiving) the season got much later than most thru-hikers experiences, and the weather turned nasty and cold. He had to contend with temps in their teens, 100 MPH gusting winds on open, exposed summits, and a blizzard of 28 inches. After the snow reached a height of 8 inches, Orient could not longer find the trail, so they sought emergency shelter in a ranger’s cabin on a mountain top in Maine. Four days they waited until help arrived.

“Every day for two hours in the morning and for two hours in the afternoon, Orient and I would go out in search of the spring, the privy, and firewood. We were down to our last piece when two thru-hikers finally found me. Never did find the privy or the spring and had to melt snow for water all that time.”

Because of the tremendous wet fall New England experienced, streams were swollen to the size of rivers. Bill had to cross them on his hands and knees like a dog, completely submerged in the 33 degree water except for his head, for he could not remain upright on the slippery rocks and strong current.  And once he and Orient were swept twenty yards downstream. “Terrible weather to be swimming in!” he laughs afterwards.

You may be wondering WHY? Why did he keep going? Did he really get any pleasure out of the hiking? After all, he couldn’t even see any of the country he was traveling through.

Bill is quick to tell anyone that he does indeed see, he just sees differently than sighted people. “I perceive with all of my senses combined,” he explains. “I take in all the messages my nose, ears, and skin are sending me and try to create the scene in my head. When I ask hikers what it looked like, I get a double shot! But they never ask me what I saw!”

Bill can smell the damp dew in the morning, the warm sun baking the earth. He searches for flowers that fill the air with their sweetness and feel show they’re put together so he can identify them. He can feel the openness of a southern Appalachian bald, and the closeness of a New England balsam forest.  All these things filled Bill Irwin’s hike with beauty and to him, made the Appalachian Trail very, very beautiful.

But what about those last month sinew England in the fast approaching winter? Why did he keep going then?

“I was very, very tired,” he admits. “Tired of being cold and wet. Tired of being away from home. A few times at the end, I always bit it.”

Bill was out there for the greater goal besides merely reaching Mount Katahdin. He was walking the AT as an affirmation of his faith in God. “I wanted to show what s possible, even for a blind man, when God is leading you.”

Still, nobody can make a person continue, not even God. It takes a lot of personal courage and extraordinary perseverance to do what Bill Irwin has done. He has given new light to the words “difficult” and “impossible” for many people. This very warm, humble, charismatic man though, will never take credit for any of his accomplishments. “I just showed up for work,” he said, “God did the rest.”

Education Workshop Adviser

photoEducation Workshop Adviser for

River House PA


Dr. Lee Reinert didn’t expect to be on this backpacking trip. She was #10 on the waiting list for this special “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” program sponsored  by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. She never dreamed the nine above her would cancel out, leaving room for her. She had been late in learning  about  the program but she thought it was worth taking the chance. I was the trip leader, hired to take this handful of women into the Pennsylvania Wilds. I had no idea how not only MY life would be impacted by Lee Reinert’s stroke of good luck, but how it would greatly impact my children’s entire lives.

It happened on that very first conversation upon leaving the parking lot of the West Rim Trail in Tioga County. Lee walked behind me and as soon I  learned that she was an educator and a home school evaluator, I shared  that I was on the fence on whether I should pull my 8th & 6th graders out of public school.  As we hiked, I shared every fear and concern with her and she dispelled  every single one. Every myth, she told me the reality. From the concern of not being able to properly socialize my children to getting them into college. She instilled the confidence in me that I could as a parent,  successfully educate my children AS WELL AS THEM, be responsible for their education.

Now, nearly ten years later, my children have been so successful, even beyond my wildest dreams. Sierra  became such a leader as a home schooler  that she won many private scholarships and Temple University had to PAY  her to go to school there- so much money came into her account.  She graduated Honors- Sigma cum laud and has received a full ride to University of Arizona Masters Program.  She did however, just win the National Science Foundation Fellowship for 3 years of paid grad school/research at the university of her choice so U of Colorado, Boulder & Yale are in the running now too- where she was accepted.  Her brother, Bryce won many scholarships too and is poised to earn his Bachelors in Art- Graphic Design-Illustration from Tyler School of Art/Temple University. The most important thing is that they turned into marvelous adults who have a passion to make the world a better place. I equate a large part of their success to Dr. Lee Reinert and her guiding hand.  Lee has now chosen to direct her energy and guidance to River House, lucky for us, acting as Advisor for the educational arm of the non-profit.

Lee earned her Bachelors in Elementary Education and went on to earn her Masters in Remedial Reading and Counseling and Human Resources. She earned her Ph.D. in Psycho-Educational Processes.. For  ten years, she did counseling work in drug and alcohol, ADHD in kids and adults, and for  five years taught Holistic Health for Nurses at Immaculata College, PA. For these classes, Lee had practitioners of alternative therapies come to demonstrate their work/techniques.  Lee still maintains relationships with many of these healers and plans to draw on this vast resource for River House.

Cutting edge therapy such as “pressure point therapy” or Thought Field Therapy (TFT) will also be offered. Lee will be instrumental in advising and helping us coordinated workshops in art, music, dance and writing therapy, bodywork and  mediation workshops, etc. at River House PA. River House could not be happier to welcome Dr. Lee Reinert on board as a member of our team.


River House PA  is happy and proud to announce their latest AFFILIATION


SHEhike – Survive-Heal-Empower-Hike

The sad ugly truth is this sweet little teacher was sexually abused as a youngster in high school. Sadie Martin suffered from depression, suicide temptations and post- traumatic stress disorder until she went for a night hike at Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert and discovered the stars and the Milky Way.

“When I looked up at the night sky for the first time and saw that river of stars, distant galaxies, traveling light from years ago, the beauty floored me. This wonderful perspective reminded me that we are all stardust, made of the same elements and matter as the stars and we are all connected. I began to focus less on my pain and suffering and began to feel at peace and at home out in the natural world. I think about this connection and I am able to maintain it once I come back indoors.  It is about self- reverence. Being in nature gave me a sense of love.”

Sadie now nurtures her need and makes sure that she backpacks and hikes on a regular basis. Not a minute of depression has clouded her life since. Hiking has become a way of life for her.

“It is exactly what I needed,” she admits.

Sadie found the strength to create SHEhike, (Survive, Heal, Empower, Hike) a program designed to encourage women with PTSD from sexual violence/assault to try hiking as a way to heal and empower themselves while learning the skills necessary for backpacking. A relay on the Pacific Crest Trail is scheduled for 2014 with plans to expand the program to the AT and CDT.  Sadie plans to grow her program and connect to women’s shelters along the trails to help with support and events. Shorter excursions, day hikes, workshops etc. will evolve as well as expanding into other outdoor activities.


Committing Oneself

RiverHouse PA is happy and proud to announce their latest Affiliation-

Ted Danforth, Kayak Instructor

It happened again.

I was sitting at my desk when the E-mail came in.

“Hi Cindy – Wondered if you had the time or the inclination to get together for a quick lunch or maybe longer dinner to let me pick your brain a bit about writing, blogging, and such?  I’ve been playing with this a bit, but wanted to get some insight from someone out there doing it.  You pick the place and time if you’re open!  I’ll come to you.   Thanks!

Ted Danforth

TSD Environomics, Inc.

“Who is Ted Danforth?” I yelled over to my daughter Sierra who was working from home in her position as Outreach Coordinator for the non-profit, Schuylkill Headwaters Association.

“He’s one of my sponsors for Schuylkill Acts & Impacts,” a week-long educational program for high school students in the watershed that my daughter designed and is executing this June.

“He used to be in charge of the Schuylkill River Sojourn, and was a paddling outfitter.”

Pennsylvania stages guided paddling trips on our state’s rivers called Sojourns- ranging from 2 to 9 days designed to build river awareness. Trained safety personnel accompany the Sojourns and many have boats for rent through local liveries, which Ted’s company, Hidden River Outfitters was one.

I’ve written multiple magazine stories about multiple Sojourns in the past and knew his name sounded familiar. We arranged a lunch date.

I was hoping either he would look recognizable or I would be recognizable to him. At the hostess kiosk at Cracker Barrel, it all came back to me.

In our first few minutes, we realized that he was married for 22 years to a childhood friend of mine whom I went through 12 years of Catholic school with and that he also knows River House’s President, John Herman, the attorney/realtor who is orchestrating River House’s creation …too small of a world.

Ted has been doing long distance motorcycle trips and paddling trips for years and writing about it- mostly as blogs but for some publications. And because he loves it, he wanted to know if making a living from writing was feasible. When I learned that he has a very successful business as an environmental consultant specializing in wastewater treatment plants for food-processing firms, I explained to him that the meager living he could make from being a travel writer would cause him to lose his home and probably go hungry. Don’t do it. Ease back from engineering and do more writing but don’t quit cold turkey. Besides, I told him, writing should never be about making money. I told him, “The only reason to be a professional writer is because you can’t help it.” Leo Rosten.

It did not take long to move past writing and onto other things. My favorite topic…River House PA. In just a few sentences, Ted volunteered. “How can I help? Financially? My services ?”

“OK!” I replied, and let me tell you what Ted Danforth’s services are.

Ted told me that he was certified to teach and guide disabled folks in a canoe/kayak through a course called Adaptive Paddling Workshop (APW).  That there are only a few individuals qualified to do so. He took an intensive course in Minnesota sponsored by the American Canoe Association, which has been taught across the country since 1990. This course brings together certified instructors, recreational paddlers, and people with physical disabilities to promote recreational paddling opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Each guide learns to gut kayaks and then lines them with foam. I can hook you up with the folks that do this.” Ted pulls out his laptop to show me images and also a video of how a woman whose hands did not work but her arms did, had a kayak paddle Velco strapped to her arms so she could paddle.

“You and Elizabeth should take this course,” Ted told me.

“Nope. We don’t have time. We’ve got other stuff to do. But how about heading up our Paddling component at River House PA? Would you be interested in being a partner?”

“Yes.” He quickly replied.  Even though his certification has lapsed, he can remedy that.

Ted is closing in on 60 years old and he too, like Elizabeth and I, feels he needs to do something different and meaningful in life, something that will make a positive impact on the world. River House PA and helping veterans with PTSD speaks to him as it does to Elizabeth and I and so many others who have come on board in such a short amount of time.

Our President, John Herman, a hugely successful businessman with a staff who would do anything for him because on top of being bright, he is kind and fair,  taught Elizabeth and I this fact- don’t try to do everything yourself, look for people  who are already experts in their area to help out and join forces.  ”

“I would love to be a part of River House,” Ted professes. “Just getting out on a lake is joyful for these folks,” and it is such rewarding work.  “I am happy to be part of the team.”

As we said good-bye, Ted left me with this thought, “The other certified Adaptive Paddling Instructor in the east is in Philadelphia. We could get the Philadelphia Canoe Club to come on board and together with the Philadelphia VA, stage an event on the Schuylkill River to build awareness for River House PA and do a fundraiser.”

And I got into the car and once again felt amazed at how things have been working out for us, how the right people just “appear,” materialize.  When I called Elizabeth in the parking lot and told her what just had happened,  how the purpose of this meeting was about writing but through it all, we earned a new and very important partner she said, “I just got goose bumps. “

Naysayers said to us, “How are you going to pull this River House off?  Are you going to learn how to file for non-profit, fund raise, buy a house, fix it up, etc,.”

And to that we reply, “We are going to get people to help us, people who want it to happen as much as we do, people who want to help hurt veterans as much as us, and like Ted, they are coming out of the woodwork to join our team!!

And it all reminded me of this quote….”The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves in. All sorts of things occur that would otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” …Goethe.

LEEK Hunting & Mountain Preserve

Leek LogoRiver House PA is proud and happy to announce our affiliation with LEEK Hunting & Mountain Preserve

“When something occurs beyond chance to lead us forward in our lives, then we become more actualized people. We feel we are becoming what destiny is leading us to become.”…The Celestine Prophecy

My partner, Elizabeth and I were traveling on I-180 on a press trip for Pennsylvania Magazine a few weeks back. Our conversation as always, revolved around River House PA and the creation of our non-profit. We were speaking it into existence, brainstorming and funneling all our creative energy into it, when a crazy thing happened. In midstream of a River House sentence, I came up on a large pick-up truck at my normal break neck speed, close enough to read his tailgate sign, “LEEK-Hunting & Mountain Preserve, Serving America’s Wounded Veterans.”

“Holy Shit Elizabeth! Look at what’s in front of us! I’ve never heard of them!”

Elizabeth pulls out her smart phone and Googles LEEK and learns that it is a wonderful non-profit that sponsors hunting trips for disabled warriors.

I am so excited that I speed up even more, pull up alongside of him, and instruct Elizabeth to motion to the driver to pull over.

“Let’s get coffee with him and see if he wants to work with us.”

My ever-practical partner replies, “He’ll think we’re crazy. We can e-mail him when we get home.”

The man driving the truck, Ed Fisher, did not happen to look over at the River House PA Founders and missed his chance but today, one month later, we finally had the pleasure of meeting, having coffee, and talking about our future together.

Ed and his wife Kate along with many volunteers, created LEEK seven years ago to provide injured serviceman and women a way to enjoy therapeutic outdoor recreational activities regardless of their physical condition. They operate an all-volunteer run facility in Potter County that is completely handicapped accessible, which includes amazing Leek trackerchairAction Trackchairs that take warriors into the woods. Ed is a retired Army Colonel who served for 27 years. Now he works as a government civilian and manages LEEK on the side. Their preserve grew from 256+ acres to now having 31,000 acres at their disposal for hunting purposes. Turkey, bear, deer and Pheasant hunts are conducted five times a year- also, archery, black powder and some fishing. Leek has a waiting list and gets many of their warriors from military medical facilities and referrals.

My beautiful picture

Ed takes Elizabeth and I to his garage where he shows us an Action Trackchair that will climb up steps and over logs. This sit-down version has removable attachments to hold a rifle and a fishing rod, costing between $12-14,000 apiece.

The Stander chair costs $17-18,000 and runs on two hydraulic motors. At one of the LEEK fund raisers, a Vietnam vet tried out the Stander and called his wife over and said, “Come here and give me a hug honey. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to hug my wife standing up.”

Ed and Kate share stories of their chairs pulling deer out of the mountains for a warrior after a hunt and amazing stories of happiness after warriors attended a LEEK hunt.

On their very first hunt, the Fisher’s had warriors sleeping in their home- double amputees sleeping on couches, carrying the disabled warriors into the woods on their backs. They needed to pave over their cobblestone path which tripped up warriors with prostheses and in wheelchairs.

The Fishers told Elizabeth and me to have patience. We will grow slowly and be able to do so much good because our hearts are in the right place. They assured us that help and support will come out of the woodwork once our program becomes known. In just seven years, they have grown and become visible enough to have won the very prestigious 2012 Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award. The award recognizes and honors a private sector individual or organization that has demonstrated exceptional patriotism and humanitarian concerns for members of the armed forces and their families.

Ed & Kate explained that this is powerful work. Elizabeth and I are certain we will find the same thing to be true for River House PA, as we usher our dream into existence in these next years.

Quite the story to end our visit on as Ed escorted Elizabeth and I out to our car, giving us tips on logos, embroidered shirts and fund raising. “And you’ll need to get one of those chairs,” he reminded us as we walked past them in the garage.

We laughed to ourselves, thinking about our River House PA business cards that we recently had made- this fledgling non-profit, which has a long way to go but promises such a bright future. We will have patience with this big dream to help thousands of wounded veterans.

Ed said he would be happy to help us in any way he can, invited us up to a hunt and meet his LEEK warriors, and will refer warriors to our program when we are ready. With Affiliations like LEEK in place and the wonderful help and friendship of Ed & Kate Fisher, how can River House PA not be a success?Leek Logo

If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you.

If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth can destroy you.

Writing in a journal will be a part of River House PA’s adventures. Writing puts us in touch with what is inside. It will never be mandatory to share unless our participants desire to, but amazing insights can be gleaned from one another’s words. Cindy has taught journal writing courses at a local college to adult students for years and has written three published narrative books chronicling her long walking journeys. Her first book, A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail, which has been in consecutive print for over thirty years and is considered a classic. She will use the book Writing War, by Ron Chapps of the Veteran’s Writing Project to help with River House’s writing workshops. River House believes that every veteran (and person who has experienced trauma) has a story to tell.

Please clink on this link to read profiles/veteran’s stories that Cindy has written as well as a published article on journal writing.   

TC-JA11_Journal Writing_spread   



Paying it Back, Paying it Forward

I can remember the first time I met a long distance hiker on the Appalachian Trail. I was fifteen and on a hike with my local hiking club, the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club,out of Reading, PA. He wasn’t an extremely tall man but his backpack towered over his bearded face. He was in a hurry and it didn’t appear as though he wanted to chat. He only half turned to answer the questions that my hiking club friends asked as he passed by.

“How far did you come?”

“Georgia,” he answered as he disappeared down the trail, wet socks dangling from the outside of his pack, a plastic bag of fresh fruit swaying so it wouldn’t get crushed.

I remember being transformed that day. And my life has never been the same since.

My parents did not hike but when I was a young teen, I discovered that I loved it and wanted to do as much as I could. Although I did not drive yet, I merely had to meet at a rendezvous point in downtown Reading, PA give the club members a few cents for gas, and hitch a ride. The elders of the club shared so much with me, took me under their wings, taught me to fall in love with hiking and backpacking. I became active in my hiking club, building and maintaining a section of trail and paying it forward.

After hiking the entire AT in 1978-9 (two halves because of a broken foot), I penned my first book, A Woman’s Journey and went on to become a writer. The Appalachian Trail gave me a life, and an occupation. I never stopped hiking, went on to long distance cycle and paddle as well as write about these sports.

My husband, Todd and I got away from trail maintenance when we became parents but have recently gotten back into it. Todd helped the club build two log shelters as he is a log builder and a chainsaw carver and has since taken on the new position of Shelter Co-Chair. He is responsible for maintaining 5 shelters on our club’s 65 miles of trail.

Today my daughter, Sierra and I tag along for Todd’s early spring inspection Bake Oven Knob Shelter 001Bake Oven Knob Shelter 006of Bake Oven Knob Shelter. It is a very old and historic shelter, dating back to the 1930’s. The club ponders whether it would be a good idea to remove it, as it is less than a mile from the road and the scene of many a party and a trashing. There is no out house in the vicinity for managing a composting toilet is a challenging job that few choose to embrace.

I forgot how gross a job it is to clean up an Appalachian trail shelter after the winter breaks. There is trash everywhere, soggy toilet paper, used menstrual pads. It’s a good thing we brought along disposable gloves.

Strangely, there was a cooler at the shelter, loaded with ice and raw hamburger. Two dozen cans of beer and soda were tucked away inside the Bake Oven Knob Shelter 003shelter. Collapsible stadium chairs leaned against the wall and a roll of toilet paper and paper towels, but no owners were in sight. We had come up a short cut trail only known to the trail maintainers. Had the owners gone back out to the road for yet another load?

We spent an hour picking up trash and Todd making notes on shelter repairs yet still no partiers. We slung our stuffed trash bags over our shoulders and walked out, cringing to think what would be left behind after this weekend’s party, and also about the club’s dilemma over the Bake Oven Knob Shelter. Should they build a new one- a log shelter, under the direction of Todd, or should they tear it down and leave it area wild?

When the idea of River House PA was born, my Co-Founder, Elizabeth and I realized that it would make a great extended project for some of our veterans. It would be a wonderful way to give back to the trail, especially after we taught them to be hikers and they experienced some long distance AT adventures on their own. Or, to merely pay it forward, thinking of that day in the future, when some of them would become AT end-to-enders like Todd and I and have their lives transformed.

Shelter clean up after the winter is about the worst job as a trail maintainer. Shelter construction is quite fun, on the other hand, especially if you can learn a new skill like log building and perhaps even go on to build your own log home! And goodness knows, there are many miles of trail to clip and brush. Todd Bake Oven Knob Shelter 004and I have only 2 ½ miles of trail on the Blue Mountain ridge and it takes us two days to clear it- with loppers and chainsaw, and that must be done at least two times a year. (Multiply that by 65 miles!) The Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club could sure use the help of some veterans who want to pay it forward! They schedules work trips on the trail every month- wonderful opportunities to get some exercise, make some new friends, invest in your future. And, you just might run into a thru-hiker on his way to Maine, who could transform your life.     

By Cindy Ross Co-Founder River House PA

Workshop Intro


Enjoying adventures in the wilds, even multiple month-long expeditions, can help anyone make great leaps in their health, in all aspects of their being- physical, psychological and mental, especially someone dealing with trauma. At River House PA, one of our most important goals is to get our participants to the point where they are able to make a long journey and get the maximum benefit of time spent in the healing power of nature.

But we can’t stay on the long trails forever. We have to come home. When we heard that 24-year old  Ranger Veteran Zach Adamson of Georgetown, Ohio hiked the entire Appalachian Trail last year, then returned home and committed suicide, even after spending 5 months in the lap of nature, we at River House PA knew there needed to be another huge component to our mission besides introducing our participants to the wilds. We also had to help them design an authentic and purposeful life.

Cindy Ross and her husband Todd Gladfelter, are both Triple Crowners, meaning they successfully hiked the entire 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail national scenic trails (the later with their young children and llamas). They learned first-hand that in order to stay truly happy they had to adopt those same qualities and principals that they gleaned from the trail and incorporate them into their lifestyle.

So they created a life where they live close to the earth, growing their own food, raising animals, building a log home from scratch, designing self-employed occupations where they could be creative and expressive, staying out of debt and remaining independent and in charge of their lives, living simply and staying well connected to the natural world. For over twenty years, they have presented Voluntary Simplicity Workshops to traveling universities at their rural home.   

Todd Gladfelter will be in charge of lifestyle workshops at River House PA. He will instruct participants in the skills of: log building, fine furniture making, blacksmith arts, chainsaw carving, gardening, orchard tending, putting up and preserving food, animal husbandry, and on and on. This is just one of River House’s leaders. (   

We will also bring on instructors in writing, music, body arts (massage, acupuncture, reflexology), yoga etc. to help River House participants continue their healing and discover what is their personal bliss and how to craft a lifestyle which embraces it. There is no limit. If you want to learn the art of beekeeping, we will connect you to a master beekeeper that you can apprentice. Nearby Delaware Valley College and Rodale Institute have designed a program called Growing Warriors, which helps veterans suffering from PTSD become organic farmers. A whole offshoot to River House PA is a program where we place participants in a Farm-Stay Position, not only will our veterans have a family surrounding them, they will also learn if the farming lifestyle is one that speaks to their heart, while at the same time providing farmers such needed assistance, providing time for a medical leave or a well needed vacation.

If we can’t bring in an instructor or design a workshop, we will network and help you create your personal authentic life where you reap great value and self-worth. The next part will be sharing your gifts with others, giving back, paying forward, with River House’s extensive community outreach programs that will be put into place.