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Combat vets are hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail

Assisted by the nonprofit Warrior Expeditions, which supports outdoor journeys to help veterans melt the effects of combat, several veterans are hiking the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Ashland is one of the towns along the trail, and the vets will be stopping there for friendship, a couch to sleep on and some tasty refreshment at a local brewpub.

Two vets rolled in Monday — Marine veteran Emory Wanger of Vancouver, Washington, who served two tours in Iraq, and retired Navy veteran Jose Montanez of Las Vegas, who served two tours in Afghanistan. Both saw combat.

They and four other vets started at the Mexican border and will reach Canada before the snow flies, they said. Greeting Wanger and Montanez in Ashland were Michael Walters, Dale Cannistraci and Alissa Sampson of Massif, a maker of flame-resistant combat clothing on Oak Street. For the third straight year, they took the hikers out to dinner at the downtown Caldera Tap House.

“We got off the trail at 3 at Callahan’s (Lodge) on Sunday,” says Wanger, who carries a 35-pound pack. “We did 22 miles that day. It was a wet winter, so we coped with a lot of snow on the trail. For veterans, this is called outdoor therapy. It’s a means of dealing with the experience of combat. It’s self-healing and holistic.”

Montanez, who just finished a 20-year career in the Navy, adds, “You’re out there and you think and process it. It’s like a meditation. You get lost in your thoughts. Out there you meet people, and it restores your faith in humanity. People perform random acts of being human, the social aspect of engaging with people. The hike, it challenges you and builds confidence.”

Wanger observes, “You just walk and process it all. Things just pop in your head. Most of the time your mind is blank. You talk a little and ponder a lot.”

Massif started out by making flame-resistant clothing for flash fires encountered by search-and-rescue teams working in wildlands, says Walters. Now most of it is sold to the military and has a “universal camouflage print.”

Its website, massif.com, says founder Randy Benham, a former ranger at Crater Lake National Park, saw the need for practical clothing that is breathable, moisture resistant, good in bad weather and stretchable.

Warrior Expeditions was founded in 2013 by Sean Gobin, its CEO and executive director. Gobin was inspired by World War II veteran Earl Shaffer, who told friends in 1948 he was going to “walk off the war” — its sights, sounds and losses — and became the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, according to appalachiantrail.org. Warrior Expeditions long-distance journeys include hiking, biking and paddling.

More of the vets will be stopping for a break in Ashland in coming days and will be supported by Massif.

— John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

(June 30: This story has been updated to correct information about the origin of Warrior Expeditions.)