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The Summit Project

One of these days I will be consistent with my posts. My goal is to write once a week but I seem to struggle to write once a month, and this month is cutting it close. I can't believe it has been over a month since my last post. It seems like we just went for our hike on the AT a few days ago.

May was fun. We had our first road trip with our new truck-camping setup. I will write about that another time, maybe next week. I want to focus on or event this past weekend instead. We joined in The Summit Project's Baxter hike. Well, Bruce hiked, I am still trying to figure out what is wrong with my hip and leg. No strenuous activities for me. I stayed back and helped at basecamp.

The Summit Project is a Living Memorial supported by an ever growing family of thousands of dedicated and patriotic individuals who all have personally invested in our mission. We are a nationally recognized, Maine based, 501(c)3 service organization and we have a very special way of paying tribute to the fallen service members from Maine who have died in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. We ensure that Maine Heroes are NOT Forgotten by carrying their memorial stones on tribute hikes and carrying their stories for a lifetime. I copied this paragraph from their website.

I first heard of this program from Andrew, my initial AT hiking buddy back in 2015. He had heard of a group who carries stones on hikes and we wanted to do that for our Thru-hike on the AT but we didn't know exactly what it was or who to contact. And with the short notice of the idea we didn't have time to research adequately before we set off. So it became a thought that faded with each mile as we hiked north.

Fast forward over 2,100 miles and six months to the night before my summit of Katahdin, ending my first Appalachian Trail thru-hike it came full-circle. Sitting at the picnic table at Abol Campsite with hubby Bruce, my nephew Sean, and friend Justin as the campfire glowed behind us for ambience in the early dusk of the evening, Justin informed me he had a surprise. Justin did not know my earlier desire to do my hike for a cause, or that I had entertained the idea of carrying a stone in honor of a hero. Heck, I didn't even fully know what the program was all about. I had even forgotten about it.

Out from his pack he pulled two stones engraved with the initials and ranks of two young men from our area who sacrificed everything while serving our country. He told us about each young man and asked if I wanted to carry one of the stones as we climbed to the top of Katahdin the next day. The tears that gushed from my eyes answered for me.

Traditionally, a hiker will research the life of the fallen hero and share their story with others on the hike. It is how the program honors the fallen, keeping their lives alive - a living memorial. Along the hike we would stop and remove the stones from our pack and Justin would share what he knew about these two brave souls with us and with other hikers we encountered. When we reached the top we captured summit photos at the sign with the stones. To this day, this photo is still one of my favorites.

Two years later when I was planning my second go around on the AT, I reached out to The Summit Project requesting a stone to carry. As much as they would have loved to sign one out to me, they couldn't let it be gone for six months. So, instead, I carried my own little stone, I dubbed a spirit stone and called it Gratitude. I would take it out and photograph it at different spots and tell people about the program. Then when I was done, I donated it to the program.

This past weekend, memorial weekend, The Summit Project held their 10th Annual Tribute hike at Baxter State Park. It began with a police-escorted motorcade from Portland, ME where the stones are kept. 100 motorcycle riders drove the stones up the interstate and delivered them safely into the hands of the family members of the fallen heroes. It was quite the scene. What was even more amazing was the emotions expressed from these rough and tough motorcycle men and women as they choked back tears while handing over the stones to the families.

The stones are displayed reverently on a table as the evening festivities unfold and are then transferred into the possession of each hiker for the night.

On Sunday, four teams of 8-10 hikers launched from basecamp at staggered times for their designated trails. Team Red hiked Owl. Team White hiked Rainbow loop. Team Blue hiked Double-Top. And Team Gold hiked a nature trail off the Golden Road. Team Gold is made up of families who have been directly impacted by the death of a hero. They are considered by TSP as Gold Star Families and who the program is dedicated to helping.

Hikers are all volunteers who love to hike, are patriotic, and are honored to give back in this small way to the families who lost a loved one serving our country. Stones range in size and as the hikers shoulder the weight of the tribute stones for several miles over challenging terrain, the burden is a small reminder of the pain each hero went through and that of each family member is currently going through.

As the teams hike as a unit taking breaks as needed, they reflect on their heroes, sharing stories about their lives. At the summits the team gathers for circle tribute time. Each hiker shares with the team details and such about the hero they where charged with.

Team Red - Photo by Scott Mayer

With the precision only seen by our military's finest, the teams returned. Each team member one-by-one, once again delivered the stones into the hands of the family members who returned the stones back to the table. The family members gifted each hiker with a TSP patch in gratitude for keeping their son or daughter's memory alive.

Many tears are shed during these two days. But it isn't just a time of morning. It is mostly a time of celebration. Remembering the lives of our heroes, not just as the military personnel they were, but as the sons, daughters, cousins, siblings, friends, athletes, scholars, artists, musicians, comedians, jokesters, hard workers, and so on, these men and women were.

If you have the chance to participate in a tribute hike or any of TSP's other programs, you will be glad you did and the Gold Star families will be grateful. It is a known fact that the USA does not leave a man behind. But The Summit Project takes that one step further and makes sure that our Maine fallen heroes are not forgotten. If you are unable to actively participate, TSP would appreciate donations of any size.

Happy Hiking,



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