Montana veteran receives warm welcome on cross-country hike

When John ‘Jay’ Waters of Alexandria, Virginia recently cycled to Superior, he hadn’t anticipated the hospitality he was about to receive.

Waters retired as a U.S. Army Colonel in 2017 after 30 years. He served in the adjutant general (human resources) corps and has been deployed several times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Rwanda and elsewhere.

“Looks like every time there was a civil war in Africa, I ended up being sent there,” he said with a smile.

Waters began pedaling on his cross-country tour on May 26 from the Capitol steps in Washington, DC.

Superior marks approximately 3,100 miles from the 3,800 mile trek. La Push in Washington State’s Olympic National Park is one of the westernmost points of the Lower 48 and is where there will be a little celebration as he sets up his bike in the Pacific Ocean then quickly retrieves it as it will be refurbished for the five racers from coast to coast next year, sponsored by Warrior Expeditions.

Warrior Expeditions supports veterans who have served in combat zones, have been honorably released and wish to participate in a long-distance outdoor expedition to transition from military service.

Veterans are equipped with the best rated outdoor gear and clothing on the market, as well as a monthly allowance of $ 300 to purchase supplies during their trip.

Warrior Expeditions also coordinates with supporters who live along each Veteran’s route to provide support in the form of transportation, accommodation and food.

This is Waters’ second expedition. His first was a hike from Mexico to Utah in 2018.

THE REASON because the bike ride is twofold, Waters said.

“It’s for us, the individual veteran. To have that experience. And for some guys and girls who do that, maybe they’re working on bigger issues from their wartime experiences,” he said. he declares.

“Personally, I feel blessed to be fine. Now the second part of the trek is on the awareness side. We are trying to promote the Great American Rail Trail and I am riding next to one right now,” referring to the old Milwaukee train line.

This is where Diane Magone comes into play.

“As recreation chair for the Mineral County Resource Coalition, I helped raise funds to restore the Saltese easel on the Olympic Trail route,” she said. “Two years ago, I was delighted to learn that the Route of the Olympian would be part of the Great American Rail Trail, which will connect the trails from Washington, DC to Washington State.

“I started working with the National Rails to Trails Conservancy and recruited Bert Lindler with Wild Montana to form an informal committee, which we call Mineral County Rails to Trails,” Magone said.

This spring, the Rails to Trails Conservancy announced that it will be co-sponsoring veterans cycling the Great American Rail Trail as part of the Warrior Expedition program.

Five runners started together but quickly dispersed across the country as they moved at different speeds.

This is the first year for the driving route on the Great American Rail Trail, and Waters will be the last rider for 2021.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT is an oasis in the desert for participants in Warrior expeditions. Magone, Lindler and other Saltese residents in Tarkio welcomed Waters.

They paid for a room so he could do his laundry, shower, and sleep in a comfy bed, and the next morning they hosted a little reception at Eva Horning Park, where Waters briefed them on his trip.

“What I personally do, not that I’m anything special, is that I try to stop at any American Legion, VFW, Marine Corps League, AmVets,” Waters said. “Any type of organization specific to veterans and I get a picture. And the ones that are open, I go in and visit which usually leads to a good thing, like a free drink for sure. Several left me. sleep in the establishment. “

Waters pitch a tent when it needs it, whether it’s by the side of a road, a campground, or in someone’s backyard. The highlights were traveling through small towns and visiting with people and veterans. Waters said he tells everyone that America is a wonderful country. He uses back roads as much as possible and admits that Montana has been a little crazy because it has spent a lot of time on Interstate 90, which has been scary with 80 mph traffic on narrow bridges.

He used cars as “shields” to protect himself a bit from a sow and grizzly bear cub, then a herd of bison moving through Yellowstone National Park, which made his heart beat faster. than any hill he’s cycled on so far.

“It’s been rewarding and it’s a challenge. I can’t wait to be done, though,” Waters said.

His wife flies to follow him from Spokane to La Push as a support and to carry some of the equipment to lighten the load a little.

But his overnight stay in Mineral County made a lasting impression.

“Superior is my new favorite city on the track,” he said.

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