Almost half-way through his 800-mile hike on the Arizona Trail, John (Jay) Waters, a 30-year career Army man, spent two nights dining with local veterans and enjoying a comfortable bed and shower.
By the time Waters arrived May 6 at Lakeshore Hotel and Suites, he had been on the trail since March 25. His journey began at Montezuma Pass near Sierra Vista and the Mexico border and had covered 386 miles by the time he reached Fountain Hills.
Waters and his son took 10 days to drive across country to the trail head.
“He hiked the first day with me,” Waters said. “It was pretty cool. We jumped the fence (a barbed wire) illegally into Mexico and went about 100 yards in and took some pictures.”
Waters started his journey with another hiker who in the fifth day injured his Achilles heel and dropped out.
“I have been on my own pretty much since then,” said Waters. He has encountered few hikers along the way.
“It gets a little isolated,” said Waters, who may not encounter another person for three or four days.
Waters expects to complete the hike at the end of June after a month and a half on the trail. His wife, a school teacher, expects to join him for the last portion.
When he left Fountain Hills last Wednesday morning, Pine was the next scheduled stop.
Warrior Expeditions, a non-profit organization, sponsors the hike. Veteran Sean Gobin founded the organization in 2012 after he hiked the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail after three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gobin recognized the therapeutic effects of long-distance hiking as veterans transitioned from their military service.
Waters, of Alexandria, Virginia, retired 18 months ago. His deployments included Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia and Desert Storm.
He is involved in the “Voices of Freedom Project,” where he videotapes interviews with veterans recalling their military careers.
The project falls under the National Museum of Americans in Wartime.
While resting two days in town, Waters had a haircut and his beard trimmed. He received a pedicure, manicure and massage.
Marine Corps League Detachment 1439 members entertained him at two dinners and provided transportation from the trail into town and back.
He restocked his supply of food and water for seven days. When he left town, his backpack weighed about 40 pounds that included four pieces of leftover pizza from the previous night’s meal at Euro Pizza and 10 liters of water.
“The good news is that every day I go forward, it (the backpack) will get lighter.”
Waters expects to reach Pine in six or seven days.
Intense heat, lack of water and snakes are concerns. So far, he has come across 10 rattlesnakes, a coral snake and three gila monsters.
The best part? “I really like the history of towns – small, medium-size, big – and meeting veterans’ organizations and folks who want to support military men.
“My motto has become ‘No Arizona town left behind,’” said Waters. If a town is within 20 miles from the trail, Waters said he will walk the extra miles to see the community and learn its history.