Thomas Gathman, aka "The Real Hiking Viking," was born in 1983 and raised in the rural central Pennsylvania town of Lewisburg. It was this small Victorian town that afforded him the opportunity to learn and grow in a family and community-oriented environment. Despite his attachment to Lewisburg, his personal convictions and adventurous spirit would quickly lead him to leave the only place he'd ever really known. In 2006, Tom’s love for his country and desire to serve attracted him to the United States Marine Corps Infantry. He went on to fight in the Iraq war where he would serve two combat tours, one of which he spent operating in a Scout Sniper Platoon.
After an honorable discharge, Tom returned home to further his education at Bucknell University. While working towards a Business Management degree, “itchy feet” got the best of him yet again. It all started under the employment of Vargo Titanium in the spring of 2012 (an outdoor gear manufacturer) when he found himself working a vendor booth at Trail Days, an annual hiker festival along the Appalachian Trail. It was there that he met his first thru-hiker, an encounter that would change his world forever.
Tom decided soon after that he would undertake the goal of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, a total of 2,185 miles, in 2013. But that wasn't the extent of his vision. He wanted to help other veterans and bring awareness to the trail through the veteran organizations and communities that litter the towns along the Appalachian Trail. With this goal in mind, he decided to team up with Warrior Hike during its inaugural Walk Off the War Program. Warrior Hike is a non-profit that helps combat veterans transition back to civilian life by thru-hiking the country’s long distance trails. The organization provides gear, resources, and local contacts within communities and veteran organizations who also lend support to the warrior hikers during their journey. It is through this network that Warrior Hike raises funds to help seriously wounded veterans by supplying them with adaptive vehicles.
Tom’s experience on the trail is a true testament to the restorative power of programs like the Warrior Hike. Thru-hiking gives combat veterans a chance to transition from their military lifestyles back into society and offers a rare opportunity to reflect on their passions and aspirations for civilian life. Tom just happened to learn that his passions reside in the great outdoors. So that’s where he decided to remain after completing the Appalachian Trail. As Warrior Hike expanded to include the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, so did Tom's ambition for pursuing the Triple Crown (AT, PCT, and CDT) of hiking. On the agenda for 2014 was the Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100 mile test of endurance that extends from Mexico to Canada along the backbone of the continent. Even though there was no shortage of obstacles and setbacks, he thrived in this environment. Tom credits his military training for instilling him with the mindset that no matter how difficult something may seem, it CAN be done!
One of these obstacles took the form of an aggressive fellow traveler. While searching for a spring, Tom happened upon a black bear feeding on an elk carcass. This started a half mile game of cat and mouse that culminated with our veteran subject coming face-to-face with the bear. Tom realized that outrunning the bear was not an option. Instinctively, his last ditch effort was to turn and charge the bear with trekking poles blazing in hopes of scaring it away. Luckily this worked and he lived to tell the most terrifying, yet memorable tale of his life.
But even this near death experience was not enough to deter Tom from his mission. In fact, his time on the CDT further validated his desire to remain active in both the outdoor and veteran communities. He now works with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition as a Trail Ambassador. With two legs of the Triple Crown now complete, all that remains is the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. But don’t worry, he’s not stopping there. Next on his never-ending bucket list, Tom plans to venture out internationally while continuing to serve as an ambassador for both the long distance hiking community and Warrior Hike. There are still plenty of trails that The Real Hiking Viking has yet to conquer – but rest assured they’re on his list!
A viking's journey is never over, so there’s no doubt that his trail adventures will continue for years to come. The Real Hiking Viking is partnered with Salazon Chocolate, so he always has a bar to fuel him on the trails. Check out his favorite chocolate bar, 72% Organic Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Orange Zest and see if it’s the right jump starter for you. Take 10% off your Salazon Chocolate order with discount code HIKINGCHOCOLATE.