Army Veteran and Hiker
Home base: Joplin, MO
Work life: Army Veteran
By 9:30 a.m. most mornings, Army veteran James Welborn met his 12,500-step goal for the day. By day’s end, he’d average an incredible 40,000 steps. James got his steps in by hiking an average of 18 to 19 miles a day.
On May 9, 2019, James embarked on a grand adventure hiking the Continental Divide Trail, which starts at the Mexican border and runs through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana to the Canadian border. As James hikes the 3,100-mile-long trail he’ll pass through deserts, plains and mountains, going from 90-degree heat to negative wind chills in the Rocky Mountains.
Along the way, James is raising money for the Gary Sinise Foundation for veterans. His goal is to raise $3,100 — $1 for every mile he hikes.
“I joined the Army because I believe that liberty is not free and I couldn’t live off of someone else’s sacrifice. I had to do my part, too,” says James. “Veterans are my heroes. That’s why I decided to raise money for the Gary Sinise Foundation as a part of this hiking trip.”
As a kid, James played organized sports, but his real passion was exploring the outdoors. He enjoyed running around the woods on his parents’ property, hiking, canoeing and backpacking. He imagined he was an explorer like Lewis and Clark. Right after high school he canoed the entire Mississippi River. After his service in the Army ended, he felt compelled to go on this hiking trip before starting college on his GI bill. As he puts it, he’s on a real-life adventure now.
And what an adventure it is. He’s encountered all kinds of wildlife on the trail, but fortunately no grizzlies and wolves — but he’s heard the wolves. James says chills go down his spine every time he hears wolves howling during the night. He’s spotted 21 moose, six bald eagles, hundreds of elk, hundreds of antelope, hundreds of mule deer, two foxes, and six mountain goats and their babies. He came across a herd of wild horses in a basin in Wyoming. The stallion galloped towards James, stopped 20 feet away, stamped his feet and snorted at him. Then the whole herd turned direction and thundered across the plain, their manes blowing in the wind.
James says hiking the trail is all about planning for water and food. When he started in the desert in New Mexico, he had to get water from cattle tanks. Then in the mountains of Colorado, he was spoiled by plentiful ice cold, fresh streams of water. Once he got into the Great Basin of Wyoming, he was back to cattle tanks. Food on the trail is made up of dehydrated backpacking meals. James says he can’t carry enough food on the trail so once he gets to a town every five to six days, he eats as much as he can. Once, at a restaurant in Grand Lakes, CO, James ordered so much food it took two servers to bring it all to his table. He ate every last bite.
Due to an injury, James was forced to take a month off in June, so he wasn’t able to finish the trail this year. This year, James hiked from New Mexico to Dubois, WY, where he stopped to wait out the frigid winter. He’s hiked 1,915 miles and will pick up the trail in spring to finish the last 1,185 miles of his grand adventure.
Favorite hiking shoe: Brooks Cascadia. On the trail, James has gone through six pairs of shoes so far. He gets about 400 miles out of a pair before he needs another.
Favorite spot to hike: San Juan Mountains in Colorado and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. “These mountain ranges offer spectacular views. I fell in love with their beautiful and majestic massive granite peaks covered in snow that shoot to the sky.”
Favorite food on the trail: Mountain House beef stroganoff and chicken and dumplings freeze dried meals. “I’ve eaten so many, these are the last two flavors I can stand to eat.”
Favorite activity tracker: Fitbit