When the climb got the roughest during the 320-mile hike through Pennsylvania, Tucker McCullough gathered the energy to move forward by conjuring up the past.
Accompanied by five comrades on the PA Hero Walk from Philadelphia to Alle Kiski Valley, the Army veteran remembered the many brave soldiers who crossed the same country on foot hundreds of years ago to forge a young America. Most of the 14-day trip for a veterans charity that ended on Saturday was spent along Route 30 or the historic Forbes Road, the military road built during the French and Indian Wars and named after Brig. General John Forbes.
This year’s participants covered an average of 22 miles per day, including steep hikes over the Tuscarora and Blue Mountains.
“It’s a tough way up the mountain,” said McCullough. “But then you think to yourself that there were men who had to cut the tree in front of them in order to get to the next step.
“What we’re doing is really just following in their footsteps – and it’s a lot easier for us than it is for them,” said McCullough. “And that gets you over the crest of this hill. Not to mention that 45 people are waiting there and a parade that claps you when you go back downstairs. “
Small parades of supporters and other fundraisers appeared at several stops during the journey of the six-person team, including demonstrators in Lower Burrell as well as Ligonier, Derry, York and Parkesburg. They attended brief ceremonies and gatherings in veterans clubs, as well as in memorials and town squares.
Raise $ 300,000 annually for veterinarians in need
Now in its 13th year, the PA Hero Walk is an annual event organized by the Kiski Valley Veterans and Patriots Association, which has raised nearly $ 3 million since its inception in 2009, said Dave Rapacchietta, president of the PA Hero Walk.
The 2021 walk and related fundraiser are well on their way to raising nearly $ 300,000, with more fundraising to be raised over the weekend.
The money will be used to support honorably discharged veterans from all ages who live in Pennsylvania and are enrolled in VA services. Help includes everything from covering dental bills, utilities, and mortgage bills to helping veteran’s family members pay for funerals or install an accessible ramp.
This year’s walkers enjoyed donated meals and stays provided by 41 Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Elks and Moose Lodges, and other supporters scattered across the state, including a welcome back dinner on Friday evening at the American Legion post in Vandergrift .
In military fashion, they kept and adhered to a tight schedule. They took turns hoisting an American flag and wearing fluorescent yellow matching shirts as they walked. A motorhome with the names of their supporters followed, equipped with cool boxes filled with Gatorade and water.
The shortest and final day, Saturday, spanned nine miles – from the Veterans War Memorial in Leechburg to VFW Post 92 in Lower Burrell, where the trip culminated with a celebratory picnic with family and friends of the hikers. They covered 28.4 miles on their longest day.
For McCullough, who completed his fifth full walk, traveling across the states is always therapeutic and rejuvenating. He enjoys wandering between chatting with fellow hikers – including his son, 17-year-old Gregory McCullough – and using his headphones on his eclectic music library, from the latest country hits and Johnny Cash to the Monkees and Rob Zombie . He is amazed at the beauty of the little things that are overlooked when driving by in the car.
“You don’t believe how beautiful our state is until you walk down Route 30 at a snail’s pace and see everything. In all honesty, there are no real words for that, ”said McCullough. “… If you climb the Blue Knob, you will see the next mountain and everything in between and everything that you have just passed. And then, when you come to the Laurel Highlands, you have the feeling that you can see the whole state from up there. “