Saturday night I both helped out an outdoor advocacy group and met an inspiration.

River House PA is a not for profit devoted to “healing through nature” events for veterans suffering from trauma, mental and physical. For example, the 2015 schedule of events includes backpacking trips in Pennsylvania and Michigan, a canoeing weekend in PA, and weekly hikes near their headquarters outside Reading.  And among their events was the Valentine’s Day dinner and auction, held in the American Legion in Topton.

River House PA is the brainchild of outdoor writer Cindy Ross and her husband Todd Gladfelter. Both Ross and Gladfelter are “triple crowners” – meaning they’ve both through hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Ross wrote books on her through hikes, starting with A Woman’s Journey in 1982, and on hiking in general, and she’s now at work on her seventh book. Personally my favorite of her work is Kids In The Wild, on the subject of bringing children into the outdoors. It also contains my favorite anecdote about the author, that she day hiked Mount Katahdin while five months pregnant.

The River House PA website has details on the success of the benefit. I enjoyed the meal, the dancing afterward, and especially meeting veterans and talking with them. I’m always slightly uncomfortable talking with vets, knowing they’ve put their lives on the line for me and I’ve never served. Yes, my deformed legs would have kept me out, but still…. anyway they were gracious in accepting my thanks for their service.

I had a long conversation with Ilene, a soldier flip flop hiking the Appalachian Trail, and Danny, an Army Ranger. Ilene in particular has a fascinating story, and she’s posting about her AT hike at Post War Hike. She took a break from the trail to attend the benefit. Afterwards its back onto her snowshoes and the AT. She and Danny were kind enough to talk with me and keep my discomfort level to a minimum – I dislike crowds, and the American Legion was packed.

Before the evening ended I got a photo with Cindy Ross. Its odd the course life takes, and what influences us. Back in 2006, as I was becoming a formerly sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors, I stumbled across Pennsylvania Magazine in the local supermarket. Six times a year the magazine appears in mailboxes and newsstands, and Cindy Ross usually has an article in each issue. Her writing and photography is top notch, and while I can’t say I’d not be writing about the outdoors if I hadn’t read Ross’ work, there’s undoubtedly an influence. So it was a cap to the evening to meet her.

With Cindy Ross, writer and River House PA founder