No Barriers program for veterans completes Art Loeb hike, raises funds for future expeditions

Photo courtesy of No Barriers

Article provided by No Barriers, written by Jenny Baker:

“There’s a light in all of us and as long as there’s a flicker of light, that light can help you push through barriers.” – Erik Weihenmayer, Co-Founder of No Barriers

The No Barriers Life changes both the mindsets and lives of Veterans by empowering them to break through barriers, find their inner purpose and contribute their very best to the world. Through a diligent curriculum, Veterans undergo three phases of the expedition program to tackle unique struggles they each face within their personal lives. The team comes together virtually, online, in Phase I where each Veteran fills out a profile for themselves, and they are able to see detailed backgrounds of each of their fellow team members. Each team member has to complete a comprehensive online curriculum, which teaches them the seven No Barrier Life Elements (Vision, Reach, Pioneer, Rope Team, Alchemy, Summits, and Elevate).  This puts everyone on the team on a solid foundation that sets the conditions for success in Phase II.  In Phase II, Veterans set out as a team to take on a wilderness expedition and break through their barriers together. The program concludes with Phase III in which each Veteran fills out an individual pledge to continue their growth beyond the No Barriers program. Each Veteran is assigned an alumni coach who follows up with them to ensure they are paying it forward in their community by helping other Veterans, family members, and friends become their best selves.  This year, The No Barriers Organization was able to bring an expedition right here to the mountains of North Carolina. 

 The 30.1-mile Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest has a reputation as one of the longer and more difficult trails in the state. The trail offers many beautiful vistas and a plethora of physical challenges as it weaves its way along the peaks and ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On May 15th, an energetic group of 5 No Barriers staff and 12 Western North Carolina Veterans united as a team to tackle the trail and complete the first ever No Barriers expedition in WNC. The Asheville champion for this program is a retired Army Colonel by the name of Peter Champagne.  The Colonel said, “It took two years to convince No Barriers to conduct an Expedition in Pisgah National Forest consisting only of North Carolina Veterans.”  His intent was to take care of local Veterans and provide donors with an opportunity to make a local impact. The first Expedition was so successful that two Expeditions are planned for 2020 if funding can be obtained. Over the past seven years, Walnut Cove, a Cliffs Community in Asheville, raised almost $1m for No Barriers.  In addition, the Walnut Cove Members Association provides a grant to partially fund this Expedition.

 John Toth, Director of No Barriers Warriors and WNC Expedition leader, set the intention for the trip by first presenting a No Barriers flag to each member of the team and thoughtfully reflecting on what it truly means to live a life with no barriers. 

 “It’s exciting to see Veterans tackle difficult outdoor challenges, pitch their own tents and learn skills to survive in the outdoors. This isn’t just a backpacking trip. Rather, it’s a way to change people’s lives and mindsets. That’s what’s uniquely special about the No Barrier’s Expeditions.” – John Toth

 Early in the morning, the team set out for the first day on the Art Lobe Trail, unsure of what challenges it would bring. After three hours of a fast-faced hike, the team stopped to see their first panoramic view of the mountains. John pointed out that the vistas of the mountains and valleys serve as both the high and low points of life with all of life’s many challenges in between. John encouraged the Veterans to reflect on past experiences and elements in their lives that they wanted to leave behind that day. The team then ended their reflections by writing down their thoughts on their No Barriers flags before heading back onto the trail.

 The days of hiking were physically grueling, but it was the time spent together at night where the growth of the Veterans arose. With the stars shining brightly overhead, each member’s No Barriers flag blew valiantly on a rope strung through the middle of the campsite, serving as an individual reminder of where they’d been, providing hope for the future, and continuing to provide encouragement to embrace a No Barrier’s Life.  

 John said, “One of the most special moments of the expedition was seeing the team have time to reflect at night, watch them talk about the struggles of their past with their fellow team members, and give each other that needed support and encouragement.”

Bryce, a Veteran on the expedition, reflected on nights sitting around the campfire: “The symbolism behind those flags really hit me, especially to see them all hanging up together. You never know what summits people are looking at, because we’re all facing completely different ones.”

Day two of the hike provided a pivotal moment in the trip with a silent walk initiated by Travis (last name), a participating Veteran. Each member of the team was challenged to walk a portion of the trail alone without anyone else in view. It was a time to let everything go and take on the future with confidence, strength and power. 

“The silent hike was peaceful and inspiring, and I felt very in tune with nature. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else, and I remember thinking ‘I can do this on my own. I can hike alone and completely enjoy it.’ When you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, that’s when you really grow” -Sarah, expedition Veteran.

Through the physical challenges of the arduous Art Lobe Trail, the Veterans finished the expedition fully embracing each other as a team. This established bond of camaraderie would push them forward in their own lives to conquer daunting summits the No Barriers way. 

“I wanted to experience the Expedition firsthand,” said 65-year-old Colonel Champagne.  “It kicked my ass, but I can now unequivocally say, this Warrior Program really works and is truly transformative. Being with your brothers and sisters in a pristine wilderness area and taking the time to reflect, share your pain, and heal, is priceless.”

“The expedition is an extremely impactful and meaningful experience,” said Rachel Martel, Warriors Engagement Coordinator for No Barriers, “People have a wake-up call on the expedition, come back and want to make a change in their lives.”

The potential downstream effect of this program is significant, as the positive impacts through the program effects more than just the Veteran, but also their immediate loved ones and friends.  Each graduate is also expected to help other Veterans in their community.  This year, you can be an integral part of the work of No Barriers by helping to fund two  Expeditions for Veterans who live right here in beautiful Western North Carolina by participating or donating to the No Barriers Outdoor Classic, presented by Wicked Weed Brewing, at the Cliffs at Walnut Cove from September 9-10.

Ryan Guthy, Founder and President of Wicked Weed Brewing, said, “From the moment I heard the stories and vision behind No Barriers I was instantly hooked. Being able to give back and support those you have made our country and lives better is something I am proud of. Wicked Weed Brewing thanks our troops and the entire No Barriers organization.”

The Outdoor Classic raises money to support No Barriers and their work to serve Veterans with disabilities through transformative expeditions, catalyzing change by challenging the way Veterans think about themselves, their barriers and their future.

You can golf, hike and play tennis alongside No Barriers Warriors alumni, hear about their life changing experiences, and enjoy an inspirational gala dinner with No Barriers Warriors alumni and No Barriers Ambassadors. To reserve your spot now or to make a donation register online at

To learn more about this event contact Mona Hover at (904) 472-4584 or

Don’t miss an unforgettable weekend and the opportunity to change a Veteran’s life right here in your local community. Your impact could be the catalyst for someone else’s big moment.

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