Group traverses Rubicon with vets |

Group traverses Rubicon with vets

Wheeler Cowperthwaite
Courtesy Harry Wagner

For the Wheelers for the Wounded group, traversing the Rubicon Trail in extreme off-road vehicles is only a small portion of the experience and what veterans take away.

The Wheelers for the Wounded program brings veterans together with experienced off-road drivers to traverse extreme terrain. Dan Hiney, co-director of the California version of the event, has been planning and executing the event for the past four years.

“I got in touch with Kevin (Carey) … He elevated me from trash guy to co-organizer,” Hiney said.

In 2009, the two held the event in June but found the sun to be too much and moved it into the middle of September.

The event brings veterans and others together for a weekend of off-roading, relaxation, food, drink and bonding.

“We’re trying to provide more than just the ride,” Hiney said. They provide dinners, bag lunches, sweatshirts and caps, much of which is provided by the drivers themselves.

Gardnerville resident Fred Mayling has been going for the past three years, when he was first introduced to it by a friend in the El Dorado Hills rotary club.

“He called me up, said, ‘Would you want to do this?'” Mayling said.

In September, Mayling went for his third time. He is experienced in dealing with Veterans Affairs and was able to steer many of his fellow veterans in the right direction to get benefits.

“After countless times of roadblocks, they just give up,” Mayling said. “It’s a great thing to be able to try to make a difference for people not getting services. Some are in dire straights.”

The Wheelers for the Wounded program didn’t just give Mayling a chance to help steer other veterans toward their benefits, nor was it just about crawling up impossible terrain.

The young veterans think they are the only ones who know their own experiences and the older veterans think the same. But when they begin to talk to each other, they realize they share experiences across vast expanses of time, Mayling said.

A World War II veteran sat down with a 21-year-old amputee. The two had a “time warp:” the situations were essentially the same in the older man’s experience as they were in the younger woman’s.

Mayling said he loves to watch that human chemistry.

The veterans sitting down together, after traversing through the Rubicon with its desolate isolation, the adrenaline slowly emptying out of their blood streams, creates a unique bonding experience and a way for veterans to talk about their experiences in a safe and understanding environment.

“It’s a mechanism to help people put words to their feelings,” Mayling said. When the veterans can put words to their feelings, can talk about their experiences, they are on the first step toward healing.

“For some, it’s the first time they’ve shared. Some are Vietnam vets who’ve never shared,” he said. Despite the age differences, some young veterans are young enough to be the grandchildren of the older veterans, “in this setting, they are their peers.”

Mayling sits in a wheelchair. He served in the Army Special Forces for seven years, starting from 1971, and then moved into the reserves. While on a roof, working in his civilian capacity, he fell off.

“When I hit bottom, I found my life had changed,” Mayling said.

When other veterans see Mayling in his wheelchair, they realize what they have and don’t.

“It’s people just figuring, at least I didn’t get there. Some figure, I could be that much worse off but I’m not.”

For some, the Wheelers for the Wounded will be the beginning of their healing process and for others, it will be the climax.

Some veterans left with the gumption to re-enter the fray for their benefits while others will look at their peers for inspiration.

“If they’re functioning, I can function … I’m OK,” Mayling said. “Once they understand they’re OK, they can do anything.”

Hiney, who runs the event with Kevin Carey, said he wants to see a Wheelers for the Wounded group form in the Northern Nevada area.

“It’d be great to have,” he said.