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Best Friends Hike 70 Miles for Veterans’ Fundraiser

Oct 30, 2015 03:07PM ● Published by North Hills Monthly magazine

Crucible Hike Overlook

By Erica Cebzanov

In May, best friends Ben Dwulit and Josh Hubert completed The Crucible, a three-day, 70-mile hike through the Laurel Highlands that benefited the veterans’ group Checkpoint. The friends, both 39, who met as Montour High School freshmen, raised more than $2,000 for the nonprofit, and the event itself raised more than $71,000.

Dwulit and Hubert have participated in other extreme events, such as the Tough Mudder and BattleFrog Obstacle Race Series, to fundraise for national veterans’ groups. The duo registered for The Crucible, which shares its name with the final test that Marine recruits must endure, because they strongly believe in Checkpoint’s mission of providing a central network for local veterans seeking access to the nearly 200 groups offering them resources.

“The guy, Jared Souder, who started it—we’re pretty much cut from the same mold,” said Dwulit, who previously served on the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania’s advisory board. “We’re both about the same age. We went through the same process of going into the military. I just kind of felt a connection there.”

Dwulit, a Duquesne Light shop manager from Mount Lebanon, started his military training through the Duquesne University Army ROTC. After graduating and serving as an Army telecommunications officer for four years, he joined the Army Reserve where he trained troops for deployment to the Middle East. His family has strong military ties—his wife, brother, father and grandfathers are veterans. Hubert, from Marshall Township, treats veterans as the facility director of Physical Rehabilitation Services’ Franklin Park location. Both of his grandfathers served in the Korean War.

A novice hiker before The Crucible, Hubert had never backpacked prior to training for the challenge. Last January, he started preparing by walking in the snow for three miles while wearing a 50-pound backpack. By spring, he was training four to five times a week by hiking 18 miles in five hours. Scheduling his workouts around spending time with his wife and children, he often hiked early in the morning or late at night, wearing a headlamp.

At the time, Dwulit and his family lived in Reading, PA, which lacked the hilly terrain of Hubert’s training grounds. The friends had the opportunity to train together once prior to the three-day hike. “I wouldn’t call myself a true backpacker or hiker. But, as far as carrying a pack, I did it for years with more significant weight,” said Dwulit.

The group hiked approximately 10 hours the first two days and six hours the last day, taking breaks every eight miles. “I was really nervous. I was excited, too,” said Hubert. “We stayed at Seven Springs the night before, which was the halfway point for the hike. The bus ride to get to the trailhead from Seven Springs was, I think, 70 minutes. We were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a long way.’”

Forty-six people started the hike, but fewer than 20 finished. Thunderstorms and humidity created issues for many, said Hubert, crediting the Old Men Walking team—experienced hikers in their 60s—with helping him through the treacherous conditions. Dwulit says he stayed motivated by focusing on traveling from each mile marker to the next. He also remembered his former classmates and cousin who died serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hubert added that he did not want to disappoint the donors who sponsored his trek. “All I did was hike for three days,” he said. “Those guys, the veterans, did between four and 25 years. They were putting themselves in harm’s way. All I did was get sore toes.” 

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