Navy veteran Ben Vaughan talks about loving Crown City and experiencing the wild

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The town of Coronado has seen many notable military personnel come and go over the years, but the post-military life that Navy veteran Ben Vaughan has discovered has been nothing short of wild.

Although he remains in contact with many friends from his time on the island, Vaughan now carries his fond memories of the Crown town far and wide through forests, hills, valleys and even across glaciers during daring long-distance hikes for which he is well known.

Vaughan, 53, spent his second tour as department chief with the U.S. Navy stationed in Coronado. After five combat deployments scattered around the world, he finally decided to retire to the city, knowing that the island and its public school system would make the perfect place for his daughter, Jordan, to attend high school, grow up and find opportunities to excel.

After working as a marine contractor on the island for a few years, he decided to try something he was almost entirely new to: hiking. Most people could get their feet wet with a few days backpacking trip; instead, for four and a half months in 2018, Vaughan hiked the 2,193-mile Appalachian Trail. “This adventure changed my outlook on life,” he says. “Just me and everything I needed on my back.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Vaughan

From there, it was clear Vaughan had been bitten by the hiking bug: in 2019 he tackled the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada (2,653 miles) and the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada (3,100 miles). In 2020, he ticked off the Upper Minnesota Hiking Trail, the Vermont Long Trail and the 800-mile Hayduke Trail, an outdoor adventure spanning various national parks in the west that he describes as the outdoor experience. most difficult air he had ever faced. From steep canyons to 30-mile water treks, “If you’re looking for a really tough, remote adventure, I recommend the Hayduke,” he says. In the past four years alone, Vaughan has completed 10,000 miles of National Scenic Trails. He is recognized as one of the few people to have completed this set of trails; now he hopes his story can inspire other veterans who may be struggling to find direction.

“I struggled with my post-military life. It took me too many years to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be after the army. This is a very common story among vets, but there are plenty of great resources to get help or talk to someone. The hardest part is recognizing that you need help and asking for it,” says Vaughan. He hopes those in Coronado who see this story will know they are not alone and encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. “I found peace through long-distance hiking and the backcountry – there’s something for everyone.”

Although he found solace in his outdoor adventures, Vaughan acknowledges that there have been some scary times for him in nature. Over the years he has encountered wild animals like grizzly bears, wolves and mountain lions, although he says he never felt unsafe in their presence. More dangerous, he says, is the risk of falling and being injured in a place that is difficult to rescue. He also knows now that he should refrain from hiking in snowstorms after a blizzard trapped him in the Sierras for 24 hours. “Fortunately, I managed to pull through,” he says, “but I suffered severe frostbite on four of my toes, which forced me off the trail for three weeks to recover. Lesson learned.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Vaughan

Despite this freezing experience, Vaughan now spends his winters on the snowy slopes of Colorado. During the season, he works as a ski and snowboard instructor. A skier since the age of 7 and a new snowboarder, he was delighted to reconnect recently with old friends from Coronado thanks to his work. This winter, he taught both a Master Chief Petty Officer with whom he served in Coronado as well as the son of an old island friend. “I like to share my passion for the snow with others. The world is small!” he says.

But Vaughan’s thirst for new adventures still hasn’t waned. Last summer, he was invited to take on another new challenge: dog sledding in the remote wilderness of Alaska. “I had no experience mushing dogs, so it was a completely new experience,” he says. “It was quite an adventure living in such an extremely isolated environment – guests travel by helicopter to our glacier for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My team worked in extreme weather conditions and leaned on one on the other for everything. Looking ahead, he says, he’s excited to be back on the glacier next summer. “The lack of running water and the blizzards in July led to some of the best memories I’ve ever had. I have ever created.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Vaughan.

Ultimately, Vaughan has some advice for Coronado residents who might want to find new ways to experience their own adventures in a time when staying close to home has become the norm. “If you never step out of your comfort zone, are you really living? Find ways to challenge yourself, even if they’re small,” he says. His favorite quote from author Michael Easter says it all: “Do the hard things and the rest of life gets easier.”

You can follow Vaughan’s adventures on his Instagram page, @hiking_ginger_b, where he says he’d love to engage anyone curious with more stories and lessons learned from his 10,000+ miles.

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