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‘Dirt Therapy’ is Saving Veterans’ Lives

Veterans Back 40 Adventure uses dirt bike excursions as a means to help veterans reconnect with themselves, family and friends.

Veterans Back 40 Adventure is an organization dedicated to confronting PTSD and saving lives through the camaraderie of riding dirt bikes.

Through this engagement, many members call the rides on their bikes “dirt therapy,” as the time spent with other veterans often helps them to reconnect with peers, loved ones and themselves.

“We don’t know that you’ll find the term ‘Dirt Therapy’ in the DSM-5 or the Great Big Dictionary of Social Work,” Brian Englund, an Army officer and a Veterans Back 40 Adventure spokesperson, wrote in an email.

“But what we do know from friends and family members is that what VB40ADV allows veterans to do has literally saved their loved one’s life.”


Dirt Therapy Saved Morgan Northrup’s Life

After two tours in the Middle East as a soldier and civilian contractor, Morgan Northrup contemplated suicide as depression and anxiety held him in their grip.

Understandably worried, his father gave him a plane ticket to Colorado to attend a dual sport motorcycle retreat with a focus on veterans’ PTSD recovery.

“What he discovered in that introduction literally saved his life,” explained Niccolo Phillips, an Air Force NCO who helped in creating VB40ADV, “and he found himself on a mission to help other veterans connect and grow.”

Launching on September 15, 2016 and in conjunction with sponsors, it organizes, funds and hosts dirt bike activities across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Tennessee to include 24-hour team-building races, two to five day, and off-the-grid Dual Sport/Adventure bike trips.

There is a method to this dirt therapy.

“This is not a one and done, fire-and-forget program,” continued Phillips.  “It is a process with no defined end or beginning. The goal is to nurture the absolutely vital camaraderie and sense of belonging we all crave when we hand up the uniform and assume the mantle of Veteran.”


About That Mantle

The fabric of the mantle is woven from the personnel experiences of those involved with Veterans Back 40 Adventure.

These experiences are most often forged in combat and are very personal.  Englund put his trigger finger on this when he wrote:

“If you’ve ever patrolled through a known IED or ambush site under night vision and felt the sweat roll down the small of your back and the pulse in your ears and feared not just for yourself but for the men and women to your left and right … that’s an experience nearly impossible to articulate to someone who hasn’t walked the proverbial mile in your boots.

It’s also an experience you can’t find in the vast, vast majority of the civilian community.  It’s pretty hard to relate to someone without that common bond for something so incredibly personal.”

But those miles get even harder for some veterans to walk, in part, due to the marvels of modern transportation.

In past wars, combat veterans found themselves slowly traveling home together. The trip back could involve days and sometimes weeks, and it brought with it an unintended benefit because these veterans had the chance, as Englund continued, “to unpack the intense experiences stored away after potentially life-changing psychological and physical trauma.”

Those experiences are not unpacked on a flight home from combat in less than 48 hours.

“All those emotions and experiences are boiling inside, and there are no peers to help you process and understand,” Englund said.

This is where the hard questions begin.


What If?

A challenge that many combat veterans face when confronting PTSD is understanding that psychological help is a long-term process, and it’s even more important than physical injuries.

“I don’t know anyone who has died of a torn rotator cuff,” continued Englund.  “I do know people – friends – who couldn’t unpack what was in their heads. I will never stop wondering, ‘What if …?  What if we’d stood closer together in the dark hours? What if we’d been engaged together in a task or activity that underscores self-worth and functionality?  What if we’d just made that phone call?”


Veterans Back 40 Adventure’s Answer to “What If?”

The mutual trust and friendship that Englund and Phillips talk about goes well beyond the standard definition of camaraderie.

“This isn’t a drum circle or the stereotypical ‘mental health program’ which so many of us immediately reject,” explained Phillips.

No, they are talking about living and dying for the man or woman to their left or right.  They are talking about making damn sure no one is left behind. They are talking about experiences none of them can ever forget … except through their “dirt therapy” definition of camaraderie.

“VB40ADV simply works to recreate that feeling as a means of breaking down barriers to communication and facilitating the conversations and friendships which ultimately save lives,” said Englund.

Camaraderie is at the root of what Veterans Back 40 Adventure does with and for veterans.

Two Wheels Move the Soul

No matter what one’s experience in the military or with dirt bikes, Veterans Back 40 Adventure provides a vital need to allow veterans, their family members and friends to come together – to unpack their pain – before, during and after a ride in the dirt.

“Most of all we created this to reach other vets and let them know we care,” concluded Phillips.  “With such a high suicide rate we’d like to do our share in minimizing that number.”

To learn more about Veterans Back 40 Adventure, click here.

For those needing help with either suicide ideation or PTSD, call 888-475-4838 or text MIL1 to 839863 or click here.

For more, read about how tiny houses are becoming a solution to veteran homelessness.


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