Vet on U.S. walk visits parish
Published 4:43 am Friday, December 2, 2016
Two weeks ago, Eli Smith laced up his walking shoes, put on his backpack and walked down the road in Pensacola, Fla.
He was headed west. His goal is to eventually return to the Florida Keys.
By the time he gets there, Smith estimates he will have walked more than 13,000 miles and he will have hit each corner of the continental United States. On Wednesday, Smith made his way through Bogalusa and he said he’s walking to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. Smith, who is from Ohio, is himself a veteran, having served in South Korea from 2000 to 2002 in the U.S. Army.
“It was the best job I ever had,” he said. “It’s more fun than you can possibly imagine. The people and the men women I served with, it was a life-changing experience.”
Smith said he doesn’t have PTSD, but he knows people who do. He noted that some of his friends have taken their lives due to the disorder.
“There have been a couple of people close to me, but more so, I hear my friends will say, ‘my dad took his life, my best friend took his life,’ and I just kept hearing about it and hearing about it, and it just kept picking at my brain like a higher calling,” he said.
Then, slowly, he realized he could raise money and possible be a part of the solution. That solution would be an epic walk that Smith is calling his “Four Corners Hike.”
Prior to setting out, Smith sold everything he owned, including his truck. Now he’s using the money he raised to walk across America, meet veterans and possibly raise money for PTSD treatment. So far, Smith does not have any one particular charity in mind though he does have a gofundme.com page and sponsorships are available at patreon.com.
Once the hike is complete, Smith said he would figure out what to do with the funds.
“There are some (groups) I’m working with now, but I am not especially, in this stage, officially partnering up with a specific organization because I want to look more in depth at what they’re doing and what they’re willing to do for veterans,” he said. “I don’t want to tell one organization, ‘Hey, I’ll hike for you’ and then another ‘I’ll hike for you, too.’ I don’t want it to just go to just one group.”
So far, two weeks out, he said getting donations has been tough. However, he’s already met a number of friendly veterans.
“I am meeting a lot of great veterans and great people and I’m talking about PTSD and veterans’ suicide,” he said. “A lot of the guys I’ve seen from my walk have admitted they have PTSD and their families had no idea. That’s happened several times.
“That’s very humbling and I’m glad I’m able to do something like this. And besides raising funds, if I can just save one life, and prevent one veteran from committing suicide, then it will be worth it.”
Most nights, Smith is happy to sleep in a tent he carries with him. Smith travels light. He’s got a battery-powered Bluetooth speaker and Carrie Underwood to keep him company. On his back, his red backpack sports an American flag and a small solar panel, and inside he’s got all the clothes, food and gear he needs for about four days. All told, Smith estimates he’s living on about $4 a day — his one luxury is a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.
He said his typical routine is to look for a house with an American flag in front of it and ask if he can pitch his tent in the front lawn. However, in Bogalusa, he said an anonymous benefactor paid for a room at Traveler’s Rest.
Rain or shine, Smith said he’s optimistic about the road ahead.
“I sold all my stuff and it’ll get me far,” he said. “But I just want to get traction to get the donations coming in for the veterans.”
To find out more about Smith, follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/4cornershike, donate to him at gofundme.com/4cornershike or patreon.com/4cornershike, or email him at email@example.com.