Walking 13,000 miles around the U.S.

STEP BY STEP Army veteran Eli Smith, 37, has worn through six pairs of shoes and he’s only a fifth of the way on his quest to travel to all four corners of the U.S. to bring attention to PTSD. Photo: Bryce Stoepfel

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p dir=”ltr”>A journey of 13,000 miles by foot was nearly thwarted on Thursday when Army veteran Eli Smith, who is on a hike to all four corners of the country, suffered a heat stroke while passing through Gilroy on Monterey Road in last week’s heat. He started his walk more than 2,700 miles away in Pensacola, FL.

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p dir=”ltr”>Smith, 37, who operates a site 4Cornershike on Facebook, on which he live streams, organized the hike and site to raise awareness for soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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p dir=”ltr”>While pushing his supply cart en route to his next stop in Morgan Hill, the veteran who was a tank gunner deployed in South Korea, was temporarily delayed by the extreme heat on Monterey Road north of Gilroy, which forced him to convalesce for two days at the Microtel Inn in Morgan Hill. Despite the setback, Smith was off again on Saturday, trekking his way to San Francisco.

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p dir=”ltr”>“We’re losing 18 to 20 veterans every day to PTSD, that’s a big problem,” Smith said. “I’ve had people call me on this walk who had pistols in their hands. At first, I was petrified. I thought, ‘I’m not a therapist, I’m not 911.’ I guess they built a connection with me. When I do a Facebook live, I don’t just get on there and talk. I read the comments. I have discussions and I interact with the posters. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

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p dir=”ltr”>Smith started his the hike in Pensacola at Fort Pickens, near the head of the Florida Trail on November 22, 2016. Smith plans to take up to four years to accomplish his goal. So far, he’s gone through six pairs of shoes, an encounter with a rattlesnake and he evaded an attempted kidnapping along the way. Smith endures it all to spread awareness of PTSD, which contributes to the suicides of 20 American soldiers a day.

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p dir=”ltr”>“I lost a couple of friends to PTSD and suicide while I served in the Army, and I wanted to do something about it,” Smith said. “I wanted to do more than advocate on social media, but to actually get out there and do something to raise awareness. I saw other people do walks, but I wanted to do something that nobody else did before.”

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p dir=”ltr”>Smith sold all his possessions and said goodbye to his 13-year old daughter Emma, who lives with his ex-wife in Tennessee.

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p dir=”ltr”>“I made sure to make sure she was ok with it, but she understands what I’m doing,” Smith said. “We talk and Skype all the time and I send her trinkets from the trail. I wanted to do it now rather than later and get it done before she graduates from high school.”

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p dir=”ltr”>Still, Smith has had his doubters.

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p dir=”ltr”>“People looked at me saying, ‘this guy isn’t going anywhere,’” Smith said of raising funds. “People were saying ‘no way.’ But I was determined to do this, so I sold everything to do it.”

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p dir=”ltr”>Smith took to the backroads until an attempted abduction in West Texas when he changed course and decided to hike along highways.

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p dir=”ltr”>“Three separate times, same day, same person and that was the middle of nowhere,” Smith said of the attempted kidnapping. “So I decided to stay on the main roads between populated areas.”

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p dir=”ltr”>On 4Cornerhike on Facebook, Smith keeps in regular contact with almost 10,000 followers, posting updates and videos so they can keep up with him. Fundraising, however, remains a challenge for Smith.

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p dir=”ltr”>“The money I raised by selling everything dried up in Texas,” Smith said. “I get what I need when people stop on the road and I get donations through the 4Cornershike Facebook page. People can also donate on Patreon.com where I blog and post pictures.”

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p dir=”ltr”>Smith hasn’t done it alone. Best Western Hotels has been one of the best corporate sponsors, often donating rooms to Smith as he passes through the country. The soft beds, continental breakfasts and much-needed rest has helped Smith to keep going. When Smith can’t find a hotel room, he camps wherever he can.

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p dir=”ltr”>Commuters between Gilroy and Morgan Hill might have noticed Smith on Thursday, as he pushed his modified dog cart of supplies north along with traffic. The wagon, covered with information about PTSD, became a necessity as Smith passed through the Mojave Desert where food and water was scarce.

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p dir=”ltr”>“It allows me a lot of creature comforts,” Smith said. “It carries a fold up chair, a tiny cooler and carries more of a variety of foods.”

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p dir=”ltr”>Despite the length of Smith’s hike, he knows that it will end, eventually. The question about what happens after that is a common one.

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p dir=”ltr”>“I’ll need to find a job, obviously,” Smith said. “I’m homeless, jobless and I don’t have a vehicle. I guess I’ll go on Facebook and ask if anyone has a cheap car.”
 

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