TEMPLETON — Parked outside of McPhee’s one Saturday in June was what looked like an airport luggage cart with a an American flag waving in the wind and a small sign that read in bold red and blue letters, “WALKING ACROSS AMERICA FOR PTSD.” Sitting just inside, enjoying a quick lunch of chicken tacos and endless glasses of ice tea was Eli Smith, a veteran himself that has lost several friends to PTSD over the years and exactly 200 days and just over 2,600 miles ago, he decided to do something about it. Averaging about 10 to 11 miles per day on foot, Smith’s mission is to walk the four corners of the country, covering more than 13,000 miles on a record walk that he estimates will take him just about three and a half years.
“I started on Nov. 22, 2016,” he said. “It’s been just over 2,600 miles. I woke up one day in Ohio, bought a plane ticket to Pensacola and walked all the way to the Mexican border.”
And now he’s working his way north with the help of a Facebook community and online patron account where people from all over the country donate funds, help map out his days, book hotel rooms for him in advance and just simply keep him company and encourage him through the good days and bad.
“The Facebook page is the main hub of the walk,” Smith said. “Different people are helping out and different people are reaching out for help. It’s wonderful how people are just coming together. My personal funds have been long gone. I just use what I need. I’m still wearing the same pair of pants that I started with. Everything that comes into the charity goes towards the cause. When I was in L.A. I was able to take a veteran out shopping, get him some food and get him a nice hotel for night.”
When the homeless vet thanked him profusely, Smith insisted that he “was just a guy walking around,” and that the aid was coming from everyone across America — it’s all the people supporting the effort that did that for him, Smith said.
“I’m literally staying in strangers’ houses, I’ve had strangers come up to me and offer to wash my clothes,” he said. “It’s amazing to see, to have that affirmation that I always believed, that everyone is really great.”
In regard to how one can help in their local community, Smith says it’s as simple as a phone call. Especially Vietnam veterans, so many of them feel that there’s just nothing left. They’re getting toward the latter end of their years and they just feel lonely and feel like no one is there for them, said Smith.
“If you know any veteran, just send them a text,” he said. “Call them, say ’hey what’s going on?’ Start talking about nothing. There have been times when I have had veterans call me that were ready to end it and, I’m no therapist, I just started talking about this horrible movie I just saw, just got on a normal conversation and they’re still with us today.”
Smith says it’s not even about appreciation, it’s just simple human connection. Proof positive, just as he was finishing his lunch, McPhee’s hostess Breanan Silzer approached the table to inform him that the owners had just called her and told her to not to charge him for his lunch and she went on to talk about her boyfriend that was deployed to Kuwait in January and how much she is looking forward to seeing him when he gets home in two months. Then as she walked away, a local ranch owner approached the table and asked him if he had a place to stay that night.
When asked if he had a message for his fellow citizens in the North County, Smith replied, “Thank you for not having too steep of hills, the weather is beautiful, the people are great.” But, speaking of hills, when asked about the portion of the 101 that he just traversed, fondly referred to by locals as ‘the grade,” he groaned miserably and replied, “I don’t even want to talk about the grade.”
You can follow/donate to Eli Smith on social media here:
Help with the hike: patreon.com/4cornershike
You may contact reporter Madeline Vail at [email protected]