Veteran raises awareness for PTSD with 15,000-mile trek

By Fran Gonzalez | Jun 06, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Eli Smith takes a break from his journey to eat lunch in Searsport May 29. His 15,000-mile trek is aimed at raising awareness for veterans with PTSD.

Searsport — An Ohio man has been crossing the country on a world record trek, first on foot, and currently on bicycle, to raise awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Republican Journal caught up with Eli Smith as he stopped for lunch May 29 at the Maritime Farm's Blimpie in Searsport.

Smith said Maine has been great and he appreciates the hospitality of the many people who have supported him so far throughout the state. He said the manager of the Blimpie restaurant was so impressed with his efforts that she bought his lunch.

He also has fond memories of an afternoon spent with veterans, a few days ago, who took him to West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Lubec.

Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, said he lost several friends he served with to suicide and felt if he had known more about PTSD, he could have done something.

According to Smith, every day 20 veterans lose their lives to suicide.

"That's too many," he said. "Not a lot of people know that."

He said he needed to do something about it, and decided on the journey. But not just any journey, he said — a record journey to all four corners of America that will take around three years to complete.

Before commencing on his journey, Smith said he encountered some attitude: “You’re crazy,” “That’s impossible,” “You’ll get eaten by the bears.”

He was not discouraged, and proceeded headlong into whatever might lie ahead. He sold everything he had and bought gear, a plane ticket and headed out on his journey.

"My goal was simple," Smith said. "If I can help save just one life, then all the hardships, pain, loneliness, and everything else will be absolutely worth it."

Smith said that since starting the journey in November of 2016, he has received 19 letters and many phone calls from veterans who were suicidal and discovered his journey, which inspired them to change their minds — and they are still here today.

The trek has not been without incident, Smith said, referring to a couple of trying times he has faced along the way.

In Texas, a woman tried to kidnap him, he said, by screaming at him to "get in the truck."

"Think 'Misery,'" Smith said referring to Stephen King's psychological thriller about a woman who kidnaps an author.

"At one point she said to me, 'go ahead and call the police, they won't get here in time.' I thought I was dead," he said.

He was also hit by a car, had heat stroke and got lost in the Oregon woods. "It took three vehicles and six hours for them to find me," he said.

He still has a knot in his back, he said, and is "pretty sore" from the walking part of his journey, which took him from Alabama to all the lower states heading west, then turning north at the coast and finishing in Washington state.

When he switched to a bike for the second leg of his journey, he chose a pedal-assist electric model to make his trip less arduous.

Smith, 39, served in the Army from 2000 to 2002 as a tank gunner in South Korea. He said his previous profession did not transfer very well to civilian life.

"I just needed to get out there and do something," he said.

All in all, with everything that has happened to him, "This journey has surpassed all my dreams," he said. "I have walked 4,600 miles and biked over 9,000 miles so far."

But, he acknowledged, he still has "a long way to go to more states, cities and people to spread the message of our veterans in need."

Smith is happy to be heading south for a change to warmer weather. He plans to complete his journey in Key West on Oct. 16. Follow his adventure at 4cornershike.org.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.