Across America again and again: Army vet Eli Smith stopped in Vail while walking/biking to the four corners of America to raise awareness for PTSD
July 8, 2018
VAIL — When U.S. Army veteran Eli Smith rolled through Vail, he wasn't on his way to somewhere, he was on his way to everywhere.
Smith is on a 13,000-mile walk/bike to the four corners of America to raise awareness for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We used to lose 22 veterans a day to suicide. It's down to around 20. One is too many, Smith said.
A couple weeks ago he received his 10th letter from a veteran who was contemplating suicide, but stumbled across Smith's journey online and chose life instead.
Think of it this way. If there were no more professional athletes in almost any sport, and no more college football players, then that's the number of veterans we'll lose in the next year and a half, Smith said.
"It's literally saving lives," Smith said. "The cold, the heat, everything … it's worth it."
He's calling his sojourn the 4 Corners Hike. Follow along at 4CornersHike.org, or on his Facebook page.
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Smith left his hotel room in Vail's Sitzmark and rode over Vail Pass to Silverthorne. That was Day 461, his toughest so far.
"My legs are noodles. Of all the days and routes, nothing has been as difficult as it was today," Smith said.
After dismounting about 10 times to walk up the pass, he said he's a big fan of the tour companies that haul people to the top of Vail Pass so they can coast down.
He dined at Elway's in Vail, "The best meal I've had since San Francisco."
The Nike outlet store in Silverthorne hooked him up with a new pair of shoes. A Navy veteran set him up.
He spent the July Fourth holiday in Denver, where he saw fireworks in Aurora.
Keep to the route
Smith's route is organized, but with so much time, his mind sometimes wanders to places such as:
• "I used to take ice cubes for granted."
• "Not much is known about Bruce Wayne's teenage years."
• "I wish they would bring back Jell-O pudding pops."
His backpack weighs about 65 pounds. His back and knees were protesting, so he switched to a bicycle. It's not that much easier. The bike and gear weigh about 250 pounds.
He's moving faster, but instead of finishing early he's adding more miles to the route.
Along the way he's participating in Wreaths Across America, flew in a dogfight in a T-9 World War II plane, and fired an M1A2 Sep2 tank at Fort Bliss, Texas.
People, he has found, are generally pretty darned wonderful. He does interviews everywhere he goes. We'll share some of those anecdotes.
"There were countless veterans, people, and organizations that I will be forever grateful for and will always hold a special place in my heart. I was lucky to be able to reach out and do many things I never thought I would be able to in a million years," Smith told a newspaper in Corvallis, Oregon, during one of his stops.
He looked around at what others have done to raise awareness, and decided on this. He figures it will take him three a half years.
People questioned him and his sanity with, "You're crazy," "That's impossible" and "You'll get eaten by the bears."
He sold everything he owned, bought a plane ticket and started walking in November 2016.
Bears have not eaten him, and he's not crazy. Not even close.
There's the guy who teaches veterans to handle birds of prey.
Or the vet with no hands who rides dirt bikes with a prosthetic, and who helps build off-road vehicles for veterans.
He met actress Courtney Cox in a farmers market, and got a phone call from rocker Ted Nugent. UFC fighter Randy Couture taught him a few moves after he was almost kidnapped in Texas.
A Las Vegas dentist fixed a tooth Smith broke in New Mexico. While he was in there, the dentist cleaned up Smith's fillings and gave him a crown.
"I'm telling you," he told that Corvallis paper, "People are amazing. Absolutely amazing."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.