Today is Eli Smith’s 39th birthday. He is spending it like he has spent the last two — on the road, with little time or thought about any celebrations.
Smith is on a 13,000-mile journey that started in Florida and will hit each of the continental United States’ actual four corners. It will end back in Florida in Key West at the famous Southernmost Point Buoy, which marks the southernmost point in the continental United States. He has kept to his schedule so well he can actually tell you the date he thinks that will happen: Oct. 16.
He started on foot, where the slow, step-by-step process got him all the way to Washington state before knee and back issues forced him to change his mode of transportation.
Thanks to the generosity of Pedego Electric Bikes, Smith procured a ride. Don’t be fooled, though, as the bike doesn’t just go on its own. Some pedal power is needed, especially since Eli, his stuff and the bike itself weigh several hundred pounds. The load has gotten lighter along the way, though: Smith has lost close to 75 pounds during the trip.
Smith says the only downside to biking is less interaction with people than when he walked.
The Columbus, Ohio resident, served in the Army from 2000-02 as a tank gunner specialist in South Korea. Since Nov. 21, 2016 he has been hiking/biking the country to raise awareness about suicide among veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder. Although Smith doesn’t have PTSD, he has lost several Army buddies and veteran friends to suicide.
After his service in the military, Smith’s life had little direction. He bounced from construction work to the restaurant industry to anything that would help pay the bills. He found himself lacking a greater purpose in life.
He has found it on this trip. He has faced some hazards along the way but says he has no regrets thus far.
He has gone through 17 pairs of shoes, experienced 40 flat tires and had people throwing beer bottles at him. One lady in the middle of Texas, described by Smith as similar to the woman in the movie “Misery,” first tried to kidnap him then attempted to run him over with her pickup truck.
San Diego police warned Smith that because of the social media coverage associated with his trip, a gang there had placed a bounty on his head as part of an initiation ritual. Also in California, he suffered heat stroke. Later, he encountered a bear.
None of it has deterred him.
He arrived in Geneva from Rochester on Sunday. Thanks to the kindness of the folks at the Ramada, he was provided a free room. This happens often along the way, he noted, as many have connected with his mission. In some cities he meets with veterans groups and often is given donations to help with his journey.
In spite of his own limited funds, he tries to give back whenever possible. While in Rochester, he went to Richard’s House, a facility that serves homeless male veterans and is operated by the Veterans Outreach Center. Smith paid for everyone to munch on pizza.
His next stop: Syracuse.
Smith usually travels about 55 miles per day. During the walking stage of his trip, he one day covered 37 miles. He explains he was in the middle of nowhere and felt the need to get to some sort of civilization.
One of the highlights was Niagara Falls where, unbeknownst to him, arrangements had been made to light up the falls in red, white and blue.
Smith hopes his journey may have some impact on those veterans suffering from PTSD and considering suicide. Roughly 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide each day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans make up just 9 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for 18 percent of suicides.
Smith said just one letter from a suffering vet who might have been positively affected by his mission would have been grand. To date, he has received 20 such pieces of correspondence. And that is what keeps him going forward more than anything else.
Anyone wishing to contribute can do so at https://4cornershike.org.