ENCINITAS — Eli Smith had been walking for more than 150 days and 2,000 miles before he made his way into the American Legion Post #416 in Encinitas last Wednesday.
His stay in Encinitas was brief. He had more walking to do — 11,000 miles more walking to be exact.
Smith, a U.S. Army veteran and Ohio native, has been walking to the four corners of the continental United States to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention for veterans of the armed service.
“I lost a couple of friends I served with in the U.S. Army to suicide due to PTSD, and I wanted to do something about it,” Smith said. “Over the course of time the suicides kept happening in my social circle and I felt compelled do something.
“I met a couple of people who had done cross-country walks for various purposes, so I thought it was a good fit, but I wanted to do something that had never been done before,” Smith said. “So I looked into it, and to my knowledge no one had ever walked the four corners of the United States, so I thought that would be a great tribute.”
His walk started Nov. 22 in Pensacola, Florida, and he is currently making his way through California on his way to Cape Alava, Washington, the second corner in his 13,000-mile walk.
Smith has relied on the largesse of perfect strangers along the way, staying in homes of people who reach out to him on his Facebook page.
Sometimes, he said, he knocks on the door of a homeowner displaying an American flag, explains what he is doing and requests to pitch his tent for the evening. Almost everyone opens their doors and invites him to sleep for the night, he said.
“I think I am also making everyone aware that not everyone is out to get you,” Smith said. “There are good people out there, and I am living proof of that.”
Smith visited the American Legion for about 90 minutes in Encinitas on May 3, enjoyed breakfast at the Encinitas Cafe and stayed overnight at a vacation home owned by local resident Lise Mahoney.
He said that his experience in North County was more pleasant than in San Diego, where several cyclists weren’t too happy to share the road with him.
“Encinitas was fantastic, all up and down the coast in that area, I stopped and talked to a lot of people, and the bicyclists were very nice and didn’t yell at me, as opposed to down in San Diego,” Smith said. “Boy, the bicyclists were pretty rude, they were screaming at me to get out of the way, move over, and screaming ‘What are you doing?’”
Encinitas City Councilman Tony Kranz met Smith at the American Legion, and said he was impressed with his conviction to his cause.
“He is an easygoing and free spirit with a cause that he believes in,” Kranz said. “He is walking just an incredible amount; the number of miles that he has walked and will walk seems overwhelming to me, but he takes it one day at a time and puts one foot in front of the other, and he has a cart full of things that will help him make it through the trip and he has a very positive attitude about it.”
Smith, who currently is walking through the Los Angeles South Bay, said if there is anything he can impart to the people he meets along the trip, it is to check on the veterans that they know.
“I am a big advocate of calling a veteran, if you know any veteran, just send them a text, or shoot them a phone call and say ‘Hey, how’s it going,’” Smith said. “Something as simple as that could turn around a veteran who is struggling because a lot of them don’t reach out when they are fighting their demons, so letting them know there are people out there who are thinking about them makes a big impact.”
For more information about Smith’s hike or to donate to his cause, visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/4CornersHike/?fref=ts