Lubbock, TX - Chance Huffman has been walking since November 16. The Waco-native and Army veteran stopped at a Lubbock hotel to catch a break over the weekend. Huffman is on a mission, he's hiking over 2,000 miles from his Waco hometown to Portland, OR to shed light on veterans' issues.
Huffman served in the Army from 2003 to 2007, he was deployed during that time but he couldn't disclose where. In the past year, he returned to a combat zone, volunteering for the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters combatting ISIS in Iraq.
"We lived on the frontline, maybe 500 meters to Daesh or ISIS, and sometimes a mile from their towns. We were about 15 miles north from Mosul. Every day we'd go hold the front line, make sure the other villages weren't getting attacked, or taken as refugees, and then have day-to-day combat operations," Huffman explained.
Huffman said that this experience was what inspired him to want to raise awareness about the difficulties veterans face.
"I saw veterans from all over the world from at least 8 different countries who came to volunteer with us, they were talking about the same issues that we had here with PTSD, wounded warriors, homelessness. It was so transparent that it's not an American problem, but a world wide [problem]," Huffman said.
Huffman explained that many of his veteran friends have been impacted by their time in the service in very severe ways.
"I think a lot of guys deal with it differently, we've all had different experiences, in the military, some guys are gonna be more severe than others. Myself, I think I've gone through and been pretty unscathed, and mentally I've been ok, but there's guys out there that --you know-- they've called me before saying, 'I woke up today and I don't know why but I want to kill myself.'"
When he returned to the U.S. after about 8 months in Iraq with the Peshmerga he decided he wanted to do something the public couldn't ignore.
"So I'm gonna go hike two thousand miles, that will definitely bring the public's attention to it," he said.
Huffman's goal is to raise awareness for veterans issues and to raise funds for charities that target things like PTSD, suicide, and veteran homelessness.
So he set off from Waco, with a plan to hike to Portland where one of his veteran friends lives. He filled a backpack with a few changes of clothes, a camping stove, dehydrated food, and an American flag; all his belongings weigh about 70 pounds in total.
He camps on the side of the road and finds a hotel when he needs a little recovery time. Huffman explained that the journey is physically tough, he burns between nine and eleven thousand calories each day, and his feet sometimes hurt from walking across so much asphalt.
Huffman said that he's been inundated with support since he began his journey, many people follow his travels through his Instagram account and a Facebook page his sister updates. He said he gets around 200 messages a day on social media, many of those expressing support and offering him a place to stay along his trek.
He hopes to reach Portland by mid-February if he continues at his current rate of tackling 15 to 30 miles each day.
"Whatever pain I'm feeling, I've earned that pain and I enjoy taking that pain in, because I've earned it," Huffman said. "But yeah it's gonna be super grueling and especially living outside in a tent not having the comforts of being around people and going to see your friends on the weekend or having fun. But this is bigger than anything else I could be doing at the moment. I'm really just trying to take advantage of it and not thinking about how long it's gonna take or how many miles I have left."
Though he's nervous about winter weather, he feels prepared to take on this challenge. He's hoping the public will continue to follow him on his trek. If you'd like to contribute to his efforts, a link to his fundraising page can be found here.
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