We’ve Had To Make A Tough Decision

I’m going to be very real with you all.

As we said last night, the conditions in this area have changed. Just a short time ago, as a matter of fact just days ago, I walked in short sleeves. A few weeks ago, I walked in long underwear and shorts. If I tried that now, I’d be SOL in a few blocks. Tom and I had a pretty long discussion last night and again this morning. We looked at the weather here and the next couple weeks worth of projections. The outlook was not good.

You have to understand, neither Tom nor I are intimidated to walk in 0 degree weather during the day. We’d prefer to not (what sane person would), but if that is what it is, then we’re down. We are worried about those temps, however, with nowhere to go at night. Walking all day leaves you a sweaty mess, even in the cold. Your clothes hold that sweat. Then, you try to sleep in a bag, cold and wet, in the middle of nowhere. That is a recipe for disaster.
So, our decision is this: we are taking a ride out of the mountains. Tomorrow, an Iraq vet we met on the trip is going to pick us up and take us to Albuquerque. This allows us to get out of the mountains and keep walking. The night time temps are still cold and the stretches in between towns are still far. That said, it isn’t 0 or below at night. This allows for Tom and I to sleep outside if necessary and it not be 0 or below. The gear we have is OK, but it isn’t going to protect us from negative temps without a place to go at night.

People have brought up the idea that we explicitly said we wanted to do this route because it was hard and that this trip would demonstrate a person’s ability to overcome. Trust me, it is hard and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far dealing with all this trek has thrown at us. One aspect of this trip, for us, is learning to take control over your own life even when conditions outside your control mount against you. For a long time, I felt very powerless in my life. After Iraq, nothing brought me happiness, nothing made me feel fulfilled or like I was doing anything worth anything. I drank to black out or pass out because my mind would not stop. I made stupid, foolish decisions that hurt me, friends, and my family because I couldn’t feel any emotion except anger. After that, all I felt was guilt and regret because I knew I was making the wrong choices. Then, I did it again. Why? I think because I felt like feeling good wasn’t an option for me, that I didn’t do enough or didn’t do things well enough to feel good. So, despite what others would claim was reality, I only saw the complete negative in me.

This trek has made me reevaluate that. One of the messages the military imparts is the need for adaptation. Conditions change. Missions change several times while your executing them. This trip has given me an opportunity to see how much control I do have and how adaptable I can be. Every day is a whole new set of circumstances. Often, we know where we’re going but have no idea what to expect when we get there. Will we have a place to stay? Can we find supplies? Every step is an adaptation on the trip. Every step is an adaptation towards success in my life.

The trek has demonstrated how capable we are. The trek has given us the chance to reevaluate our position in life. We can’t control the weather, but we can control ourselves. We can’t guarantee our safety, but we don’t have to put ourselves in positions where we jeopardize our wellbeing. What we’ve come to learn is that this trip means a lot to a lot of people. Hopefully, people can see that one aspect of this trip is understanding that YOU can make the best decision for you. You have to make the decision, no matter how disappointing it might be, to put yourself in the best position for success. On our Facebook, someone said that it is the completion of the mission that is important. That is so true. Without the chance to complete the mission, you find yourself regretting circumstance. It becomes a, ” Well, I could’ve completed the mission, but…” scenario. The decision to accept help when it is needed allows us to complete the mission, despite the change, and still look ourselves in the mirror and say ” Well, I could’ve quit the mission, but…”

The decision to lose some miles is disappointing. The decision to assert yourself and do what’s right for you is encouraging. It means we’ve learned something about ourselves…that beating yourself up, whether emotionally or physically, is not worth the effort of being honest with yourself and saying this is what I need to be successful for myself. It means that we’re breaking out of the acceptance of the bullshit we’ve carried for years. It means we’re finally allowing ourselves to see a situation from a position of influence and not of how influence will impact us. It means for me a change of self image and self worth. It’s like the opposite of depression. You have to understand that prior to this walk, I would’ve done whatever, for better or worse on me, because I just did not care about myself and didn’t feel I deserved to feel any better. This trek has brought me to a point where I believe I do have some value and can see, for the first time in a long time, that I am capable of changing my circumstances.

A friend I spoke with today said that this decision puts an asterisk next to this trek. If that’s the case for some, then so be it. I’d rather it be on this trip than my life. Stopping now would be an asterisk on life… A life that could have been lived, but a choice was made not to. The other day, Tom and I hiked up a mountain. I stood on the edge and looked out on the valley and prairie below. Hulking cattle were tiny black dots that looked like grains of sand sliding on the smooth surface of the yellow plains below. Cars carried people somewhere fast as they cut back and forth through the curves. A person we met on this trip, Wolf Walker, told us to feel the wind, feel the sun, experience life and the supreme creation around us. I closed my eyes. I felt the cool, thin air turn to wind and whip through my beard. I felt the delicate warmth of the late November sun on my face. I just breathed with my eyes closed for several seconds. I opened my eyes and saw a whole new world in front of me. There is no asterisk in that. I felt something real for the first time in a long time.

Wolf Walker, talked to us about power. You hold your power and you lose it by choice, when you let someone or some circumstance take it from you. You give away your power when you let someone else’s ideas, wants, or desires choose your course for you. Lives and experiences are shared, not controlled, unless you cede control by your choice. We have chosen to not allow circumstance to take control over us. Rather, we choose to see things for what they are and be honest with ourselves. Letting someone’s criticism or desire for us to do something as they feel we should, without understanding our position, would be ceding that power.

This trip was never intended to be a demonstration of how tough we are. For instance, I’m a big fat guy, not particularly active anymore. I joked several times before we left I thought some may donate just to see if I could move my mass from WI to CA. I thought by moving my heft I could motivate some who feel life is too much to move their ass and not waste their time like I did. I left the better part of my 20s behind because I didn’t feel like I deserved any better. This trek has 3 goals: raise awareness of issues plaguing Veterans and their families, raise funds for Dryhootch– a community based organization that tries every day to serve Veterans where they are, and for Tom and I, on a personal level, to address the bullshit that has influenced every single second of our lives for the past several years. Every decision we make on this trip is meant to further those 3 goals.

This decision is difficult because we are aware of the expectations placed on us. We have been encouraged by the number of people who have shared their encouragement for us and have not lost faith in us or our trek because of this. We have done our best and will continue to do our best. The distance we have left is about 1,000 miles, or the distance from Milwaukee to Colorado. We still have a long way to go and still will have many obstacles in front of us. You can expect that we’ll continue to do our best and make LA.

If you’re in the minority and think we’re quitters or taking the easy way, go do what you probably did in the military and go fill sandbags while everyone else goes outside the wire and puts themselves out there knowing the risk of failure.

For what seems to be the majority, thank you for all your support and encouragement from day one until the day this trek is over. I’m not trying to sound emotional, but your help pushes each step when every second to quit is one second in front of you.

See you on the (amended) trail,
Anthony and Tom

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43 comments on “We’ve Had To Make A Tough Decision
  1. Laura Ebert says:

    I belive we are accountable to ourselves and God. You made the right choice for you! (I agree with your choice). Wishing you Peace and all good.

  2. Paul Dupont says:

    I don’t believe the trip should have an asterisk. But if anyone does put one there, be proud of it. Its a sign of how much this trip has changed you in a positive way, especially in how you see and treat yourselves. Its a great lesson for all of us.

  3. Will Bratcher says:

    Very well said my friends. Clearly the decision to head south was not made lightly, but it is the right one! Don’t let anyone, including yourself tell you otherwise. If anything, this is a great example and reminder to all those out there that it takes strength and courage to ask for help and stick up for yourself when things get tough, just like it takes strength and courage for veterans and their families to seek shelter from the mental storm they face when returning from duty. Use this as a teaching moment for the cause on both ends: if you need help, have the strength to ask, and know that both your combat and civilian brothers and sisters have your back!

  4. Retina Dalpra says:

    No one should worry about an asterick instead of their health and safety. Anthony and Tom are an inspiration, not many could or would follow the trail they have laid;. Each of us makes our own trail to follow for our own reasons, your three reason are the best I’ve read in awhile. Your journey has been amazing. Keep yourselves safe above all else.

  5. Julie Evans says:

    WOW! After I read this post: My heart filled up Completely there for awhile….You’ve Learned things you’ve needed to learn about yourselves….and realized it all . .. you’re stopping and shutting your eyes and ‘FEELING” the wind, the sun . . . LIFE ! You’ve made the important decision (TG) to skip to where you’ll BOTH be SAFE and NOT put UR lives in danger to complete this Trek, which I believe YOU WILL ! I wish I could practice more of what you’ve learned . . . man…..YOU INSPIRE ME ! ! I not only THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE …but for sharing this experience with everyone along the way ! I wish you winds @ your back, Sun in your Face . . . and healthy, HAPPY FEET along the way !! lol!
    God Bless you Both and keep giving you the Strength and Ecouragement you need along the way….so you Can complete your Trek. i.e. the scripture “With God ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE” ????? I pray you NEVER lose that Strength and Knowledge about yourself that you talked about ! Rock On ! YOU BOTH ROCK !!!!!!!!! …or as I Used to say: Keep on Keepin’ On !

  6. You two young men are what people should look up too not the fake Hollywood hero’s or the TV stars . My friends you are confronting issues that this generations cannot even fathom . I am on a PTSD combat veteran Facebook site and I’ll tell these young men and women about you guys and to follow you I hope that is okay. Don’t worry about changing course life throws curves at you and sometimes you need to make those choices to do the right thing at that time. All of us here at the hootch and in Milwaukee are cheering you on and want to make sure you accomplish your goals . If you need help please let us know or Jerry at the hootch and I am sure that the guys will figure out how we can help . Life is a journey and you guys are proving that everyday your out there on the road . Peace my friends Jim H

  7. Jess says:

    You’re doing the right thing for yourselves and the mission! I know how hard it is to be forced by things you can’t control to change course, literally and figuratively.

    …hahaha “go fill sandbags…” that made me smile.

    You guys kick ass.

  8. Patty says:

    Anthony your post today gave me an indescribable feeling of rooting for you, saying “yesssss!” and I feel so honored to be invited into your innermost thoughts to see how a transformation is taking place that sounds like is a pivotal point in this trip. Who cares a FIG about an asterisk or any such distinction when your life is being transformed anew. Isn’t this what this effort is all about in the big picture? You are the living embodiment of hope for other vets suffering and that is a fact! You are living that hope with every mile you walk and every realization you make, and if you provide just one other fellow vet with hope that their life can change for the better, and that they aren’t relegated to a life of suffering, what does that mean for that veteran… for their loved ones… for the rest of their lives? This is tremendous! Cause for celebration! You are paving the way for others because you are DOING it and people have both you and Tom to look at for inspiration and that hope is possible. Asterisk on this trip? I would say a revelation! Congratulations to you both and high fives!

  9. Ruth Victoria Gutowski says:

    Thank you for the update. I am 100 percent behind the both of you. You’ve made the right decision.


  10. Christy Kay Lopez says:

    You two are inspiring and awesome. I look forward to all your pics and posts every day and am hoping to join you either at Christmas time or when you are in California.

    I completely honor your decision to take the ride and don’t feel it diminishes IN ANY WAY your mission or goals. You made a decision that will keep you walking and that is far more important than the proverbial “continuous line”

    I’m here to help and now that you’re closer I can do more. Email at any time if you need anything and my phone number is 415-517-4315.

    Big hugs

    Christy kay

  11. gary says:

    I’m from appleton but will be in Phoenix Sat. What do you need in Albuquerque? How can we help there. Wasnt planning on you being there so soon. Its great but how can we assist you?
    Gary. The WOW guy

  12. gary says:

    WOW guys phone…920 850-3982

  13. June Curry says:

    Guys, I just read this post. The one thing I have said to you is that I want you to be safe, and take care of yourself. I am very happy to see you are doing just that! You are both very important men in many peoples lives. We want you back home, in one piece, hopefully full filling what you started out doing. We have all been very proud of you for all you have accomplished so far. Please don’t let what anyone else thinks you should or shouldn’t do. This is your LIVES on the line. You are using your heads and you are still proving what you started out to do. There are many obstacles in life, and what you do and how you handle them is what matters. Remember, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Your destination is taking a slight turn, but your journey continues. Again, stay safe, keep on truckin’. Love you guys, June Sent from my iPad


  14. dryhootch says:

    Smart decision Anthony & Tom, you have more then achieved what you set out to do. The military trains us on how to evaluate our options to get the mission complete. Frost bite or death is not one of these. The mission is to constantly reevaluate and complete your journey. Those of us at Dryhootch counldnt be prouder of you. And for those who “asterisk” your journey, they have never walked in your shoes. And couldn’t .

  15. dryhootch says:

    Your training taught you to constantly reevaluate your choices in how to complete the mission.
    i dont remember frost bite or death as one of them?? Those of us at the Dryhootch counldnt be prouder of your journey and strength. To those who “asterisk” your journey, who GAF, they couldn’t stand in your shoes much take have survived your lives journey!
    Love you guys Bob

  16. gary says:

    Hi again. Didnt here back so I will just say if theres anything you need from ABQ down thru Flagstaff, let me know! Be Safe
    920 850-3982

  17. Natalie says:

    You guys are so important — I’m grateful that you are applying wisdom and not pride to this potentially dangerous situation — YES! Jump in that ride and enjoy the view and the warmth — no shame, no regrets! We LOVE you! Natalie in Oak Park.

  18. John says:

    You two guys made the right decision! Better be safe than sorry! Very chilly here in Milwaukee! I wished I was with you guys! (still debating on riding my bicycle to Colorado for a Vet fundraiser next year) You two will still make it out to California! Just keep on going and do not give up! John Dryhootch customer USMC 78-83 Semper Fi!!

  19. Sara says:

    I’m so proud of you guys. Way to keep the goal in sight. Stay safe, stay healthy. Keep that cousin of mine in line, Anthony. 🙂

  20. Ted & Polly says:

    We’ve all been thinking about you and how you were handling that horrible weather. There is a reason God sent you this major obstacle. He wanted you to figure out how to deal with it and how to get around it, and you have proved He is right about you two. You have done it once again!! It may be trite, but you have made lemonade out of lemons, which must be one of your mantras.

  21. Ken Cox says:

    First off, let me first say, thank you for your service to our country and second, thanks for standing up for what is right. I learned about you both last night from a friend and have read your story. I live her in ABQ and have plenty of people who are ready and able to provide you with anything you need to help you continue on your journey and allow you a successful completion in Sunny California! 🙂 I have left you my Cell phone # on your Voice Mail as well as given you a text. Please contact me today as I would honor the opportunity to meet you before you head out of Albuquerque.
    Best Regards,

  22. Ken Cox says:

    Forgot to mention that Gary “The Wow Guy” Werner was the one who contacted me. Talk to you soon!

  23. LeAnn says:

    Hey guys! Miss you! I’m sure you know that I believe things work out as they should, and the ride to Albuquerque proves it. I was never thrilled with idea of you going through Raton Pass, as you know! You needed the ride, but more importanly, Mike needed to take you. Thank you for touching his life in a way he will never forget and ours too. THAT is what this journey is about, who you meet along the way, not the miles you walk. Blessed Be, LeAnn

  24. karen says:

    You are very inspiring..keep up the good work!

  25. WhiskeyVet43 says:

    So our LT COL said this once, that if we never try, we will never fail. Those who say they’ve never failed, haven’t tried. If you’ve found the perspective you were searching for, or gained the experience from the journey that allows a change within to occur, then the journey itself is the measure of success you define your outcome by, regardless of the failures perceived by others. So while I could never call the decision you’ve made an indication of failure, even in the eyes of those who see it as such, failure in the sense my LT COL meant is actually a badge of courage, of the experience of the attempt. No one who hasn’t made this journey can define success or failure for you, and as long as you never accept defeat, never quit, then you cannot fail in your mission.

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