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  1. #1
    Long Trail '04
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    Default Barefoot hiker update - poison ivy, fissured feet

    Interesting update on this year's barefoot guy. Poison ivy and black "fissured" feet don't sound too good to me...


    The long walk home
    By Ad Crable
    Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News
    September 12, 2006

    Ouch. Defying odds, 55-year-old hiking 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail barefoot to help war veterans get counseling.

    I caught up with Ron Zaleski last week in a motel near Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, in the northern shadow of Blue Mountain.

    He had come down off the Appalachian Trail for a day because of a worsening case of poison ivy.

    When you are trying to backpack 2,174 miles from Maine to Georgia barefoot, poison ivy on your piggies is more than a nuisance.

    From the looks of things, Zaleski's treads had other problems after more than 1,000 miles of wear.

    His toenails were split and chipped. His feet were fissured and a disgusting black.

    "Somebody on the trail thought I had frostbite because both feet were black," the Flanders, N.Y., hiker laughs.

    Although Zaleski, 55, has been called nuts by plenty of people for attempting a barefoot trek, it's not quite the podiatric suicide you might think.

    He has, in fact, spent the last three decades sans shoes.

    Which is related to why he's really doing this.

    Zaleski was drafted during the Vietnam War and served two years in the Marines. He was stationed in the U.S. and didn't see battle action.

    But he lost five soldiers he served with and saw returning veterans scarred for life.

    "I heard guys come back and I heard them scream in their sleep," he says, tears gathering in his eyes.

    Angry and consumed by survivor guilt, he vowed to go barefoot as a silent memorial to those killed in the war.

    He's done that for 33 years, starting when he went to college on the G.I. Bill. He never explained to people why he was barefoot.

    He owned his own health club, so work wasn't a problem. When he goes to restaurants and other places that require footwear, he dons a pair of goofy flip-flops.

    Then, last year, a child came up to him during a class Zaleski was teaching and in the inquisitive, straightforward way kids do, asked him why he wasn't wearing shoes.

    Something gave way in Zaleski.

    He realized that his nonconformity was more about his own self- righteousness and anger, and really wasn't doing anything constructive for veterans.

    "I thought, what kind of a memorial is this...I hadn't honored them - it was all about me."

    Soon afterward, he chose to fight to convince Congress or the military to make it mandatory for soldiers returning from war to undergo counseling and be told about the dangers of post-traumatic stress disorder and other possible emotional problems.

    He points to a recent report published by The Journal of the American Medical Association that found that more than one-third of troops serving in Iraq seek help for mental-health problems after coming home.

    Zaleski says he has talked to mothers of soldiers returning from Iraq. "They tell me, I have my son home but he's not my son.'"

    He takes a neutral stance on the Iraq war but not on what wars do to soldiers.

    "We take a 17- to 19-year-old kid and teach him how to kill. We ask him to do the unspeakable and then when they get home, we don't speak about it."

    While counseling for returning vets is offered by the military, it is not required, and the option is often not sought because of an attached stigma, Zaleski says.

    The cost of such counseling should not be prohibitive, especially if given in groups. And consider, he adds, the costs of treating later mental-health problems or the repercussions of violent behavior.

    Zaleski hit on the idea of through-hiking the world's longest continuous mountain trail barefoot as a means to draw attention to his crusade and to raise money for such counseling programs.

    He considers it his penance.

    Zaleski sold his gym and started hiking from Maine's Mount Katahdin on Memorial Day with a goal to reach Springer Mountain in Georgia on Veterans Day, Nov. 10.

    A runner and scuba diver, but hardly a backpacker, Zaleski started out hiking 16 to 20 miles a day.

    "Hike the Appalachian Trail barefoot? He won't make it, I don't care how callused his feet are" scoffed a reader after a story on Zaleski's trip appeared in a Vermont newspaper.

    "He'll last maybe a month."

    Hiking barefoot on a journey in which most people wear out three pairs of sturdy boots, it didn't take him long to get noticed on the trail.

    Through-hikers on the AT take trail names. Zaleski came up with his own, but later found out he was known up and down the coast as the "Holy s--- Man," as in "Holy s---, I can't believe he's walking the whole trail barefoot."

    Zaleski believes he would be the first person to through-hike the AT without shoes. Two sisters from Maine hiked most of it barefoot in 2000, but donned shoes for snowy sections.

    The Guinness Book of World Records is interested.

    Zaleski's gear also attracts stares. His pack, tent and sleeping bag are fashioned from strips of Tyvek, a lightweight, wind- and waterproof plastic best known for its use as a home insulator.

    Trim to begin with, Zaleski has lost 20 pounds pounding the turf. He's getting tired of oatmeal and ramen noodles.

    Tough and weathered, his feet still have taken a beating and have slowed his pace.

    He stubs his toes and bruises the soles of his feet on tree roots and jutting rocks.

    "High rocks are like running them across a file," he says.

    His feet sometimes are like pincushions for thorns.

    Zaleski started out spreading his message by talking to fellow trail users and walking into American Legion and VFW posts in towns along the way.

    To get more exposure for his mission, he briefly leaves the trail every two to three days to ring up local newspapers and radio stations.

    Last Thursday, Zaleski spent a night in Lancaster County at the invitation of a Lititz woman who met Zaleski on the AT in New Hampshire in July and was moved by his sincerity.

    Zaleski's message was well received by a group who heard him speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster.

    Zaleski is asking for donations - one penny for each mile on the AT, or $21.74 - to fund counseling programs for veterans. Donations to his not-for-profit organization may be sent to The Long Walk Home, P.O. Box 929, Riverhead, N.Y., 11901.

    Yet Zaleski considers it even more important that Americans write letters to their Congressional representatives, the White House and key military officials, requesting mandatory counseling for vets.

    To get those e-mail addresses, go to The Long Walk Home Web site at www.thelongwalkhome.org , then click on "How to Help."

    U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state, and a psychiatrist and Vietnam War medical doctor, has been sufficiently impressed by Zaleski's crusade to call an informal hearing on the mandatory counseling for veterans proposal later this month in Washington, D.C.

    "One person can make a difference. I'd like it to be Ron Zaleski,'' the congressman said at a Veterans for Peace Conference speech last month in Seattle.

    Zaleski, who is twice divorced with two grown sons, plans on continuing his hike to Harper's Ferry, W.Va., before heading to Washington to address McDermott's hearing.

    From there, he's not sure what will follow. Perhaps, if the campaign has enough momentum, he'll be needed to marshal the forces or get into counseling soldiers himself.

    Perhaps he'll get back on the trail and put skin to earth and continue on.

    "I know I'm committed to this - that's all I know," he says.

    Just as I finish photographing Zaleski on the AT where it crosses Route 501 and we are getting into the car, two hikers pop out of the forest.

    One happens to be Tom Johnson, the 65-year-old president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, the overseer of the AT. He wants to do a story on Zaleski's crusade in the club newsletter.

    "What luck," I say to Zaleski afterward.

    "There are no accidents," he replies.

    # # #

  2. #2
    First Sergeant SGT Rock's Avatar
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    Go brother.
    SGT Rock
    http://hikinghq.net

    My 2008 Trail Journal of the BMT/AT

    BMT Thru-Hikers' Guide
    -----------------------------------------

    NO SNIVELING

  3. #3

    Default

    Amazing determination, and what a great cause! He's got my support
    ad astra per aspera

  4. #4

    Default

    When I came back to the US I was required to go to Counciling. I hated that I had to go, but I think it would be a good idea for all returning vets to go to counciling. They may hate it, but it would be good for them.

  5. #5

  6. #6
    tideblazer
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    Thumbs up

    Yeah, that is a great story.

    and a very good cause. Our troops deserve better!

    "We take a 17- to 19-year-old kid and teach him how to kill. We ask him to do the unspeakable and then when they get home, we don't speak about it."
    www.ridge2reef.org -Organic Tropical Farm, Farm Stays, Group Retreats.... Trail life in the Caribbean

  7. #7

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by erichlf
    When I came back to the US I was required to go to Counciling. I hated that I had to go, but I think it would be a good idea for all returning vets to go to counciling. They may hate it, but it would be good for them.
    Only counseling I needed after I came back was the trail. Now I think I need counseling from being off the trail and back to 'uncivilized' life suffering from PTTD (Post-Traumatic-Trail-Disorder).

    I hope the barefoot vet gets well and accomplishes his goal.
    a.k.a CHOP-CHOP

  8. #8
    Registered User rtfi's Avatar
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    Default Learn from the Barefoot Sisters

    Guess he didn't listen to the interview with the Barefoot Sisters on trailcast.com where they talk about how they applied a mixture of beeswax and olive oil to their feet before putting on a pair of socks and crawling into their sleeping bags for the night...
    Alex: What does Connecticut have to offer us?
    Melman: Lyme Disease.
    Alex: Thank you, Melman.

  9. #9
    First Sergeant SGT Rock's Avatar
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    While counseling for returning vets is offered by the military, it is not required, and the option is often not sought because of an attached stigma, Zaleski says.


    I think there is something else he is missing. Most of us coming back don't feel we need counseling because we honestly don't feel anything is wrong with us. But then again it sometimes doesn't hit you until you have been back a while.
    SGT Rock
    http://hikinghq.net

    My 2008 Trail Journal of the BMT/AT

    BMT Thru-Hikers' Guide
    -----------------------------------------

    NO SNIVELING

  10. #10
    Crazy Larry #1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SGT Rock
    [/font]

    I think there is something else he is missing. Most of us coming back don't feel we need counseling because we honestly don't feel anything is wrong with us. But then again it sometimes doesn't hit you until you have been back a while.
    As was the case with my dad after Vietnam............

  11. #11

    Default I have a problem with the "mandatory" part

    Quote Originally Posted by SavageLlama
    Interesting update on this year's barefoot guy. Poison ivy and black "fissured" feet don't sound too good to me...


    The long walk home
    By Ad Crable
    Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News
    September 12, 2006

    Ouch. Defying odds, 55-year-old hiking 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail barefoot to help war veterans get counseling.

    I caught up with Ron Zaleski last week in a motel near Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, in the northern shadow of Blue Mountain.

    He had come down off the Appalachian Trail for a day because of a worsening case of poison ivy.

    When you are trying to backpack 2,174 miles from Maine to Georgia barefoot, poison ivy on your piggies is more than a nuisance.

    From the looks of things, Zaleski's treads had other problems after more than 1,000 miles of wear.

    His toenails were split and chipped. His feet were fissured and a disgusting black.

    "Somebody on the trail thought I had frostbite because both feet were black," the Flanders, N.Y., hiker laughs.

    Although Zaleski, 55, has been called nuts by plenty of people for attempting a barefoot trek, it's not quite the podiatric suicide you might think.

    He has, in fact, spent the last three decades sans shoes.

    Which is related to why he's really doing this.

    Zaleski was drafted during the Vietnam War and served two years in the Marines. He was stationed in the U.S. and didn't see battle action.

    But he lost five soldiers he served with and saw returning veterans scarred for life.

    "I heard guys come back and I heard them scream in their sleep," he says, tears gathering in his eyes.

    Angry and consumed by survivor guilt, he vowed to go barefoot as a silent memorial to those killed in the war.

    He's done that for 33 years, starting when he went to college on the G.I. Bill. He never explained to people why he was barefoot.

    He owned his own health club, so work wasn't a problem. When he goes to restaurants and other places that require footwear, he dons a pair of goofy flip-flops.

    Then, last year, a child came up to him during a class Zaleski was teaching and in the inquisitive, straightforward way kids do, asked him why he wasn't wearing shoes.

    Something gave way in Zaleski.

    He realized that his nonconformity was more about his own self- righteousness and anger, and really wasn't doing anything constructive for veterans.

    "I thought, what kind of a memorial is this...I hadn't honored them - it was all about me."

    Soon afterward, he chose to fight to convince Congress or the military to make it mandatory for soldiers returning from war to undergo counseling and be told about the dangers of post-traumatic stress disorder and other possible emotional problems.

    He points to a recent report published by The Journal of the American Medical Association that found that more than one-third of troops serving in Iraq seek help for mental-health problems after coming home.

    Zaleski says he has talked to mothers of soldiers returning from Iraq. "They tell me, I have my son home but he's not my son.'"

    He takes a neutral stance on the Iraq war but not on what wars do to soldiers.

    "We take a 17- to 19-year-old kid and teach him how to kill. We ask him to do the unspeakable and then when they get home, we don't speak about it."

    While counseling for returning vets is offered by the military, it is not required, and the option is often not sought because of an attached stigma, Zaleski says.

    The cost of such counseling should not be prohibitive, especially if given in groups. And consider, he adds, the costs of treating later mental-health problems or the repercussions of violent behavior.

    Zaleski hit on the idea of through-hiking the world's longest continuous mountain trail barefoot as a means to draw attention to his crusade and to raise money for such counseling programs.

    He considers it his penance.

    Zaleski sold his gym and started hiking from Maine's Mount Katahdin on Memorial Day with a goal to reach Springer Mountain in Georgia on Veterans Day, Nov. 10.

    A runner and scuba diver, but hardly a backpacker, Zaleski started out hiking 16 to 20 miles a day.

    "Hike the Appalachian Trail barefoot? He won't make it, I don't care how callused his feet are" scoffed a reader after a story on Zaleski's trip appeared in a Vermont newspaper.

    "He'll last maybe a month."

    Hiking barefoot on a journey in which most people wear out three pairs of sturdy boots, it didn't take him long to get noticed on the trail.

    Through-hikers on the AT take trail names. Zaleski came up with his own, but later found out he was known up and down the coast as the "Holy s--- Man," as in "Holy s---, I can't believe he's walking the whole trail barefoot."

    Zaleski believes he would be the first person to through-hike the AT without shoes. Two sisters from Maine hiked most of it barefoot in 2000, but donned shoes for snowy sections.

    The Guinness Book of World Records is interested.

    Zaleski's gear also attracts stares. His pack, tent and sleeping bag are fashioned from strips of Tyvek, a lightweight, wind- and waterproof plastic best known for its use as a home insulator.

    Trim to begin with, Zaleski has lost 20 pounds pounding the turf. He's getting tired of oatmeal and ramen noodles.

    Tough and weathered, his feet still have taken a beating and have slowed his pace.

    He stubs his toes and bruises the soles of his feet on tree roots and jutting rocks.

    "High rocks are like running them across a file," he says.

    His feet sometimes are like pincushions for thorns.

    Zaleski started out spreading his message by talking to fellow trail users and walking into American Legion and VFW posts in towns along the way.

    To get more exposure for his mission, he briefly leaves the trail every two to three days to ring up local newspapers and radio stations.

    Last Thursday, Zaleski spent a night in Lancaster County at the invitation of a Lititz woman who met Zaleski on the AT in New Hampshire in July and was moved by his sincerity.

    Zaleski's message was well received by a group who heard him speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster.

    Zaleski is asking for donations - one penny for each mile on the AT, or $21.74 - to fund counseling programs for veterans. Donations to his not-for-profit organization may be sent to The Long Walk Home, P.O. Box 929, Riverhead, N.Y., 11901.

    Yet Zaleski considers it even more important that Americans write letters to their Congressional representatives, the White House and key military officials, requesting mandatory counseling for vets.

    To get those e-mail addresses, go to The Long Walk Home Web site at www.thelongwalkhome.org , then click on "How to Help."

    U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state, and a psychiatrist and Vietnam War medical doctor, has been sufficiently impressed by Zaleski's crusade to call an informal hearing on the mandatory counseling for veterans proposal later this month in Washington, D.C.

    "One person can make a difference. I'd like it to be Ron Zaleski,'' the congressman said at a Veterans for Peace Conference speech last month in Seattle.

    Zaleski, who is twice divorced with two grown sons, plans on continuing his hike to Harper's Ferry, W.Va., before heading to Washington to address McDermott's hearing.

    From there, he's not sure what will follow. Perhaps, if the campaign has enough momentum, he'll be needed to marshal the forces or get into counseling soldiers himself.

    Perhaps he'll get back on the trail and put skin to earth and continue on.

    "I know I'm committed to this - that's all I know," he says.

    Just as I finish photographing Zaleski on the AT where it crosses Route 501 and we are getting into the car, two hikers pop out of the forest.

    One happens to be Tom Johnson, the 65-year-old president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, the overseer of the AT. He wants to do a story on Zaleski's crusade in the club newsletter.

    "What luck," I say to Zaleski afterward.

    "There are no accidents," he replies.

    # # #
    I was part of the Vietnam experience. I flew more than 250 combat missions as a helicopter pilot. I don't need any "mandatory" counseling. If someone wants to give me the choice of getting some counseling, I am ok with that, but I don't respond well to things that are "mandatory."

    Anytime someone says, "I am from the government and I am here to help you.", I am skeptical.

    Shutterbug

  12. #12
    Registered User Litefoot's Avatar
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    I saw Ron in the Highland Center cafeteria in the White Mountains over the July 4th weekend. The first thing I thought when I saw him was "No shirt, no shoes, no service."

    Anyway, he was talking with a couple of the volunteers in the cafeteria about what he was doing, and he became very choked up and emotional. It's obviously very important to him.

    I didn't talk with him, but I admire him and wish him well.

    I can't really imagine what combat vets have been through, but they should definitely receive whatever help and assistance they may need.

    I was in the navy stationed on the USS Enterprise during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988. It was the largest US naval battle since WW2 (little known trivia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Praying_Mantis). However, since I was a member of the propulsion plant drill team at the time, I spent the day sitting in a lounge watching Rambo and Star Wars re-runs for the millionth time since we don't run drills during combat ops. Needless to say, I didn't need any counseling after I got out.

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