Travis Snyder left his job, sold his car, and got rid of his apartment, all in preparation for a quiet solo trip that would quickly become a community phenomenon.
On August 26, after meeting some friends for breakfast, he slung a bag of supplies on his back and took off walking down the highway in Manistee, Michigan.
Over the next 42 days, Snyder would hike 810 miles around Lake Michigan, posting daily updates and sharing words of thanks and encouragement.
He did all of this to raise awareness for veteran suicide prevention.
Snyder is an ambassador for Mission 22, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing veteran suicide through treatment programs, memorials, and awareness campaigns.
The wake-up call
Snyder has a difficult personal connection with the national health concern that deeply affects military veterans.
In April, a friend from his deployment unit in Afghanistan died by suicide, stunning Snyder and his friends.
“For my Marine brothers and I, that was a big shock to us,” he told CNN. “I can’t say that many of us knew a lot about his struggle, otherwise we would have reached out, and definitely would have helped in any way we could’ve. I guess you could say it was a wake-up call to check in on each other a little more often and to really make sure that we don’t lose anybody else.”
There were over 6,000 known veteran suicide deaths in 2017, according to the most recent suicide data report by the US Department of Veteran Affairs. That’s an average of about 16 veteran suicides a day.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has declared veteran suicide prevention to be their highest clinical priority and has said they are dedicating significant resources to crisis intervention and mental health treatment, according to a recent strategy report.
A flood of support
Snyder told CNN that while his goal was to raise awareness, he only expected a couple hundred people to follow his journey.
Instead, he got thousands.
Within weeks of starting his trek, people were stopping on the road to talk to him, sharing their personal struggles and offering him assistance on his venture.
“In a good way, it was a little overwhelming,’” he said. “And I was honored to share part of their burden with them, just going through the loss of losing a loved one or struggling themselves with suicide.”
Snyder was fully prepared with camping gear to sleep outside every night, but because of the generous offers of spare beds, hotel rooms, and hot meals, he never had to sleep outdoors.
He was even joined on a few occasions by people who wanted to walk alongside him, sharing the many miles that he would walk each day. His daily updates are full of words of thanks to people who joined him or provided him with lodging or meals.
“For people to reach out the way they did and to support in their own way, whether it be financially or hotel, or a meal, every single day of this trip just goes to show the magnitude of the effect that this epidemic has on people,” he says.
The final stretch
On Monday, Snyder arrived back in Manistee accompanied by three of his fellow Marines and a small crowd of supporters who wanted to walk his last miles with him.
At the end of his trip, he was greeted by a wave of support and even a furry friend – he was reunited with the kitten that he rescued on Day 34.
A friend had offered to look after the kitten for him until he completed the hike. He named it “Gulliver,” referencing the classic travel tale Gulliver’s Travels.
In his final post, he wrote, “This is our main objective; to bring a light to a situation that needs answers, and needs attention. You and I are to be that light, and to help those that are combating those challenges everyday. Together, we will make a tremendous difference.”
Snyder is staying with family and resting after his return. He told CNN he hopes to continue his advocacy by speaking about his journey and educating the public about suicide prevention for both veterans and civilians.