Vets hike 2,600 miles to heal war wounds

A soldier's journey is a long and complicated one. And many find it doesn't end when they return from war. Two veterans traveled an unexpected path to find their way back home. Eric Wilkinson reports.

When it comes to starting over, taking that first step is often the hardest. Few know that better than Shawn White and Tom Bielecki, two war vets who set off in search of themselves.

"I started looking around thinking, what's next?" Said White. "What am I gonna do? How am I gonna fix this?"

After struggling to get a foothold in civilian life, the two hit the trail - the Pacific Crest Trail.

It's nearly 2,700 miles along America's west coast, from Mexico to Canada, with a whole lot of time to think in between. Bielecki had one mission in mind.

"To become who I am supposed to be."

White and Bielecki started the trek in April. They finished September 26th, 5-1/2 months later. It was a gorgeous, but more often, a grueling ordeal. There was no turning back.

"If it's a bad day, you give it another 100 miles, another 100 feet, another 100 steps. Whatever it takes," said White, who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before being medically discharged after a box of munitions blew up near him, resulting in severe burns.

"You feel very alone," he said. "Even with my wife and family by my side, I felt very alone."

Bielecki, an Afghanistan vet, started the trip in the depths of a 2 year depression.

He was 70 pounds heavier, but pushed through the pain, both physical and emotional, and came out at the other a better man.

He isn't quite sure how it happened, but he remembers when. The clarity came a thousand miles into the trip, when he reached Lake Tahoe.

"At that point I actually thought I can go home now. I feel a lot better about myself. I'm ready to move on," he said.

Two other veterans dropped out of the journey. White and Bielecki said they finished because of the commitment they made to themselves.

After leaving with nothing but rucksacks and heads full of questions, they found answers along the trail. They learned that to find your way, sometimes you have to throw away the map and just see where life takes you.

"It's time to be happy again," said Bielecki.

"It's about patience," said White. "Life may not be what you want it to be right now, but you take it one step at a time. You commit to that next step, and that's it."

For more information about future hike and how to support the groups visit www.warriorhike.org and www.vetvoicefoundation.org


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