North Shore resident William Shuttleworth is going strong more than halfway through his 3,000-mile trek to help the nation's veterans.
Shuttleworth, a 71-year-old Newburyport resident, left the North Shore on May 15 with a 25-pound backpack and two trekking poles, beginning a 7 1/2-month walk to California to talk along the way with veterans and their families while raising public awareness about the health care, housing and financial issues dealt with by men and women who have served in the U.S. military.
Now 1,700 miles into his trip, Shuttleworth said his spirit hasn't been diminished by long days on the road — rather, it's been lifted by the countless supporters he has met along the way.
"I'm feeling very good," he said on the phone late Monday morning as he walked along Route 36, about 10 miles from his next checkpoint in Norton, Kansas.
"You put a pair of shoes on and you start walking across the country, and you'll meet some wonderful, hardworking human beings," he added. "I have seen such incredible love and support."
Walking an average of 31 or 32 miles per day, Shuttleworth has carved a relatively straight path across the middle of the United States, traversing Massachusetts, New York, northern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.
He said his only struggles have occurred on days when temperatures climb to the 100 degree mark, making it extremely difficult to walk and stay hydrated. On those days, he tries to get on the road early — waking up by 3:30 a.m. — to beat the extreme heat.
Other than that, Shuttleworth said he has had two close calls with tornado warnings, one in Indiana where "I literally couldn't see my feet." Luckily, he was picked up by a driver who took him to shelter.
Since his journey began, media coverage of Shuttleworth has snowballed, helping to drive him to be something of an online sensation. Because of this, Shuttleworth said he is continuously greeted by people everywhere he goes, some of whom offer him meals or a place to stay, and some who will walk alongside him for up to 10 miles.
"It seems now I've become a national news story, and the media is really helping me spread my message a lot," said Shuttleworth. "This walk has become more than I ever expected it to be. It's a multi-media event, and I'm meeting tons of people every day."
Shuttleworth also said the growing media coverage of his trip has helped him get almost halfway to his $100,000 fundraising goal, a small portion of which will help offset the cost of the trip, with the rest going toward the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust, which serves more than a million soldiers a year.
But perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the trip for Shuttleworth has been the conversations he has had with veterans and their families, which he said have helped further his own understanding of issues they have faced.
Based on those interactions, Shuttleworth said he has shifted his focus to advocating for better health care for veterans. Specifically, he said he hopes to ensure that veterans are given the same lifelong healthcare as members of Congress after they serve.
"I think people are really concerned about how many veterans kill themselves every day. That's a big topic out here and I hear it all the time, but the biggest theme I hear is the trouble veterans are having getting the healthcare services they need," said Shuttleworth.
Back in Newburyport, Shuttleworth's progress is being tracked closely on a large map inside Changing Tides Cafe on Prince Place, where he had been a regular customer and held his trip's launch party in May.
Dawn Mortimer, co-owner of Changing Tides, said Shuttleworth has been a friend of the shop since he shoveled all the snow out from the entrance on its opening day in March. She said she's is proud to display his progress on one of the cafe's walls.
"He's an amazing man and a genuinely nice person that wants to help others," said Mortimer. "I think what he's doing is amazing. We're really proud of him."
To keep up with Shuttleworth’s journey west, visit his website at https://vetsdontforgetvets.com/.
To donate to his GoFundMe page, visit https://www.gofundme.com/vets-don039t-forget-vets/donate.
Staff writer Jack Shea can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.