8-Month Trek Across the U.S. for Wounded Veterans

(From L) Bryan and Austin rest at the Mountain Center P.O. before camping at Lake Hemet

(From L) Bryan and Austin rest at the Mountain Center P.O. before camping at Lake Hemet

From a distance, they looked like a displaced couple pushing a baby carriage along Hwy. 243. But as you neared, you could see that they were two hikers pushing a dog cart. What were they doing hiking along a busy roadway?

“Chasing the Sun” was an 8-month personal journey across the United States started on Oct. 9, 2013, by Austin Bain Shirley, and his dog, Archer. Joining him a couple of months later was his friend, Brian Cochrain. The two former Navy men helped raise $50,000 for Wounded Service Men and Women.

They were headed towards Mountain Center (bypassing Idyllwild) on their way to San Diego, their final destination.

“Today was the hardest day so far because of the steep elevation,” says Austin, as he sits on the bench outside the Mountain Center Post Office, with his husky, Archer, by his side. “But you can’t beat the scenery.”

They camped out in Valle Vista last night, just off the road, and pitched their tent. They started early, around sunrise, and got to Mountain Center around 3 p.m. They’re averaging about a 20-minute mile, pushing a lightweight cart that carries their food, tent, gear, and today, Archer.

“He’s got a bad blister on his front paw, so we’re making him rest,” Austin says. “But he’s got so much pent-up energy.” Their plans are to camp overnight at Lake Hemet, and go to San Diego via Anza and Aguanga.

Austin says his dog, Archer, has been a real trooper.

Austin says his dog, Archer, has been a real trooper.

On June 26, they’ll head into San Diego, where their charity will be planning a big party for them. “Both of our moms are coming too, and some friends are flying out,” Austin adds.

They regularly take photographs and update their blog site about three times a week. “You should check it out. We have some awesome photographs,” Austin says.

Austin’s brother has been out along their 100,000-mile trip several times to videotape them. “We haven’t videotaped ourselves because it’s too hard to keep a camcorder charged, and then download the files,” he explains.

They say they can’t wait to make it to Lake Hemet and dive in. But when they found out that it was a reservoir, their spirits dampened a bit. “You mean that we cannot go for a swim?” he asked.

It hasn’t all been fun times.

“Texas was the hardest to cross,” adds Bryan. “We kept asking, ‘Are we ever going to get to the border?’”

At the northern route, Texas stretches 1,000 miles. They started in Florida in October, and were in Texas by December. They spent Christmas with their families, and took a few weeks off to recharge. But they hit cold weather crossing Texas.

“It got to about six degrees at night,” Austin says. “We just never got out of our sleeping bags because then you’re cold.” Before Bryan joined Austin in Texas, he started out alone in Florida with Archer. Their business card shows a lone hiker with a dog following the sun.

One day, when Austin was camping out, he got an email from a woman who offered him the run of her beach house for four days.

“I couldn’t believe it when she said that she had a house about a mile down the road from where I was camping,” Austin says. “She gave me the key code and I felt kind of sketch because her house was in a really nice neighborhood.”

Others along the way have offered them homemade meals, showers and overnight stays.

“Everyone we’ve met has been really great,” Austin says. However, in Arizona, they got a warning ticket from an officer who objected to them hiking on the highway.

“They have rules, and we understand that,” he says. “The officer said there’s a lot of smugglers on the road and they didn’t want us to be mixed up with that.”

The two take turns pushing the dog cart that also holds their gear.

The two take turns pushing the dog cart that also holds their gear.

Up until a few days ago, they’ve had to hike mostly at night because the heat of the day was too much.

“It’s nice and quiet at night, and there’s not much traffic,” Austin says. “But you get tired and want to rest and there’s no taking an hour-long nap because you just don’t get up.”

From Hemet to Idyllwild, the sun was shining, but there was a nice breeze. The two talk, sing, and tell jokes to pass the time away. It’s also a time for quiet contemplation, Austin says.

“You spend a lot of time soul searching, and thinking about your life,” he says. They’ve got lots of ideas on what to do next. They’d like to write a book or put together a video. They’ve mapped out their trip, and it’s subject to change over the next 10 days.

Weather, not animals, has been their biggest hurdle. The cold, snow, and sun were the hardest. They’ve seen snakes, and asked what animals lurked about.

“Are there any bears?” Bryan asks. They were happy to hear that Lake Hemet had a nesting pair of bald eagles. They also wanted to see California Condors. Both say that their military training helped most when they were camping out. Their military stints focused on disaster relief, such as Hurricane Katrina.

The next 10 days will be full of anticipation. They’ve averaged 20-30 miles a day, but today, the 6.9 miles they hiked from 2,000 to 4,900 feet was enough. They planned on parking themselves on the bench next to the post office for a couple of hours.

To follow their journey, visit: www.crowdrise.com/chasingthesun2013/fundraiser/bainarcher.

Copyright Marcia Gawecki Art 2014. All rights reserved.