TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. – It’s been said to truly know someone, you need to walk a mile in their shoes.
One Navy veteran now knows that to be true for himself.
Travis Luck, 25, served for six years as a diver. When he left the Navy in 2016, the native Ohioan decided to return to land. He spent the next year working, traveling and living abroad, but he says his sense of adventure was still hot for action.
“I think the best things happen when they aren’t planned when you just kinda go for it,” Luck said.
For him, ‘it’ came in the form of an inspiration he found from a friend to trade his flippers in for his feet.
“My best friend two years ago rode his bike across America and I think that’s what planted the idea inside my head to do it,” he said.
Within a week of concocting up the idea, Luck, on a whim, bought a plane ticket to the West Coast to begin his journey on August 7 in Newport, Oregon.
“I was so naive, I didn’t train or anything I was like I can do it with just this. Three days later I was like nah, I can’t do it with just this,” he said pointing to his red sleeping bag. Since ‘day three’ he’s added a stroller, nicknamed Brittany, another sleeping bag, another pair of tennis shoes, books, a plastic baggie with important documents, a Bluetooth speaker for podcasts and music, food supplies and whatever supplies he deems worthy of a spot in the stroller.
He trekked through mountains, valleys and flatland. Luck found himself in extremes of weather, which begs the question, why would he keep going? He says his source of motivation came from a Navy instructor.
“Throughout my times where I’ve wanted to quit and been like, ‘Man why am I doing this?’ And I just take this mentality of whatever this hurts, however much I’m tired, however many miles I have left, I don’t care. I’m gonna keep going. Turn your brain off, zombie mode, and eventually you get done for the day,” he said.
Miles turned into months. As Luck continued to moved east, he says, he began to experience people’s perceptions of him. Some, he says, thought he was homeless. Others, asked if he was pushing a baby on a stroller down a highway. Still, the reality of living the nomad lifestyle made Luck change his perspective on the homeless.
“People who are in poor situations or below the poverty line or homeless that it’s all their fault and they deserve everything that they have gotten but I think it’s a lot bigger than that. That they’ve fallen below a safety net and they need help.”
While he was in Nebraska, he changed the purpose of his trip. He says he was touched at the genuine kindness of strangers who lodged him in, fed him and welcomed him into their families. What was once an adventure for himself turn into a pilgrimage for advocacy and justice.
“I’ve had so many people on this trip help me out. I just felt like it was my responsibility to give back to somebody else in any way that I could.”
He started a GoFundMe page to raise money and awareness for disabled veterans and the homeless.
“Walking in their shoes for four months you kinda realize like, ‘Wow, not everybody has life so easy.’”
Luck said his perspective also changed when it comes to care and respective given for his fellow American veterans.
“Some of them have lost their limbs, lost their minds and then they’re coming home to their families to their country and then we’re basically saying, ‘hey here’s the street corner, soup kitchens open two days a week, you’ll be alright buddy but thanks for serving your country,’ he said with a disappointed look as he continued to push his stroller.
As he nearly the end of his journey crossing over onto Tybee Island, WSAV asked him how his journey help him find his feet to transition from military life to civilian life.
“I think it’s given me a greater value for helping people especially for people who have been in the military, still in the military. Like veterans need to care for veterans,” Luck remarked. “Just a month ago I had a friend who had just gotten out of the Navy and he was having some trouble transitioning and he took his own life. And that has really woken me up.”
With eyes focused and a robust beard dawning his face, Luck pressed on. His mother wanted him home in Ohio by Christmas.
He kept an extensive vlog on his Facebook page, documenting with posts, Facebook Live videos and picture updates.
After more than three thousand miles, 10 states and countless interactions with strangers turn friends, Luck made it to the Atlantic Ocean. During the last mile he met a family who offered him American flags for encouragement. The mom had been keeping up with him through social media. Luck thanked them for their support and invited them to walk with him to finish the journey.
A woman he met three days before was there on the island too. She stood down the sidewalk waiting with a towel and a pair of Tybee Island scripted cold beers.
The two toasted to his arrival. Two more women arrived to see him to the finish line of the water’s edge on the beach. They were from Nine Line Apparel and wanted to cheer the veteran on while helping document his final steps.
After 133 days Luck pushed his stroller down to the beach, through the sand before bringing it to a halt. He removed his socks and shoes and walked barefoot slowly with the women towards the water. Soon he broke into a sprint. Just as he had done so many times before, the navy diver veteran dove into the ocean.
His return to the water was complete. A journey that began on a whim soon turned into a mission to help those often dismissed as invisible or overlooked.
When Luck emerged from the water, he smiled but when asked how he felt, he became stoic.
“I don’t know what I was supposed to feel or what I was supposed to say,” he stammered reaching for the words that were nowhere to be found. For Luck, that was okay. He told the group some moments didn’t need words. For him, this was one of those cases.
Before Travis left the group to have some personal time on the beach to process his accomplishment, WSAV asked him about what he plans to do next.
“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” he said with a grin. “I can never settle down too much.”
After thousands of miles spent walking across a country he served in one way with the Navy, he said his future will continue to include service, especially for those who he was afforded the opportunity to walk many a mile in their shoes.
“After doing this for four months, I can’t imagine myself not just doing someone, you know?”
The Sandbar on Tybee Island is hosting a concert and meet-and-greet for Travis Luck on Thursday, December 21st at 7:00.
Donations will be accepted to help him reach his goal to benefit the Salvation Army and the Disabled American Veterans Service Trust.