John Preston is hiking from the Bay Area to San Diego, covering exactly 22 miles a day, carrying a pack weighing exactly 22 kilograms.
If you guessed the number 22 carries great symbolism for Preston, you would be correct.
According to the Veterans Administration, 22 is the number of veterans who take their lives every day. It is an epidemic that Preston hopes to bring to the forefront with his back-breaking journey. Although, it wasn't his back that gave him trouble once he started hiking.
“What almost beat me [on] day one was the emotional weight,” he said. “Physically, I could do this all day.”
Preston has, for years, been an advocate for the issue of veteran suicide. A professional musician, Preston's music has always carried a message of support for fellow veterans struggling with PTS, addiction, and the other burdens that seem to come with service.
He chose to take his efforts another step (or, a few million steps) when he conceived of the idea of the hike from Palo Alto, where he works as a firefighter, to San Diego. He titled the effort, "22 And You."
Preston trained for months along trails near his East Bay home to prepare for the journey. But even all that training and preparation for the 400+ mile-long journey could not have made Preston ready for what was about to come.
“It’s completely different than what I thought it might look like,” Preston said of his 22 miles-a-day initiative.
Preston imaged the image of him soldiering on, in pain and carrying a heavy burden, would serve as inspiration for others, so they could see that it is possible to keep going.
Then, after just one day on the road, Preston realized he would need help to keep going.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue,” he said. “I woke up and had a crazy high heartbeat, I couldn’t eat, hold anything down, my crew and everyone around me picked me up.”
Preston's message was now that no single person can, or should, carry such weight and that, only with the help of others, are such things possible.
“I thought I was telling one story, I’m telling a different story. We’re telling people there is a network, there are people there for you.”
The numerous veterans, fellow firefighters, and strangers who have shown up to join Preston for stretches of the hike have only confirmed his belief.
“Where I thought I was going out to endure alone, show pain, everything I can’t walk anymore, someone is there to pick me up,” he said.