Backpacking with a Purpose

The hardcore travelers of Veterans Trek are using backpacking as a way to save lives


When you think of backpacking, you probably picture yourself traipsing around Europe or Southeast Asia, subsisting on street food and cheap beer, taking 16 hour train rides, and sleeping in bunk beds next to strangers from all over the world.

For the guys of Veterans Trek, two of the most hardcore backpackers on the planet, backpacking has become more than a way to see the world, meet other people, and achieve a deeper understanding of yourself.

Backpacking has become a way to save lives.


In August of 2013, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson strapped on their backpacks, laced up their boots, and took off toward the sunset – on foot.

They began in their hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and didn’t stop until they reached the ocean – you know, the one that’s 2700 miles away. The big one. The one in California.

Talk about hardcore – the guys had no support vehicle, hardly any equipment, and never knew where they were camping until the sun went down. There were no hostels, no hot showers, nothing but two U.S. Army Veterans and thousands of miles of open road.

As combat veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, these backpackers were on a mission to heal themselves from the traumas of war, and to help other veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD –  an affliction both of the guys continue to battle daily.


When local and national organizations heard about what Tom and Anthony were doing, they started to pledge money.

$10,000 if they finished the walk. $25,000 if they finished the walk. None of the funds went to Tom and Anthony personally, but got poured back into veterans organizations like Dryhootch, which helps vets reintegrate into society after returning from deployment.

5 months later, after nearly 3,000 miles, 150+ days on the road, and countless pairs of shoes, Tom and Anthony arrived at Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to hordes of national press, photographers, and a crowd of adoring fans.

Tom and Anthony found community, comfort, and healing on the road, but a lot of vets aren’t that lucky. According to CNN, a U.S. veteran takes his or her own life every 65 minutes. That’s 22 deaths per day, or 8,030 suicides per year.

But those numbers aren’t accurate. Not all states in the U.S. report veteran deaths to the VA, and many veterans are not registered in the system at all. It’s likely that the numbers are much higher, and that countless men and women suffer the tortuous symptoms of PTSD in silence.


Tom and Anthony hope to use their backpacking experience to raise awareness about PTSD and its devastating impact upon veterans and their families.

What began as a deeply personal journey of healing has morphed into backpacking with a purpose.

During their 2,700-mile trek, the backpackers were followed by a documentary film crew lead by Emmy-nominated director Michael Collins, the powerhouse behind the multi-award winning film Give Up Tomorrow. 

The production of the documentary Almost Sunrise, which tells the story of Tom and Anthony’s journey, will bring awareness to the plight of millions of American families who are being impacted by PTSD and the after-effects of war.

If the profound impact of Collins’ last film is any indication, Almost Sunrise is sure to inspire monumental change in the way veterans are assisted in this country.

Thanks to the worldwide success of Give Up Tomorrow, a wrongly-imprisoned man named Paco Larranaga was taken off of death row. His life was saved because of a film, and because of all of the people who supported that film getting made.


It is my hope that your support of Almost Sunrise will be just as effective, and just as powerful at saving lives.

When my brother returned from his year in Iraq, I mourned him as if he’d never come back. The truth was that a part of him died in the war, an innocent part of him that can never be reclaimed.

No matter what your politics are, no matter what you believe about the should’s and shouldn’ts of going to war, we are all responsible for the men and women who volunteer to sacrifice their lives for their country.

Sometimes I ask myself – “Am I willing to give up my life for what I do? Am I willing to die for the book I’m writing? For this website? For an ideal that I believe in?”

The answer, in short, is no. There isn’t much I could imagine willingly risking my life for, and if I found something, I highly doubt that it would be sacrificing my life for millions of people I’ve never met.

I believe in the power of backpacking to change lives, and I believe in the power of this film to save them.


But this film doesn’t get made without you.

Here’s how you can help:

1. Check out this amazing trailer about the film

2. Share this trailer on your Facebook page, post it on your blog, and share it with your Twitter followers. Copy and paste this link:

3. Give the guys a few dollars if you have it.

They’re doing a Kickstarter campaign, which means they don’t get any of the money they’ve raised unless they meet their goal.

They only have until Monday, June 9th so if you have a $1 or $5 and the cause sings to you please don’t wait – click here now:

Listen, I know there are a zillion of these campaigns going on. I know you probably get bombarded with requests to donate to things on the daily. I know it’s a pain in the ass to get up and go get your credit card and navigate to the site and fill out the stupid form. I don’t like it either.

But I’m not asking for myself. I’m asking for my brother. And I’m asking for all of the “backpacking experts” (AKA soldiers) who have traveled overseas for reasons other than hostels and cheap beer and great beaches.

I’m all for hostels and cheap beer and great beaches. But the reason I’m free to travel and enjoy those things – the reason I’m free to live my life –  is because my baby brother was willing to sacrifice his.

If you don’t have a dollar, you can help immensely by sharing this link with your friends and family:

Here are some snazzy “click to post” social links as well:

Tweet: How #backpacking is saving the lives of American #veterans @Almost_Sunrise @veteranstrek

Share on Facebook

Share on Google+

vt-backpacking-4Thanks for helping to make backpacking bigger than the backpacker.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Between August 2013 and January 2014, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson walked 2,700 miles from Wisconsin to California with nothing but their backpacks.

2. They did it to save lives, and to raise awareness about the growing problem of veteran PTSD in the U.S.

3. Emmy-nominated director Michael Collins followed Tom and Anthony on their journey and is making a film about it. The film is called Almost Sunrise.

4. You can help save lives by supporting the film. Copy and paste this link into your browser: (or check out the bottom of the post for some nifty "click to post" options).

5. Yes, Tom is my brother, and no, he no longer has that awesome beard. Which is good because I bought him a really expensive shaving kit last Christmas that he hasn't been able to use until now.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

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