Ex-Army Man Shares Journey Walking Across America After Becoming Homeless

Jake Sansing took to Reddit to share his story of traveling across America by foot for three years, after the ex-Army infantry member found himself homeless and suffering from PTSD.

Between 2013 and 2016, Sansing covered 10,000 miles by foot, making his way from Tennessee to Delaware to California, then Florida, then Alaska and back to Florida and California—passing through various states along the way.

"I did sections of the American Discovery Trail, completed the Katy Trail and completed the East Texas Trail," he wrote in a comment, adding that he visited national parks across America as well.

When he left the Army, he initially owned a recording studio in Tennessee for around a year when a tornado hit. At the time of the tornado, Sansing had been moving, with all his belongings in a car. He was left having to walk 20 miles each day in search of work.

"I spent three months walking between towns and looking for a new job, but I kept coming up empty-handed. One night, as I was walking along the train tracks and making my way towards another town to continue my search for work, I began to ask myself what the point of it was. I then wandered off the tracks and into the forest, where I set up camp and made myself a fire.

"As I was sitting there, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the stars above, I felt a huge sense of relief. I knew then that it wasn't a job that I needed to be searching for, but something within myself. I thought that maybe taking six months to walk across America would give me plenty of time to do some self-healing. Although, it did end up turning into something much greater than that," he told Newsweek.

Jake Sansing with sign during walk
Jake Sansing walking
Jake Sansing travelled through America by foot for three years.

So Sansing started his three-year-long adventure with the intent of raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital through donations per miles walked, tracked by an app: "I kind of struggled to find motivation in the beginning. For some reason, just doing it for the sake of doing it felt like a waste of time [...] I'm not sure where the donations came from, but I saw the numbers going up and it gave me a sense of purpose," he said.

With all his belongings in a backpack, he slept in his tent or under a tarp for "95% of the time," working through just two pairs of shoes and two pairs of boots.

"I never worried too much about money, although I made a habit of picking up every bit of change I would see lying on the sides of the roads. Believe it or not, I would usually find enough between towns to be able to afford a small meal. For larger purchases, such as renting a motel or replacing some worn equipment, I would try to find odd jobs. Sometimes I would just walk into a motel or restaurant and ask if there was anything I could do in exchange for a meal or a room for the night.

"Other times, I would create a post on Facebook or Craigslist a day or two before coming into town, and I would ask if anyone needed a handyman. It was typical for people to ask for help with things like patio work, plumbing, cutting and stacking firewood, or patching a leaky roof. They were usually quite generous with the payment as well, considering the circumstances. But even a little goes a long way when you're living out of a backpack," Sansing wrote.

"There were a few times that I made and sold bows and atlatls [spear-thrower], a craft I had been doing since I was a teen. Sometimes I found things worth selling while dumpster diving, such as the time I found nearly a hundred DVDs and sold them for $3 each," he added.

For food, Sansing said he relied on his own skills of hunting, fishing, foraging and dumpster diving. People along the way would at times even invite him into their houses for meals.

"The people I met along the way made it such a great experience. I was blown away by how many people stopped to ask if I needed anything and all the people who invited me into their homes," he wrote on Reddit.

Jake Sansing by tent
Jake Sansing camped out in woods
Jake Sansing travelled through America by foot for three years.

The story itself sounds close enough to the movie Rambo, but the action-packed situations Sansing described rival that of a Hollywood blockbuster too—Nearly getting struck by lightning, caught up in a tornado, nearly having a heat stroke, getting wet in freezing temperatures and nearly being attacked by a grizzly bear, all count as anecdotes in his experience.

On his close encounter with a bear, Sansing told Newsweek: "I had been hiking in the mountains of Denali National Park for three days when I needed to head down to search for water. Once I made it to a river, I pulled my canteen from my backpack and the elastic band that holds it in place slapped loudly against my pack. I immediately heard the water splashing wildly from the other side of a bend right across from me, so I turned to make my way back up the bank from where I'd come. As I was scurrying back up the hill, I turned to see a grizzly bear making its way across the river in my direction. I hurried faster to the top of the hill and pulled out my bear spray. As soon as I turned around, the bear was only a few feet away and coming up the bank. Once it reached the top, I took that opportunity to hose it in the face with my bear spray, which made it back off for a moment. The bear continued to try and come after me, but each time it got close I would spray it in the face again. Luckily, just after I'd used the last bit of the spray, the bear decided it'd had enough and walked away."

Sansing was forced to call it quits and return to Tennessee in 2016, when his knees began to bear the brunt of those 10,000 miles. On his return, he was handed another hardship by life. He was diagnosed with a "severe illness." Still homeless, Sansing camped out at the back of the hospital for three months between treatments. During which, he penned his book: Walking America: A 10,000 Mile Journey of Self-Healing.

"I received news that I was in full health. I then had my book self-published and immediately set up some book signings at the local libraries. A couple of months later, I used the money I'd made from my book signings to purchase even more books and a bus ticket to Los Angeles, California. I then began walking up and down the west coast with an extra backpack full of books strapped across my chest, selling autographed copies to people on the streets. About a year later, I had saved enough money to buy myself a vehicle and began working as a part-time driver for Amazon in Los Angeles. I then began dating a girl in Los Angeles, whom I'd actually gone to high school with back in Tennessee, and I moved in with her," he told Newsweek.

Now, Sansing resides in Los Angeles, but doesn't plan on staying for long, with hopes of purchasing land elsewhere, "to live out the rest of [his] days."

Jake Sansing by a stream
Jake Sansing during his 10,000 mile walk across America. Image courtesy of Jake Sansing. Jake Sansing