Walking the walk

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick Zack Starr of London is preparing to hike the 2,665-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Zack Starr of London is preparing to hike the 2,665-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

(Posted Feb. 16, 2015)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

By first proving something to himself, Zack Starr hopes to kickstart something positive for fellow veterans.

Starr, a London resident, is gearing up to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,665-mile trek through desert, forests and mountains from the Mexico border in southern California to Manning Park, British Columbia, just over the Washington state border in Canada.

“I want to show by example that if you have an injury, it shouldn’t stop you. It’s about finding other things to do to challenge yourself,” he said.

Starr, 38, injured his right shoulder while serving in the United States Navy from 1995 to 1998, resulting in a medical discharge. Surgeries have solved some of the issues, but Starr still lives with chronic pain and faces shoulder replacement surgery.

Last year, a doctor told him to limit his level of activity. Starr had already given up martial arts and some other sports, as well as adapted to perform everyday tasks with one hand. The idea of backing off further was depressing, he said. Then he lit on the idea of hiking, making it a challenge, and making it about more than himself.

“I know what I’ve gone through is small compared to what others have gone through. There are guys far worse off. I just want to show that there is hope,” he said.

After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Starr’s goal is to share his story and those of other veterans in an online resource for inspiration called Vet Connect. His vision for the website is akin to the popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books that compile true stories of the human spirit triumphing over adversity.

“Most of what you see out there plays on negative emotions instead of positive,” he said. “We need success stories.”

Down the road, Starr plans to expand the website to also serve as a community of veterans helping veterans, whether it’s outfitting a soldier’s house for handicap accessibility or helping a veteran’s spouse who is pulled away from work and home while the veteran receives medical treatment. The idea is to connect veterans for emotional and practical support, Starr said.

“Because of my injury, I wasn’t able to finish my service. I see this as a way to fulfill my service,” he said.

The Hike    

Starr will head out on the trail April 20 from the border town of Campo, Calif., located a 90-minute drive southeast of San Diego. He estimates he’ll reach the trail’s northern end sometime around Sept. 20.

To prepare, he has plotted out a training regimen by which he will hike and cycle a total of 1,000 miles before the hike starts. With each training hike, he not only builds endurance, he also makes adjustments to what he will carry on his back.

“It’s all about the weight,” he said.

Many who hike the Pacific Crest Trail carry a pack with a 65-liter capacity. With his shoulder in mind, Starr aims to carry a 48-liter pack. The goal is to max out at 13 pounds before adding food and water. To minimize weight, he has purchased super lightweight gear and is ditching anything he can live without, from the nylon carrying sleeve for his tent to the plastic tripod for his camp stove.

“People even cut off the excess length on their backpack straps. It doesn’t seem like much, but all of those grams add up,” Starr said.

Preparation also includes mapping out stops on the trail to pick up resupply boxes. At most, Starr plans to carry seven days’ worth of food at a time. He’ll pick up new rations, mailed by his sister from her home in Louisiana, at designated towns along the trail. The same goes for gear specific to the terrain he’ll encounter next. For example, there’s no need to carry shoe spikes in the desert. He’ll pick those up as he heads into the mountains.

Starr estimates he’ll travel an average of 20 miles per day over the course of the five-month trek. Timing is critical.

“You can’t start out too fast. You have to time reaching the mountains with the snow melt. But you need to finish the trail before the snow hits again in Canada,” he said.

Only 40 percent of people who attempt the trail finish it. Starr plans to be among the 40 percent.

Support

In conjunction with the hike, Starr is raising funds and awareness to get Vet Connect off the ground. He has designed a t-shirt, which can be purchased through VetConnect.us, and is accepting flat donations. All proceeds go to Vet Connect.

Starr is paying for all of the expenses of his hike himself. He thanks his father, Dr. Jack Starr, for helping to make this possible by providing rent-free living while he has worked for the family business, Starr Trophy & Awards in downtown London, for the past year.

Starr has already started a blog about the hike. He’ll soon add equipment videos. Once on the hike, he will post updates about his progress. Anyone can follow along at americanbrumby.wordpress.com.

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