BILLINGS, Mont. – Ken Brock turned 54 on Wednesday. There was no birthday cake, card, balloons or a free breakfast at Denny’s.
The U.S. Army veteran from Keystone Heights celebrated with his feet wrapped in ice bags and a room at the best hotel room a town of 109,642 could offer.
It was a birthday Brock won’t ever forget. Or regret.
“I had a great week,” Brock said after putting more than 300 miles behind him in the past week on his quest to walk from Amvets Post 86 in Keystone Heights to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in time for the town’s Fourth of July parade to raise awareness for the post-traumatic stress disorder programs at Wounded Warrior Program.
Despite being hampered by two weekends of deadly tornadoes in Alabama, flooding in Missouri and Nebraska, snow in South Dakota and a two-week detour caused by the Veteran’s Administration, Brock is starting to believe he may complete his 2,650-mile mission on time.
“I’m starting to see the light,” Brock said. “It’s there. I’ve been able to free-walk for the past week and I’ve been busting my butt. There were days last week I put in 35 miles a day. Now there’s a slim possibility. A couple weeks ago it wasn’t doable. A week ago, it started to seem almost possible. Now it’s starting to get a little closer.”
With 2,150 miles down since starting his walk on Feb. 1, Brock now is about 500 miles from the finish line.
Brock said he doesn’t feel pressure to complete the walk. He realized months ago he had to finish the route. The real pressure, he said, is getting to Coeur d’Alene on time.
Even if Mother Nature and Uncle Sam keep creating roadblocks.
Brock was ordered to return from South Dakota to Florida last month for a routine interview and to update his paperwork with the VA. It was a distraction that almost put an end to his journey.
Before he left Florida to resume his walk in South Dakota, he was invited to WWP headquarters, where he was showered with gifts and praise by employees who monitor his progress every day.
His brother, Terry Brock, decided to join him. He followed Ken in a van, carrying Brock’s 100-pound utility cart and service dog Pam. That allowed Brock to make up a lot of lost time and miles.
Terry Brock is supposed to return to Florida this weekend. After that, Ken Brock will be on his own.
There is a ridge of foothills ahead before he gets to his next “big” city in Montana, Helena. After that, he faces the Rocky Mountains. The key, he said, is getting another 100 miles behind him before his brother leaves.
“The good thing is if I go up [the mountains], at some point, I get to come down,” he said. “My feet hurt; I’m tired. I’m running on adrenaline. But I’m getting closer. If I don’t run into any more obstacles, I’m starting to believe I’ll make it on time.”
If so, count on a birthday cake, card, balloons and all the free dinners an Army veteran can handle to be waiting.