Marine veteran treks around Lake Michigan for suicide awareness
By JUSTINE LOFTON | MLive.com, Walker, Mich. | Published: October 7, 2019
MANISTEE, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — A veteran who spent the past six weeks hiking around Lake Michigan and advocating for suicide awareness is now homeless, jobless, car-less and “has a kid.”
But Travis Snyder, 32, of Manistee, is not letting any of that get him down. In fact, he says he’s blessed. He plans to move back home to Holland, Mich., go to college, find a job and “try to settle down and find somebody, have some kids and achieve the American Dream.”
On Sunday, Oct. 6, the U.S. Marine Corps veteran completed an 810-mile trek around Lake Michigan for suicide awareness. He was inspired by the suicide deaths of two of his Marine brothers — one he was close friends with — in the past year and his own experience with depression.
Snyder wears a wristband to honor his friend, Sgt. Geoffrey Hughes, who committed suicide on April 15, one week before his 26th birthday. The bracelet includes the words, “Til Valhalla Big Bird,” in honor of his nickname in the service. It also has the phrase “make good choices,” which his dad said to him often.
“If you’re struggling with suicide today, I want you to know that you have a purpose, and reason for living this life, this gift that you’ve been given.” Snyder said in a Facebook post wrapping up the trip on Monday, Oct. 7. “You’re needed, you’re loved, and you belong here with me. With us.”
Veteran suicide rates in the United States, and in Michigan, are significantly higher than that of the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Snyder wanted to do some adventuring before moving from Manistee, where he lived for about a year while working at North Channel Brewing. He decided to honor his brothers – and hopefully help others overcome suicide – at the same time.
A 2005 graduate of Zeeland High School, he was in the service from August 2012 to June 2018 and was deployed in Afghanistan from October 2017 to April 2018; his Marine friends who took their own lives were there, too.
“For my Marine brothers and I, it was a big shock,” Snyder said. “It was a moment to reach out to each other and make sure we were all OK.”
He sold his Jeep to raise funds for the trip, made a Facebook page and “quietly set out” from the Manistee Meijer on Aug. 26.
Snyder headed north on U.S. 31. He crossed the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day before traveling west across the Upper Peninsula, and then through Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The last leg of the hike took him north through West Michigan. He finished at First Street Beach in Manistee on Sunday.
On the final day, Snyder was joined by three Marine friends, Jose Garza, Matthew Friberg and Isai Guillen, who walked with him for seven hours (about 20 miles) from Ludington to Manistee. They were joined by about 50 more people for the last three miles.
Snyder hoped the Veteran Suicide Awareness: Travis Hikes Around Lake Michigan Facebook page would have 50-100 followers by journey’s end. There are more than 3,250 followers as of Monday.
“I’m happy the mission and the cause has gotten attention,” Snyder said. “It brought together people – people who have struggled themselves or lost a loved one.”
Snyder left Manistee with a hammock, canopy and other equipment he would need to camp out each night, but he never had to. Every day, someone reached out to offer a room in their home or to pay for a hotel room.
“I was overwhelmed,” he said.
The trip went smoothly, besides the fact that it rained most of the time. The biggest “oh sh—” moment came after Snyder crossed the Mackinac Bridge and set out westward in the U.P. – where he doesn’t know anyone and panicked a little before finding a sense of serenity in solitude.
That day, it was foggy and raining as Snyder walked along U.S. 2, which runs along the southern shore of the U.P. looking out at Lake Michigan. State police were detouring vehicles 42 miles around a bridge but allowed Snyder to continue. He walked 15 miles before seeing another person or car.
“There was just the road, rocks and Lake Michigan,” Snyder said. “It was raining and windy and water was crashing on the rocks and it was the most peaceful moment of my life.”
Weeks later, Snyder had made his way to South Haven and was being interviewed by a TV news crew when he heard meowing. He looked around and found a “wet little furball” of a cat.
“I walk over and, it was the cutest thing. He was trying to cower down behind a blade of grass,” Snyder said.
He picked up the cat and put him in his coat to warm up before buying food. The cat stayed with Snyder for the rest of the day before a friend offered to cat-sit until the journey was complete.
Snyder is keeping the cat, which he named Gulliver after “Gulliver’s Travels.”
“Now I’m homeless, jobless and I have a kid – a cat kid,” he said.
Next, Snyder will move back to Holland, look for a job at a brewery and begin the process of enrolling in college to be a history teacher. Snyder also plans to write a book about trip around Lake Michigan. He recently became an ambassador for Mission 22, an Oregon-based veteran suicide prevention organization.
©2019 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.
Visit MLive.com, Walker, Mich. at www.mlive.com.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.