BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A 25-year-old U.S. Navy veteran is on a mission to raise awareness for wounded warriors. Austin Shirley left Jacksonville, Florida on foot, on October 9, 2013. He will end his awareness walk sometime in 2014, in San Diego, California. He walks 16 miles a day, from sun up to sun down.
Wednesday marked day 51 of his trip. He left Baton Rouge early in the day, headed for the next city on his trip.
Making the trip with him is his one-year-old husky, Archer. While the dog is enjoying the colder temperatures, the last few days have been tough on Shirley.
"Yesterday was the worst day of the trip, no doubt about it," Shirley said. "Got going like around 6:45 in the morning and I got pounded by rain. It was like 38 degrees and I just got soaked. It was terrible."
The tennis shoes on his feet are the third pair, the second pair gave out days ago.
Along the way, people have stopped him to question what he's doing, where he's going or just to ask if he's okay. He says that's when he tells them about the purpose of his trip.
After serving for years in the Navy, Shirley says he was trying to figure out what was next for his life. This journey, he says, if helping with self-development and spiritual growth. But it's more about getting the word out about helping those in the military who have in some way been wounded in battle. One of those people he's walking for, a guy from his high school who was injured in combat.
Shirley is hoping to reach his halfway point, in Dallas, by Christmas. That's where his mom and sister live. If he's not at the table though, he'll be somewhere walking.
"We still got guys down range that's not coming home for Christmas, so it wouldn't be fair," he said.
Shirley and Archer will also be walking, somewhere down Highway 190 Thanksgiving Day. He turned down a local incite to turkey dinner.
But what he didn't turn down, a pair of gloves from a new friend he met just one night ago who bought him dinner.
"I was using socks yesterday," Shirley said. "My hands were turning blue so I just used socks, stuffed hand warmers in there."
He'll also accept a place to shower or a bed to sleep in for the night. He says when he was walking through LaPlace, a woman pulled over and asked him if he needed a ride (which he will not take). He says she gave him directions to her house, he walked there and she gave him a room to sleep in for the night. She also called a few friends and lined up places for him to sleep for the next few nights as well.
Shirley says this walk has restored his faith in humanity. Even though some people are skeptical of him at times, because he may not smell to clean or look his best - someone is always willing to give him a meal or a place to stay.
He welcomes anyone who would like to walk with him or wants to donate to the Wounded Warrior fund.