Joshua Marshall thought there was nowhere left to go when he hit what he described as “rock bottom” a year ago, but for him that was only the beginning of a new chapter.
Today, Marshall is one week into a three-month journey from his home in Fort Atkinson, Wis., to New York.
The six-year U.S. Army veteran stopped in Starved Rock Country for an extended stop and to further the second goal of his trip to spread awareness of veteran suicide numbers.
Marshall found the organization Mission 22, dedicated to raising awareness to statistics that show 22 veterans die by suicide a day and raising money for veterans to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress.
Marshall said he connected with their purpose given the struggles he himself dealt with a year ago.
“I was going through a lot of problems in my life,” Marshall said. “In fact, to me, it felt like my life was spiraling down and I had hit absolute rock bottom.”
It had been Marshall’s goal for more than a decade to move to New York and seek out a career in photography, but after problems with alcohol addiction and the associated legal issues, those plans were routinely put on hold.
The inability to follow his dreams began to wear on the veteran.
“I tried to take my life and pretty much right after it clicked in my head, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ I vowed to myself that would never happen again,” Marshall said. “I needed to find a way out of that. A way out of that mentality. A way out of that whole situation.”
Suddenly, he came up with the idea of traveling on foot.
‘Beautiful’ stopping point
He’s been lugging around most of his personal belongings in a backpack harness that rolls on the ground. He could have saved 20 pounds by removing the camera gear, but that wasn’t a real option he would consider. And he’s glad he didn’t after coming across the “beautiful” parks in the area.
Marshall has been networking with veterans organizations online and met Matt Crew, of Mendota, who is the area’s local Mission 22 ambassador.
Crew said he was interested in Marshall’s story and was happy to help find lodging for him as well as pull him off the trail to see the local sights.
Crew said it was clear Marshall wasn’t looking for a handout, but instead he was looking to find personal growth as well as support a cause the two strongly believe in.
“He had his dark days and he overcame that and he wants to move forward and to move forward this trip may exorcise the demons or show him humanity is out there,” Crew said. “There’s help. There’s always someone there to lend an ear or a hand.”
So far, Marshall has found that to be the case.
“I never really intended for anybody to reach out and give me a hand or invite me into their home and cook me a dinner,” Marshall said. “But I’ve been really blessed in the fact that it’s happened.”
Marshall visited Starved Rock State Park, Buffalo Rock State Park, Westclox and his personal favorite stop, Matthiessen State Park.
He estimates he took about 50 photos on Sunday, which significantly cuts into the three-month supply of film he brought with him.
It’s a hobby he’s been fascinated with since childhood.
He recalled sneaking into his father’s den as a child to play with his Canon FTQL. He recalled weighing the heavy device in his hand and loving the sound of the shutter closing. Once he completed basic training, his dad gave the same camera to him and his infatuation continued.
He’s brought a few cameras with him on this trip, including a large format film Mamiya RZ67 Pro II camera and a smaller Lomography Instant Square film camera.
He’s been partial to the smaller camera because he likes its quirky appeal and the photos are easy to fit in his pocket.
From Ottawa he plans to go to Morris and Kankakee, then it’s onto stops such as Fort Wayne, Ind., to see family; Cleveland, Ohio, to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Niagara Falls; and two weeks in the Catskill Mountains.
A special stop is planned for The DV Farm for dysfunctional veterans in Gilsum, N.H.
Marshall expects to be in New York in time for the city’s Fourth of July festivities.
He’s already made a number of friends and looks forward to continuing on his journey.
He’s hopeful his journey, and his personal story, will inspire others to look out for fellow veterans or support the cause of Mission 22.
“I think kindness can actually snowball, you know? Kindness starts out little and then eventually can just take over everything,” Marshall said. “At least, I hope that’s the way it works.”
For more information, you can visit his website at experiencedttlphotography.com or help donate to his cause at gofundme.com/1000-miles-to-start.
Proceeds received from the GoFundMe page will be split into thirds with portions going to his travel expenses, Mission 22 and the DV Farm.
Summer Fundraising Event
Crew said Mission 22 will once again host its fundraising picnic noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 27, at the shelter at Illinois & Michigan Canal Lock 14 in La Salle.
Burgers and hot dogs will be available to buy with proceeds going toward the organization.