With no ties to hold him down and nowhere better to go, Harold Palmquist figured he had a chance to realize a lifelong dream.
"I've always wanted to run across America," he said. "What better time to do this than now?"
Except the 48-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran isn't technically running, and he's actually working toward realizing his cross-country goal for the second time. Mr. Palmquist is cycling his way west back across the nation with his 10-year-old dog, Daisy, along for the ride in a crate strapped to a tow-behind trailer.
VIDEO: Homeless veteran, dog arrive in Oregon on cross-country trip
He arrived at Pearson Metropark in Oregon on Wednesday afternoon. He plans to touch both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on what he calls the "Tour De Paclantic," and started his current journey in St. Simmons Island, Ga., in April. He expects his wandering route to California to last until April next year.
"I want to touch as many states as I can," he said.
Mr. Palmquist has been homeless since November, 2014, after a troublesome divorce and other issues. His last address was in Phoenix, Ariz., where he was helped by the nonprofit Veterans and Their Pets.
"I went to the homeless shelter, and they said I can't bring the dog," he said. Veterans and Their Pets "fostered Daisy for me and got her up to date on all her shots and everything."
He decided to return the favor by using his tour to raise awareness and direct donations back to the Phoenix organization.
"I've never been able to give back to the community," Mr. Palmquist said. "Here I am at the lowest part of my life and I've been able to make a difference."
Michael West, president of Veterans and Their Pets, said the federal government doesn't recognize the importance of pets to their veteran owners. He said the lack of assistance for their animals is a "huge barrier" to helping homeless veterans.
"These people prefer to stay on the street because the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] by law can't support a veteran's dog," Mr. West said. "Their animal is often the only semblance of normality and family they have left."
He said Mr. Palmquist's cross-country trek raised about $3,000 for the organization last year. Increased awareness this year has helped raise about $5,000 so far.
"And it's given him a mission," Mr. West said. "It's helping him get a sense of normality back."
Mr. Palmquist and Daisy have been inseparable since she was a tiny stray puppy. Their ongoing travels have brought them even closer.
"I think I'm more her human than she's my dog," Mr. Palmquist said. "She looks after me. She keeps me comfortable at night."
Ken Leslie, a Toledo advocate for the homeless, said in his experience, the bond homeless individuals share with their pets is often what keeps them going. They may refuse services if their pet isn't allowed, as Mr. Palmquist had done.
"For some people, the relationship with the animal is the only relationship they feel safe with," he said.
Mr. Leslie founded 1 Matters to help area homeless. Veterans Matter, a program of the nonprofit, has helped house 1,700 veterans in 17 states. A handful of them also needed help for their pets.
"We help the veterans who need us most, and many times those with animals cannot find anyone to cover the extra security deposit for animals," Mr. Leslie said. "It's cool that people like [Mr. Palmquist] are creating the capacity to help those with every kind of variable."
Mr. Palmquist and Daisy travel about 40 miles a day, weather and equipment permitting. Their first trip of about 5,000 miles took just less than a year. He has counted about 2,000 miles so far on the second.
"We've actually done the mileage," he said. "I don't accept rides."
Both he and Daisy have been fortunate to remain in good health, though he's had a lot of close calls with vehicles while traveling the roadways.
"I've seen the undercarriage of a car that swerved on two wheels to avoid us," he said.
Mr. Palmquist said while he does not seek donations for himself, he has been helped in numerous ways by the people he meets. Some buy him a meal or dog food, others provide a hot shower, laundry services, or a place to stay. Bicycle shops have helped him repair his equipment.
"It just blows me away, the kindness," Mr. Palmquist said. "In the times I'm in the most need, it works itself out."
Follow Mr. Palmquist and Daisy's journey on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by searching "Tour De Paclantic." Donations to Veterans and Their Pets may be made online at fundrazr.com/veteransandtheirpets or at gofundme.com/vetsandtheirpets.
Contact Alexandra Mester firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066 or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.
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