U. S. Navy first class aircrewman (AW) Michael McCastle last weekend pulled a Ford F-150 22 miles through the searing heat of Death Valley.
He did this to bring awareness to the figure put out by the Veterans Administration that every day 22 veterans commit suicide.
“A close friend of mine committed suicide a year ago,” he said. “People respond to pain. I wanted to grab the attention of people by doing this feat. I want people to be aware that vets are dying and I wanted to start this conversation. Don’t focus on the number, just the problem.”
It took McCastle 19 hours to pull the truck the 22 miles. He did this in the flattest part of the national park, in Badwater, starting at 6:30 a.m. on May 22. Although the heat was not over the century mark, it was hot at 93 degrees.
McCastle said he had no real problems in doing this feat at Death Valley.
“I had a long talk with the superintendent of the national park who wanted to be sure that this would be safe,” McCastle said.
He chose Badwater because it was really the flattest part of the park.
“I had to get a place where there was no traffic and it was flat,” he said. “I went out searched for an area that had little traffic and found this dirt road in Badwater.”
The F-150 was rented.
“Of course when I told people that I was pulling a Ford, they all gave me the Ford jokes,” McCastle said. “Oh, and the rental company has no idea what I did with their truck.”
He did this unassisted and completely alone with only one witness, photographer Jennifer Willis.
“I had to convince him to let me be there,” Willis said. “He wanted no one there due to the safety factor. He didn’t want me to do this.”
Willis went along and snapped pictures of this event at a distance.
“I have chronicled events like this before, my father was a veteran of Vietnam,” she said. “I am familiar with a lot of people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Michael (McCastle) wanted to replicate the feelings of loneliness that vets have and that’s one reason he didn’t want me to be out there. He also didn’t want anyone to suffer in the heat along with him. He just didn’t want to impose on anyone.”
McCastle was into safety for the event.
“I didn’t want her (Willis) out there,” he said. “It was purely a safety issue. In the end, I am glad she was there.”
He also explained that he wanted to experience the loneliness and to try to replicate what vets went through when dealing with depression.
“It was hard to replicate what goes on in a person’s head when dealing with these issues,” he said. “While I was pulling the truck I did feel lonely. When I got stuck I had to stop and deal with it. I had to deal with the problem because I was alone. I did my own troubleshooting of the problem.”
He would get stuck in small gullies on the road and if it was too tough for him to pull the truck out, he drove it over the wash and then went back to pulling.
Although he wants people to be aware of the problems that veterans have he is not putting the blame on the Veterans Administration.
“We have problems and it must be addressed,” he said. “My research on the problem comes from data from the Veterans Administration. The number 22 is an average. I will not give the VA an unsatisfactory on this issue. Sure, there is more that the VA can do. But this is a community issue. People must be aware of the issues and the VA is making progress.”
He said the problem also lies with the veterans themselves.
“Veterans don’t ask for help with depression,” McCastle said. “I want to erase the stigma that asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
This was the fifth event that McCastle has done like this.
“I want to do 12 of these.” he said. “Again I am raising awareness.”
McCastle last year broke a 24-hour pullup record at 5,804 pullups. He flipped a 250-pound tire for distance, climbed a rope the length of Mount Everest and ran a 50K with 40 pounds of weight.
McCastle will be doing his future events as a veteran as he is currently on his terminal leave with the U.S. Navy.
Contact sports editor Vern Hee at firstname.lastname@example.org