SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HELENA AND COUER d’ALENE – The road between Montana and Idaho is remote and rugged. It’s a dangerous stretch with no cell phone service and plenty of hungry bears waking up from their long winter naps.
With less than 250 miles remaining in his march from Amvets Post 86 in Keystone Heights to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Ken Brock now is deep into nature’s version of the Twilight Zone. Armed only with a pistol, cans of bear repellent and ammonia and a obstinate determination to complete the 2,650-mile walk in time for the July 4 parade at Coeur d’Alene, Brock now is in his desperate stretch drive.
“I’ve never seen this kind of drive in him,” said older bother Terry Brock. “I’m more than proud of him. Honestly, I figured he’d be done in a week, but he proved me wrong. When he was younger, it didn’t take much to talk him out of something. Not now. He’s going to make it on time.”
Terry Brock returned with his younger brother after Ken was ordered back to Florida last month to complete routine paperwork for the Veteran’s Administration. He was forced to abandon a walk that’s raising awareness to the post-traumatic stress disorder programs offered by Wounded Warrior Project at Wanblee, S.D. By losing more than two weeks to finish 15 minutes worth of paperwork at the V.A., the brothers believed the self-imposed deadline was impossible.
“But when we got back to South Dakota [to resume the walk], he came at it with both barrels,” Terry said. “That V.A. fiasco really motivated him. It was the octane that got him going. He’s never had this kind of drive.”
Terry drove ahead in what became a support vehicle. He often babysat Ken’s service dog, Pam., and the 100-pound cart that carries his supplies. That allowed Ken to hit the trail at full speed, where he completed more than 300 miles in his first seven days.
“The odd thing is, when we got back to Wanblee, he wanted to go back to the exact spot where he had to turn around to come back to Florida,” Terry said. “When we were on the road, he’d take spray paint and mark the shoulder of the road so he knew exactly where to pick it back up the next day. He hasn’t taken any shortcuts. This is personal to him.”
Ken changed his route to Idaho after learning there was a way to avoid many of the step climbs and inclines of the Rocky Mountains. He will add two days to his schedule, but it should help him save time for the grueling trip over the mountains.
Terry flew back to Keystone Heights on Wednesday. While he’s now convinced his younger brother has the resolve to complete the walk, he’s worried about hungry bears who are waking up from hibernation.
“It’s dangerous,” he said. “He’s got a little tent and that’s no protection against a hungry bear. He uses ammonia around his tent to hide his scent and to keep the bears away.”
Ken originally armed himself with a BB gun, Terry said. Now he has a handgun and plenty of ammunition – and permission to use both, if necessary.
“They don’t have carry and conceal laws where he’s at,” Terry said.
And he’s hundreds of miles out of range from the nearest cell phone tower. It could be days, if not weeks, before anyone can reach him.
“Ken and I didn’t really get along when we were kids,” Terry said. “Typical big brother, little brother stuff. This is something we haven’t seen out of him. He started picking up momentum once he got through Alabama [and consecutive weekends of deadly tornados], he got on a roll. Even the V.A. thing didn’t stop him. Nothing is going to stop him now.”
Including hungry bears.