BOILING SPRINGS, Pa. (AP) – More than 500 people hike the entire Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, each year. Ron Zaleski has been trying to accomplish the feat barefoot.

His goal is to bring attention to the need for combat veterans to receive counseling.

“In the beginning I thought, ‘I gotta do this to show how tough I am. I want to be famous,”‘ he said at a recent pause to eat some pecan ice cream. “Now I just want to help these kids.”

Zaleski, a retired health-club owner from Flanders, N.Y., said other hikers tend to stop complaining about the weight of their equipment or sore feet when they see him.

Zaleski said his aversion to wearing shoes began after he left the Marine Corps following a two-year stint in the early 1970s. Going barefoot started as a protest against the Vietnam War, although for 33 years he didn’t make his explanation public, he said.

But recently when a little boy asked him why he was barefoot, he told him the reason.

“I’d almost forgotten why I was doing it,” Zaleski said.

At his current pace, he would make it to Georgia just before Christmas, he said.

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