Five weary college men from Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets are trudging into Portland, Oregon, on Monday, capping an 11-day, 1,100-mile odyssey from Death Valley, California.
They’ve braved snow and mountains, and most of all their own injuries: blisters, sore ankles and nagging Achilles tendons. Their sacrifices are minor compared to the fallen US service members they’re highlighting with their walk.
They call their trip “Project Atlas,” and set up an online fundraising page for the public to contribute.
The group’s hike through parts of California, Nevada and Oregon has raised more than $8,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. That organization provides college scholarships for youth whose parents have been killed in the line of duty. The cadets’ march is over, but their donation page is still collecting funds. They hope to raise $15,000.
CNN caught up with the young men as they were huffing and puffing through their last few miles.
Hunter Birt, a 20-year-old junior at Texas A&M, said that as college students, the young men felt an obligation to help those they know might not gain the same educational opportunities they enjoy.
“The meaning behind what we are doing is giving awareness to those who’ve sacrificed so much, and sometimes everything,” Birt said.
A rolling relay
Their trek, or a “ruck” in military parlance, had each man carry 50-pound rucksacks on their backs, each of the five committing to rucking an average 20 miles each day, keeping them on pace to finish their journey in 11 days. It was a nonstop relay. When they weren’t rucking, they were either driving one of the two chase vehicles or catching needed sleep.
Birt and his then-roommate dreamed up the idea a year ago, as something “fun” to do during winter break. Four of them set off together last year on a similar 1,050-mile journey from El Paso, Texas, to Death Valley, California. It raised a little less than $7,000.
This year’s march, from Death Valley to Portland, featured two cadets from last year’s ruck and three new ones. Birt’s former roommate is now deployed with the Army, serving in Africa.
With two successful rucks under his belt, Birt said he’s already thinking of recruiting a group for a third trek next year.
Eventually, Birt plans to serve in the US Marine Corps. But for now he has to get ready for classes to resume next Monday. At that point, he still may have some blisters. But he’ll also have a tale to tell about funds raised and miles rucked.