With about a mile to go, it’s a wonder that lyrics from Paul McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road” weren’t floating through Ethan Bennett’s head as he approached his destination.
It would make sense if they were.
Running between 30 and 40 miles per day, 3,288 miles of United States soil, desolate highways, bustling city streets, mountains, rain, wind and soaring temperatures were behind the 2007 Gilroy High School graduate. The closing leg of his cross-country trip was unfolding with each step toward San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace and Bennett began to process all that he had passed over the last 98 days.
“It seemed like all the days were going through my head, and all the aches and pains of the travels,” Bennett, 23, said Wednesday. “There were times on the road when it seemed so far away.”
Finally, the journey that started April 21 from Bennett Park, New York City, had ended in the arms of loved ones early in the evening last Friday.
Well, at least, that part of the expedition had concluded.
Bennett still had 26.2 miles remaining – an extended victory lap, if you will – to reach his ultimate goal. And that came after completing the San Francisco Marathon on Sunday.
“It was kind of surreal being there,” said Bennett, who has been “just relaxing” and catching up on some much-needed sleep since his return. “I just tried to enjoy it and definitely finish.”
Though April 21 officially kicked off the trip – on which he was accompanied by girlfriend Whitney Henderson, who also accomplished the on-foot transcontinental tour a few years ago – it initially took shape during a most difficult time in Bennett's life.
Bennett's mother, Susan, was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004, and after six-months in remission, doctors discovered that her body was succumbing to ovarian cancer. And in 2006, Susan passed away.
Inspired by his mother's strength, Bennett turned his recreational running – which he used to cope with the unexplained chaos going on around him – into a full-blown cancer awareness campaign. Three years of intense training and preparation later, his plan was in motion.
We last heard from Bennett, a Morgan Hill resident, on the 40th day of his trip. At that time, he was about one-third finished and was in the vicinity of St. Joseph's, Mo. – one of his stops along the way – parked on the side of road in the RV he and Henderson used as lodging.
A short bout with shin splints behind him, Bennett, who coined his escapade “Run To Fight,” trudged along toward the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes he was awestruck by the beauty around him. At other times, the scenery wasn't all that romantic.
“Kansas was pretty boring and flat,” Bennett said. “I was really looking forward to getting to Colorado. The sign getting into the state said, ‘Welcome to colorful Colorado.’ But it was pretty much a continuation of Kansas at first. Once I went further west I could see the mountains and it was pretty much the most beautiful state.”
While in Colorado, Bennett found company in Marshall Ulrich, who at the age of 57, ran across the U.S. in 52 days, which stands as the third-best recorded trip.
“That was really cool. That kept me excited for a while,” Bennett said.
Running at an altitude of 12,000 feet for a bit, Bennett crossed through the western portion of Colorado and into Utah, where he met up with some of his sponsors in Park City.
“Utah was another state that I was pretty excited about,” he said.
After Utah, only two states remained, but Bennett said he encountered one of the more challenging sections.
“I ran on Highway 50 through Nevada. They call it the loneliest highway in America – and that's definitely true,” he said. “That was probably the toughest part mentally. But I knew I'd make it to California eventually.”
That he did.
“I just remember meeting the people along the way and hearing all their stories,” Bennett said.
Throughout his three months on the road, Bennett raised money for cancer research. And through his website, runtofight.com, he collected $6,000, which will all be donated to LIVESTRONG, The Lance Armstrong Foundation.
“To be able to help out people, not only raising money but give them hope as well, is great,” Bennett said.
The whirlwind weekend was capped by a guest appearance as the LIVESTRONG representative during the San Francisco Giants Cancer Awareness Night on Monday. Bennett was part of an on-field pre-game ceremony that included a former Giants' pitcher Dave Dravecky, whose fight with cancer cost him his left arm, along with his shoulder blade and the left side of his collarbone in 1989. Dravecky's story is one of victory though, and the former pro, who travels around the country sharing “lessons on how to navigate loss and suffering, and how to experience encouragement and hope,” according to his website, spoke to the crowd at AT&T Park prior to first pitch.
“It was a great experience,” Bennett said.
Partial proceeds from each special ticket sold were donated to Dravecky's Endurance Foundation, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and LIVESTRONG.
It's been one week since Bennett has been home. But he and Henderson have already discussed planning another trip that they will run together.
“We don't have any of the details yet, but we want to do it together,” Bennett said.
And why not?
NOTE: To learn more visit runtofight.com