For the last five months, Jodi Harrington, 27, of Oregon has been planning to embark on perhaps the most challenging adventure of her life and she's doing it for a good cause.
Last Friday morning, she began hiking the American Discovery Trail, one of the longest series of hiking trails in the United States.
A few months ago, she quit her job as an Oregon real estate agent to prepare for her quest.
For the next seven to 10 months, she plans to hike 25 miles a day. Her trek will take her through at least 20 cities in 12 states, 13 national forests, two mountain ranges, and at least one desert.
She will carry a 34-pound backpack with one change of clothes and a sleeping bag, sleeping in the wilderness or with people who have volunteered to house her overnight.
Why is she doing this?
"The idea of the hike actually came up first. Then it was like,She will carry a 34-pound backpack with one change of clothes and a sleeping bag, sleeping in the wilderness or with people who have volunteered to house her overnight.
Why is she doing this?
"The idea of the hike actually came up first. Then it was like, 'Well I should do it for a cause,'•" she said. "Then I said 'why not do it for Jeremy?'•"
Jeremy Eby, who Miss Harrington has known since the seventh grade in Oregon, was an athlete who played sports at Clay High School before graduating in 1998.
But in 1999 he was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis, commonly referred to as NF, which changed his life.
Two years earlier he had surgery to remove a tumor in his brain and when doctors checked on his progress in 1999, they discovered two tumors growing on the hearing nerves in his ears.
Miss Harrington is hiking a series of trails that officials believe only 21 people have finished and she's doing it to raise awareness and research funds for Mr. Eby's disorder.
"NF is a genetic disorder which causes tumors to grow on nerves," said Deb Hanlon, a coordinator for the national fund-raising organization Run 4 NF.
"And then there's a host of other problems," she continued. "It causes many other difficulties: learning disabilities, blindness, deafness, scoliosis, bone deformities, facial deformities, and it can sometimes be fatal."
Ms. Hanlon said the tumors caused by neurofibromatosis are benign and non-cancerous, but there is no cure for it. Her organization is affiliated with Neurofibromatosis Inc., a national charitable organization helping Miss Harrington with her mission.
Run 4 NF and Neurofibromatosis Inc. have a network of people with neurofibromatosis and research supporters across the country, some of whom are allowing Miss Harrington to sleep in their homes along the way.
The organizations are also helping her contact media across the country and she hopes the publicity from her quest will motivate people to donate a total of $100,000 to neurofibromatosis research through a Web site she set up with Neurofibromatosis Inc. and fund-raisers the organization is hosting during her trip.
The organization said on its Web site the disorder is one of the most common genetic disorders in the United States.
"Yet few people know about it," Miss Harrington said.
Mr. Eby said he didn't know about neurofibromatosis before his diagnosis.
He's had four brain surgeries since his diagnosis, the latest in December.
The former athlete now uses a wheelchair and a walker to get around and he said his condition is "extremely frustrating.
"I don't really know how to describe it," he said. "I'm deaf in the left ear. I have a little hearing loss in the right ear. My balance is really affected so I don't get around very well since the last surgery."
He said he and Miss Harrington were not close in school, which is why he was "blown away" when she told him what she wanted to do for him.
But knowing her "driven, competitive" nature he thinks she will finish what she started.
She was valedictorian of her 1999 graduating class at Clay and attended Columbia University in New York City in the fall of the same year, but she said she became homesick and returned to Oregon. She attended the University of Toledo, where she ran cross country and graduated in 2003 with an independent study degree.
"She sets goals and goes after them pretty hard," Mr. Eby said. "Normally when you talk to someone about walking across the country, you just kind of laugh. I really think she's going to do it."
Miss Harrington admits she's nervous, but too many people are counting on her for her to fail.
"I've met so many people whose children have NF or they have NF, I don't know what to do if I let them down," she said. "It's just not an option."
The discovery trail stretches across about 6,800 miles and 15 states including its northern and southern paths, which both begin in Cape Henlopen State Park near Lewes, Del., and end in Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco.
Miss Harrington will be walking the trail's northern path, which a discovery trail official said is 4,834 miles. The southern path is 5,057. She won't, however, be alone on her journey.
Josh Howell of Biglerville, Pa., is hiking to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's research in honor of his mother and will join her, Ms. Hanlon said. Both will stop at libraries along the way, using computers to publish journals on the Internet.
Those journals will be posted on the discovery trail Web site.