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A man on a mission passes through Auburn

McCandless has walked more than 3,000 miles
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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Alastair McCandless has had a long road that he feels is well worth it.

McCandless, 37, just passed through Foresthill and Auburn on Sunday. He camped near Folsom Monday night and is staying in Sacramento tonight.

If he was in a car, the trip wouldn't be too much, but McCandless is walking it and he will continue to do so until he reaches Point Reyes just north of San Francisco around Oct. 13.

His trek through California is just a small piece of the pie, as McCandless has walked 3,900 miles along the American Discovery Trail from Delaware, raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Project along the way.

McCandless crossed the $10,000 mark this week for the project, which helps readjust soldiers that were injured in the line of duty.

McCandless said he worked in a high-end restaurant in Greenville, NC, before he started his journey. He decided to begin his walk after being inspired by his friend, Maj. Ken Dwyer, lost his left arm and eye in Afghanistan on his third tour and was helped by the Wounded Warrior Project.

"I'm open to new things and I wasn't getting a sense of fulfillment from what I was doing; I wanted to do something more meaningful," McCandless said. "(Dwyer) says he's really proud of me a lot, like every time I talk to him."

McCandless averages about 20 miles every day and though he has been alone for large portions of his walk, his mother, father and brother have all supported him along the way.

His brother, Colin, is in Franklin, NC, but came out to walk part of the trail with their mother from Fruita, Colo., to Green River, Utah.

"He's been doing it on his own. Along the route there are towns where he can get supplies, but there have been incredibly long spaces in Utah and Nevada when he didn't have towns to go through and that was a challenge," Colin McCandless said.

Alastair said those were some of the toughest times on the trail. In Nevada there was one stretch where there were no towns for more than 110 miles, but his father came along with him then with a support car.

"It was the loneliness in parts of Utah and Nevada. I was lucky to have my dad come and provide support because I would have gone insane otherwise because I'm not a hermit, I like talking to people and hanging out," Alastair said. "That's one of the best parts of the journey, meeting new people everyday."

Along with getting used to walking long distances, he also had to figure out where to stay each night when camping wasn't an option. Alastair said he grew up hiking on the Appalachian Trail and in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but never hiked more than 40 miles at a time.

"A lot of people didn't think I would keep with this," he said. "I learned what I needed to carry, what I needed to get rid of, how to find places to stay. Sometimes you just go into a church or a bar or a restaurant and hope to find a nice person."

This is the second half of Alastair's walk. He originally started on April 23, 2011, and ended in Omaha, Neb., because if he kept going he would have ended up in the Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter when portions of the trail are closed due to snowfall.

He has spent a majority of his time in California in the woods, but said he stayed in a hotel in Tahoe City one night and then camped at Robinsons Flat another before arriving in Foresthill and then Auburn.

Once he reached Auburn, he was welcomed with a hotel room at the Holiday Inn and a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.

"I said ‘Oh my gosh, we totally want to support him,'" said Tami Caufield, general manager of the Auburn Holiday Inn.

Even though he has raised $10,000 along the way, Alastair said he has turned down a few donations along the way because some were willing to donate to him without asking what charity he was walking for or what the charity benefits.

"I want people to know why the Wounded Warrior Project is important," he said.

Now that his walk is slowly drawing to a close, Alastair plans on returning home, finding work again and maybe writing a book about his experiences on the road.

Though he has raised plenty of money for charity, Alastair said the idea of going back to his everyday life hasn't sunk in at this point.

"It's pretty much dominating my thoughts right now. I've talked to people who have done things like this before and they say they got a feeling of emptiness afterward in the thought of ‘what now? What do I do next?'" Alastair said.

Even though he said he enjoyed walking through Downtown and Old Town Auburn and was touched by the gesture by the Holiday Inn, he doesn't think he's ready to live up to the area's reputation of being the Endurance Capital of the world.

"I'm not sure I'd ever be ready to do one of those ultramarathons, those are crazy," he said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.