Every journey begins somewhere. There is a starting point and a final destination.
This one began with five friends and a Billy goat ad on Craigslist.
It will end in Chicago, where, after all, every story involving a Billy goat begins and ends.
For every fan of the Chicago Cubs, there is a Billy Goat connection.
For Matt Gregory, it started with a Ryne Sandberg jersey 20 years ago, a devotion to his beloved Cubs in the years since and a multiple hikes to draw awareness to the search for a cure to the disease that ended his mother's life at age 43.
This particular journey began in Mesa, Arizona.
Five friends who bonded over seasonal jobs and a rec league softball team in Alaska last summer mapped out a cross-country hike.
They would set out, planning to walk from Arizona to Chicago in slightly more than two months. During that time, the plan called for them to average 25 miles a day while traveling with the Billy goat they paid $60 for three days before the journey began.
Each of them has their own reasons for walking.
Phil Aldrich, a 26-year-old Tennessean, spent much of his childhood at St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, where his sister was being treated for A-plastic anemia, a form of leukemia.
A bone marrow transplant between provided by Phil played a role in the cancer going into remission -- giving Aldrich the motivation to make the 1,900-mile trip.
Kyle Townsend is 28 and a substitute teacher in the off-months when he's not doing seasonal work in Alaska. He, too, had been impacted by cancer, which claimed the life of his grandfather.
He is also inspired by a sixth-grade student back in his home state of Michigan fighting cancer, giving Townsend -- like the rest of his fellow Cubs-loving companions -- Gregory, Aldrich, PJ Fisher and Blake Ferrell -- a reason he would walk as he had never walked before.
"We've all got our own little stories," Townsend says.
The adventure, however, was not new to Gregory, who several years ago made a 5,000-mile solo trek from Bellingham, Wash., to Key West in 2006 and who, in 2010, had walked 200 miles with a goat to honor his mother, again hoping to create awareness for cancer research.
As much as he had hiked while growing up in Washington and Oregon, as many adventures as he had experienced in 33 years, this journey, he knew, would be different.
For that, he can thank his beloved Chicago Cubs.
On the most human of levels, the focus centers on the reason the five friends walk. They started with a goal of raising $100,000 -- all of which would be donated to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research in Seattle.
But inevitably, the topic of the goat routinely comes up -- and rather quickly.
Wrigley, a 7-month-old Nigerian dwarf Billy goat, was purchased in Phoenix in February, hand-selected to make the journey to Chicago, where their nationwide walking tour will end at the end of May.
According to Cubs' lore, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis cursed his hometown team in 1945 after being asked to leave a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers due to complaints that his pet goat's odor was bothering other fans.
Legend states that Sianis proclaimed, "Them Cubs, they aren't gonna win no more."
The rest, as Gregory is well aware, is history. Since losing in seven games to the Tigers in 1945, the Cubs have failed to reach the World Series despite being just one win away from winning the National League Championship Series in 1984 and 2003.
So if Gregory and his friends were going to walk to Chicago, they figured adding a Billy Goat to the traveling party could potentially be enough to put an end to the curse.
"When you have a goat on a hike, it just draws people's attention,” Gregory says in a phone interview from Missouri, the fifth state the five friends have traveled through since the Crack the Curse tour began in March.
On an average day, Wrigley walks between 5 and 10 miles, spending the rest of that day's journey in a cart that is pushed by one of the five walkers. The goat makes a steady diet out of vegetation found along the roadside and is among the most popular of the group.
But as much as the only four-legged member embodies the Cubs' curse, Wrigley can often be the most cantankerous participant in a journey that had more than 1,300 miles involved only five days off.
"He's enjoying it -- getting to see the world," Townsend says. "Some days, he's more lazy, some days, he's got more energy, but he's holding up pretty well."
The journey, the five realized from the start, wouldn't be easy.
Five was once six when the trek began in Mesa, the spring training home of the Cubs. But after 11 days, one hiker had already called it quits, leaving the remaining five to move on without him.
Some days are easier than others. So far, there has been rain, heat and even snow. In western New Mexico, there was the sandstorm created by 60 mph winds that caused a border patrol station off in the near distance to disappear from view until the five hikers were right on top of it.
The five once walked for 21 straight days, covering 500 miles before finally taking a day off in Tulsa. They camped behind large warehouse stores and in the middle of nowhere, dieting on snacks purchased at gas stations and large dosages of Ramen noodles.
By the time the group reached Missouri's border, Townsend had lost 30 pounds.
There have been days, admittedly, that have been tough to overcome.
Most of the hikers experienced blisters from nearly covering a marathon's worth of miles for days on end. There have been aches and pains -- some of which have made continuing on hard to comprehend.
Still, the group has pressed on.
"It's definitely the most extreme thing I've ever done," says Townsend, who admits it took him more than a month before he wasn't exhausted by the end of a day’s walk. "There have been days I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it physically, but I fought through the pain and we're all here."
Before the hike started, Gregory's father predicted his son -- the only one in the group with experience covering extreme distances on foot -- may find himself walking alone by the end.
With more than two-thirds of the ground covered, Gregory still has plenty of company.
"I think we've reached the point where we know we're going to make it," Gregory says. "I think with these guys, there's enough of the 'don't quit' feeling inside them, but I think everyone's got something different that makes them dig deep that keeps them going."
That's when the mission comes back to cancer research.
On the days when continuing on seems impossible, the reason why the friends are walking rushes to the forefront. It's then when Townsend thinks of the girl back and Michigan and imagines the chemotherapy sessions young cancer patients must endure.
Suddenly, the thought of walking 25 miles a day no longer seems to be as big of a mountain.
"When those kids are going through chemotherapy, they're not allowed to say, 'I'm not doing it anymore,'" Townsend says. "That kind of gets me through it."
The cause has also seen the walking Cubs caravan though baseball enemy territory.
Starting in Mesa was simple. But the farther east the group got -- especially when they passed through Oklahoma and into Missouri -- the closer they came to reaching patches of St. Louis Cardinals' fans.
The two teams have long been rivals with the Cardinals holding the upper hand in recent years. Last season, the Cardinals won a World Series title -- a reality the group knows they'll encounter once they reach St. Louis in the middle of May.
But because they are walking to support cancer research, the hikers expect their baseball loyalties won't be as big of a deal as they might otherwise.
They plan on trying to take Wrigley to the children's hospital once they reach St. Louis on a weekend when the Cubs just happen to be in town.
While young patients likely have no knowledge of the Billy goat's connection with the Cubs, Gregory can't help but think Wrigley will again be the center of attention.
Again, it will be for a good cause.
"Maybe it will distract everyone from the serious battles the kids are having with cancer," Gregory says. "And maybe with us doing this, we can help someone live and just coming into contact with people who have been affected by cancer and that just makes it all worth it."
The hikers plan to reach Wrigley Field Memorial Day weekend when the Cubs host the San Diego Padres.
Reaching Chicago will mark the end of a memorable trip -- one the five friends aren't soon to forget.
But the journey has also taught them something about their fellow man. The Crack the Curse project started with a conversation and then grew into a
Facebook page and a blog. Since leaving Arizona, the group has picked up a small amount of media coverage, appearing weekly on WGN Radio in Chicago and on television news broadcasts at different points of the journey.
They'll routinely come into contact with well-wishers, some of who have donated to the cause because of the widespread cancer has on people across the country.
Early on, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts matched the $2,800 the hikers had raised. Since then, donations have come in the form of money or a night's lodging or a quick meal to keep the group going as they close in on Chicago later this month.
The hikers have currently raised $6,000 -- an amount they expect to grow as they continue to press on toward reaching their final destination.
"You see a different side of America that's forgotten," Gregory says. "There's so much negative stuff that's going on and I don’t think people realize how much good is still out there."
Thanks to a journey that started in Arizona and that will end in Chicago, the five friends are discovering how much good exists.
But they're also being part of.
Billy goat and all.
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