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Cross-country walkers near end of trek with tickets home

The three Buffalo men who are close to achieving their goal of walking across the country got some good news this week: They have a ride home.

On Wednesday, Jason Rogers, who started walking west with brothers Chris and Joe Cooke on May 17, posted to the “2,700 mi. Rotund Challenge” Facebook page, which has 2,311 members, “I contacted Amtrak today to get prices … The cost for our three coach seats came to $656. Can anyone help us purchase seats?”

An hour later they got their answer when Marianne Schum of Lancaster posted, “Transaction completed.”

Rogers’ reaction was immediate: “Thank you so much, woot, woot!!!!”

“It was a huge relief,” said Rogers. “That’s a huge amount of pressure off of us. Now we know what day we’re going to be home, so that’s pretty exciting. This removed a mountain of stress for us. Thanks a million.”

“I thought, this is the least I can do,” said Schum, who first learned about the men’s dogged trek by reading about them in The Buffalo News. “I’ve enjoyed their journey, I’ve enjoyed all their little posts, and they just fascinate me. I felt like paying it forward.”

The three had hoped to take a northern route home to see a different part of the country, but quickly decided that, given the extra expense, “We couldn’t ask the group for that,” said Rogers. A sleeper car in which two could stretch out to sleep would have cost more than $3,000, they said. “We decided to take the cheaper route because that group has already been supporting us so much,” Chris Cooke said.

The three – who have trudged all but 20 miles of the route while pushing modified baby strollers holding all their food, water, clothing and camping gear – started their final nonstop push Friday for the Santa Monica Pier, which Joe Cooke selected because, Rogers said, he “has some romantic notion about it.”

Rogers and Chris Cooke each weighed more than 300 pounds when they began the trip, and have slimmed down considerably. Sleeping in tents, motels and other makeshift shelters, they have had few opportunities to weigh themselves. While not svelte, they are far more muscular and fit than they were when they set out.

The men plan to walk every day and finish the remaining 155 miles of the 2,700-mile journey in 11 to 13 days, dipping their callused feet in the ocean sometime between April 19 and 21.

In late March, the Cooke brothers were laid low by illness and had to hole up in a motel for three days. Back on the road, they endured a long, challenging solitary trek through the high winds in the desert, during which they were met, fed and supplied with much-needed water by several people, including Wendy Bartz and Lisa Sievenpiper Davis, a former Western New Yorker. Because dangerously high winds were forecast, Davis said, “We took a pickup truck in hopes that we could get them to take a ride to the nearest town, which is at least 45 minutes away … They would not take a ride.”

Davis also is organizing a group to meet Rogers and the Cookes at the Santa Monica Pier. She plans to host a small party for them, then put them up for a few days before the three walkers board the train to return home, which should take place May 2.

As they near their goal, Rogers said, “I’m just looking forward to the end, to the day I know I don’t have to push that cart anymore.”