Veteran's Cross-Country Journey Fulfills Promise to Lost Friend

courtesy Alex Hrebin
courtesy Alex Hrebin

"If my feet weren't sore, I'd totally bowl," tweeted Alex Hrebin, 29, a few days ago, when he was about 250 miles and three weeks into a year-long trek across the country. Hrebin set out on April 21st from Sea Bright, Jersey to walk more than 3000 miles coast to coast in memory of his best friend, Dustin Merunka, who died in a car crash nine years ago.

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The two men attended high school together and then went to a local community college. "During our first year in college, around Thanksgiving, we spent 24 hours in a diner in northwest New Jersey," Hrebin told Yahoo! Shine by phone from Altoona, Pennsylvania where he was resting in a Motel 6. The two friends talked all night, hatching crazy plans. "Dustin suggested we walk across the country. I joked that maybe we should trying walking across New Jersey first." A year later, Merunka was gone.

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Hrebin enlisted in the Army and was sent to Iraq and later Afghanistan. In between deployments, he returned to the United States and received a bachelor's degree in writing from Rowan University. He never forgot about Merunka's dream of traversing the nation on foot. "At the risk of sounding campy, he was like Peter Pan," described Hrebin. "He had the purest nature of any person I've ever met in my life."

Although he only returned back from Afghanistan in October, Hrebin was determined to begin his journey. He embarked with light camping supplies, one pair of sneakers and one pair of hiking boots. He is also carrying a pair of Merunka's shoes in his backpack.

Hrebin doesn't have a set route, which is how his friend would have liked it. "If I see a sign for the world's largest ball of string, I'm not going to miss that," he laughed. "We believed any adventure was a good adventure and a good story to tell," Hrebin said in an interview with Altoona local WTAJ News.

He says one of the hardest things about the journey was leaving his girlfriend behind. "It's hell on the relationship because we love each other," he said. "But at least we can be in touch, unlike in Afghanistan."

Hrebin hopes to get to the Colorado Rockies before the weather turns cold, and if not, he'll head south. He's scattering his friend's ashes along the route at places he thinks he would have loved to visit. "I passed by Delgrosso Amusement Park last week," he says. "Dustin would have been upset that I didn't stop and ride the go carts."

Hrebin hopes to eventually write a book about his travels. You can follow his journey on twitter @McHrebin.

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