DANVILLE -- Sometimes, a grand, life-changing quest begins simply, with four buddies.
In April, Chase Bonifay, Christian Grimes and Robert Uhalde will begin hiking from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide Trail. Thousands of miles away, Scott Anderson will sail the waters as a U.S. Marine. All of them will take risks in the name of service to their country's armed forces.
Officially, the landlubbing trio's trip is a "thruhike-athon," an approximately six-month march to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Founded in 2003 for members of the military wounded on or after 9/11, WWP serves the minds, bodies, economic empowerment and peer engagement of injured service alumni through a platform of programs. The national charitable organization is a registered nonprofit and through donations or enrollment in "Proud Supporter" activities, individuals and groups support 21st century veterans. Registered as an official Proud Supporter event, the Tri-Valley hikers (all Danville residents, except Alamo's Uhalde) hope to raise at least $5,000 by enlisting sponsors pledging one cent per mile ($30) or more. The team must do the hike before the donations are collected. All pledged funds go to the WWP.
Unofficially, every step they take along the 3,000-mile trail that originates in remote New Mexico passes, winds its way through Colorado's highest mountain regions and exposes them to capricious climate changes in the trail's northern regions is a step of friendship.
"I don't necessarily agree with our country's foreign policy," Grimes admits, in an interview with the hikers, "but that's completely beside the point. I have friends in the military, good people. If anything ever happened to them, I would want them to get the best care."
Anderson is the linchpin in the quartet of 20- and 21-year old friends. Grimes has known him since they were Boy Scouts together; Bonifay met him in high school; Uhalde says Anderson has been one of his best friends "for ages" and has told them about military comrades who've been injured, then helped by the WWP.
"When he left for duty," Uhalde says, "it was like he was gone forever. His line of work is so dangerous; I cherish it when he comes back."
In addition to their mutual friend, the three hikers have individual motivations for spending a half-year of their young lives -- and considerable energy -- raising money for strangers.
Bonifay attends Diablo Valley College, has family members in the armed forces and wants to test his physical and mental limits before joining the Navy post-hike.
"I come from a big Navy family," he says. "The benefits are great, my family is gung-ho and the travel is free."
But his expression, typically reserved, even cool, lights up when he speaks of how the adventure will strengthen their friendship and the donation will elevate the hike's significance.
Uhalde is on the Chabot College wrestling team and says the discipline required to cut weight and compete rigorously from June to December will help him on the trail. After Grimes described a 2,600-mile Pacific Coast Trail journey he'd completed alone in 2012, Uhalde was eager to join his friend's next hike.
"I stayed up all night researching. I like leaving behind modern life and being in nature. It'll be like a spiritual journey. I'll learn about myself. And taking something selfish, but doing it to benefit other people, is the best," Uhalde said.
Grimes, also a DVC student, says schooling supplies knowledge but living out of a backpack while traveling teaches you about people and things with lasting importance.
"I find hope for the human race on the trail. Strangers who'll help you. There are landscapes you slow down enough to see. Scott won't be with us in person, but he'll be on our minds."
Grimes admits he learned some of his road warrior lessons the hard way.
"On the PCT, I started with a guitar. Forty miles in -- the first town -- I shipped that back," he says, laughing.
His buddies will rely on his expert tips: running shoes, not hiking boots; chemical water treatment, not a pump; and an iPod. Music is important, Grimes insists. Bonifay will pack a camera and a Giants hat. "I'll miss the baseball season, so I have to represent it somehow," he says. And Uhalde plans to write and doodle the old-fashioned way: with a journal and pencil.
Their families are anxious but supportive. Their physical training schedule begins early next year with long hikes and heavy packs. But their mental fitness is already in the bag: a tight friendship, a destination larger than the journey itself, and hopefully, Anderson on leave when they return home in fall 2014.
To learn more about their Continental Divide Trail hike or to make a pledge, visit https://support.woundedwarriorproject.org/individual-fundraising/CDTforWarriors. For information about the Wounded Warriors Project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.