Veteran treks across America in memory of lost friend

Veteran treks across America in memory of lost friend


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Altoona, PA — The drive from coast to coast in the U.S. would take about 42 hours. But on foot? Walking over 3,000 miles would take at least two months. When Alex Hrebin made plans with his best friend to walk across America, he never dreamed he'd have to do it alone.

But it's been over a month since he started his journey, and he's taken every step by himself. Hrebin started the trek in New Jersey on April 21 and plans to cover over 3,000 miles in memory of his friend.

"It's been nothing but a blast other than the boredom and the pain in my feet," Hrebin, 29, told WTAJ News.


It's been nothing but a blast other than the boredom and the pain in my feet.

–Alex Hrebin


Hrebin and his best friend, Dustin Merunka, went to high school together and ended up at the same community college. They came up with the idea about nine years ago.

"During our first year in college, around Thanksgiving, we spent 24 hours in a diner in northwest New Jersey," Hrebin told Yahoo! Shine. "Dustin suggested we walk across the country. I joked that maybe we should (try) walking across New Jersey first."

Unfortunately, less than a year later, Merunka died in a car crash. Hrebin vowed to make the trip in his memory.

Hrebin planned on going much sooner, but joined the Army Reserves and was sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. When he was home between deployments. Hrebin worked on a bachelor's degree in writing from Rowan University. But he never forgot the promise he made to his friend.

"At the risk of sounding campy, he was like Peter Pan," Hrebin said. "He had the purest nature of any person I've ever met in my life."

Hrebin says the hardest part of the journey has been voluntarily leaving his family and girlfriend. He hasn't been home very long since his last deployment and he says his family is sad but understanding of his desire to make the trip.

"They've seen it coming along for a while, but I got back from Afghanistan this October and so to see me off again it's a little hard for them," Hrebin said.

Hrebin's girlfriend Emily Rowen says the trip was part of the deal when they started dating. She even took a train to meet him when he reached Altoona, PA.

"Not many people follow through with their goals so it's pretty neat," Rowan said. "We like to rib him for it just a little bit. He came back from his second deployment so his mom took it a little hard but she bought him quite a lot of camping stuff."

Hrebin is documenting his journey on Twitter to help combat the boredom and loneliness. But he says he knows he's not truly alone. He's carrying Merunka's shoes with him and slowly spreading his ashes throughout the journey at places he thinks his friend would have enjoyed.

"I passed by DelGrosso's Amusement Park last week," Hrebin said. "Dustin would have been upset that I didn't stop and ride the go-carts."


If I see a sign for the world's largest ball of string, I'm not going to miss that. We believed any adventure was a good adventure and a good story to tell.

–Alex Hrebin


Hrebin does not have a set plan on how he'll finish his trip, but says that's exactly how Merunka would have done it.

"If I see a sign for the world's largest ball of string, I'm not going to miss that," he said. "We believed any adventure was a good adventure and a good story to tell."

Hrebin has saved for this trip for years and years. Though he plans on camping most of the way, he says he'll splurge every now and then to get a hotel so he can sleep in a bed.

You can follow his journey on Twitter @McHrebin.

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Tracie Snowder

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