Vermillion native walking across country

On May 13, Chuck La Rue began walking.

So far, he's gone approximately 1,400 miles. By the time he's finished, he'll have walked around 3,200.

"The United States is about 3,000 miles across, but I walked from Washington, DC, to Rochester, MN, and then (I'm going to) Los Angeles," he said when he visited Yankton Saturday, Aug. 28.

A native of Vermillion, La Rue is on a mission to spread awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and raise funds for the ALS Association's Rocky Mountain Chapter, which has been a big part of his brother Dave's life since he was diagnosed with the disease four years ago.

Since that time, the group has been very helpful with providing both support and equipment to Dave, his wife Lisa and their family, who live in Colorado Springs.

La Rue's journey, taken step-by-step, brought him to his hometown Tuesday evening, Aug. 24. He was greeted Wednesday morning by Mayor Jack Powell while eating breakfast at Vermillion's Hy-Vee before setting out toward Yankton.

"I went to an ALS meeting in Denver and they were talking about the fundraising, and talking about how the Colorado Springs group always raised more money," Chuck La Rue said. "They were saying how my brother Dave always raised more money. Somebody said they were going to beat him at that. I didn't want that to happen."

La Rue has raised approximately $2,900 since the spring, and the total continues to climb.

He said he's been glad to be able to do it for his brother, whom he described as the kind of person who could "do everything" before his diagnosis.

"He could just pick a project, read how to do it and do it," La Rue said.

Even after he had been diagnosed with ALS, Dave was still finding new things to accomplish, including taking up painting with his right hand after he lost control of his left.

While the disease has limited his mobility almost completely, Dave uses an iPhone program to communicate and still does work with computers.

"My fundraising site was off-line for a couple days, but I didn't know it," Chuck said. "Dave checked it and saw it, so he contacted the company and sent them a bunch of e-mails and got it all corrected. But he was sending all those e-mails using just his eyes."

He said Dave's attitude has been a major factor in his ability to continue to perform these tasks.

"He stayed away from negative things," Chuck said. "ALS kills half the people in two years. My brother has been around a lot longer than that, and I think it's because he has a positive attitude and he tried to do as much as he was capable of the whole time."

This walk across the country has allowed La Rue to see what he himself is capable of. Although he had never taken on a task like this before, he didn't let that stop him. While he didn't do much physical training, he did do a lot of reading.

"I decided to do it last Thanksgiving, and I probably read three hours a day between then and May. I read about other people who did it and how they did it," La Rue said.

For the most part, everything has gone fine, except for the weather.

"All summer long, it doesn't matter what state you're in. Everyone thinks their state's the rainiest, but no. It's been raining everywhere," he said.

One of the main components of this kind of trek is keeping your gear as portable as possible. For the first 150 miles of his journey, La Rue carried a backpack. Then he bought a jogging stroller, which is already on its second set of wheels.

La Rue also has a set routine that he follows each day.

"I wake up in the morning and pack up all my stuff in little bags, condense everything really small. Packing stuff up takes a long time," he said.

After making some instant coffee in cold water, La Rue will walk a couple of miles to get loosened up, and then stop to talk with people in the town at which he slept, and tell them what he's doing and why.

"I might spend a half-hour to 45 minutes early in the morning visiting with people in town," he said. "Then I start out walking."

As he walks, he continues to talk to people along the way, some of whom have been affected by ALS.

"I meet anywhere from eight to a dozen people every day, and I stop and talk to them about 20 minutes at a time," he said. "As I walk across the country and come to a town where somebody's had ALS, a lot of times there's (been) more than one case since then. There's no science behind it, so there could just be better diagnosis in one area versus more cases."

Once it's about two hours from sundown, La Rue begins to look for a place to camp.

"In small towns, I ask where the mayor's house is, I go there, tell him what I'm doing, ask permission to sleep in the city park and they always say 'yes,'" he said.

While he keeps a steady pace, La Rue has no set number of miles he walks per day.

"It varies a lot," he said. "Originally, I wanted to do an average of 25 miles a day, and I haven't done that. I don't know what my average is – probably 15 miles a day."

He will begin aiming for that 25-mile goal again, though, as he wants to reach Colorado by October.

One thing La Rue emphasizes about his journey is that it's been fun.

"When my brother is watching and following the trip on the Facebook group, it's fun for him. And the people I've added to that group along the way, people who've assisted me on my way getting me here, kind of become involved as I go. Then it's fun for them to watch," he said. "There are a lot of people who would like to walk across the United States, but they have more responsibilities and can't. And they enjoy watching me do it. And I'm having fun doing it."

For more information, visit La Rue's Facebook group Chuck Walking, or www.firstgiving.com/charleslarue.

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