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Hiking miles for smiles

Dan Reinis and Tucker White

RU alumni Dan Reinis (left) and Tucker White stand at the summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

If you tell Tucker White and Dan Reinis to take a hike, they'll gladly do it.

And you may not see them again for months.

The 2012 Radford University graduates are all set to embark on a five-to-seven-month journey on the Appalachian Trail. The duo, who will take their first steps on the journey in early March, have been preparing for months. They've been planning for food, gear and erratic weather changes while also calculating the miles between towns.

"It's been a lot of fun working all of these things out, and we are just super stoked to get started," White said.

Super stoked?

Yes, stoked for roughly 2,180 miles, from Georgia to Maine, of no hot showers, leg cramps, possible bear encounters, snake scares and dealing with any type weather thrown at them. A native of Roanoke, White has hiked more than 400 miles of the trail, but, like Reinis, has never taken a step on the Appalachian Trail outside Virginia and North Carolina.

White and Reinis, RU graduates with degrees in Recreation, Parks and Tourism who are wilderness trip leaders by trade, love the outdoors and they love educating others about the outdoors. Once they committed to the Appalachian Trail thru-hike, they saw it as an opportunity to help a group of individuals who may not have many opportunities to enjoy nature.

"We're raising money for children with life-threatening illnesses," White said. "Dan and I have both worked with children with special needs in the past, and have always loved the idea of helping kids that haven't been given the opportunity to get outside, play and learn about the natural world."

Once White and Reinis had planned the logistics of the hike, they began researching organizations in the Appalachian area and found Victory Junction, a North Carolina camp for children with serious illnesses.

"Victory Junction allows children who have never been able to have a camp experience, the chance to play, make new friends and just be kids," White explained. "It's truly an amazing idea, being able to give those kids an endless smile, knowing that their stresses and worries associated with their illnesses are put aside for a little while. The big thing that drew us into this organization too was the fact that their camp experience is completely paid for by donors to ease financial worries on their families."

White and Reinis have a goal to "raise as much as much money as we possibly can to be able to send as many kids was we can to this camp," White said. The two have a website, www.teamseriousfun.org/milesforsmiles, to collect donations, of which 100 percent will go "straight to funding a child's camp experience, White noted.

White said the cost of sending one child to camp at Victory Junction is $2,500, and he and Reinis hope to raise at least $10,000 to sponsor four happy campers.

"It would be amazing to raise this much or more, so that we can help as many kids as possible because in the end, an experience like this for these kids is absolutely priceless," White said.

Recreation, Parks and Tourism Professor Mark Wagstaff said he could not be more proud of the RU graduates. "Tucker and Dan have taken their training and experience from Radford and have selflessly embarked on a great adventure for the benefit of others," Wagstaff said.

Feb 25, 2014