Chapel Hill, N.C. — Four young men walked onto campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Friday. It was the culmination of a 170-mile trek masterminded by 2006 graduate Bryan Jones.
Jones made the trip -- starting on N.C. Highway 421 in Wilmington, rolling up N.C. Highway 55 from Fuquay-Varina and into Chapel Hill on N.C. Highway 54 -- to honor Hinton James the first student enrolled at UNC in 1795.
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James walked from his home in Wilmington to begin his studies. Jones and some friends retraced his steps to start a new tradition.
"We decided we wanted to give something back, wanted to start something that would get carried on, something we could tell our kids, 'Hey, we started that,'" Jones said.
Only Jones walked the entire 170-mile route. He was joined along the way by Nicholas Becketti and Whitney Reeds, members of the Tar Heel Class of 2005, and his brother, Eric, who walked the last 20 miles.
Becketti said at first they were gung ho about covering 20 miles a day. They quickly learned, "(It) just wasn't happening. It was so hot," he said. "I think the end was better because of the lessons we learned in the beginning."
Another concession to modernity was the use of hotel rooms for about half the nights.
"We originally said we weren't gonna do that, but when we got out of here it was entirely different," Jones said. "The hotels really help."
"I've done a lot of backcountry hiking before, but this is an entirely different animal," Jones said.
The biggest challenge was the August heat. "In the beginning, we got up at dawn and hiked and quickly realized that was gonna cause us to die," Jones described. "So then we started getting up at 3 a.m. and covering most of the miles before the sun hit the sky."
Just steps from the Old Well, the quartet was already thinking about the next trip. "We're definitely gonna have to have some kind of support system where somebody brings us water, cause there's just none," Becketti said.
The end of the road brought mixed emotions.
"By following in Hinton's footsteps, we hope to honor all the generations who made UNC what it is today," Jones said proudly.
As for their shared sacrifice with a fellow Tar Heel, Becketti said, "I think, in this moment, we're hot and sweaty. I'm not as sympathetic to him."