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Walters plans to roll back into Baxter Friday

Gary Walters time as a human hamster in a metal wheel is closing in on its final days. On Wednesday afternoon, Walters was approaching Pine River. He's on the return leg in a 200-mile journey to raise funds for three area charities benefiting chi...

Gary Walters pauses along the trail to talk as he passes Smith Road during his first leg of his 200-mile journey Sept. 16. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch
Gary Walters talks to people on the Paul Bunyan State Trail near Smith Road north of Brainerd on Sept. 16, the first day of his journey. He plans to return to Baxter Friday after 12 days and 200 miles on a fundraising trek. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Gary Walters time as a human hamster in a metal wheel is closing in on its final days.

On Wednesday afternoon, Walters was approaching Pine River. He's on the return leg in a 200-mile journey to raise funds for three area charities benefiting children.

"It's been going really really good, my feet are finally getting a little sore, but the weather has been absolutely great," Walters said.

Walters' wheel is a modified cable spool from Elite Underground. Modifications included adding wooden planks for the steps. Each night he's able to go to his Baxter home and recuperate before driving back to pick up the wheel and start where he left off. Walters is walking and rolling from the Brainerd lakes area to Bemidji and back. It's a trail he knows well having biked the distance over 15 hours in 2012.

Walters has challenged himself mentally and physically for 15 straight years to raise funds for charities serving children. As of Wednesday, donations reached about $18,000 toward a $20,000 goal, Walters said in a Facebook update.

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As Walters pays for event expenses himself, 100 percent of donated funds go to the charities. This year, the fundraiser benefits Kids Against Hunger, Confidence Learning Center and the Brainerd Public School Foundation.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, Walters expects to reach Nisswa by late afternoon. He'll start on the final leg of his journey by mid-morning Friday, completing the nearly 16 miles to Baxter. The trek is consuming 12 days with the longest stretch on the wheel covering 19 miles in a single day. Walters thought it might take 14 days to complete the distance, but the trip has gone more smoothly than first anticipated. The shortest day was in the Walker area with 12 miles covered. The hilly stretch made for a greater challenge in the wheel. Walters said he compensated on the downhill by leaning back in the wheel.

"I leaned back and at one point I thought it was going to go over," he said. "I was leaning almost on the back treads."

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There were visions of going from a hamster in a wheel to a bingo ball in a metal hopper on the hills. But Walters said he made it in one piece without going off the trail and into the trees. On he had just one fall to date, which he said was his own fault for trying to double step when compensating for a broken board. On some smaller downhills, Walters just ran down as fast as he could. He said it was pretty easy to put on the breaks even if the thought has those not in the wheel thinking of splintered leg bones.

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After his initial practice runs on the wheel on level terrain, his thought was of 14 days of anything but bliss.

"I'm amazed at how well it's really it's gone," Walters said, noting Wednesday's weather was glorious. "It's gone better than I expected."

One of his favorite moments was dropping off the wheel for an overnight stop, he recalled Wednesday. He later received a call asking when he was going to bring the wheel. It turns out it was accidentally left on its trailer in a neighbor's driveway instead. He envisioned the neighbor wondering about it the next morning. But all was well the next day. He said that's one of the things he loves about the lakes area is parking a trailer, even one with a colorful metal wheel, and the homeowner figuring you'll be back soon to pick it up.

"How do you not love living here," Walters said.

A welcome home event is planned at 6 p.m. Friday at Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter.

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