HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Ernest Andrus started a solo journey to run across the country on Oct. 7, 2013. He was 90 years old at the time.
It has been 836 days since Ernie, now 92, touched the Pacific Ocean at Mission Beach in San Diego, CA. In that time, he has run more than 2,000 miles through six states. He averages 18 miles a week, running three days a week.
Thursday morning, I had the pleasure of joining Ernie on leg 341 of his adventure.
I met Ernie for the first time around 7:30 a.m. just before our run started at the corner of Hancock Drive and Highway 90. It was foggy and damp, but not cold like it had been earlier in the week.
Through the heavy morning air, you could feel the energy radiating from Ernie and his small group of followers. A few in the group had run with Ernie before. For the others, it was our first time, but it didn't feel that way.
In the roughly three hours it took us to complete the 6.8-mile trek to the base of the Bay St. Louis Bridge, Ernie answered every question anyone could conjure. He was an open book.
Ernie, who served as a hospital corpsman during WWII, is running to raise money to return the tank landing ship LST 325 to Normandy, France, where it was on Omaha Beach more than 70 years ago.
Though Ernie served only in the Pacific Theatre, the LST 325 is similar to the ship he served on, and he was on the crew that transported the ship from Crete, Greece, to Mobile, AL, in 2000.
Ernie said he doesn't expect to raise enough money to make the dream happen, but when it's all over, he will donate what money he has raised.
I asked Ernie if he ever got discouraged while out on the run, if he ever wanted to throw in the towel and call it quits. His short answer is a testament to his determination.
Ernie did tell me about the toughest run he has encountered since he departed from San Diego more than two years ago. He said it was a wet and cold 8-mile run in New Mexico near the Texas border.
"We would of liked to froze to death out there," said Ernie. "That was the only run that wasn't fun."
Another question that came to mind was what do you think about during all those hours on the road?
"I'm always concentrating on where I'm stepping. I've had one bad fall. I don't sight see while I'm running, because I'm always watching my step."
Everyone I talked to who was running with Ernie this morning said they are inspired by his adventurous attitude and friendly nature.
John Crosby said his sister, Claire DiPol, and Michelle Ginsburg started running with Ernie after they found him running alone with no police escort on a busy highway in Louisiana.
"Michelle had been following him on Facebook for a few months, so we decided to go find him on Dec. 28. He was walking on the highway between Hammond and Covington with no escort, no nothing," said Crosby. "We decided, we made sure we are going to call ahead and make sure the precincts know he's coming."
Crosby, DiPol and Ginsburg said they have been with Ernie for almost every run since.
"I'm inspired by Ernie's journey," said DiPol. "I enjoyed walking with Ernie and meeting the people. Just being a part of the journey is inspiring."
Ernie has run across more than half the country, but he still has a long way to go. He expects to touch the Atlantic Ocean near St. Simons Island, GA, on Aug. 20.
Ernie will run the next leg of his journey this Saturday starting at 7:30 a.m. The run will begin on the west side of the Bay St. Louis Bridge and it will end in Pass Christian. Ernie said everyone is welcome to join him.
If you would like to follow Ernie's progress or donate to his cause, you can find his website here: http://coast2coastruns.com/index.html.