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West Linn couple will walk 455 miles for program to help local kids in foster care

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Kirk Bartram has walked many miles delivering mail in the Willamette neighborhood. Now he's walking for a cause. Even though he's walked nearly every inch of the Willamette area in West Linn for work every day for the last 18 years, mailman Kirk Bartram is taking a month-long vacation from the Postal Service to walk 455 miles with his wife Marea. But on this hike, he's not delivering mail. Kirk and Marea, of West Linn, are walking the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to raise money and awareness for local teens in foster care.

The Bartrams are asking friends and family to pledge money to their hike, which they will donate to the Tualatin branch of Teen Reach Adventure Camp (TRAC), a national summer camp program specifically designed for at-risk teenagers in foster care. They hope to raise $10 for each mile.

At TRAC, campers do most of the typical summer camp activities — arts and crafts, sports, swimming in a creek and singing songs around a campfire while making s'mores — but they also learn how to trust others and express themselves in healthy ways. The Bartrams became involved with TRAC last year when they volunteered as relief counselors at the camp.

"It was three days where they could just decompress and be a kid finally and have commonality with the other kids," Kirk said.

"It was just awesome watching them even the brief times we were there, just seeing them open up and be kids," Marea added. "You could see that they have problems but you could also see that this was a great experience for them."

After volunteering at last year's camp, the Bartrams completed their longest hike to date — 40 miles around Mt. Hood.

"Marea always dreamed of doing the Pacific Crest Trail and we just looked at each other and said, "If I can get the time off, let's at least do Oregon.' I can take a month off, and then we started thinking while why don't we try to have a cause," Kirk said.

But for Marea, the connection between this hike and TRAC was always there.

"It always seemed like we were doing it for that. It always connected in my mind," she said. "It wasn't like we were looking for a cause. We just said we should do it for this."

The PCT stretches 2,653 miles across California, Oregon and Washington from the U.S.- Mexico border to the Northern edge of Washington. The Bartrams decided tackling the 455 miles of the PCT that cuts through Oregon would be a good place to start.

The couple will begin their journey in Southern Oregon July 5 and hike about 15 miles a day for 30 days. Their journey will cover mostly mountainous and forested terrain, including Crater Lake National Park, Umpqua National Forest, the Three Sisters Wilderness, the McKenzie Pass, Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Mt. Hood National Forest and Cascade Locks, where they will finish at the Bridge of the Gods. Their 7-year-old beagle, Misha, will join them for the last couple weeks.

Though the Bartrams will stop at supply boxes along the way for food, they will carry almost everything they need on their backs — even Misha will carry his own stuff, Kirk said.

The Bartram's friends, family and even residents in the Willamette area will help in this regard.

Kirk has worked for the United States Postal Service, delivering mail to residents and businesses in the Willamette area for 18 years. When Bartram told some of his longtime customers about the hike, they were more than excited to help out.

"He's been their mailman forever. One time he got off the route because he thought he didn't want to walk that far every day and so I took over his route for a month and there was so much angst and sorrow for his customers and I said 'What's wrong with me?' and they said 'We want Kirk back' so they just love him," Marea said of Kirk's customers in Willamette.

Kirk said some of his customers were so blown away by what he and Marea are doing they decided to not only donate to the hike, but drive food and supplies out to supply boxes along the trail.

Marea and Kirk are looking forward to the experience of hiking the PCT but they're even more excited about helping the kids involved with TRAC.

"To me it (the TRAC) means hope. I've been around some troubled kids and what I personally saw is that there are people that care and love and want you to succeed and do good," Kirk said. "These foster kids, it's pretty important to them. We heard stories last year, some of them have been bounced around five to 10 times in a couple of years with different families."

For Marea, helping kids in foster care is even more personal.

"I was lucky because my grandparents took me in, but my siblings have all been in and out of foster homes and I watched that and I watched how devastating that was for their lives and how much they've struggled to overcome that as adults," she said.

The couple said they made the process for donating as simple and fun as they could. Their website lets donors pledge a certain amount of money to the entire hike or certain portions of the hike and will even track their progress throughout the hike so donors know when they will reach the portion to which they donated.

"Marea's youngest boy is teasing her. He's pledging $500 but the deal is she's gotta do the last 10 miles and he's giving her $50 a mile," Kirk said.

"And we've made it fun where you can follow along with us and we have the sections broken up into miles so you can click on a certain section that will be 87 point something miles. You can click on that and say you want to pledge say 10 cents a mile for that section. We have a calculator that automatically tells you how much you'd pledge. And it tells you the date we'll be in that area."

Donations can also be made through their Wilderness Chick Facebook Page.

So far, the Bartrams have raised $1,132.50.

"I think a lot of people are waiting (to donate) 'till we're actually on the trail," Kirk said.

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