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Their ankles, feet and backs are sore, they’re tired of looking at each other and, at this point, they can’t wait for their long trek to be over.
But for five guys and a goat, the quest is almost complete.
A three-month march from Arizona to Chicago that they hope breaks the Curse of the Billy Goat on their beloved Chicago Cubs -- while also raising money to fight cancer -- is about to end, and all the miles and blisters will be worth it.
“We’re all kind of ready to get done, but we’re kind of getting excited,” says Matt Gregory.
Gregory, four friends -- Phillip Aldrich, Blake Ferrell, Patrick “PJ” Fisher and Kyle Townsend -- and a 22-pound Nigerian dwarf goat named Wrigley are on schedule to complete the nearly 2,000-mile march to Wrigley Field on Memorial Day in time to see the Cubs host the Padres.
Their adventure, called “Crack the Curse,” began on Feb. 25 (Ron Santo’s birthday) at the Cubs’ spring training home of Mesa, Ariz., and has taken them on a roundabout route from the deserts and wide-open spaces of Arizona and New Mexico, up through the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Missouri and now, finally, Illinois.
They’ve slept on cold, hard ground, had to haul their own food and water and met some characters, including one hospitable gent in Las Cruces, N.M., who gave them a place to stay and fixed pancakes for them the next morning while wearing a six-shooter strapped to his hip – while still in his robe.
They’ve averaged about 25 miles a day, taking turns pushing little Wrigley in a cart adorned with a Cubs flag. Wrigley -- whom they bought off Craigslist and will be retired to a farm after the trip -- walks about five miles a day, gets regular grazing breaks and rides the rest of every day.
Along the way, Gregory says too many nice people to count have helped by providing a place to camp or stay, given them food or donated to their cause. Even while trekking through Cardinals country, the group has been showered with kindness by fans of their archrivals.
The idea for the mission was sparked when the friends worked together last summer at Denali National Park in Alaska. Each was a lifelong Cubs fan, and each had had at least one family member touched by cancer.
So far, they’ve raised more than $11,000 for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and they’re optimistic that figure will increase significantly when they get to Chicago.
They also hope by shepherding little Wrigley all the way to big Wrigley, and bringing him into the ballpark, they can crack the long curse on their Cubs -- cast on the team during the 1945 World Series when the owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern wasn’t allowed to have his goat at a World Series game against the Tigers and vowed that the Cubs “ain’t gonna win no more.”
“We’ve all been touched by cancer,” says Gregory, who lost his mother. “That’s a large motivating factor. And then add the layer of the goat. It’s kind of wacky, but maybe it works. The goat helps draw attention to the cause.
“Sometimes we’re outside a restaurant or a gas station getting a bite to eat, five guys in backpacks. Five guys with backpacks, some people think you’re homeless, but when you have a goat everyone in the restaurant or store says, ‘Oh, there’s a goat.’ Someone says, ‘There’s a goat outside,’ and next thing you know, everyone’s like ‘What’s up with the goat?’ and it gives us a chance to tell them what we’re doing, raising money for cancer. And, not everyone’s familiar with the back story of the curse of the goat. We fill them in there.”
On Friday, as the hikers approached Springfield, Ill., on Day 84 of their journey, Gregory said it was hard to pick the most memorable moment of their trip. He hopes it’s still ahead, perhaps on their final mile before entering the ballpark.
“We’ll try to get as many people as we can to meet us and walk that last mile with us to Wrigley,” said Gregory, who said their trip has been regularly followed by a couple of Chicago radio stations and documented along the way by newspaper reports, their own website, their Facebook page and even heralded by a ballad on YouTube called “Five Guys and a Goat – Crack the Curse Song.”
Though no members of the group (which lost a sixth human member 12 days into the march because of an injury) grew up in Chicago, each is a lifelong Cubs fan. During this pilgrimage, Gregory says they’ve been able to follow the Cubs through the MLB.com At Bat app on one of their iPhones.
Gregory admits rooting for the Cubs is frustrating again this season -- “their bullpen kind of sucks,” he says -- but he believes better times are ahead for the team with the Ricketts family ownership and Theo Epstein’s guidance. He sounds like any optimistic (delusional?) Cubs fan of 1955, 1985 or 2005, saying, “They’re a couple of needs away, maybe another starting pitcher, maybe another bat, maybe some bullpen help, and they’ll be right there.”
Or, maybe they just need a goat named Wrigley to help five guys complete a quest.
When they went through St. Louis recently, some Cardinals fans bought them tickets to a Cubs-Cardinals game. A woman named Kate Bell helped put them up and even took care of the goat outside the ballpark while they went to the game.
“She babysitted Wrigley while we went to the game, and someone’s like, ‘Try to get the goat in the game,’” says Gregory. “And Katie, you know, she’s a Cardinals fan. She’s done all this awesome stuff, making life in St. Louis easy for us, and she’s like, ‘There’s a limit to my kindness. That goat is not getting into that stadium.’
“I think they were afraid if we tried, and got denied, the curse gets shifted to them. Baseball’s a pretty superstitious sport.”
Just ask five guys with a goat.