It was nearing sunset when the group of friends and neighbors finally caught a glimpse.
"It's him! It's Ethan!" yelled 10-year-old Stephanie Van Ness, waving a homemade sign.
He was thin, tan and tired, but Ethan Bennett, 23, wore a big smile when he ran the final hundred feet to his Lodi welcoming party with his brother, Daniel Bennett, and grandfather, Victor Berd, trailing close behind.
"This is new. I've never run to a group of people before," he said.
Bennett is nearing the end of a grand adventure called Run to Fight. He began running from New York on April 21 in honor of his mother, Susan Bennett, who lost her battle to cancer in 2006. The Woodbridge man took up running as a way to deal with the stress of her illness and her passing. But he knew he wanted to do something more.
Bennett spent a year planning a transcontinental run to raise awareness and funds for Livestrong, an organization dedicated to helping those affected by cancer. His girlfriend and running partner, Whitney Henderson, has kept Bennett company, driven the RV across the country, and set up most of his media and events along the way.
On Wednesday, she floated around the edge of the group with a camera, capturing every hug and grin.
Several neighbors and friends who helped support Bennett and his family during his mother's battle with cancer were there to cheer him on.
"We watched him go through this horrible time. It was heartbreaking when we lost Susan," said Teresa Costanza, of Lodi. "We are so very proud of Ethan."
Bennett reported he has worn out six pairs of running shoes, lost two toenails, battled shin splints and severe tendonitis, and been chased by dogs.
After running daily through 13 states, he was definitely hungry.
"I could eat 12 burritos. Do you have cookies? I love cookies. I'll eat anything with calories," he said.
But he isn't done yet. Bennett will keep running more than 100 miles west on Highway 12, north into the Bay Area, then south across the Golden Gate Bridge to finish the trek.
Then, on Sunday, he'll compete in the San Francisco Marathon. It will feel like a cool down run at that point, he joked. In a normal day, Bennett can complete 20 to 30 miles or more.
He is so close to the finish line, but the reality hasn't sunk in.
"Not yet. Not until I can sleep in," he said.
When all is said and done, Bennett wants to ride a bike and give his knees a rest. Everything south of his waist is in general pain.
But it's not about his pain, he said. It's about raising awareness and money to battle cancer.
Over $6,000 in donations have come in. That sum is nowhere near Bennett's original goal of $500,000.
"I need people to donate, to keep encouraging me," he said. "Knowing there's people out here is awesome. It makes all those lonely miles alone in Nevada worth it."
Nevada and Colorado were the hardest states to get through, from the steep mountains to the endless desert. But the challenge Colorado offered also marks it as Bennett's favorite.
Maybe another long run is in his future, he says. Maybe from Alaska to the Florida Keys. But Bennett needs to finish up, rest up and gain some weight back before they consider another round.
On every long mile, Bennett focuses on the journey — how far he has come, instead of how far he has left to go.
"I think of all the people we've met, and all their stories. I'm thinking of them and of putting one foot in front of the other," he said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.