At the end of this month John "Woody" Orofino, a 27-year-old business development manager from Mill Valley, will head to the Sierra to tackle the John Muir Trail; 210 rugged miles of rugged wilderness from the Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney.
It should take him roughly three weeks to walk the length of it.
Woody says he will be going by himself. But he won't be alone. "My mom's going to be there every step of the way," he says.
In spirit, he means.
Woody's mother, Karen Orofino, died in May at the age of 64 after an almost-two-year battle with ovarian cancer. Woody says he is using the walk to not only clear his mind after such a personal loss, but to raise money for ovarian cancer research and inform people about what he thinks is a little-understood disease that takes the lives of more than 14,000 women each year.
"This is a disease people don't know about," Woody says, "and if people don't know about it, know what they symptoms are, they don't know the process is for getting it checked out."
Woody says his mother didn't know the symptoms of ovarian cancer when she went to the doctor in the fall of 2012 complaining about a back ache and feeling bloated. An MRI later revealed her cancer her had already progressed to stage three.
Woody's parents, not wishing to draw attention away from his sister's upcoming wedding, waited until the day after the celebration to break the news to the rest of the family.
"The wedding was so beautiful. It couldn't have been more perfect," Woody recalls. "Right when (the news) came out of my dad's mouth, I broke down."
Woody quickly did some research and realized his mother's chances for long-term survival were not good. "It was just, like, oh well, this is how mom's going to go. At least that was my mentality."
What followed was one, long surgery and many rounds of chemotherapy. When she was feeling up to it, Karen would set out on one of her favorite past times: hiking in the Marin Headlands.
Woody would accompany her when he could, and this was one reason he chose a hike as the way to honor her.
The very day after she died, Woody was on the trail in the headlands training for his trek in the Sierra, knowing that Karen would be there with him.
"You absolutely do feel some sort of presence when you are around these areas."
Woody has set a goal of $50,000 in donations for ovarian cancer research and within just days of setting up a Facebook page, Walking For Karen, close to half of that money had been raised.
Woody says he is not surprised that people who knew his mother have made donations, but he's been stunned by the number of people with whom his family has no connection who have contributed. "People from all over the world," Woody says. "People from Indiana, Germany, Italy. It's been cool to see."
Woody feels his story has resonated with so many people because so many others have been touched by cancer. It is something he plans on doing something about, even after his trek is over.
"The more we can do in bringing awareness about this horrible disease the more likelihood that we'll decrease the number of mothers, daughters, role models, and wives dying from it every year".