Petaluma teen trekking for a cause

Tucker Cullen, 16, is hiking the 220-mile John Muir Trail this summer to raise money for outdoor education programs.|

As a 15-year-old, Tucker Cullen wowed supporters last summer when he embarked on a cycling trip that took him and 11 other boys from one coast to the other - a cross country mission that took 63 days and included more than 2,500 miles of unpredictable terrain. Cullen, of Petaluma, joined the team late in the year. He had limited cycling experience, and he spent part of the trip nursing a broken wrist.

He recalled being told by many that he wouldn’t make it. However, the teen rode into Virginia Beach with the rest of his team at the end of their two-month odyssey, successful.

Inspired by the challenge of that experience, Cullen, soon to be a junior at Cardinal Newman High School, is taking hiking and helping to new heights with his latest mission: trekking the 220-mile John Muir Trail to raise money for a local adventure camp designed to get urban kids out into nature. The camp, known as the Bay Area Wilderness Training Center, is an organization that supports teachers and youth workers who want to incorporate wilderness education and exploration in their programs.

“When I rode across the country last summer that experienced really changed me,” Cullen said. “I want to provide that for kids who might not necessarily have the resources to be able to do that. To be able to go in the backcountry for a few days is a life changing experience for kids who can’t do that.”

The partnership began in the fall, when the 16-year-old visited the BAWT headquarters in Oakland.

“Some of the directors of the company toured me around the gear warehouses and wanted to partner with me,” he said.

BAWT director Steven Fredricks commented on Cullen in an email, saying that he wanted to use his adventure to help other young people experience the wilderness.

“He wanted to fundraise for a cause he believes in,” Fredricks said. “That’s when he found our Climbing for Kids program, which is an adventure fundraising arm of Bay Area Wilderness Training.”

Cullen plans to hike 22 days along the 220-mile Sierra Nevada trail, which begins at Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and finishes at the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S.

Cullen is accepting donations for the fundraiser through his website, Using a system of “pennies per mile,” donors can contribute a monetary sum in relation to the number of miles Cullen plans to hike, or they can make a flat donation. Every $1,000 raised is enough to take 17 kids on one of BAWT’s wilderness adventures. Cullen’s personal goal is $3,000.

“I want to support local organizations like this and helping to get kids outside, because I think that that’s a really important thing for everyone,” said Cullen.

The logistics of the trip proved more difficult than Cullen originally imagined, however. Whereas he played a minimal role in designing the cross-country cycling trip last year, Cullen was responsible for a majority of the planning for his fundraising hike. Along with establishing a partnership with BAWT, Cullen had to secure a permit to hike the trail six months in advance, and these past few weeks have been spent gearing up for the lengthy trip.

He will be hiking with friends and family for the first few days of the trip. Only his good friends Heath DeMartini and Mike Urban will be accompanying him the entire way.

Cullen said he is looking forward to the trip.

“There’s just something about going on such a big adventure,” he said. “You learn a lot more than you would hanging out at home during the summer. There’ll be a lot of difficulty, and I don’t know where that’s gonna be yet. But the feeling of accomplishment, and the people you meet along the way, and the sites you see, and the feeling you get going on such an adventure, it’s such an amazing thing. Being out there, it’s simple. Life is really complex nowadays, and then you get out there and it’s just about food, water, and getting from point A to point B. It’s kinda nice.”

Fredricks said the organization is thankful for Cullen’s fundraising efforts.

“We are truly inspired by Tucker’s journey,” he said. “One of the things that makes us feel so proud about this trip is that Tucker will be raising money to support outdoor adventures for young people his own age. These are students who have not had the opportunity to take big adventures ... yet. Tucker is helping to change that for youth in the Bay Area.”

Cullen began his hike last week and is set to finish the John Muir Trail on August 6. Visit his website,, for updates on his adventure and to donate to his fundraiser.

(Contact Ella Ban at

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