When Ric Ryan walks his daily route along Highway 4 between Murphys and Vallecito, he's surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards.

A week ago, his route was down Fifth Avenue in New York City as part of America's Parade - the largest Veterans Day event in the country.

Produced by the United War Veterans Council, the annual parade drew several hundred thousand spectators who cheered along the 1.3-mile route.

Ryan, a Vietnam veteran, was invited to participate by Operation Mend - a University of California, Los Angeles, program that helps soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I felt so good and proud to walk with these young veterans who have been taken care of," said Ryan, who has raised more than $48,000 for the UCLA program. "When I went past the grandstand and they said, 'Ric Ryan: The Walking Man of Murphys,' I just teared up."

Ryan, who started walking the roads of Calaveras County for the exercise, was inspired to raise money after hearing news stories about severely injured veterans who received free life-changing surgeries through Operation Mend. He donates 25 cents of his own money to the program for each wave he receives from passing motorists.

"Yesterday, I had 120 waves - that's 30 bucks," he said during his walk along Highway 4 Wednesday morning.

Four or five days a week, Ryan walks 6.2 miles from a Murphys gas station along Highway 4 to its intersection with Parrotts Ferry Road in Vallecito. He's logged 6,206 miles and more than 30,000 waves over the past six years.

"I used to go a lot farther," he said, recalling walks to as far as the township of Tuolumne and the hamlet of Bear Valley. "Now, my knees are shot. I wear braces. I'm going to have surgery on my left hip on Jan. 20, so people won't see me walking for a bit."

At age 68, Ryan uses a walking stick as he briskly walks by passing motorists who honk and wave at him.

Ryan said sometimes drivers pull over to hand him cash donations that he then sends to Operation Mend at the end of every month.

"The people in this town have been so great to me," he said.

Ryan's grassroots fundraising efforts have also inspired many businesses to make larger donations on his behalf.

"It's just bloomed," he said.

On Wednesday's walk, Ryan had country music playing on his iPod and he wore a Marine baseball cap. His neon reflective vest states he's a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391 and served in the U.S. Marines from 1964 to 1968.

Ryan, who was raised in Seattle, actually ditched class on his 18th birthday so he could enlist in the Marine Corps.

After the military, Ryan was an ironworker in San Carlos by day and served beer at a pizza parlor at night. That's where he met his wife of 45 years, Joanne. They have three children and eight grandchildren.

"It's been a good life," he said. "I'm happy. My wife's happy. I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile."

Walking to support Operation Mend is therapeutic and helps Ryan with his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ryan said it's important for people to have a cause they can connect with.

"There's so many things you can do to help people, even if it's a little bit," he said.

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