FORT PIERRE, SD (KELO) — The 437 Project’s trek by foot across South Dakota from west to east doesn’t see the dozen runners resting comfortably when the sun sets. They press on in the darkness: a metaphor for the dozen runners’ mission of shining their light on mental health. 

“It’s a gorgeous night,” runner Micah Aberson said. “The stars are out, the moon is out, it cooled down a little, the wind died down; it’s just an absolutely perfect night. It’s amazing to be out here.”

“Just a blessing to be able to be out here,” runner Ross McDaniel said. “One, to physically do it. Two, to represent this project, and then just to be able to experience the peacefulness out here in a chaotic world, it was tranquil.”

“I was actually looking up at the stars, saw the Big Dipper. I’m like, that’s cool,” runner Alex Pool said. “I’m out here running: ran by some cows, saw a cat in the ditch, just fun stuff out here, rural South Dakota.”

Pool, Aberson, and McDaniel all took a shift running Thursday night as part of The 437 Project. The journey across the state is raising money for the Helpline Center, which connects people and mental health resources. Pool works for the nonprofit, and his coworkers accompanied him.

“A lot of my coworkers were actually texting me during it,” Pool said. “So it was here and there encouragement, just thinking about the project and the cause as well, and that kind of fueled me on.”

Aberson had his personal fuel, too.

“There’s a couple of hills here west of Pierre, and when you’re going up a hill, you have to find something mentally to dig for,” Aberson said. “And I mentioned yesterday that there was a particular individual that I was running for tonight who attempted to take his life, and I got messages from both he and his wife in the 30 minutes preceding my run tonight. So amazing to just to hear their story of hope and inspiration and to hear them specifically say we’re so glad that you’re not running in memory of this individual tonight, because he’s here, he’s doing amazing things.”

“My patients that deal with mental health, my family, the people close to me, I thought about them a lot during that run,” said McDaniel, who is a chiropractor. “And it’s just, it was a time to reflect on a lot of things.”

The stars out above the runners are so numerous and dense that the fainter lights collectively appear like a mist around the brighter ones. 

“I just wish everyone could experience this and to see the beauty,” McDaniel said. “Even though there’s, it’s so dark, it’s so beautiful.”

“When I first started it was kind of dusk, and it just got darker and darker, which is kind of a cool experience,” Pool said. “By the end, the stars were out, and it was a good time.”

“As much fun as I’ve had running in a really long time,” Aberson said.