Mike Hanson, a Twin Cities attorney, once envisioned and has now accomplished a dramatic feat that serves as a statement regarding the competence and independence of persons with visual impairments.
Averaging eight miles a day over the course of seven months, Hanson, blind since birth, hiked roughly seventeen hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail using a trail-oriented GPS device. He departed for Georgia on March 3 and returned to Minneapolis on October 2.
With terrain ranging from very good to very rocky, Hanson endured major difficulties. He faced snow and ice at Georgia's Springer Mountain and arid, hot weather from West Virginia to Massachusetts. The temperature reached 100 degrees several times, and locals said it hadn’t rained for eight weeks. Water sources frequently dried up, leaving twenty-mile or longer stretches completely dry.
Hanson came down with the flu near Bland, Virginia and checked into the Big Walker Motel. When his team asked how much it would cost, the owner said, “I’ve heard about what you’re doing. Stay as long as you need! It won’t cost you a dime!” The team stayed two days and three nights, which would have cost them around $190 under normal circumstances. "The shuttle driver wouldn't even accept a tip when he returned us to the trail,” said Hanson.
Upon completing his trek, Hanson thanked many people including his two guides, Rita and Bain, who helped him find foot and handholds on Mount Katahdin. Hanson also thanked Granite Gear, the first company to sign up as a sponsor for the expedition. Hanson said Granite Gear went above and beyond outfitting the team with backpacks. Mike Cruikshank, co-owner, recruited other companies to join the cause to supply gear and supplies. Sponsors who joined the effort included Big Agnes (tent and sleeping bags), Vasque (boots), Midwest Mountaineering, Cloudveil (outerwear), Backpacker Pantry (pre-packed food), SmartWool (socks and base layer clothing), Tilley Endurables (hats) and Leki (trekking poles).
Award-winning videographer Gary L. Steffens of Fresh Images Video Productions, who hiked the trail with Mike Hanson, will produce a documentary of the expedition in the coming year.
Hanson plans to investigate a potential business opportunity related to adaptive technology that resulted from the hike. He has been invited to join a startup company that would provide real time information to the visually impaired, potentially allowing them greater mobility than they experience with the current assistive devices.
For updates on post-hike activities, visit hansonatcampaign.com.