Charlotte man completes 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail without his eyesight or the guide he'd expected.
Cracked ribs made it hard to breathe. A chipped bone in his hip ached as he walked. And 60-mph winds stabbed at him like icy needles. But at that moment, Trevor Thomas of Charlotte could not imagine feeling better. He was a third-of-a-mile from the rocky summit of Mount Katahdin, a granite giant that climbs skyward out of Maine's wilderness.
The peak marked the end of a 2,175-mile journey, the completion of a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. And for the first time in six months, Thomas knew for sure he was going to make it. “Just keep moving,” he said to himself. “Whatever you do, don't stop.”
Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is an accomplishment few people can claim. This year about 1,600 have tried and about 460 have finished. Only one of them – Thomas – was blind.
Those who attempt such a feat face months of aches and pains, extremes in weather, intense physical challenges and long periods of loneliness. For Thomas, stricken by a rare eye disease in 2004, the challenge offered something valuable – a chance to restore faith in himself. But along the way it did more than that. It restored his faith in others.
On April 6, Elizabeth Thomas drove her brother 237 miles to Springer Mountain, Ga., where northbound hikers begin their trek to Katahdin. The Appalachian Trail runs through 14 states, from Georgia to Maine. In its 60-year history, it has attracted a wide variety of people, from naturalists trying to connect with the land to rugged individualists.
Millions have hiked portions of the trail, but only about 50,000 have attempted a through-hike. Of those, about 8,000 finished. And of those, only five were blind. Elizabeth Thomas didn't like the idea of dropping her brother off at the foot of Springer Mountain, but she understood why he had to do it.
Trevor Thomas had always been into extreme sports. But just after he graduated from law school at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, doctors discovered that his immune system was attacking his macula, the part of the eye that controls center vision.
He still had about 10 percent of his peripheral vision in his right eye and 2 percent in his left, which essentially meant he could tell when something big was beside him. That helps when walking a straight line in safe territory, but what he was about to do was anything but safe.