Tracking Zero and Tennille
It's been a few days since we finished our trek; I still can't believe how many people are still sending messages of congratulations. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming-- we greatly appreciate all of your comments. We are slowly returning to our "normal" life and are preparing for upcoming events. At the end of July we will be going to the "No Boundaries" Summit in Telluride, CO. It is a 4 day event started by Eric Weinmeyer which pairs elite handicapped athletes with those wanting to accept new challenges; we will be teaching them how to safely pursue their dreams. (See my website for more information).Following that, we will be going to the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, UT. It is the largest trade show for the outdoor gear industry-- we will be representing our sponsors from this trek. I gave a followup interview to NBC in New Bern-- it aired Tuesday at 6pm. We'll post the link when it's available. Allen DeHart, the man who originally mapped the entire Mountains to Sea Trail with a surveyor's wheel, called with his congratulations on our finish, and said he'd make sure that Tennille gets a completion certificate, too, just as I will.
I'm slowly making headway reading all of the emails and messages. They have been really great-- I am enjoying reading every one. Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to send them. We found out that we were in both the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News and Observer this past Sunday. We'll post those links as well. It is hard to believe, since we've been off trail for such a short time, that our feet are already starting to get restless. Currently, I am considering doing the Camina in Spain next year. If anyone has ideas or thoughts on trails you think we should consider, please let us know. Also, I have been receiving a lot of questions about blindness and hiking. If you have any questions you would like to ask, please feel free to do so. There wasn't enough time during the hike to answer all the questions people had. I would be happy to do that now. When I was thanking my sponsors who were instrumental in making this hike a reality, I neglected to mention Charlie Peek and the NC Parks Department. Charlie and his team provided us campsites, cabins, and even Ranger's quarters while we were in the state parks. The rangers could not have been more helpful. Without the help we received from everyone in the Parks Department, this trek would have been much harder-- and possibly not successful. Thank you once again.
Woke up at 4am, as I have done for the last 2 1/2 months. It was really great, but strange, to wake up in my own bed after such a long time in the woods. I turned on my computer and began going through all of the emails and Facebook postings. I am still in amazement at the number of people who have reached out and told me how much we have touched their lives. It is very humbling. I am trying to answer everyone who has contacted me and have either asked questions, given support, or offered well wishes. This will take some time, so please bear with me. After reflecting on our trek, I realized that it would not have been possible without the support of our fans and followers, our many trail angels, and our sponsors. I cannot thank all of your enough for the support you have given us over the past 2 1/2 months.
This trek would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors. I would like to thank them individually for helping us make our dream a reality. I want to thank Thorlo for assisting us with funding, many socks, and an incredible film maker to help document the event; Ahnu for all of our footwear, IT support, and continued financial support. Thank you, Marmot and ExOfficio for providing us with the best clothing and foul weather gear for yet another expedition. Thanks, Granite Gear, for all our packs, dry sacks, and Tennille's gear-- thanks for supporting us from the beginning. Thanks to Big Agnes for our tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. Thanks to SOLE for providing us the best insoles, flip flops, and camp shoes; Katadyn for all our water purification needs. Optimus Stoves, for cooking gear so we could cook the food you provided us from Alpine Air and Natural High. Thanks, Leki, for once again providing us with the best trekking poles on the planet. Camelbak, for our water bladders and bottles. Thanks to Buff for outfitting Tennille and m so stylishly with our doo rags. Thanks, Revo, for once again supplying me with the finest sunglasses on the market. PowerTraveler provided our solar chargers and power needs. Thanks very much, Petzel, for our headlamps, and Ruffwear for Tennille's shoes, life jacket, bowls, and leashes. I would like to thank Lizzy's Logos Embroidery for our custom embroidery work. Last but not least, I want to again thank Guide Dogs for the Blind for giving me Tennille, and helping train the best Guide Dog in the world. I encourage all of my fans and followers to support them as you have supported us.
Finished the MST on Saturday-- woke up at the Doubletree Hotel in Rocky Mount. We stopped there on Saturday night because everyone was tired after a long day, and we needed a break. We ate dinner at Outback Steakhouse with everyone else who made the drive back with us to celebrate our completion. Tasha Laubly had told me she hoped Tennille would get a hotdog as a treat for all of her hard work. I decided that wasn't good enough for her, so at dinner she got some well deserved filet mignon. My little girl was in heaven-- she had earned it. We all had breakfast in the morning before heading off to our respective cities. Laine, Tennille and I packed up the car and headed to Charlotte. I was still very tired from all of the events of the previous days, but when I got home, had to take care of my hiking chores-- including drying out gear and straightening up my house. Thoughts of the trail were still racing through my mind. Laine and Denni came over later and brought Chinese food, as my refrigerator and cupboards were bare. Thanks so much, Laine. My mom also ran to the store and brought me a few groceries to tide me over for the next couple of days. Thanks you, Mom. Tennille couldn't have been happier to return home. She ran around, found her toys, and curled up on her bed for a well deserved nap. Laine and I thought about doing a status to catch people up on the last couple of days, but we were both too tired, and I had not yet formulated my thoughts about the weekend's events. I think I fell asleep about 8:30. It looks like it will take a few days to get off "hiker time."
We are finally home in Cgarlotte, NC. The last three days have been a whirlwind of excitement and emotion for both Tennille and me. We woke up on Friday with 22 miles to go in our amazing journey. So we could finish on Saturday, we decided to hike 14 miles, leaving about 8 to go for the morning. The day started out with 5 miles on the beach, and then we got assistance from the authorities, once again, to hike across the Oregon Inlet Bridge. I apologize to everyone who had to wait while we hiked across.
So we could get some footage, we waited until the afternoon to hike another 7 miles to complete the day. With Jesse Pegg's help, Jef Judin was able to get the shots he wanted. Thanks, Jesse!! After going past the Bodie Lighthouse, it was back to the beach. Jesse hiked with us and took some pictures along the way. This section was really cool because people on the beach knew who we were and offered words of encouragement as we passed. When we reached the Outer Banks fishing pier, Jef had arranged with the DJ at the bar to have everyone there cheer us on. We really felt like celebrities. They even played the Rocky movie theme for us. It was really moving. We camped with Jesse and his family, who made the drive from Durham, NC to see us finish. That really meant a lot to us. Cindy Pridgen tracked us down at our campsite after making the drive from Wilson, NC. It was great to meet her-- we were really touched that she had come all that way to watch us finish.
Right now, I am at the Oregon Inlet Campground, 21.2 miles from the end of the trek. This morning when I woke up, it was amazingly cool and windy, and the rain was gone. We started off the morning with a nice layer of cloud cover and the miles ticked off quickly. Before we knew it, we had crossed over the 900 mile mark. It is still hard to believe that we are so close to the end. Around 11:00, the loud cover had lifted and the sun came out, but it was still rather pleasant. A guy pulled over on the side of the road, gave us water, and told us he was Scott from the Coast Guard. He said he thought what we were doing was amazing, and that he and the rest of his unit had been following us online. We had to walk on Highway 12 for most of the day because there were many more beach closures. The woman at the Pea Island Wilderness Reserve also heard that we were coming, and told us that there are 3 different endangered birds nesting on the beach. When we start tomorrow, we will have 5 miles of clear beach to hike. That will be great! We made another 18 miles today and could have gone further, but decided to stop so we would not run out of miles before Saturday. We have a great campsite right on the beach, and if we can ever get a fire started, Jef is cooking pork chops, baked potatoes, and corn on the cob. We are looking forward to meeting us with Jesse and his family after we hike tomorrow. They are coming from Durham to watch us finish the trek on Saturday.
I am currently in Nags Head, camping on the beach. Woke up this morning to wind and rain. We started hiking about 6:30. By the time we got to the Lighthouse, the rain was coming down pretty well. Jef did a great interview with us in front of the Lighthouse, with the rain coming down; after that, Tennille and I headed back to the beach, or as I like to call it: "Adventures in the Sand Part 3." We thought we had learned from the 2 previous days, and had a new strategy. Luckily, our plans are fluid, because we weren't anticipating how the high winds, blowing sand, and rain would impact our beach hike. I couldn't hear anything, and poor Tennille couldn't see anything. It felt like standing in front of a moist sandblaster. We trudged along for 2 or 3 miles, found the boardwalk to get back to Highway 12, and started hiking on the road again. The sand wasn't as bad, but we were still getting pelted by wind and rain. We lucked out, because Jef was at a coffee shop-- Tennille got to dry out a bit and I got a cappuccino. We also ran into another problem: with the rain and salt air, I was unable to scroll the screen on my iPhone to hear the directions. I thank God I had read ahead and memorized them. Before we left the coffee shop, a Baptist minister blessed us, and we then set out on I-12 to play "chicken" with cars. Jef says that we won. By mid day, the rain had stopped, but the wind would not quit. All day long, we walked into a 15-20 mph headwind, which made for tiring hiking. We still managed to complete 18.5 miles today, which leaves us with 40 to go. During the latter part of the day, several cars honked their horns and drivers yelled out their windows for us to keep going because we were almost there. One of them even called me by my given trail name, Zero. We are still on track to finish around mid-day on Saturday as long as the weather holds and we don't run into any unexpected problems. In the scheme of things, we are very close, but a lot can happen in 40 miles. We are excited to be nearly finished with this adventure, but are sad to see it end. Every day has been wonderful and special in its own way-- I will miss the experiences.
We are now on Hatteras. This morning, woke up and got an early start on Okracoke to finish that section. It was overcast, which was nice. We took out last ferry this morning to Hatteras and met up with Tim, the Information Officer from the NC Department of Transportation. We gave an interview, then resumed hiking. I dubbed today "Adventures in the Sand Part 2." I developed a new strategy for walking on the beach. Instead of walking the high tide line which Tennille and I cannot find, we opted to walk right at the water's edge. We made good time and miles, but still had problems finding our turns. We had heard that you could simply hike the beach all the way to Jockey's Ridge, so I tried that strategy. It worked great, and we were really enjoying ourselves until we ran into the beach patrol, who informed us we could walk no further! An endangered species of bird (don't know what kind) was nesting. Hence, we had to turn around and back-hike 3 1/2 miles to get back to Highway 12. After I had started hiking the beach, Jef ran into a woman and her child, a little girl who is both autistic and blind. He told them all about me and ran down the beach to find me, but I had hiked out of earshot. He talked with them for awhile, and the little girl even grabbed onto him and hugged him. This was one of those times when I wish that I didn't hike so fast. I will make a point to keep in touch with the woman, since she has already friended me on FaceBook and left me a message. Once, again, it is encounters such as this that give me the motivation to keep doing what I'm doing. We'll be getting to the Hatteras Lighthouse tomorrow, and are still on track for finishing on Saturday.
I am currently on Okracoke Island, sitting at the Topless Oyster Bar. Woke up early this morning and got started hiking early-- we were on trail before 6am. That was good for Tennille because of the heat, but bad for me because of the bugs. I have really grown to hate the stinging horseflies. We got our 9 miles done, and made the 10am ferry to Okracoke. After a 2 1/2 hour ride, we arrived on the island. Civilization here seems to be limited to the first mile of the trail. When we made the first turn to go to the beach, we found that the sand was very deep and very soft. We found out the hard way that you have to let air out of your tires or have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, or you get stuck, like Jef did. Disaster was averted when some nice people came and towed him out of the sand. While this was going on, Tennille and I navigated the beach section. Walking along the high tide line is much harder than it would seem for a blind person and his Guide Dog. For us, it was like dead reckoning navigation in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean-- nearly impossible. We found that we had overshot our turn by nearly a mile, and had to backtrack. After that, we went to the Topless Oyster Bar to see Janille and her friend, Jenny, who interviewed us for the online newspaper. We were surprised to find out that the number of miles to be hiked on Okracoke was less than anticipated. The majority of this section is one long road walk with sand on both sides. We have a little less than 9 miles to make it to the ferry to Hatteras, where we will be meeting with the Information Officer for the NC Department of Transportation for an interview. The folks at the oyster bar are putting us up in one of their apartments, AND they are feeding us. We couldn't be happier. Once we hit the mainland, we will have about 64 miles to go. Jef got some great footage on the ferry and hiking on the beach.
I am currently 6 miles from Cedar Island city limits, and 9 miles from the ferry to Okracoke-- I'm hoping to get on the 10am ferry. I got a later start than I had hoped today, and the temperature and humidity have continued to rise-- again. With absolutely no shade it was very, very hot. We had several bridge crossings today, and once again, I have to thank the Sheriff's department for giving us an escort. Thank you again, Officer Keith! When Tennille and I reached the town of Stacy, an elderly gentleman asked us if we wanted to sit in the shade and have a drink with him. George is a wonderful man; turns out that he was born in the house in which he lives. We talked for awhile about all sorts of things, from hiking to hurricanes. Jef even captured some of our conversation on film. We ate lunch on his porch and then had to be on our way. Quite a few cars honked and cheered us as they passed by; another gentleman, who used to work for the transportation department, gave me a pulsing strobe light necklace so that people could see me. We added 20.6 more miles today, and it is now official: we have less than 100 miles remaining. Late in the day I was able to try out Tennille's new cooling towel. It really works well. You add water, squeeze, and get instant cool. Thank you so much, Tasha. We are looking forward to arriving in Okracoke and going to the Topless Oyster Bar. They are feeding us dinner, and we are giving an interview for a radio show and an online newspaper. They have even arranged housing for us--we're very grateful for that.
I am currently in Otway, which is about 15 miles north of Beaufort, NC. This morning, we woke up early and set out a little after 6 to finish out the Croatan and make our way closer to the Cedar Island Ferry. The weather is still mild, but a little hotter than yesterday. This made for good hiking, even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Along the way, we were stopped by, and talked to, many people. The first was a woman at the corner of 101 who gave us bottled water and wished us well. She was followed by a man with his children who wanted to take pictures of us. Next, we met a man and a woman who stopped on the side of the road and gave us $20 so we could get something to eat. Followed by that, we met a mother and daughter who thought what we were doing was great; they, too, came bearing gifts (Coke, water, oatmeal cookies, and Lays potato chips). We then met some nice police officers who escorted us over yet another bridge. When I met up with Jef at a convenience store, a woman came out, recognized us, and gave us $10 for Guide Dogs for the Blind. We chatted for awhile (Jef taped the conversation), and it nearly brought him to tears. Many others recognized us from the news footage and the newspaper article, and honked &waved asthey drove by. The people here are so wonderful. I can't thank them enough for all of their well wishes and generosity. Even with and I made a little over 22 miles today-- a new record for us. Jef found us a Bed and Breakfast, which is really wonderful. I was able to wash my shorts (which were in dire need of a thorough cleaning) and I even got to eat freshly caught crab! After a good night's rest, we'll be heading out early as it will be hotter tomorrow. Our hope is to get within a few miles of the ferry and have an easy hike to get there on Monday morning. Tomorrow will be another milestone with us, as we will be less than 100 miles from the end of this trek.
As of today (6/14/13) we are 2 1/2 days from reaching the Cedar Island Ferry. We will be passing through Bettie, Smyrna, and Williston on the way. It was also another milestone for us; we have completed over 800 miles. The day was spent hiking in the Croatan. Luckily, the temperatrues were much cooler than yesterday, and the humidity dropped due to last night's storms. We had the trail to ourselves and even encountered some wildlife. Tennille found a box turtle, which fascinated her. She also alerted me to 3 snakes. Tennille wouldn't let me pass until I removed them with my trekking pole. I believe one was a copperhead, because it hissed as I was moving it. In addition, we were contacted by Ellen from Channel 12 news, and we gave an interview. It aired at 5:30 today-- she will be sending the link. The interview we gave to the Sun Tomes in New Bern a couple of days ago ran on the front page. The link is http://www.newbernsj.com/news/local/blind-man-hiking-across-north-carolina-1.158554. My friend and trail angel, Geoffrey, called to let me know about both. We also had an unexpected surprise. Once we reached camp, a man and woman drove up, asking if we knew where the blind hiker was. The woman's name is Penny Zibula-- she is a free lance reporter with a column in The Compass entitled "The View from Here." Penny is a fellow graduate from Guide Dogs for the Blind-- it was great getting to know her and her husband and meeting her Guide Dog. She asked if I would grant her an interview, and of course, I was excited to do so. It is the first interview I have given to a blind reporter. I liked this experience very much. Her questions were insightful, as she can empathize with my situation. I am looking forward to reading her article, which she hopes will be a 2 part series. After talking about her life in San Rafael, they excused themselves, and Jef and I had a wonderful dinner that he prepared over an open flame--NY strip steaks, baked potato, fresh corn on the cob, and salad--delicious! Mild temperatures are expected tomorrow. We will be leaving the Croatan, making our way towards Highway 70. Currently, we are on track to finish our adventure next Saturday at Jockey's Ridge State Park.
Sorry for the update delay. We endured some nasty storms. Right now, I am sitting on the beach in the Croatan National Forest near Highway 101, south of New Bern. Yesterday we got up and had a 5.5 mile trek to make the Minnesott Ferry. We had to stop many times along the way, because by 8:30 am it was already 85 degrees and climbing, and the humidity was stifling. Nonetheless, it was a psychological milestone for us. Getting on the first ferry marked the beginning of the final leg of our trek. I can't believe that we have already completed 779.1 miles by that point. I am very satisfied that we are nearing the finish of what some have felt was a nearly impossible feat for a blind man and his dog. After getting off the ferry, we stopped to take photographs for the Sun Times, followed by an interview with the local NBC station. The temperature was in the 90s, with the heat index over 100 by the time we actually entered the Croatan. After about 5 miles into the woods, the heat proved too extreme for Tennille, and we slowly made our way out to an exit point and called it a day. Throughout this hike, Tennille's health and well-being has always been my top priority, and so we once again erred on the side of caution. This place is not really the inhospitable swamp that people have made it out to be. We made 14 miles and will be exiting the Croatan today. We will then be heading to the ferry which will take us to Okracoke. Last night we stayed at a campground on the edge of a tobacco plantation. We met some great people and had to weather out the very severe storm. On a brighter note, temperatures for the next couple of days are supposed to be mild-- we're looking forward to the hiking. Tennille even got to get in the ocean!
I am currently 5 miles from the Minnesott Ferry and will be taking that in the morning. It will connect me tp the start opf the trail heading into the Croatan National Forest. We woke up this am at about 4:30 so we could get an early start. The temperatures today are in the upper 90s with high humidity, making the heat index well into the 100s. My main concern right now is making miles, but doing it in a way that works for Tennille. With very little shade, I have found that short (2 mile) stretches with long breaks seem to be working. We made a little over 18 miles again today, and we are both feeling it. Our original plan was to camp out tonight, but we were told there were going to be storms heading through, so as a treat for Tennille, we opted to stay in a wonderful little Bed & Breakfast. I gave an interview to another newspaper today while sitting under a tree. Having Jef from Thorlo with me has been wonderful. He has gotten some awesome footage, provided us with much needed support; we have even had some time to discuss new ideas for my upcoming motivational speaking engagements. In addition, Jef is great company-- we're lucky to have him with us. The closer we get to the Croatan, the bugs are getting more ferocious. I would like to thank Alexa from ExOfficio. I am anxiously awaiting the bug repellant clothing that she offered to send us. Can't wait to give the clothing a try. HELP: I was just notified that Tennille is currently in THIRD place for the Hero Dog Awards in the Guide Dog category. If you haven't voted for her yet, please do so. The link is on my webpage and at the bottom of this blog. If you have voted, thank you-- and remember, you can vote every single day. Thanks so much.
Woke up-- indoors-- at Roy and Geoffrey's house. I spent a wonderful evening with them, and I was sad to have to leave. The weather this morning was overcast and amazingly cool. Cloud cover stayed with us for the majority of the morning, which kept the temperature down. Roy dropped us off at the trailhead and Geoffrey packed a Coke for the road. He also wrote me a very touching letter. I am so pleased that they allowed me to experience a small portion of their lives. Meeting folks like these and knowing I am making a difference in peoples' lives is the reason I do what I do. The trek on highway 55 into New Bern was fairly difficult, as there were a lot of dump trucks and many cars as we reached the outer limits of the city. I learned something new today. New Burn is the birthplace of Pepsi Cola! All day long we were anticipating crossing the bridge to Bridgeton. We had heard that it was very dangerous and could prove to be problematic. Before crossing the bridge, we met up with Jet Judin from Thoro, who will be remaining with us through the completion of this trek. We are excited to be able to document this adventure, and want to give special thanks to Thorlo for making this happen. The police met us as we were preparing to cross. Jef worked it out with them to provide a police escort across the bridge. That was a really great experience. Cars were backed up, but when they slowly passed us, many honked and cheered us on. I really am beginning to feel like Forest Gump! I am so proud of Tennille. Not only did we do the 18 miles to get to the bridge, but we had to do another 2 to 2 1/2 to get over the two bridges. Going across the bridge was nerve racking for me, but Tennille held her ground and stayed focused on her work. I know it was a lot to ask as the end of a long day, but she performed impeccably. Thank you so much, Guide Dogs for the Blind for pairing me with such an incredible guide. Tonight we are staying at the KOA campground and will be making our first ferry crossing soon. Now that we've finally reached the Atlantic Ocean and can smell the salt air, completing this trek is starting to seem like a reality.
Woke up after a night in the Kinston campground. Jerry came a little before 6:30 and brought me a large cup of coffee and a Hardees bacon, egg & cheese biscuit and some hash browns. Much appreciated! Last night was interesting, to say the least. I got attacked by sand fleas-- I wish I had a flea pellet or some Frontline. They didn't seem to bother Tennille at all. It made for a really long night. The morning was pretty hot and humid, but we had intermittent sprinkes that helped a bit. There is absolutely no shade anywhere along this trail towards the beach. They have cut down all the trees. On our second break in the morning (for Tenille to cool down), I was attacked by an angry mob of fire ants. I should have known better, having lived in South Carolina, but I will be checking the ground before I sit from here to the end. After turning onto old route 70, we went into the quailt little town of Dover. The restaurant where I was hoping to eat was not open yet, so I went down the street to the grocery store. Upon entering, I was screamed at by the foreign sounding owner of the establishment. He told me to get out of the store with my dog and to leave her outside. After explaining to him that I did not have to do that because she was a Guide Dog, he said he didn't care about my Federal law and demanded that we leave. This went back and forth until he came around the counter. At that point, I decided that it wasn't worth my time and we left. I now know how Rosa Parks felt, trying to get a seat on a bus. After that, we hiked to Cove City, where the second restaurant on our list had gone out of business a year and a half ago. Doom on me for not taking food and assuming the restaurants in the guide book would be open. We hiked further, and as we were leaving Cove City, we got rained on by a brief, but torrential downpour. We made it 19 miles, and were picked up by our new trail angel, Roy, and were very happy to have eaten pizza and to be inside because it is expected to be storming throughout the night. As an added bonus, I go to wash clothes, and am now as clean as a thru hiker can be! Tomorrow I will be meeting Jef Judin from Thorlo in New Bern. I am really excited that Thorlo is having him follow us for the rest of the way so we can capture the final days of this trek on film.