A blind long distance hiker from North Carolina will tackle the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail this weekend with only his dog as a guide.
Trevor Thomas, a 45-year-old who lost his eyesight about nine years ago, hiked the trail in 2011 with a partner. Now, he wants to try it again with his new canine companion, Tennille, a 3 ½-year-old black lab.
“I wanted to prove what can be done with a guide dog and myself,” said Thomas, who was diagnosed with atypical central serous chorioretinopathy, a disease that attacks the eye’s macula. “I love the trail, and I wanted a challenge.”
Thomas and Tennille will depart on their journey Aug. 17 from Echo Lake. They’ll begin heading north on the trail in what Thomas expects will be a 14- to 16-day expedition.
The trek will be far from easy, but the hiker has tackled lengthier trails without the use of his vision. He is the first blind person to complete the entire 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail solo and unassisted from Spring Mountain, Ga. to Katahdin, Maine.
He also completed the 2,654-mile Pacific Crest Trail in 2010 with members of his team, Team FarSight.
His reputation as a hiker has earned him the trail name Zero/Zero — a reference to his eyesight. But even with all his experience, Thomas said he will still “err on the side of caution” during his solo attempt of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
“I never want to underestimate a trail,” he said. “Because of its length, the Tahoe Rim Trail is a wonderful trail to hike, but it’s not easy by any means.”
Thomas will be carrying a backpack with food and water for he and Tennille, as well as an extra lightweight tent, sleeping bag and a tracker so people know where he is at all times.
“People get a little stressed when we’re out there by ourselves,” he said.
Supplies will be left on the trail for him every so often during the trek, but for the most part he will be unassisted.
One of his biggest worries on the trail, as the region experiences a major drought, will be finding enough water, he said.
“A new concern is lack of water,” Thomas said of his second attempt of the trail. “Finding water as a blind person can be very, very hard.”
In addition, there’s always the concern about getting lost or injured. Thomas said he takes about 15,000 to 20,000 steps a day without knowing what he’s putting his feet down on.
He can’t rely on GPS either because it’s not 100 percent dependable, he said.
“I don’t have the liberty of taking chances and getting lost,” Thomas said. “I have to be 100 percent positive about the nine or 10 crucial things a day where I decide do I got left or I got right.”
Fortunately for Thomas, Tennille has been thoroughly trained for backcountry travel. She warns her owner of nearby trail signs, guides him down the safest path and alerts him if something’s about to hit his head.
“She’s about 90 percent good about warning me of those,” he said.
The trek will be Tennille’s first hike reaching elevations over 10,000 feet, as Thomas plans to bag as many peaks as possible along the way.
Tennille will be wearing a small camera to document the duo’s journey on the Tahoe Rim Trail. The video will be available for the public to watch on YouTube, shortly after Thomas returns home.
Until then, people can check in on their progress through Thomas’ Facebook page, where the renowned hiker will be posting updates daily.