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  1. #1

    Cool Blind man to thru-hike with talking GPS and no dog.

    Ultrafit: Tapping his way along the Appalachian Trail

    With the help of a voice-enabled GPS, Minneapolis attorney Mike Hanson, who is blind, is training for the hike of a lifetime.
    By Stephen Regenold, Special to the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul)
    Last update: October 09, 2007 – 8:25 PM
    On a Wednesday morning in mid-September, Mike Hanson zipped on a red windbreaker, checked his GPS device, then set out to hike a dirt trail at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. It was a training day for Hanson, a 42-year-old attorney from St. Louis Park who next March will start hiking the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, solo and unsupported.It would be a big deal even if Hanson, a lifelong outdoorsman, weren't blind.
    "I want to show the independence of people with disabilities," he said.
    Indeed, a journey on the trail -- which Hanson anticipates will entail eight months of travel at about 10 miles of trekking per day -- defines self-reliance: Hikers live out of their backpacks, pick up food once a week in towns, and sleep under the stars each night for weeks on end.
    Detailed maps help hikers navigate the trail's twisting route. But for Hanson, who will bring no maps and does not use a guide dog, progress each day will be made by literally feeling his way along the trail, tapping a cane thousands of times a mile to avoid roots and rocks.
    A voice-enabled GPS system will alert Hanson of his proximity to preprogrammed waypoints -- trail shelters, huts, road crossings, streams, mountain peaks -- keeping him on course as he treks through the wilderness.
    "GPS is changing the way the blind and visually impaired can explore and learn about the world," said Janet Dickelman, president of the American Council of the Blind, Minnesota. "We're seeing the very forefront of the movement."
    At Theodore Wirth, where paths weave through the woods adjacent to Highway 55, Hanson practiced his technique. He held a GPS-enabled cell phone to his ear, pressing the 1 key for a prompt.
    "Olson Memorial Highway Service Road, 670 yards northwest," piped an electronic voice.
    "I know where I'm at now," he said.
    Hanson's GPS system, which consists of a small receiver unit and a software-enabled cell phone, is a custom setup assembled a year ago for about $1,200. GPS data for the Appalachian Trail is available from trail clubs, government agencies and hiking websites. But to customize the data for his expedition, Hanson has spent more than 100 hours synthesizing these sources, uploading thousands of points of latitude and longitude along the trail's nearly 2,200-mile course.
    "If it goes as planned, I should never be more than a few yards from a GPS point," he said.
    Earle Harrison, president of Handy Tech North America, a New Brighton company that sells products for the visually impaired, said Hanson is something of a pioneer. "He is among the first to adapt the GPS system for a wilderness expedition."
    Hanson will carry two GPS units, 10 batteries and a small solar panel to charge equipment. USB thumb drives will hold extra copies of data. As a backup parachute, Hanson has old-fashioned audio cassette tapes that describe in detail every mile of the route.
    "I'll be out there alone," Hanson said. "The system needs to be fail-safe."
    Tapping through a practice run
    It was 11 a.m. at Theodore Wirth when Hanson paused to take a reading. The trail ahead skirted a lake, swooping northeast past a marsh where the sun burned mist from the ground. He held the phone to his ear for a cue, then trekked on.
    Walking steadily, Hanson tapped his cane on the trail once, then into the rough beside the path, back and forth in a staccato rhythm, tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap. His feet adjusted to the terrain, dancing around roots, setting firm on dirt, waiting momentarily to feel for traction, then stepping ahead.
    "This feels like some thick brush," he said, raking his cane at hip height through trail-side vegetation at a junction.
    Hanson will train all winter while seeking corporate sponsors to help finance the trip. His website, www.blindhiker.com, went live last month.
    A local production company, Travel'n Light Films of St. Bonifacius, plans to create a documentary. Dan Miller, executive director, said the plan is to film Hanson along four sections of the trail, following for a week at a time.
    Blind since birth, Hanson has accomplished much, earning degrees in law, speech-language pathology and psychology. He has hiked, camped and fished his whole life. Now he hopes to show the world what raw ambition can do. Highlighting a new technology comes in as a close second.
    At Theodore Wirth, now heading back to the trailhead, Hanson picked up the pace as voice cues piped in from the phone, signaling points of reference.
    "A big part is remembering the terrain in case you have to go back," he said. He stopped by a pond, frogs creaking quietly below. He said he could feel the sun on his face.
    The trail veered left ahead, then down a hill, a large rut tracing its descent where water had worn through to roots. But Hanson hiked without pause, touching the cane into the green brush beside the trail, then onto the hard-pack dirt, feeling for footing, then stepping confidently ahead and onward into the woods.
    Stephen Regenold is a Twin Cities writer and author of the syndicated column the Gear Junkie.

    © 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

    http://www.startribune.com/1244/story/1473666.html

  2. #2
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    It sounds like a real challenge, to rely on a GPS to tell you where to take every step. Good luck to him.

  3. #3

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    For a number of reasons he'd be better off with a dog.

  4. #4
    Looking for a comfortable cave to habitate jrwiesz's Avatar
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    Default GPS accuracy?

    I think a lot of faith in the technology. And with no support?

    It should be an interesting read on TJ, or wherever, should he post the journey.

    Good luck to him in his endeavor.
    "For me, it is better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."
    Carl Sagan

  5. #5

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    I'm having a hard time imagining the logistics of him traversing certain areas safely. The Mahoosuc Notch comes to mind. And the Arm. And climbing and descending Madison.
    What about the iron stairs. Or floating log walks that sink when you step on them. Or log bridges. Certain blowdowns will cause a hell of a ruckus with his day too.
    Does the GPS pick up on an angry moose? Or rattle snake? Tell him how deep and fast a ford is?
    I do hope he has a safe and enjoyable experience, but I'm a little worried for him.

  6. #6

    Default My prognosis...

    NFW. Sorry, but that's like only resupplying once per state; theoretically doable, perhaps, but unlikely.

  7. #7

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    He better have 1 heck of a great performing GPS, I can think of several places I've been just between Rockfish Gap and Harper's Ferry where I lost lock completely because of the canopy.

    I wish him luck but think he'd stand a better chance driving from GA to ME.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by minnesotasmith View Post
    NFW. Sorry, but that's like only resupplying once per state; theoretically doable, perhaps, but unlikely.
    A lot of folks including me didn't even give you that much o a chance. Remember, you're rarely alone on the AT.

    Having worked with the visually impaired, I wish him all the luck.
    'All my lies are always wishes" ~Jeff Tweedy~

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    Registered User orangebug's Avatar
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    If he gets past the rock ledge north of Blood Mountain and makes that left turn into the woods, maybe he has a chance to do it. If his plan includes using other hikers to guide him, I have no doubt that it could be done. His risk of injury with falls will be great. I think he is as unlikely to run into a rattler as the rest of us noisy folks.

    This could be interesting.

  10. #10

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    The GPS/Google Earth of the AT has some shelters on the wrong sides of mountains in Maine. I hope the accuracy he has available is better.
    Teej

    "[ATers] represent three percent of our use and about twenty percent of our effort," retired Baxter Park Director Jensen Bissell.

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    Somebody has to be first. Hoping whatever problems he finds get solved.

  12. #12

    Default Mowgli, Mowgli...

    Quote Originally Posted by MOWGLI16 View Post
    A lot of folks including me didn't even give you that much o a chance. Remember, you're rarely alone on the AT.

    1) Perhaps my experience thruing last year gives me a leg up on predicting what can and can't be done WRT hiking the AT WRT hikers that are going to have a harder time than the under-30 lightpacking start-out-already-fit types?

    2) I have been alone plenty on the AT, especially at night, on the less popular sections of Trail, and during the less popular times year. ( I was on the AT in every month of the year except Dec. and Jan, from the first half of Feb. to the second week of Novof .) This guy sounds likely to be a slow hiker, meaning he, too, will take longer than April-September, putting him in the "don't see anyone in the shelters for 3 nights in a row" category, too.

    3) I hiked for 2 weeks in NC with someone who had a GPS unit. It was often useless, especially for determining correct direction at poorly-blazed trail intersections.

    I think he's most likely going to quietly quit in the first 2 weeks if he's truly hiking without being led, or within 6 weeks if he is. (Sooner, if he gets injured, say, going up Albert Mtn. on a not-rare rainy day.)

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    KirkMcquest KirkMcquest's Avatar
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    He better not get in MY way.
    Throwing pearls to swine.

  14. #14

    Default Give him a chance to fail first

    removed post
    Last edited by Just a Hiker; 10-21-2007 at 21:03. Reason: removed

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by warraghiyagey View Post
    I'm having a hard time imagining the logistics of him traversing certain areas safely. The Mahoosuc Notch comes to mind. And the Arm. And climbing and descending Madison.
    What about the iron stairs. Or floating log walks that sink when you step on them. Or log bridges. Certain blowdowns will cause a hell of a ruckus with his day too.
    Does the GPS pick up on an angry moose? Or rattle snake? Tell him how deep and fast a ford is?
    I do hope he has a safe and enjoyable experience, but I'm a little worried for him.
    I'm with you on this one. How accurate is a GPS anyway? There are places that are extremely dangerous even if you can see exactly where to put your hands and feet. There are missing steps on the sides of wet rock. Mahoosuc Notch, like you said. Several mountains in the Whites.

    Using only a GPS, and without anyone helping him, I think it is impossible if he is completely blind. He will get injured and have to quit. I hope I am completely wrong. It will be quite an accomplishment if he is able to succeed.

  16. #16
    Registered User ChinMusic's Avatar
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    While I think him even considering the AT is amazing, I don't think it is doable unless he is "legally blind" and not "totally blind". This is not a walk on a bike trail or navigation of city streets. I fear for his safety but support his desires to give it a try. GPS technology is wonderful but I have never found it as accurate as his needs will require.

    I agree, a dog would be better than depending on GPS.

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    I agree that it will be extremely difficult for him, but I believe most people are thinking as if they're blindfolded and forced to do it with a GPS. The man has been blind since birth and has a lifetime of sharpening his other senses inorder to compensate for his lack of sight.

  18. #18

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    Blind people may have learned to better utilize their other senses, but which sense is going to get him through Mahoosuc Notch? Touch? Hearing? Smell? Taste?

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    Suppose will have to wait and see; but common sense combined with the others, and a bit of help from some kind soul would be my guess.

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    Registered User LIhikers's Avatar
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    Good luck to Mike Hanson.
    I have my thoughts on relying on GPS to keep him headed in the right direction but I'm willing to wait until after his hike, however long or short it may be, to comment.

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