Blind Faith

What does it take for a blind man to hike the grueling 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail?



Trevor Thomas was despondent about his sudden blindness, until he heard a speech that changed his life, leading him to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Chris Edwards

(page 1 of 4)

He has come more than two thousand miles, through wind, rain, snow. He is within a hundred miles of the end, and he wants to give up. But that's the problem with the 100-Mile Wilderness. You can't quit. You have nowhere to go. The only way to quit is to continue.

The 100-Mile Wilderness is just that: a long and lonely haul through nothingness that stretches between Monson, Maine, and a campground just fifteen miles from the Appalachian Trail's northern terminus, Mount Katahdin. It is a final test. Just to see what you're made of. It is possibly the toughest part of Maine, which is the toughest state on the path that most hikers simply call the AT. Virginia meanders.

Pennsylvania is rocky. Vermont is muddy. Maine punishes. There, the AT goes over peaks and under boulders and straight up rock faces and nowhere near anyone who can help. The trail does not go over rivers. In the 100-Mile Wilderness, it goes through them.

It's on the third day in the wilderness that a hiker named Zero/Zero has had enough.

His backpack is his lifeline. It contains everything he needs to survive, and yet on this day, it is Zero's liability. The trail demands that he ford a river swollen by what's left of Hurricane Kyle. There is no other way. Zero crosses as gingerly as he can. He is waist deep in forty-two-degree water. His pack is tethered to him with fifty feet of paracord. His extremities are searing with pain from the cold. His knees ache. The current makes it hard for his already tenuous footing to hold on to a slick floor of rocks and pebbles. One of his feet is probably broken.

Something goes wrong. Quickly. Zero slips. His pack comes loose. He ditches it. Fifty feet of rope uncoil in the swollen river. Zero tries to regain his balance, but it is too late. His pack is full of water and heavy in the current. Zero is ripped off his feet and violently tugged along downstream.

He gets lucky. Zero's pack floats into just the right spot and anchors itself between some rocks. The same cord that dragged him down the river is a lifeline once again. It keeps him from ending up at the bottom of a waterfall.

Zero is wet, cold, and shaken. He will lose his footing in two more rivers. In the same day.

If Zero could see, this would not have happened. Zero would never have been on the trail if he could see.

It is October 4, 2004. 9 a.m. Thirty-five-year-old Trevor Thomas is about to join the Navy and become a JAG officer. His mind is ready. His body is prepared. But his eyes are getting fuzzy. He needs glasses. He's sitting in his eye doctor's office. Waiting.

Trevor is not the kind of person who likes to wait. This is a guy who races Porsches for fun. He runs. He scampers up rock faces. He hurtles through forests on mountain bikes. He's just graduated from law school. He's recently moved to Charlotte to stay with his parents while he prepares for his new job. And in a few weeks, he'll be stationed in Greece. But first, he needs glasses.
One look from his optometrist changes that.

"Oh my God," she says. She cannot help. Glasses cannot help. Lasik surgery cannot help. For months, this is the day that Trevor Thomas will say he received his death sentence. He makes trip after trip to specialist after specialist. Nobody can give him an answer. Nobody knows what is wrong with his eyes.

He can pass every part of the Navy physical, except for the eye exam. At first, he memorizes the chart. After a while, he can't fake it anymore. His recruiter says the Navy has no use for a blind officer. Greece is gone.

Trevor's world is closing in. One day, he can see twenty feet in front of him. The next week, he can only see ten feet. Then less. And less.

Every day, Trevor wakes up and asks himself one question: is this going to be the day that I will be blind?

Three months pass. Finally, when it is too late, Trevor learns what is wrong. Doctors call it atypical central serous chorioretinopathy.

His immune system woke up one day and decided it did not like his eyes. It attacked. In the eye, small receptors called cones help you see colors. Rods in your eyes help you make out shapes and contrasts. The disease is eating them both. Doctors try to help. Problem is, nobody knows much about Trevor's disease. It is so rare that it is not studied enough.

We invite your responses and discussion. Please refrain from personal attacks, profanity, commercial promotion, or non sequiturs.

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