Blind Hiker Treks Nearly 6,000 Miles With His Guide Dog

Hiking over 20,000 miles on rugged trails across the United States is quite an accomplishment for anyone, but especially for someone who is isn’t able to see those trails.

Trevor Thomas is an extreme sports enthusiast who used to enjoy backcountry snowboarding, mountain biking and racing cars. But ten years ago, when he was 35, Thomas was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that took away his eyesight.

“I thought I’d been issued a death sentence. Every day my vision got worse,” Thomas said in a press release. “I went from being perfectly normal to having to learn everything all over again.”

Inspired by a vision-impaired motivational speaker who liked to hike, Thomas began training to walk mountain trails. His first hike in 2008 might have been his last one as well – he fell and broke several bones.

But that didn’t stop Thomas. He continued hiking thousands of miles, but realized having a guide dog beside him would make long-distance hiking safer. So he began looking for a dog that could not only perform basic assistance duties, but also had the stamina to join him on challenging mountain trails.

He finally found his perfect match in 2012, when Guide Dogs for the Blind introduced him to Tennille, a black Lab with lots of energy. Shortly after they both graduated from the training program, the two hit the trails. Over the past four years, they have hiked nearly 6,000 miles together.

Tennille helps Thomas find trails and trail markers, water and campsites. She warns Thomas when they’re approaching low-hanging branches. She stops when she sees something she perceives as unsafe, such as a boulder blocking the trail, and gets a treat for doing so.

Breaking Records and Raising Funds

With Tennille’s help, Thomas became the first blind person to complete a solo hike of the 2,175-mile-long Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine.

He also completed the Colorado Trail, which he had been unable to do in a previous attempt without Tennille by his side. Thomas is now the world’s only blind professional long-distance hiker.

“There are no other guide dogs that I know of that do what Tennille does,” Thomas said. “She’s enabled me to do things not only personally but professionally that I otherwise would not have been able to achieve. In a sense, she saved me.”

Thomas and Tennille’s hikes have also served as fundraisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind as well as Team FarSight Foundation, which Thomas founded in 2013.

“None of the guide dog schools receive public funds,” Thomas said. “They are raised and paid for by donations only.”

When they’re not hiking trails together, Thomas and Tennille stay in shape by hiking eight to 15 miles every day. “She can tell time and will definitely give me attitude if I am working in my office all day and we haven’t gone on our daily hike,” Thomas said.

Tennille also turns heads when she and Thomas go shopping together. “People are always amazed when we walk into a store, and I tell her my list and she will bring me to the items,” he said. “We end up with an audience following us around. She can differentiate between specific chips and even varieties of the same sports drink brand.”

In the near future, Thomas and Tennille will climb Mt. Whitney in California, which at 14,997 ft. is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. In 2010, Thomas became the first blind person to reach the summit. This time, he and Tennille will be setting more records: It will be the first time a guide dog has climbed to the top of the mountain, and it will set a new altitude record for a blind person and guide dog.

Thomas told photojournalist Dean Krakel he believes our society diminishes blind people, teaching them how to manipulate the system instead of how to adapt to it. Through his Team FarSight Foundation, Thomas said he hopes to show blind children and the newly blind that the sky’s the limit.

The kids at his foundation’s adventure camps don’t ask him questions about bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes or other scary things in the woods.

“They want to know if I live alone, if I have a job, how do I dress myself,” Thomas told Krakel. “I’ll die knowing that I was able to make a difference in these kids’ lives.”

You can get updates about Thomas and Tennille’s hikes on the Trevor Thomas aka Zero/Zero Facebook page. For information about his foundation, visit the Team FarSight Foundation website.

Photo credit: YouTube

198 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y9 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y9 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J9 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J9 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John B
John B1 years ago

Thanks Laura for sharing the incredible story and wonderful video clip.

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Barbara B
Barbara B2 years ago

THIS IS TRUE LOVE.

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Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba2 years ago

Wonderful

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Nequiel D.
Nequiel D2 years ago

That this man is brave enough to push the boundaries outward for other blind people is amazing and heartening.that he has a friend of such beauty and intelligence to accompany him ..long may they walk the trails together!

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Maria Papastamatiou

Great article for a great pair! Thanks for sharing.

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federico bortoletto

E' un grande!!!!

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