Trevor Thomas hasn’t allowed blindness to dampen his spirit of adventure.
Before he lost his sight, he raced Porsches, took part in downhill mountain-biking and was a sky-diver.
“If it was outdoors and adventurous, I was doing it,” said Thomas, 45. “I didn’t start hiking until I went blind.
“I went blind in 2006.”
Thomas had finished law school and was about to take the bar exam when an auto-immune disease targeted the macula in his eyes. He lost his vision over a period of eight months.
“I would consider it one of the low points in my life,” said Thomas, who lives in southeast Charlotte.
Thomas didn’t let the loss of his sight keep him from some of the activities he used to enjoy, however; distance hiking involved survival techniques that appealed to him.
Metrolina Association for the Blind in Charlotte provided instructors to help Thomas develop his new interests.
“I had instructors every day to teach me new things so I could get on with life,” he said. “Braille is like learning Chinese and text messaging all in one swoop.”
Thomas’ first hike was the Appalachian Trail in 2008. He hiked from April 6 to Oct. 8, covering 2,180 miles. He finished in Maine, with snow on the ground.
“It was the most defining experience,” Thomas said. “It not only gave me my life back but ultimately provided me with a career.”
Two years ago, Thomas got a 2-year-old guide dog named Tennille, trained to help him both in the city and when hiking in the wilderness.
“She goes everywhere with me,” Thomas said. “She’s incredible in her own right. Probably the best decision I made since going blind was getting her.”
In September, Thomas and Tennille hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail in California and Nevada.
“I wanted to ultimately figure out how to hike alone just like everybody else, in a rugged, remote, primitive trail,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been working towards in the last nearly seven years.”
He had hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2011 but wasn’t alone then; this time he was with only Tennille.
The Tahoe Rim experience was “a new challenge that Tennille and I had never faced,” Thomas said, “but with Tennille’s help, I knew we could safely navigate this remote trail. We were truly by ourselves.”
Thomas said the hike took 18 days, and although it wasn’t the longest, it was technically challenging.
“This was our first time going to high altitude,” Thomas said. “We were dealing with mountains 9,000-11,000 feet.”
Volunteers, known as trail angels, provided some water and supplies.
Laine Walter of Charlotte is head trail angel and coordinates other volunteers. “The angels are individuals who make themselves available to hikers to provide transportation to town, deliver supplies,” Walter said.
“I help Trevor with all of his mapping – coordinate the people to help at different locations, notify media, purchase supplies and mail packages, stay in touch with sponsors, type his Facebook blogs, communicate with individuals who desire to meet him, and support him in any capacity he needs,” Walter said
Hiking has become Thomas’ lifestyle and career. Now a professional long-distance hiker and motivational speaker, he said he has no plans to return to law. He has sponsorships from companies including Ahnu Footwear, Marmot, Big Agnes, Granite Gear, Leki trekking poles and Spot emergency rescue beacons.
Name-brand equipment, however, doesn’t serve Thomas as well as his constant hiking companion, said Walter.
“He and Tennille have a bond that has been earned by constant love and companionship,” she said. “He always puts Tennille first in his decisions, and they function as one unit seamlessly and tirelessly.”
Tennille is with Trevor 24 hours a day; together, they’ve walked a lot of miles.
“Between the AT and the Tahoe, I’ve covered 18,000-plus miles,” Thomas said. “There are very few people in the world who have more trail miles than I do, and I’ve done it in six years. Tennille is approaching 4,000 miles.”
Thompson and Tennille also will finish filming a documentary in November in Washington state, with producer Zack Tupper.
“A day in our life,” Trevor said in describing the documentary. “How we do what we do. Why we do what we do.”
The film is scheduled to premiere in Salt Lake City in January at the Outdoor Retailer Show.
Walter’s daughter rides horses with the Misty Meadows Mitey Riders therapeutic horseback riding program in Weddington, where Thompson and Tennille visit often to spend time with special-needs children.
“They all have disabilities and love seeing Tennille,” Walter said.
John and Sarah Gaither, with Feetures running socks, volunteer at Mighty Riders, which connected Thomas to one of his sponsors.
Thomas also has begun working with the Blind Ambassador Program, a partnership between Team FarSight, the Boy Scouts of Manchester, Mass., and the Perkins School for the Blind, to develop a hiking program for blind and visually impaired young adults.
“We are not done hiking,” Thomas said of his and Tennille’s plans for the future. “We are already planning for next year.”