As a longtime volunteer for the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, Johnson’s contributions have gone far beyond his role as a wintertime ski and snowboard instructor for the blind. In fact, Johnson has married his love of long-distance hiking to his dedication to the local nonprofit organization, which offers liberating recreational opportunities for disabled people, by embarking on a 3,000-mile fundraising journey along the Continental Divide Trail.
Johnson left Telluride at the end of April, armed with only his backpack, a dedicated support group of friends and TASP coworkers, and the ambition to complete the grueling, long-distance trek across the United States. In the last months, Johnson walked from the Mexican border in New Mexico to Telluride, then hitched a ride north to the Canadian border in Montana where he began the long hike south. Johnson is expected to complete the final leg of the journey early next week, after which he will share his adventures – as well as the handsome amount he has raised in donations in the process.
“Hawkeye has already raised $12,000 for TASP, and is still accepting pledges,” reports TASP’s executive director, Courtney Stuecheli. The organization will be hosting a Welcome Home celebration on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the New Sheridan Bar, where Johnson will be sharing photos and stories from his more than five-month adventure. The event is the final hurrah for Johnson’s one-man fundraising effort, the funds from which will help finance TASP’s popular educational and recreational programs for people with disabilities.
“This trek is dedicated to people with disabilities striving toward independence and freedom!” Johnson wrote in his first entry on his online travel journal www.gohawkeye.com. The last entry, as of Thursday, had been posted on Oct. 9. Starting from the top of Monarch Pass, Johnson’s final leg of the journey would take him to the 14,014-foot summit of San Luis Peak, where he will meet with friends, then hike into Creede for the obligatory “celebration beer.”
“It's a five-day hike to the finish!” he wrote in the Oct. 9 entry. “It's been fun, slowly rolling thru Colorado, taking it easy and enjoying this final leg. The weather has been nice and hopefully will continue to cooperate.”
Johnson is expected to complete the last leg of the 3,000-mile journey on Monday, and is slated to return home to Telluride on Tuesday.
This is not the seasoned hiker’s first trip around the block. Growing up in Maine, he discovered the Appalachian Trail and became entranced with the idea of walking across the country. Later, he began to hike the trail in sections to the north and south, completing a total of 900 miles. After retiring from his job at a correctional facility in Connecticut in 1998, he hiked 1,000 miles and finally finished the trail in 1999.
Johnson moved to Telluride that same year, and refocused his long-distance hiking efforts on other lofty conquests like the 480-mile Colorado Trail and the 2,750-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which he completed in 2000.
In 2001 he returned to the east and hiked the Appalachian Trail a second time. In 2002 his hiking exploits took him to Australia and New Zealand for six months, where he hiked the Overland Track and the wild South Coast Track in Tasmania.
In 2003, he attempted a “thru-hike” (meaning completing the entire trail in one contiguous trip) of the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail, eventually succumbing to bad weather after completing 2,800 miles. In 2004, he returned to where he left off on the Continental Divide Trail and finished the remaining miles to achieve the Triple Crown of long distance hiking.
“I especially like hiking long trails a second time and it's my goal to complete the big three again, becoming a double triple crown. I'm 1/3 of the way there!” he wrote on his website.
Johnson is still accepting pledges to benefit TASP; to donate, visit his website at www.gohawkeye.com. For more information on his homecoming party on Oct. 20, contact TASP at 728-5010.