By BEN WATANABE
South Whidbey Record Reporter
Note: Brad Hankins, a 1986 graduate of Mount Si High School, was featured in the Sept. 4 issue of the South Whidbey Record, just before he completed a 2,650-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Hankins is the son of Barry Hankins, North Bend, and Fran Abel, Whidbey Island. Barry joined Brad for the 72-mile stretch of the trail between Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass.
Brad Hankins has spent months in the wilderness.
He crossed one international border and two state lines. Hankins, a Whidbey Island resident, is in Central Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail. Today is Day 122 of his journey, and there are a few more weeks left before he will finish his trip.
Back in May, Hankins started at the U.S.-Mexico border. As he trekked the trail, Hankins has hiked hills and climbed rock walls. He ascended peaks, circumnavigated forest fires and met fellow crest walkers. Somewhere along the 2,650-mile path from Mexico to Canada, Hankins found a purpose to keep plodding along.
Hankins is raising funds through his sojourn to support the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the American Heart Association. The trail association is a nonprofit whose mission is to “protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as an internationally significant resource.” And the heart association aims to “build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.”
With the help of his mother, Langley resident Fran Abel, he created the website www.heartonthetrail.com, which has a $1 donation for Hankins to etch hearts, easily wiped away by boots, wind or rain, in the ground along the Pacific Crest Trail. Hankins’ goal is to raise and evenly donate $10,000 — a lot of trail hearts.
“Inspired by the need to improve my physical and mental health, I’ve spent a year hiking, including a heartbreak along the way,” Hankins wrote on the heartonthetrail webpage. “I have since committed my last three months of hiking to raising money for heart disease (research) and hiking trails.”
His health was in a bit of jeopardy in late August. As Hankins made his way through Oregon, forest fires burned along the Pacific Crest Trail and his traveling group was escorted through one of the fires. Hankins wrote on Day 113 (Aug. 26) that lightning is the suspected fire starter.
“And we’ve had lots of lightning,” Hankins wrote. “But, given all the signs of inappropriate camping behavior and the general lack of knowledge regarding wilderness camping do’s and don’ts, I have concerns.”
“Lightning or no lightning, both the trail and the hikers would benefit from better outdoor preparation.”
Hiking well-known and lengthy trails is a hobby for Hankins. Earlier this year, Hankins walked New Zealand’s 1,800-mile Te Araroa Trail and finished in April. He had the time only after his architecture firm Design Build Brad went flat as home construction and the housing market dropped.
His journey was far from over. He flew to Mexico and began his conquest of the Pacific Crest Trail. Hankins expects to reach British Columbia by late September or early October, the culmination of nearly 11 months away from Whidbey Island and his home.
Some elements of his home came to him in July. Abel met her son at a few points in California, where she acted as a “trail angel,” leaving cold drinks along the path, picking up trash and taking hikers into towns to resupply.
“I never put together the significance of the word ‘crest,’” Abel said. “They’re really high up.”
Note: Since completing the Pacific Crest Trail hike on October 5, Hankins has continued his fund raising efforts for Heart on the Trail. He hopes to raise $10,000 to be split between the American Heart Association and the Pacific Crest Trail Association. His next trip takes him to China, where he plans to hike the 150-miles Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, after having some dental work done.
"I'm taking my trekking poles, It's a very strenuous trail," he said. He plans to draw hearts on that trail, too.
Hankins writes about his adventures in his blog, http://dbbrad.blogspot.com, and you can donate to his organization by visiting http://heartonthetrail.com.