staff, December 28, 2014

Ken Dawson MSU

During his upcoming 3,100-mile hike over the entire length of the Continental Divide U.S. Scenic Trail, Ken Dawson will make his way across five states and up peaks that go as high as 14,270 feet. The journey should take about five months - that is, if he keeps up his goal of maintaining a grueling 20 mile-a-day pace.

And if that?s not enough, he?ll face elemental dangers ranging from venomous snakes and ferocious bears to hypothermia and lightning strikes.

?Most people don?t realize that lightning storms are one of the greatest perils,? he explained. ?Bear attacks are real, but they are fairly easily scared by the sounds of people. It?s the miles that are going to be the real kicker.?

But none of this deters Dawson, 64, who?s planning to start his hike the month after he retires in March from Michigan State?s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities Department. Beyond soaking up nature - lots and lots of it - his goal for the trip is to raise $25,000 for Big City Mountaineers (BCM), an organization dedicated to mentoring at-risk youths via outdoor experiences.

Based out of Golden, Colo., the 25-year-old organization uses a one-on-one mentoring ratio to build confidence, boost self-esteem, and teach the value of teamwork to students age 13-18 who are at risk of dropping out of school, joining a gang or turning to drugs. Many of the participants have no exposure to deep wilderness. Additionally, nearly 83 percent of them come from households that fall below the poverty line.

BCM is also helping outfit Dawson for his trek.

?They obviously have connections in the outdoor apparel and equipment sector, so they?ve put me in touch with sponsors that will alleviate some of the cost,? he explained.

The hike is expected to cost around $10,000, all of which Dawson is paying out of pocket. The money raised by the hike will go directly to BCM via their Summit-for-Someone program.

?Ken is doing a unique, customized journey, but the idea is the same,? said Jeff Weidman, executive director of BCM. ?This is direct funding for our trips. This impacts what we do immediately.?

?I want to hit a home run for these kids,? Dawson said. ?That?s why when setting a donation goal, I shot for the moon. ?

When he embarks on April 12, 2015, Dawson will be among only a few dozen people that will attempt the Continental Divide this year. There?s a reason for that: It?s considered one of the top three most-difficult trail hikes in the country.

?My wife is worried, but she?s also my logistics manager,? he said. ?I?ll walk or hitchhike into towns along the trail around every seven days. She?ll mail me a package containing food and various supplies to a hotel or post office in that town.?

[btn-post-package]Although it is a solo hike, Dawson will remain semi-connected throughout the trip.

?I?ll have a spot GPS tracker,? he said. ?I?ll also be journaling the experience. I?m going to try to keep the journal entertaining, to capture the personality of the environment. Those entries will go on the blog my daughter-in-law is maintaining for me.?

Dawson already shot a video detailing his upcoming hike with the help of Michigan State alumnus Karl Rausch. He?s also taken to the airwaves on MSU?s WKAR to promote his trek. After hiking the Continental Divide trail, his dream is to one day open a BCM hub in southern Michigan.

?I think an organization like Big City Mountaineers could really change the lives of some of the kids in this region, particularly around Detroit,? he said.

Go here to donate to Dawson?s hike.

By John Tolley