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[whitespace] Cupertino natives hit the Pacific Coast Trail to raise money for rain forest preservation

Cupertino--As an earth science major in college, Brian Henry spent a semester trekking around Central America studying the rain forests--and watching them disappear.

Now, two years later, Henry and his friend Eric Hanson, both 23, are doing something to stop the bulldozers in the tropics. Last year, they founded EarthDog, a nonprofit environmental group, and this year they'll try to raise money to start buying up one acre of rain forest at a time.

On April 28, the two Cupertino natives left the city for an almost six-month trek up the Pacific Crest Trail. On May 2, the two started their 2,658-mile hike from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Hoping to average about 20 miles per day (with one day off every week just to take it easy), they'll hike around the edge of the Mojave Desert, up the spine of the Sierra Nevada to the Oregon Border, then wind the rest of their way north along the ridges of the Cascade Mountains. They hope to finish the trip by mid-October, before winter starts settling in.

Along the way, Hanson and Henry will keep a journal and take digital photos. Every couple of weeks, they'll send the notebook pages and a memory chip to their webmaster in Santa Barbara, who will post the text and photos on their Web site, www.earthdog.com.

When they're done, they plan to write a check for about $10,000 to the Nature Conservancy's Adopt-an-Acre program and buy 250 acres to expand the Acurial Reserve in Pantanal, Brazil. So far, they say they're about halfway to meeting that goal.

"I've seen effects of deforestation first hand," Henry says. "I've seen a once pristine rain forest destroyed as a result of American consumerism, slashed and burned for McDonald's hamburgers." Henry says most of the deforestation happens on land owned by U.S.-based burger, cola and coffee conglomerates.

"These rain forests are the oldest ecosystems on the planet and because of where they're located in third world countries, they can't afford to preserve them," he says, recalling his 1998 trip to Belieze, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, where he camped in the forests doing field studies on rain forest ecosystems and species identification.

Hanson, now geared-up for the journey, didn't take the bait at first.

"About a year ago, Brian was asking me what I was going to do [after college], and I didn't really know," Hanson says. "So he told me he was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and at first I thought he was way crazy, and then later we started to think about doing it to raise money."

That's when Hanson said he was in.

Henry and Hanson, who got to know each other riding the bench together as Little Leaguers in seventh grade, decided to make the hike in August. Both graduated from college in December--Henry from California State University at Chico and Hanson from University of California Santa Barbara, where he studied studio art.

Since then, they've spent part of every day preparing for the trip. Most of the early work centered on finding sponsors to help shoulder the cost of making the trip. About 14 companies agreed to pitch in, donating everything from cheap hiking shoes (they'll need about 8 pairs), power bars, trail mix and cash.

Last week, Henry and Hanson finished packing up all 29 of their supply boxes, each containing enough food for a week or two. They'll be sending each of them to tiny post offices and general stores along the way, to places like Old Station, Calif., Belden Town, Ore. and Skykomish, Wash.

"I've been calling a lot of these smaller places just to make sure they're still there," says Hanson, taping one of the boxes.

Every box contains food, a little propane tank for their tiny stove, and maps for the next section of trail.

A typical day, they say, should have a simple menu:

Breakfast: oatmeal, granola or cereal with powdered milk.

Lunch: power bars, dried fruit, trail mix.

Dinner: macaroni and cheese, freeze-dried enchiladas, pasta or cous-cous.

It may not be glamorous, but donuts and beer aren't exactly packed with energy.

Each of them has pared down his pack to a little more than 20 pounds, not counting food. To cut down on weight, they'll only have one set of clothes, plus special ultra-thin, but warm, long johns, rain gear that rolls up into a ball about the size of a sandwich, and lightweight backpacks specially designed for long-distance hiking.

They'll also be lugging around a tent, sleeping mats and a special umbrella for the desert, with Mylar foil on top to reflect the hot sun. One thing they won't be bringing is a lot of toilet paper.

In case anything goes wrong, both of them are certified in emergency medical treatment from working as lifeguards and other training: Hansen had EMT training when he worked for the ski patrol, and Henry was certified as a Wilderness First Responder.

What's next when they get back? Henry says they might try to build EarthDog into a bigger environmental organization, perhaps with some political muscle. Or, it might be time to hit the road again, possibly to raise money for endangered reefs by biking around Australia.
Jeff Kearns

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Web extra to the May 4-10, 2000 issue of Metro.

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