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‘Handsome’ Newton Falls vet takes Long hike

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Todd Hanks, 55, of Newton Falls, is seen here during his hike of Vermont’s Long Trail. Hanks, a U.S. Navy veteran, this summer completed the more-than-270-mile trek in 16 days.

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NEWTON FALLS — Todd Hanks has done some things that may “seem a little crazy or different,” but to him, those things make sense when you’re doing them.

“Once you’re in it, it’s just your kind of norm,” Hanks said.

The 55-year-old Navy veteran has run ultramarathons, and this summer he hiked Vermont’s Long Trail — a more-than-270-mile trek.

Hanks grew up in Niles and graduated from Niles McKinley High School in 1984. He went to Youngstown State for a few years, he said.

“Being out of high school and by myself and undisciplined, it really didn’t work too well,” Hanks said. He decided to join the Navy as a nuclear machinist.

“I ended up going through school, and I spent six years on aircraft carriers and ended up doing eight and a half years in the Navy,” Hanks said.

NAVY

Hanks did two six-month Mediterranean cruises, allowing him to visit Egypt, Israel, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain and France.

His second tour happened when Iraq invaded Kuwait, he said.

“It was operation Desert Shield until our carrier group got into the Gulf, and then it became Desert Storm, and that’s when we attacked Iraq,” Hanks said. “It wasn’t much of a fight at the time.”

Hanks spent lots of time at sea. He did “five and dimes,” spending five hours standing watch in one of the nuclear power plants on the ship, then 10 hours off, although there was work to do during the off time.

In a time before cellphones, the men on the ship played cards, watched movies and visited the library.

“You just get into a kind of routine,” Hanks said.

He got out of the Navy in 1995, shortly after his son was born.

“When I got out of the Navy, industrial maintenance is kind of what that translated to,” said Hanks, who added he was not interested in nuclear power.

Hanks spent a few years working in industrial maintenance in Detroit, where his daughter was born, then he decided to move back closer to Niles. He now is a maintenance manager at a plastic injection molding facility.

RUNNING

Hanks got hooked on running after his workplace had a weight-loss challenge, he said.

“What I did was I walked from my house to the end of the street where there was a school and I ran a lap, then I walked home. And I just kept adding laps.”

Hanks won the weight-loss challenge and didn’t stop running. The Turkey Trot in Warren was his first race, he said. Within a year, he was running a marathon. Next came ultramarathons — any race above 26 miles. Eventually that led to a few 100-milers and then to hiking.

Hanks was en route to a business trip in New York when he was in Vermont looking for a trail to run. He found a side trail that connected to the Long Trail, he said.

On his way back to his car, Hanks said he met two other men, one wearing a hat that read “USS Theodore Roosevelt” — a ship on which Hanks had been stationed.

“Come to find out, that guy had actually been on the ship at the same time I was on the ship,” Hanks said. “I thought, ‘That’s more karma that maybe this is something I should do.’”

After thinking about it for a year, Hanks committed.

LONG TRAIL

The Long trail is hard, Hanks said.

“Every day is humongous climbs that are rocky, rooty, and in between the rocks and the roots are just shoe-sucking pits of mud,” Hanks said. “Water has to come out of streams or ponds, so it’s a constant daily chore to filter water.”

To get ready for the trail, Hanks did his regular trail running in Mill Creek Park and also hiked in the Laurel Highlands in Pennsylvania.

Aiming for 3,000 calories per day, Hanks packed about two pounds of food per day — mostly items like candy bars and rice in a pouch — and carried five or six days at a time, he said.

“The goal is to get the lightest weight food that is the most dense in calories,” Hanks said.

The first few days he was on the trail Hurricane Henry was hitting the East Coast, making for wet, slippery hiking.

“The first three days were really tough,” Hanks said. “Then it dried up a little bit, and then it rained again, then it dried up a little bit. But by that time, that’s just the way it is.”

TRAIL MAGIC

Hanks said he wanted to hitchhike because he had never done it before, and it is commonplace in areas with long trails. On his first trip into a town to resupply, he got a ride.

Later, Hanks encountered more “trail magic” — free help from townspeople and other travelers.

“This guy named ‘Wilderness Bob,’ he had Coke in a cooler, and he had Snickers bars. He just wanted hikers to hang out with him for a little bit and chit-chat,” Hanks said.

Hanks got some particularly good trail magic from some bed-and-breakfast owners, who gave him a ride into town, made him breakfast, let him take a shower and did his laundry, he said.

Because the bed and breakfast had a shelf of baseball books, when Hanks returned he sent them a book on Terry Pluto and the Cleveland Indians.

“They really took care of me,” Hanks said.

Hanks also earned a “trail name” as many hikers do. His was given to him by a fellow hiker he met first on a mountain then again at a shelter who referred to him as “Handsome.”

“It’s kind of weird. It’s kind of goofy,” Hanks said. But then, when he met hikers “Limerick,” “Violet” and “Miss America” later on the trip, Miss America told him he couldn’t give up a trail name like that.

Hanks finished the trail in 16 days — most people take 20 to 30, with the very fastest hikers going around six, he said — averaging about 20 miles per day.

Back at home, Hanks is working and refereeing basketball, and he continues to run regularly. He has a trip planned to run the Grand Canyon rim to rim with a group of friends in April.

“I always like to have something out on the horizon,” Hanks said.

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