By J. Sebastian Sinisi
Denver Post Staff Writer
Sept. 5 - Hiking the entire 471-mile Colorado Trail - from Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango - in 47 days, in mostly rainy weather, would be no small feat for someone with no physical problems.
For Matthew Bogue, who hiked the entire trail between June 21 and Aug. 7 with his friend Krisann Knish, the effort was remarkable.
Bogue, 33, is legally blind, the result of multiple sclerosis, a degenerative nerve disease that attacks the central nervous system and affects vision, walking, coordination and balance. It can force some sufferers to use a wheelchair.
Among the disease's many unknowns is how much time individual MS sufferers have, how long it may be before the onset of debilitation.
Last spring, after his eyesight worsened, Bogue felt a sense of time running out. Assisted by a number of financial and equipment sponsors and mostly by Knish, his girlfriend and guide, Bogue did the trek specifically to prove a point. And to demonstrate that simply because a person has MS, it does not mean his life isn't filled with possibilities.
At first, the two thought they'd make little more than 5 miles per day - for a trek of nearly 100 days. As it turned out, they averaged better than 10 miles per day across six wilderness areas, eight mountain ranges and five river systems.
On the trail, it rained heavily most of the time from when they left Copper Mountain, on July 5, until they reached Durango. There were frequent summer hailstorms above 13,000 feet, and lightning in exposed areas above treeline was scary.
Scarier still was Bogue's growing realization that "I have no control over what's going on in my body from one day to the next," he said during an interview in Denver. "I've always been pretty fit, but - now - simply walking can be a problem. I have very little vision, problems with balance and bladder control, and numbness in my hands and feet.
"It becomes a mind game," he said, "It's more mental than physical. At the Jimmie Heuga (MS) Center, I talked with other people with MS, and they said that simply getting out of bed in the morning can be the day's first mountain to climb."
Bogue has received treatment at the famed Heuga MS center in Edwards - founded by Olympic skier Heuga, who was diagnosed with MS shortly after medaling in the 1974 Winter Olympics. At the center, Bogue was imbued with Heuga's "can-do" approach, which stresses possibilities rather than limitations.
"I learned a lot there," Bogue said. "Not only about "can do' but about MS. I thought it was something that happened to old people."
Feat attracts attention
Bogue's experience at the Heuga Center was the focus of an HBO "Real Sports" segment with Bryant Gumbel. The Colorado Trail trek will be profiled on 9News today and Monday during the 10 p.m. newscast.
Channel 9's Gary Shapiro and a film crew met with Bogue and Knish at Waterton Canyon, at trail's end at the Junction Creek trailhead near Durango, and at several points along the trail.
Even before taking on the Colorado Trail, "my biggest fear was the unknown," Bogue said. "And that's what MS is: a big unknown. There's no known cause or cure. I'm scared. Scared about having everything taken away."
The "everything" he fears losing is the life that Bogue enjoyed while working for more than a decade in Breckenridge - extreme skiing, mountain climbing, wilderness hikes, mountain bike racing.
While skiing with a friend at Breckenridge in the spring of 1996, he noticed that something was wrong. Bogue - 30 at the time - suddenly had blind spots. Yet his peripheral vision was fine.
Tests that included an MRI at the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center in Englewood showed lesions on his brain and multiple scars on many muscles: unmistakeable signs of MS.
Doctors recommended less stress. Bogue, a New Hampshire native, had been running a Breckenridge-based carpentry and flooring business called New England Crafters and Carlisle Restoration Lumber, specializing in the nearly lost art of wideplank flooring.
Bogue's brother, Ron, bought the business from him and recommended that Matthew travel to some of the places he'd always wanted to visit - with Ron picking up the airfares and some of the tabs - and to simply relax.
How much relaxing Bogue did in the course of surfing in Bali, skiing on Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya and among volcanoes on the south island of New Zealand and in Kazakstan in central Asia and in British Columbia is questionable.
Between trips, Bogue continued to work in Breckenridge, waiting tables at the Downstairs at Eric's restaurant and as a snowmaking operator. His vision grew worse in Russia, and by the time he returned from Canada, he was legally blind.
Along the Colorado Trail this summer, Bogue and Knish passed through the spectacular beauty of thousand-foot cliffs and waterfalls, canyons and rainbows.
The trek was also a physical and psychic grind, filled with fears and doubts.
In his trail journal, Bogue wrote: ". . . Difficult for me to grasp that my body is changing - no control over the change. Change is the most frightening thing about this disease. . . . My legs got so tired & weak on descent, I fell down, got up, fell backwards, got up again, fell sideways. . . . By the time I got finished cursing & falling all over the place, my legs started working again. I don't understand it. Really frightening. Poor K has to watch this w/complete horror . . . makes me wonder whether what I am doing is good for me or good for anything . . ."
". . . If I stop doing the things I love, where does that leave me? Do I give in to something I know nothing about? Echoes of Jimmie Heuga saying there's "no silver bullet.' . . . How can I tell people w/a disease to live a normal life, when there's nothing normal about it? I finally found someone I think I can be compatible w/for the rest of my life & I'm terrified that she'll have to be a caretaker for the rest of hers . . ."
More than anything he accomplished himself, Bogue said he was most proud of the way Krisann handled herself on the trail. "She's so strong," he said.
"She guided me and stuck with me. Lots of times, she was scared, too. I'm really proud of her."
Knish, 30, who graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a degree
in psychology and English literature before moving to Breckenridge in 1991,
said, "I wanted to help Matt raise awareness about MS and to be part of