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Environmental excursions: Hanket shares passion for picking up litter with WMS

WORTHINGTON -- Braving tornados, haunted health resorts and discarded underwear, software engineer Glen Hanket and his wife, Susan, walked 4,133 miles from Maine to Oregon in 1993 and 1994, picking up about four tons of litter along the way.

Glen stopped by Worthington Middle School Monday to speak with sixth-graders, after riding his bike from Wisconsin to get to town.

"You can see so much more when you're traveling slowly," Glen told his young audience. "You hear more, too. You can experience something so much more totally if you're walking or biking."

Though injury prevented Susan from further adventuring, Glen has continued traveling, pausing on the way to share his experiences with students and adults all over the country.

Once upon a time, someone else's travel presentation served as inspiration for Glen and Susan to begin their cross-country trek.

Starting in Maine in 1993, the couple walked for six months and then took six months off from walking to return to work. The time off allowed them to avoid the bitterest winter months and also to pay for the remaining six months of their walking trip.

While they were on the road, they picked up litter, finding underwear by the roadside in every state except Kansas -- an oddity prompting Glen to title the first book about the Hanket adventures "Underwear by the Roadside."

Like many students before them, WMS sixth-graders wanted to know why litter became the Hanket nemesis, and Glen obliged them with an answer. The students guessed one of the Hankets' reasons -- that litter is terrible for the environment, harming wildlife, plants and bodies of water -- but didn't realize some campgrounds and scenic views were shut down because of litter.

"You can't stop there anymore because people littered," Glen said of a campground in Shenandoah National Park.

Glen also explained how much money litter costs the government each year, because even though volunteer groups often pick up litter, they also leave the bags full of litter at the side of the road, where the state must pick them up -- costing the government millions of dollars a year.

The Hankets picked up almost every imaginable type of litter, but the most common litter types were fast food garbage, beverage containers and cigarette butts. They also found bizarre garbage -- single shoes, dead animals, a torn-up Polish-German girly magazine in a Nebraska field and sure enough, a pair of underwear in every state but Kansas.

All of it was collected in bags and left by the roadside. By the time they finished the trip, the two -- with occasional help from volunteers -- had collected 1,331 bags of trash.

The trip wasn't just about litter, though. On the way, the Hankets stayed with all sorts of people, many of whom spontaneously invited the couple into their homes with generosity and kindness. The Hankets visited historical sites from canals to Civil War battlefields, milked a cow the old-fashioned way, helped a state official round up sheep and made maple syrup.

They stayed outdoors in a tent when they didn't have a place to stay and at least once had to hide inside a building during a windstorm. They visited the Hot Lake Hotel, a former sanitarium said to be haunted.

"You learn more about the country when you get out of the car," Glen said.

Not content to rest on his litter-eradicating laurels, Glen, now 52, continues to bike around the country, though his recent solo trips have been shorter than the nation-trotting odyssey of 1993-1994.

After visiting Worthington, for example, Glen will bike another 71 miles south to LeMars, Iowa. With him, he carries about 40 pounds of equipment, including several coats of varying weights. He bikes about 65 miles a day, at between 9 to 17 miles per hour, depending on the wind and slope of the road.

His further travels have given him fuel for a second book, "WOW! What a Ride!" as well as various biking guides to Colorado, where the Hankets now reside.

Before Monday, Glen had visited 49 of the 50 states in the U.S. -- every state but Minnesota.

"It's high time I make it to 50," he said with a smile.

Visit for more information on the Hankets' adventures or to read Glen's latest book online.