Hanket, usually a software engineer, subsequently published a book about the experience, Underwear by the Roadside. But the pickup artist's roadside crusade, it seems, is no done deal. To celebrate Earth Day and Keep America Beautiful Month, Hanket embarks April 20 on a weeklong litter walk that will take him from Fort Collins to Denver's Cherry Creek mall. He's already speculating about what he might find.
The first time around, the outdoorsy Hankets bagged about 3.5 tons of trash. Most of it was what you'd expect--aluminum cans, cigarette butts, food wrappers. But they also discovered an alarming motherlode of discarded underwear --hence the name of the book--and other mysterious things. "The most unusual thing was a girlie magazine that we found in a cornfield in Nebraska," Hanket says. "It was a regular girlie mag, you know, except that it was written in Polish and German. You have to wonder--how do things like that get out there, miles from any town?" Other favorite finds include a carefully mounted and labeled butterfly collection in a shoebox gathered along the road in Pennsylvania and a sequence of items scattered over a five-mile stretch in the West Virginia backwoods--a towel, a pair of slippers, some pajamas and a serving of milk-soaked Froot Loops. "I thought, what was this--progressive trash?" he jokes.
Of course, when you're walking down the road in Cowpie County, Great Plains, U.S.A., Hanket admits, your mind tends to wander. Where did his marathon musings take him? "Boy, there are so many things!" Hanket says. "One thing, given what I'm doing--it's amazing how much stuff people throw away out in the middle of nowhere. It makes you wonder why people can't hold it in their cars a little longer, since they must have had it with them already for quite a while." But there's also the usual goofing off. "You start to play mind games with the trash," he says. "Like you count how many cans of Pepsi you find versus how many cans of Coors beer."
Hanket plans to make this week's abbreviated hike on his own. "I wouldn't want to subject my wife to it again," he says. "She really suffered." Since he bags the trash as he goes and leaves it along the road for pickup, he says he'll stick to routes along state highways, explaining that they're the only rural arteries where state crews will collect it. Hanket also has scheduled stops at schools along the way, where he'll drop by to talk with kids about what he's doing and why he's doing it. Mostly, he just hopes people will be inspired to be more conscientious about not tossing stuff out the windows.
Regardless of its greater impact, Hanket thinks litter-walking is a great way to relax. "It's a chance to reflect on the wonderful things in life while you're doing something you enjoy and believe in," he says. "It allows you to think on what's important, like why do we think we need to have all these gadgets when we can make do with less?"
That point taken, is Hanket going to make his trash trek an annual thing? Only his walking shoes know for sure. "I'm not thinking that far ahead," he says.
For more information on Earth Day events, see Calendar listings beginning on the next page.