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October 10, 2011

I Was Just Thinking: I never took a hike in my life; would do it again

Daily Star

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"Take a hike!"

That is what my father used to tell me when he'd had enough of my smart talk as a kid.

Unfortunately, I never took that hike. In fact, I don't think I've ever hiked in my life, either formally or informally.

Last weekend, I gathered with about a 100 hiking club members at Chenango Valley State Park. No, I wasn't hiking, which I am sure I would do inartfully. Instead, I was doing what I do best. Talking.

Tom Bryden of South New Berlin asked me to come and address his group. They're part of the Finger Lakes Trail hiking association. The Bullthistle Hikers Group, to be exact ( I dare say there isn't an inch of Chenango County that Tom and his friends haven't trod.

During my ride to Chenango Valley, I tried to conjure up the demographics of the group I was to address. Young? Yes. Trim and the picture of health? For sure. Clear of eye, ruddy of complexion, adventurous of spirit? Absolutely.

Well, I nailed the "adventurous of spirit" part of the equation.

The group consisted of mostly 60-year-olds and up. They were hale and hearty and experts on everything outdoors. There were rail-thin, wiry athletic types. And there was plenty of, how shall I say, "Big Chuck" and Tom Bryden types. There were even white-haired, rimless-glasses-wearing grandmotherly types who looked like they would be more comfortable doing cross-stitch in a rocking chair than being here swathed in hooded parkas and wearing Sierra Trading Post heavy duty hiking boots. The confab was held outdoors in a park shelter.

Unfortunately, I missed that part of the speaking invitation.

All were dressed from head to toe in enough L.L. Bean and North Face outerwear to keep even an Arctic expedition from suffering a slight chill. They wore camouflage hats, carried walking sticks and brought whatever they needed in from the distant parking lot in nylon bags swung over their shoulders.

They lacked nothing. I watched as a 70-year-old couple headed out into the black abyss toward the park's restrooms. I thought, "How will they ever find where they're going out in the pitch darkness of the woods?" Immediately I saw two flickering lights snap on. They each had battery-operated hiking lights attached to their glasses, which guided them through the night. I heard them laughing with each other as they disappeared into the dark. They looked like two little fireflies flitting through the woods holding hands on their way out for a date.

"Firefly glasses." I have to remember that.

As for me, I was wearing a short-sleeved summer shirt and sport coat, I stubbed my toe in the dark, and my teeth chattered in the frosty night air. It was 52 degrees and raining at the time the event started.

I stood before a roaring fire. All hundred gathered around me as I began my program. From my view it looked as if I was about to announce the rules to a group of Iditarod dogsled racers.

I'd spoken to many of these folks during dinner. These were some durable people. They talked of the romance they had with the woods, of their hiking achievements (many had already hiked 12 miles that very day!), of the long-lasting friendships that had been forged with other hikers, of the camaraderie between all "woods walkers." And of the incredible beauty of our local natural surroundings. One older hiker told me: "I have hiked this area all of my life. You just never see the wonder of God's handiwork until you go into the woods."

She was right.

I had a great time with this group. Now, I know there are other hiking groups in our area. But this is the first one I've ever been introduced to. They fret when Mother Nature rips up their terrain, like she did recently. They fuss over club rules and bylaws. And they struggle to get new, younger members to join. Imagine that. A hiking group struggling to get younger members.

The Bullthistle Hikers Group loves this old saying: "There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. But most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story."

If my dad were still around today and he yelled at me to "take a hike!" I think I'd look up at him and say," OK, Dad, let's go do it together!"

Oh, and I'd grab my pair of "firefly glasses" on the way out the door!

I'll catch you in two ...

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." His columns can be found at