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Active Seniors in the North State

10/26/2016 11:00AM ● By Tim Holt

The Great Outdoors

November 2016
By Tim Holt
Photo provided by Jack Brooks

With all her outdoor activities, it’s not easy catching up with Karen Little of Redding. Shortly after her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail near Lake Tahoe, she was headed out for a kayaking and hiking trip to the June Lake area south of Yosemite.

What’s really amazing about all this is that Little is about to turn 80. And she plans to celebrate that milestone by climbing to the top of Mount Lassen.

Retired forester Al Gronchi of Yreka admits he’s slowed down a bit over the past few years. He used to go on a weekly hike of at least 10 miles with a Siskiyou County group called The Wanderers. Nowadays he hikes with an older crowd, The Meanders, and does about half that distance. Still, that’s not bad for a guy 91 years old.

What motivates these older folks to stay active at an advanced age? Little enjoys the scenery of the high mountain regions where she hikes—and the cooler summertime temperatures.

And, of course, there are the health benefits. Little says that at her last checkup with her cardiologist, she “passed with flying colors.” 

Velma Nile, 86, hikes a couple of miles a day with her dog on the Lake Siskiyou Trail. A former ski instructor, she still leads hikes on the upper elevations of Mount Shasta to look for wildflowers. The hikes, she says, are an outlet for someone like herself who, at 86, still has energy to burn. And, she notes, being active in the outdoors is a great stress reliever. The wildflowers are “just an added bonus.”

How often do you run into an 80-year-old thrill-seeker? Well, meet Don Berry of Mount Shasta. He’s 85 now, but in his younger days, his early 80s, he enjoyed jumping off the 30-foot-high Wagon Creek Bridge into Lake Siskiyou, being careful to take out his false teeth before he took the plunge.

But one day a deputy sheriff showed up at his front door and politely asked him not to do it anymore, because he was “setting a bad example for the teenagers.”

Berry stopped doing the high dives, but he still gets up at 5 am every day and walks at least four miles before breakfast.

Jack Brooks, 83, jokingly describes himself as a “skeezer”—that is, a geezer who skis. During the winter he and partner Jeanie Bond ski five days a week at the Mount Shasta Ski Park. On the weekends Brooks heads farther up the slopes of Mount Shasta, “skinning” up a couple of miles and gliding down.

Brooks tells a story about himself that gives some insight into the attitude of these active seniors. One time Brooks was down and out, lying in bed with serious back pain. But he had promised to drive Jeanie to the ski park. Once there, he thought, “Well, I can go back home and lie around with this back pain, or I can try skiing with it.” He decided to put on his skis. After one downhill run, the back pain was gone.

These seniors may escape some of the aches and pains typical of old age by being active, but even when they do experience physical problems, they don’t let that stop them. Velma Nile, who does have some knee problems, straps on a brace and keeps on hiking. Al Gronchi uses a pole he made and designed himself to aid him on hiking excursions.

Their philosophy, what keeps them going, seems to be a simple one: Being active is more enjoyable than just sitting around. Especially when your activities take you into all the wonders of the great outdoors.

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