I hit the trails for inspiration, redemption, and rejuvenation. A primeval forest grove, placid lakeshore, flowering alpine meadow, and a summit view of a sea of serrated summits can have quite an effect on a restless and anxious soul. The natural world is my opiate, my muse, and my motivator. It has never failed me.
Humankind on the other hand is a mixed bag. A day reading the news can have me in no time heading for the woods to take refuge from the madness our society is capable of wreaking. But humans are capable of greatness, great deeds and great feats as well. And when I meet an inspiring person in the backcountry—the positive effect on me is synergistic.
This summer I had the fortune (or fate if you will) to encounter on the trail a truly inspiring individual, Bronka Sundstrom. I was hiking up the Dry River Trail in the Olympic National Forest when I encountered two well-seasoned hikers coming down the trail. As I always do, I stopped to say hello—and leave the window open if a short conversation manifested. And it did.
While we were chatting I noticed a very distinct European accent. So I asked my new acquaintance where she was from originally. She answered Poland and then told me she lives near Mount Rainier. It didn’t take me long to piece it all together and I exclaimed—“I know who you are—you’re Bronka!” She was pleasantly taken aback. I continued, “I interviewed you for a magazine article well over a decade ago about you being the oldest woman ever to summit Mount Rainier!” She was 77 when I last talked to her. Seventy-seven and she summited Rainier—the oldest woman ever to do so—simply inspiring.
But then it dawned on me—if that was back in 2002—then she must be 90 now—90 and out on a 7 mile hike. She confirmed she’s 90—and then her hiking partner said, “I’m ninety too.” Which is what I heard—but what he actually said was, “I’m 92.” Holy Methuselah Batman! How cool is that!?
We chatted awhile (so much to talk about) and I found out that Bronka is also a Holocaust survivor. Though she doesn’t talk much about that—it’s Rainier and the outdoors she spends the most time talking about. This woman and her hiking companion as well are truly inspirations. As I move deeper into middle age and worry that someday I won’t be able to get out as much and as far as I’d like—I need only look at Bronka and think there are so many more years ahead. Granted when it’s time to go it’s time to go—but we can do so much here to postpone our date with the grim one. Live a simple life—eat well and balanced—exercise regularly—count your blessings—be part of things bigger than yourself—develop strong and loving relationships—and hit the trail often! I hope to see you on the trail when I’m 90—actually make that 92!