I first heard about the Happy Hikers from my father some 25+ years ago. Not long after his retirement I remember his Thursdays became dedicated to hiking.
A few years later I learned his Thursday hikes were with a group based out of the John T O’Conner Senior Center in Knoxville, the Happy Hikers. The group of age 50+ hikers who for the most part can out hike folks half their age, provided him with years of hiking and social involvement. Eventually, in his early 80’s neuropothy took away the feeling in his feet and his sense of balance so he had to stop.
Over the years, I kept his hiking stories in my mind so I was not completely surprised when yesterday, two months after my own retirement, I found myself lacing up my hiking boots in the parking lot of Gallaher Bend Greenway in Oak Ridge along side 33 Happy Hikers and 1 other guest, none of whom I knew.
Uncomfortable? You bet, 34 unknowns for a reserved person is a challenge but over the years I have learned the only way to work through the discomfort and become part of a group is to jump in. So jump in I did, taking a deep breath and introducing myself to the group.
Oak Ridge has a little over 85 miles of greenways, which wind through the “Secret City.” Gallaher Bend is a 4.6 mile (out and back) hike on a rolling gravel road. The road, located on a peninsula of Melton Hill Lake, cuts through a mostly through a forested wildlife management area with an occasional glimpse of the lake. The road is on federal property and hikers are requested to stay on the trail and obey signs.
On this day, the weather was cold (19 F) and overcast when the hike began. The group quickly spread out based on individual goals for speed, looking at nature and catching up with friends. I was lucky enough that one of the group members hiked along with me. It was nice to get to know someone on a more personal level.
We turned around at trail end, deciding not to venture onto a roped off spur loop that was federally signed for no entry. Several members offered comments that the spur offered great views of Melton Hill Lake, indicating that the sign had not always been there. The loop was tempting but… About halfway to the cars, the sun came out and the temp rose to 27F. Hikers seemed to linger a bit, not quite ready for the hike to be over.
I enjoyed my first hike with the Happy Hikers. Exploring areas I am unfamiliar with is always fun and interesting.