The storefronts of Westerly Parkway Plaza seem like an odd place to begin an adventure, but nevertheless that’s where a caravan of cars gathers bright and early every Tuesday morning to begin a trek into the unknown — or more accurately, the clearly marked hiking trails of central Pennsylvania.
Still, it’s best not to get too far ahead of ourselves.
Before the Centre Region Senior Hiking Group could keep its appointment with excitement, there were still some very important details to work out regarding the carpool.
The roster of the group is constantly changing based on the difficulty of the day’s course or member availability, but the morning’s turnout was sizable, with nearly a dozen seniors standing huddled in a circle, wearing layers and boots ready to explore the lake side trail at Bald Eagle State Park.
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A few of them volunteered to drive; some even knew the way.
By 9:15 a.m. they were off, leaving the parking lot and the man-made comforts of the adjacent Weis Market and Rite Aid Pharmacy behind them.
Follow the leader
Jean Aron and her husband bought their house in Boalsburg in 1970. The two had met as students at the University of Iowa and enjoyed hiking the surrounding terrain.
When they moved to central Pennsylvania, Aron wasted little time exploring the local trails.
“I had to join everything there was to join that had to do with the outdoors,” Aron said.
Eventually she was ready to publish a book, “The Short Hiker: Small Green Circles,” a guide to nearby trails at locations such as Mount Nittany, Shingletown Gap and Centre Hall Mountain.
Aron has been able to put that extensive knowledge to good use as the de facto leader of the Centre Region Hiking Group, especially when it comes to matters of safety.
She usually plots courses that are no more than an hour out and back to camp. The group typically tries to stay close to one another during their hikes, but some are faster than others, especially over the rocky trails of Bald Eagle State Park.
“We used to stick together but we’re getting further apart as we age,” Aron said
During hunting season, the hikers try and steer clear of wooded areas, instead opting to walk across the Penn State campus or through Bellefonte.
The distance that they cover isn’t as important as the view they get along the way.
“I’m not here to cover ground. I’m here to see what I can see,” Aron said.
Carolyn Holt joined the Centre Region Hiking Group back in 2001 shortly after retiring as a biology teacher from State College Area School District.
Prior to her retirement, Holt didn’t have much time to enjoy activities like hiking, but now that she’s no longer confined to the daily routine of a career, her schedule has become much more diverse — and harder to keep straight.
“You have to keep the calendar so you know where to go each day,” Holt said.
Holt turned back from the trail once the terrain became too rocky, opting instead for the lakeside view of the parking lot.
She’s had two hip replacements but the scenery and the camaraderie among her fellow hikers are what keeps her coming back each week. It’s easy to be distracted by the beautiful scenery — which sometimes makes it tricky to navigate grounds covered with rocks, roots and other debris — but most of the time it’s more than worth the occasional scrape.
“Just to get out here, it’s a real joy,” Holt said.
How long Holt and the rest of the hikers will continue their weekly treks remains to be seen. Currently their most senior member is 94-year-old Martin Grieco.
“They say old hikers never die. They just move to Tuesday,” Holt said
Staggered groups of hikers re-emerged from the trail around noon, all just a little bit out of breath.
Gloria Thompson has been with the group almost from its conception in 1987. Lately, hiking has proven to be a welcome reprieve from her work on a book of short stories entitled “Treading Water: My Life and Other Fiction” that she is just a few months shy of finishing.
“Because I sit at the computer every other day I really need to walk,” Thompson said.
Thompson has seen many different iterations of the group come and go but new members always fill the ranks, which are open to anyone regardless of age.
“If we get some young people we’ll be happy to have them,” Thompson said
Just make sure that they can keep up.