Ron Wach has been hiking almost constantly for fifteen years--ever since he endured his third car accident while commuting to his job with a large pharmaceutical company in a big city. On that day, he was sitting still, stopped by traffic, when he was hit at 65mph by another car.
"That was it," he told me, leaning on his two titanium hiking poles on the Broken Arrow Trail of Northern Arizona. "I took that as a sign. I quit."
We were talking on a dusty piece of red rock, shaded by knotted and crossed junipers. I was on my way back to the trailhead, and had just left a large party of hikers I'd bumped into on the bluff above us--a group of white-haired, sun-loving retirees from downstate, women and men who'd munched on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and noisily urged me to buy a house in Southern Arizona just as soon as I was lucky enough to be fifty-five. They'd been as rowdy and lively as Ron was careful and still.
He tended to hike alone, for the most part, he told me. He'd taken a basic survival-skills course so that he would be safer doing so, and in his fifteen years of trekking had hiked in two hemispheres, from Canada to South America. He had to use two hiking poles because his balance wasn't quite what it had been before the accident.
He seemed thoughtful, and a bit lonely to me; eager to talk and yet shy. His face was clear and soft, his curled hair colored a light brown. It was hard for me to tell how old he might have been: whether he was a subdued man in his early fifties, or a spry one in his sixties.
Since he seemed a bit lonely, I pointed up the hill, to where the senior citizens were camped off-trail for lunch, and told him what a friendly, happy lot they were. When I left him, Ron was still standing under the crossroads of juniper, hesitant. In a moment I'd rounded the bend and he was out of my sight. I didn't see whether he'd headed up the hill toward the Sun City crowd, or had turned and followed the trail down to the solitude of Chicken Point.
Photo credit: Bruce Barone
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