I was out hiking the other day with my husband and our two dogs and was feeling a little off. I joke that I’m feeling my age, but as I get a bit older, I do feel those aches and pains a bit more each day. My knees ache coming down the rocky slopes, and my energy level waxes and wanes on any given day. I wonder just how many more years I have of climbing Fourteeners, and skiing mogul slopes. I guess you could say I’m feeling my age. But as I was hiking and thinking about this, I flashed upon a volunteer from Rocky that I never met, but that inspired me nonetheless.
The last four summers prior to this one, I worked as an Interpretive Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. But in 2011, I had the chance to work through the winter serving as the park’s interim Volunteer Program Coordinator. I was happy to do it, as working with park volunteers has always provided me with a lot of joy and fulfillment. It never ceases to amaze me how many people give countless hours to help staff the national parks. One of the most successful programs in the National Park Service is the VIP or Volunteers-in-Parks Program. At Rocky, we had almost 900 individual volunteers who volunteered many hours per week for ongoing operations in the park, some as many as 4 or 5 days a week. I used to joke to the volunteers at Rocky that they could run the entire park, but I know the park would not be able to operate without their help.
Overseeing the program during winter afforded me the chance to acquaint myself to many of the local volunteers on a more personal basis. Many would stop by during the day just to share lunch or chat, and I also had the chance to go out and work alongside the volunteers who were staffing places like Bear Lake, where visitors snowshoed and skied, as well as Hidden Valley, the park’s only sledding hill. I really appreciated making that personal connection with what these people were about, and getting to know them on a more intimate level.
So when a local volunteer who had volunteered countless seasons at Longs Peak died during the winter, several people contacted me. We felt it would be nice to memorialize his life in our volunteer newsletter, and even though I had never met him, many volunteers shared their stories and memories of him. His name was Walter Tishma, and he sounded like quite a character. He volunteered at Longs Peak Ranger Station for many years, and apparently knew that mountain as well as anyone. He personally summited Longs Peak over 100 times (amazing!!), hiking it well into his 80s. I wondered how such a feat was possible…
A volunteer who knew Walter well shared a story with me about Walter, his love of the outdoors, and his spirit to keep conquering this particular peak. It was inspiring, but there was one particular part of the story that has always stuck in my head. When asked how he could keep going even at his advanced age, he said he used the “Tishma method.” When asked to explain it, he said, “I just keep going heel to toe, heel to toe.”
So when I’m having one of those days, when hiking steep trails is not always easy, and everything feels more challenging, I think of Walter making his way slowly up the flank of Longs Peak, and say to myself, it’s okay to slow down, and if I just go heel to toe, heel to toe, I’ll eventually get there. Thanks Walter, for your motivating example to just keep moving, and keep climbing those mountains.