January 5, 2010

USA: The older they get, the fitter they are

. BEND, Oregon / The Bend Bulletin / Features / January 5, 2010 Silver Striders owner Pam Kirk guides participants through the forest in Skyliner Sno-park west of Bend. Silver Striders Guide Service caters to ages 50 and older. Photo courtesy of Lynn Woodward Hitting their stride The older they get, the fitter they are By Katie Brauns / The Bulletin Age brings many physical obstacles. Winter brings another kind of obstacle: It's cold. Despite the many roadblocks that may come their way, regular participants of Silver Striders Guide Service are happy to beat the odds — no matter their age, no matter the temperature outside. Like 78-year-old Silver Strider Carol Stevens, many oldies-but-goodies realize the value of staying in shape. “I'm probably going to be alive at least another 18 years,” says Stevens, a Bend resident who snowshoes with the Striders several times a month. “I sure as heck don't want to be in a wheelchair. And the best way to prevent that is to stay active. “I plan to keep LIVING as long as I'm alive.” Stevens says she understood the temporary nature of her existence after a number of her family members passed away in recent years. “I realized that life isn't forever,” says Stevens, who is great-grandmother. “I saw my husband and father and mother pass and I thought, ‘Come on. You are going to live for a while. You have to enjoy the body that you can maintain.' ” In 2005, Stevens, a retired NASA research scientist, moved to Bend from Florida. She had never been particularly active, nor was she used to the altitude or the cold and snowy winter climate. But instead of shying way from the great outdoors, Stevens jumped in, one snowshoe at a time. “It helped me get strong,” she adds, “by having the opportunity to start easy and then work up to the advanced (level) as you get comfortable in your own body.” Silver Striders, owned and operated by 60-year-old Pam Kirk, is a Central Oregon-based hiking and snowshoeing guide service catering to ages 50 and older. Kirk offers snowshoe trips Monday through Saturday during the winter and rates the trips by level of difficulty: easy, intermediate and advanced. “They have a wide spread of physical ability,” says Kirk of her customers. “It's important to me, that no matter what your age you should have an opportunity to go out into the forest, woods and desert ... as long as you are physically capable of doing so.” Some regular Silver Striders suffer from ailments such as multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord), and fibromyalgia (bodywide pain, especially in joints, muscles and tendons). Some have had knee and hip replacements. And at least six have undergone heart surgery in the last two years. Through it all, longtime Striders keep trudging along. “It doesn't matter what's wrong with them,” says Kirk. “It's that they can do the level of trip that they have signed up for.” The Striders pay visits to 13 sno-parks throughout the region: five sno-parks in the Willamette National Forest, six in the Deschutes National Forest, and two in Ochoco National Forest. The Silver Striders service was established in 2003, and since 2007 Kirk has guided overnight trips, which are a big hit among the regulars. “Any overnighters are great,” says Rex Wolf, 69, of Bend. He continues to describe a typical overnight trip: a snowshoe in Lane County along the McKenzie River, a soak at the Belknap Lodge & Hot Springs, dinner, a cozy bed, and then breakfast and a new journey in the morning. “It's as much a social group as anything,” adds Wolf, who says he began snowshoeing with the Striders four years ago. “Most of my clients go snowshoeing with me four or five times a month,” says Kirk. “And they have been with me for four or five years.” Silver Striders tends to draw local clientele, along with the occasional tourist. “The Silver Striders are a really important part of my life here,” says Bend's Gayle Gassner, 60. “It has introduced me to a lot of people. It's something I looked forward to doing and provides a little bit of consistency for me.” Two overnight trips are planned for February. The first trip will be held Feb. 3-4 and includes two snowshoe treks — rated easy — through the Willamette National Forest with a stay at Belknap Lodge & Hot Springs. Another overnighter at Belknap is scheduled for Feb. 15-16, with one intermediate trek and one advanced trek on the agenda. Each trip costs $195. “I want to stay in shape,” says Wolf, who volunteers in a variety of capacities for the Bend Police Department and for the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office. “I do it (snowshoe with the Striders) for exercise and socialization and to admire the beauty. You know what it's like? It's ethereal. It's so pristine, the silence and the beauty is so great. It's a whole new world. It's like no one has been there before, even if someone did break trail for you.” Day trips usually last two to five hours. Participants provide their own transportation and sno-park parking permit. The cost of the days trips with the Striders is $20 per person. Beginners are advised to attend a snowshoeing orientation and slide show provided by Kirk, which are held at Deschutes Public Library system branches in both Bend and Redmond. Striders say they love the camaraderie of the snowshoe trips and enjoy getting outdoors and trekking through the snow-covered forest. They add that the sometimes arduous exercise that goes with all the fun is a snap when among friends. “As America grays,” says Kirk, “we are doing everything we can to be as active as we can be, as physically fit as we can be.” [rc] Katie Brauns E-Mail: kbrauns@bendbulletin.com Western Communications, Inc. © 2010