HIKING FOR A HOBBY
By Kathryn Marchi
Not many of us are willing to make a complete life style change in order to continue a hobby or “passion” after retirement. But this is exactly the path that Charlie and Jackie Berger chose. Their love of Alpine hiking began years ago when they were a young married couple living in Europe. They became hooked on hiking the mountains of Zermatt and Grindelwald in Switzerland but, due to busy careers, their time was limited. Thus, they considered this activity a “hobby,” not a “passion.”
Charlie and Jackie’s story is a typical one: They started a family and continued on the career path. Weekend camping with their two young children was the extent of their outdoor activities and hiking was placed on the back burner.
In 1986, the Berger family settled in Severna Park after several moves because of Charlie’s human resources job with Northrup Grumman Corp. There, they raised their children, putting down roots in their community and church. Jackie was employed as a social worker in adult protective services for the state of Maryland. Their children joined the Girl and Boy Scout programs and Charlie, in particular, developed an interest in longdistance hiking with the Boy Scouts. He and his son enjoyed hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail. Much later, the entire family hiked Huayna Picchu, near Machu Picchu in Peru! It’s safe to say that Charlie and Jackie were becoming hooked on hiking once again.
After their children grew up and started their own lives, Jackie and Charlie began contemplating their retirement. They both knew that hiking was something they wanted to pursue seriously when the time was right. With this in mind, the Bergers began traveling again. They ventured to Aspen, Colorado, for a week’s hiking and also hiked the trails in Mt Zion National Park in Utah. On one particularly steep “scree” field in Electric Pass near Aspen, Jackie was heard to yell, “Should we really be here?” Some of the trails and elevations can be quite mind–boggling, but the Bergers loved every minute of it.
On one such trip to the Southwest, Jackie and Charlie found Ouray, Colorado, and its many hiking opportunities and decided within two months to settle there. Jackie retired first in 2004 and moved to Ouray to supervise the construction of a new house. Charlie followed in 2005. They sold their Severna Park home of 18 years and moved lock, stock, and barrel to Colorado — a complete lifestyle change! Their hiking hobby was quickly becoming their passion.
Once settled in Ouray, the Bergers began hiking the nearby mountain ranges. Their favorite was Mt. Sneffles near where they lived. At 14,000 feet, this is quite a trek! They also became active in the Ouray Trail Group, which manages and maintains a network of 90-plus trails in the San Juan Mountains for the National Forest Service. Weather permitting, they grab their various tools — pulaskies, mecleods, chainsaws — and hike up the mountains to maintain these trails for other hikers.
By the time they were retired and had the time, Jackie and Charlie began traveling more extensively, always with hiking in mind. They have hiked in Ireland, the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, South Island in New Zealand with their daughter and son-in-law, Glacier National Park into the chalets of Sperry and Granite Park, and day hikes in the Dolomites. One 10-day trek was the “Haute Route” from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland, where they stayed at small hotels for hikers along the way.
You can see how hiking became a passion for Jackie and Charlie Berger. In retirement, they have successfully “stepped out of their comfort zone” to pursue their passion for hiking. They not only live where they can hike, they go to great efforts to find other hiking opportunities. They have developed friendships with like-minded folks in the hiking world and have even expanded their interest by joining a summer group known as the “Elite National Ouray Hiking and Jeeping Association.” This group schedules several weekly hikes and jeep trips in the nearby San Juan Mountains where they explore trails and the numerous old mines found there.
It was a huge change in lifestyle from Maryland to Colorado, but Charlie and Jackie Berger made that leap in order to pursue their passion. They have never been happier or more fit and healthy.
It’s safe to say that many of us would not choose Alpine hiking, but there are always places to hike on the Appalachian Trail in this area or on trails in New England and New York that are not so strenuous. But if your passion is hiking of any type, check out the Web sites listed in the accompanying sidebar.
www.hikingupward.com (Virginia and West Virginia)
www.nps.gov (National Park Service)