On Aug. 17, 2012, Jim Simmons celebrated his birthday of 77 years by setting a goal: to hike 77 trails for a distance of 500 miles.
By June, he had reached his goal, two months early.
“So I just kept going,” Simmons said.
On Aug. 16, he and his hiking buddy, a miniature Australian shepherd, hiked their last trail — from Spooner Summit to Snow Valley Peak — before the birthday deadline.
In one year, Simmons trekked 91 hikes for a total of 655 miles. Wyatt traveled by his side nearly as far with 89 hikes and 630 miles. Added to that is the 200 or so miles Simmons walked in training.
Simmons is healthy and vibrant but dismisses any Herculean strength.
“I feel really good. I do not have a superman body. I have the same type of ailments as other 78-year-olds, I just walk through them,” Simmons said.
Spring-like conditions in January aided Simmons and Wyatt, who prefer to choose “real hikes” with a mountain climb and an average of more than seven miles. In the summer, they like to hit the high country, and Wyatt has hiked up to 16 miles in a day. Simmons record day hike was 24 miles.
This year’s most grueling day was a hike of three peaks — Freel Peak (elevation 10,800 feet), Job’s Peak (elevation 10,800) and Job’s Sister (elevation 10,600).
“Frankly, it was only about eight miles, but it was brutal,” Simmons said.
Simmons’ hiking career began 13 years ago when a friend dared him to climb Mt. Whitney. At the time, Simmons, then 64, was an out-of-shape, newly retired high school teacher who could barely hike 20 minutes.
He started walking in February and made the 22-mile Whitney hike in April. He realized then that he never wanted to get out of shape again and has made hiking goals for himself ever since.
He’s hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim and the Tahoe Rim Trail in nine-day hikes. He’s hiked the Lost Coast and makes a regular pilgrimage to Pinnacles National Park every spring.
Regionally, some of his favorite peaks to conquer are Tinker Knob, Mt. Rose, Castle Peak and the Sierra Buttes. He never tires of repeat hikes and claims to see something different every time. In 13 years, he estimates that he has hiked around 6,000 miles.
Backing him is the full support of his wife of 35 years, Sue, and his two daughters who have seen improvements in his health and attitude. The challenge sometimes is to find someone who will walk 16 miles in one day with him.
“I think it’s probably added more to his retirement than anything I could have imagined. He’s got the admiration of his whole family. I’m really proud of him,” Sue Simmons said.
He walks at a clip and doesn’t slow down to smell the roses. Phone apps such as “Run Keeper” and “My Track” help Simmons calculate everything from elevation gain to the number of calories he burns, but he is most interested in the number of miles he walks.
“I only care about the distance,” he said.
He logs each hike with the date and mileage in his record book, a yellow legal pad.
For Simmons, who would rather die than sit around in a local coffee shop and shoot the breeze with friends day after day, the physical and spiritual challenge of being out on the trail is what motivates him.
Simmons, who also works as a volunteer trail rover for State Parks, also enjoys the beauty of nature.
“I get to see things that most people don’t get to see or even imagine,” he said.
Age has presented some challenges. His balance isn’t what it was before. He’s fallen and cracked a patella.
He says he’s in better shape now than he was 13 years ago. Simmons has gained appreciation for a body that takes him far.
“It’s what I am. It’s all I’ve got,” he said.
Already, he has his sights on his next goal – Rubicon Peak in Desolation Wilderness, the last major peak around Tahoe he has yet to climb.
Several years ago, Simmons realized that finishing or getting to the top lost its importance.
“If I don’t complete it, so what, I tried it. It’s not the mountain we conquer. It’s ourselves,” he said.
Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-913-3067.
“If I don’t complete (the hike), so what, I tried it. It’s not the mountain we conquer. It’s ourselves”