STORY AND ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARSHA MCKENNA
What began as four to six hikes per summer, has evolved to 26 hikes from spring to fall. The Peak-A-Week hiking group, also referred to as PAW, is now in it’s 30th successive year.
The River Valley community has something very special that most communities in the state and country do not have. That is the abundance of rolling mountain tops all around us, many of which provide well groomed trails and beautiful vistas once you reach their summits. But what most people in the area give little thought to, unless they’re an avid hiker, is where the trailhead to that peak is and can I get there from here?
In the summer of 1984, three engineering students from Northeastern University named Larry Mikulski, Nicholas Vals and Roger Daigle came to work at the Rumford paper mill through the mill co-op program. They were all very active guys and so were the other employees of the engineering department at that time. On lunch breaks as well as after work this group of young men would bike, run, kayak, canoe and swim. On weekends they trained for or entered triathlons.
Mikulski in particular wanted to take the groups athletic endeavors to another level. The students rented a condo at Sunday River and after work they often times would hike up the face of the ski slopes. This was exercise, but it still was not satisfying enough for Mikulski. As he looked around at all the other beautiful mountains he started asking that age old question, “How do I get there from here?”
Kim Redmond, one of the original group members, recalls that one evening they all went on a moonlight hike. That hike was just what Mikulski needed to start the ball rolling. He sent out a letter to the other men in his department which in short implanted the idea of taking on a different peak each week. Their new love for hiking and passion for exercise quickly formed into a group that they branded as PAW.
This legendary group of engineers included Mikulski, Vals, Daigle, Redmond, Wayne Landry, Jerry Martin, and Steve Fuller. That band of seven men has since grown over the last 30 years to over 60 men, women and children. They’ve ranged in age from toddlers to men in their 80s.
Toshio Hashimoto’s first PAW hike was in 1991 when his youngest son was only one year old. He hikes faithfully with the group and has also been involved with other hiking organizations doing search and rescue throughout the state. He has been on far too many of those rescues, however, the PAW group provides him with a more relaxing, socialization time with great friends. He recalls his favorite hike as being the Loop Trail at Tumbeldown in Weld.
The hiking season for PAW begins in April and ends around the first week of October. You can expect some snow and ice on the first few treks while the last few descents challenge the hikers with total darkness before they are out. The hikes get longer and more vigorous as the summer progresses and then it begins to taper back, once again to milder climbs. Nothing, however, is too long or hard that it cannot be accomplished with a 5:20 pm departure time from the Rumford Information Center.
“I have been in a lot of towns in Maine, New York, Connecticut, Alabama, Texas and New Zealand and while a lot of those places have longer hikes they are also a lot further away from where you could set up a base operation”, says Redmond. “There is no place else where you could do what we are doing, 26 hikes after work from spring to fall, this is unbelievable”, he says.
Kathy McKenna heads up the scheduling for the season’s hikes as well as email reminders of additional events. She delights in hiking along side her father, Jim Thomas, whom would never miss a hike because of a little weather. “We hike rain or shine. If we hiked only the good days we wouldn’t hike much at all,” she stated.
Sally Roy says, “My favorite hike is Eyebrow Loop in Grafton Notch due to the cables, ropes and ladders. Jim Thomas and I always say ‘one step at a time’…gets us both to the top.”
That’s a great attitude and motivation for all. No matter what kind of a day you’ve had up until that moment when you first disappear into the woods, you can leave it all behind and just take it one step at a time.
Landry still holds on to that original letter from Mikulski as well as other PAW documentation they had developed 30 years ago. He claims that his personal favorite hike has always been Table Rock in Grafton Notch.
For me personally, I have been hiking for over 20 years. There is nothing quite like when you first pop up out of the woods at the top of a mountain. You stop and look around and the beauty just makes it all worth it.
The terrain on each climb and the scenery from each top is never duplicated with any other. I asked several hikers tonight which of the hikes is their favorite and remarkably I got several different answers. I like hiking with PAW because it is a safe way to get deep into the woods. You have the protection of 30 to 60 other people. Not too many wild animals are going to want to come out and eat you with a network of bodyguards like that.
Anyone is welcome to join in with PAW. It cost nothing and we only ask that you have a good attitude, know your personal abilities by backing off from any hike you feel you cannot do, and be respectful of the land and of each other. We watch out for one another and no one is left behind on a trail.
I have been hearing lately from kids, how they are bored and can’t find anything to do. Maybe, just maybe, some of those kids have looked up at the mountains from their own back porch and also thought those same words that Mikulski did 30 years ago; “How do I get there from here?” Come join us, we’ll show you.
Many trailheads are tricky to find unless you have someone lead you first hand. Even us veteran hikers get confused now and then as to where they are, but united we conquer.
For more information, or to get on our email list, please contact me at 357-5582 or Kathy McKenna at 562-8042.