Mark Twain once observed, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." Had he known Boerne resident and hiking enthusiast Ikuko Groesbeck, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Mr. Twain had her in mind when he made that comment because age has certainly not slowed her down.
At 81 years old, Groesbeck has been a committed hiker for decades. What started as a search for moderate activity through walking has become almost as critical to her health and wellness as breathing and eating.
Groesback started walking with a friend after her divorce nearly thirty years ago. They wanted to mix things up one day and ventured to nearby Friedrich Wilderness Park for a hike. The change of pace captivated her immediately. At first, she hiked on the weekends, but after retirement, she also started to hike on weekdays. "Since I hike in areas with a more natural landscape, I like the fresh air,” said Groesbeck. "Hiking up and down, rather than on level surfaces like streets, also builds my strength. And, when I hike with others, there is a social piece that I enjoy."
Not long after she started trekking, Groesbeck joined an online, all-ages community of hikers. But she found the group's younger members tended to move quite a bit faster while it was challenging for the older hikers to keep up. "In 2015, I hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Groesbeck explained, “and met many senior citizens who were local to the area and about my age. That inspired me to join a hiking group in San Antonio, but they are younger and walk faster, and it was hard to keep up with their pace."
So she started a group for hikers exclusively for those sixty or older as a result of her experience in Colorado. What began with only a few people has blossomed into more than 70 regulars who can participate in four hiking levels. "We offer a three-mile beginners hike, a three-and-a-half-mile hike with steeper climbs that focuses on cardio, a slow five-mile hike [which she leads], and a five-mile hike that aims for a two mile-per-hour pace."
Groesbeck will hike alone when others aren't up for it, and she regularly treks three to five days each week year-round, cold or hot. She also finds that some might think they are up for the task but will find they still need to prepare for a next-level activity. "I had a lady who regularly walked six miles and thought she was in good shape," Groesbeck recounts. "She came to a 3-mile hike and gave up soon after we started. She said she couldn't do it and gave up. I find that runners have more strength and stamina to hike." Groesbeck also practices Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art marked by slow, deliberate movements to keep her in good condition for trekking. "Tai Chi is especially good for older adults," she notes. "The biggest benefit is helping me with my balance, which is important for hiking."
In addition to her local hiking adventures, Groesbeck also travels with Road Scholar. The nonprofit started in 1975 offering group trips primarily for adults 50 and older. They offer trips throughout the U.S., Canada, and to more than 150 countries across the globe. While not focused exclusively on hiking trips, many of Road Scholar's excursions include hiking options. Groesbeck has taken non-hiking trips to destinations such as Sedona, Key West, and, most recently, a music-focused adventure to Nashville and Memphis.
Her first trip with Road Scholar was in 2018 to Superstition Mountain and the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Since then, she has also gone on guided tours to Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree National Parks, the Southern Appalachian trails and Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the Matterhorn region of Switzerland, and the Mont Blanc regions of Italy and France.
"One of the things I like about Road Scholar is the hiking guides are also naturalists in U.S. trips. They have lots of knowledge about flora, fauna geology, and other fields. They share their expertise by giving us trailside talks." Groesbeck continued, "Sometimes, Road Scholar invites local wildlife rescue centers. They bring real wild animals and birds they rescued and give us presentations after dinners."
Her enthusiasm for the organization is evident: "I keep traveling with Road Scholar because they take care of us very well, as they give us opportunities to learn. Also, they make arrangements to visit exciting places we can not do on our own." When pressed to name a favorite trip, Groesbeck responds diplomatically, "I have a hard time answering because I choose where I want to go, and I love all of them."
For Groesbeck, hiking is not only a physical endeavor but also one that affects the mind and spirit. "For your health," she explains, "if you want to stay healthy physically, mentally, spiritually, for a long time, that is the best reason to hike. That is my reason."
But her reason may go deeper still. Her favorite quote and personal mantra is from Sir Edmund Hillary: "It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."
“...when I hike with others, there is a social piece that I enjoy."
“If you want to stay healthy physically, mentally, spiritually... that is the best reason to hike.”
Road Scholar has been a leader in nonprofit, educational travel for adults since 1975. Marty Knowlton and David Bianco, then staff members of the University of New Hampshire, shared a common vision for bringing the youth hostel experience of their day to an adult clientele. What started as a "conversation between friends" has grown into a global, nonprofit program offering older adults opportunities to learn about the world around them. With thousands of trips for up to 100,000 travelers every year, Road Scholar has something for every taste. And while the original "hostel experience for adults" model has transitioned into more comfortable spaces, they remain committed to building community and camaraderie among all who join them.
roadscholar.org | 800-454-5768