VCU Road Scholars Go Hiking
by Alexa Van Aartrijk, Hike Leader, Gerontologist
VCU Road Scholar, a program for lifelong learners over the age of 50 offered by the Virginia Center on Aging, hosted a group of 24 older adults in the Shenandoah Valley this September. The majority of participants were over the age of 70, the oldest being 86 years old. The assembled group came from all around the country, including Mississippi, Washington State, Oregon, Maryland, and West Virginia. Many were nature-enthusiasts who have spent their lives hiking. Those who had never visited the park before had heard about the beauty of the Shenandoah National Park, and were eager not only to visit the trails of the famous Appalachian Trail (AT), but also to learn about its history and creation. Each day for four days the group walked between four and 10 miles, with most mileage being spent on the AT. Although these were strenuous hikes, some participants energetically opted to extend their hikes even longer after the hikes were completed. The deeply-ingrained ageism in our society likes to tell us that older adults don’t have the physicality and energy to complete activities such as this, but these Road Scholars defied those cultural stereotypes.
All of the hikers who joined us on the trip had impressive resumes. One gentleman in the group had been gently nudged out of his leadership position in the Air Force because of his age. He decided that he was not ready to retire just yet, so after a 30-year career with the military, he earned his law degree. Because, why not?
A couple who came on the trip together still spends time on Capitol Hill lobbying for various causes, such as those in support of women’s rights, accessible transportation, and clean water for all.
One member of our group was a retired emergency medical doctor who now volunteers part-time at a rural hospital in its emergency wing.
No matter what their background, everyone found community and connection on the trails. Whether it was seeking solitude and change or looking to hike with a group of people with similar activity interests, all 24 individuals had one thing in common: they enthusiastically wanted to continue growing, learning, and experiencing.