If you hiked from Tucson to Portland, Maine, down to Miami, then to Seattle and finally back to Tucson, you would still be about 800 miles short of how far Sun City Oro Valley residents Bob and Leslie Esparza have hiked.
The couple, who are members of their community’s hiking club, have hiked 10,000 miles since they joined in early 1997.
The two are both retired teachers, who, during their careers, never got a chance to hike and explore the outdoors because they were busy with work and their families.
“I was 55 when I retired,” said Bob. “Leslie was a couple years younger than me. And we were being out-hiked by 70-year-olds – I mean, they would leave us behind.”
The couple didn’t give up. Bob and Leslie began to train and condition to get into shape by hiking two to three times a week.
“Gradually, we got stronger and we were able to keep up with these 70-year-olds,” Bob said.
Now, with the help of the Vistoso Hiking Club, they have been on numerous hikes and seen countless things during their hikes in Arizona, along with hikes in Anchorage, Ala., Yosemite, Glacier National Park, Silver City, N.M., Sawtooths in Idaho and many other places.
They have become guides for hikes, and even organized out-of-town hikes.
One of the more memorable out-of-town hikes for the Esparzas was their trip to Anchorage, Ala. Going with 30 other club members, the Esparzas hiked every day during the one-week trip.
On one of those hikes, there was a very close encounter with a bear. As Bob and his hiking group progressed up along a trail with a steep decline off the side of it, they could tell something was coming up the hill beside them as the trees and bushes began to shake. About that time, Bob looked down at his feet, only to see the head of a bear climbing up the steep embankment.
“They made eye contact,” Leslie recalled. “Bob was looking right at his feet, right into the bear’s eyes. He said he could just see where the bear was like, ‘oh shoot, I don’t want to be here.’ He didn’t want to be there any more than Bob did – it was a mutual agreement, I guess.”
The bear quickly turned around, and went back down the hill as the hikers promptly left the area.
Stories and sights like that are what keep the couple going out on new trails, along with some of their favorites that are within driving distance from Tucson.
“You get to see things that this is the only way you get to see them things,” Leslie said. “I mean, if you drive by, then great. But when you actually go down into the Grand Canyon, it’s a whole different experience. If you hike from Catalina State Park to Sabino Canyon, you are seeing things that you don’t see otherwise.”
A few traditions have taken form over the years as the couple continued to hit milestones within the club, even though they never set out to try and achieve these mile-goals.
Every 500 miles the couple walks, they feel it is a worthy milestone. To honor that milestone, Leslie makes a batch of her chocolate chip cookies, and brings along some milk. At the end of the hike where she or Bob reach a 500-mile goal, those treats are there for them and all of the other hikers that came along on the hike.
The Vistoso Hiking Club, which has about 300 members, also has a few special social hikes each year. One of which is in the spring, another in the fall, and a third that is their New Year’s Eve day hike. On these hikes, hikers carry on the traditions of bringing some form of a potluck lunch to share with the rest of the hikers and where achievement patches are handed out. The group also holds and annual wine and cheese party and occasionally hosts a guest speaker.
To become a member of the club, they have to live in Sun City Oro Valley. For more information about the club, go to www.vistosohikes.org.