Age is just another number for the members of Maryland Intrastate Hiking Association, a group that meets every Wednesday to ascend hills, cross rivers and traverse area parks. Together, these men and women have explored Patapsco Valley State Park, Gunpowder Falls State Park, the Appalachian Trail — and even expanded their hiking routes to include parts of Washington and New York.
How it got started: "MIHA originated as a breakfast group that gathered after Catholic Mass," said Dick Bush, one of the original members. The group started with four members and has grown to 22. "It was large enough that we had to stop accepting members," Bush said.
Nine years later, MIHA is still surveying area parks.
"We've done over 400 hikes, mostly in parks in the greater Baltimore area, but occasionally farther afield," Bush said. "The average hike is about four to five miles."
"Some of the trails we've done more than once," said Richard Wissing. "But about a third of the hikes we go on are new ones."
Who's in the group: Most of MIHA's members are men, ages 65 to 84; only three are women. Most of them are Columbia residents.
The active group includes Jim Morrill, who went on an African safari with his wife in October, and Mel Ringel, who teaches a math course at Towson University.
Usually, one or two spouses, other family members or friends join as guests for each hike.
A typical meeting: Each hike has a designated organizer who chooses the destination, tells the other members what difficulties and conditions to expect, provides a map and leads the walking.
Each member is encouraged to lead at least two hikes per year.
MIHA canceled only two hikes in 2012. The group is not afraid to hike in poor weather, so long as it isn't pouring or the trails aren't too icy.
"There was one hike in Columbia where we were in the middle of a blizzard and got lost because we couldn't see the pathway," said Tom Buckingham.
After each trek, the hike leader records the journey, complete with the hike's mileage, a trail difficulty rating and names of all the participants involved. Lunch follows every hike.
After a hike in Cromwell Valley on Nov. 14, 14 members and guest hikers gathered at McFaul's Ironhorse Tavern and determined that their trail totaled 3.97 miles and had a difficulty rating of 3.5.
Bush then gathered everyone's attention for an important message: "I need the information for a few missing hike reports, and I don't want any excuses like you were away on an African safari or you're busy teaching at Towson University," he said with a smile.
The whole table erupted with laughter.