In November 2019, my grandson, Mason, told me that he wants a hiking staff for Christmas. I am very excited about this and smile to myself knowing how this gift idea came about. A few years ago, my daughter, Laura volunteered me to be a mystery reader at Phillips School (a Pittsburgh Public School on the South Side) where Mason was a first grader. I was very excited and Donna, my wife, and I brainstormed over what book I would read to his class. We decided on “When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike” which was written by Michelle Houts and illustrated by Erica Magnus. Grandma Gatewood was the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail. Along with the book, I decided to bring two hiking staffs I have that looked much like Grandma Gatewood’s and the two carbon fiber hiking poles that I use when I go with Donna on our long-range hikes so that I could show the children different types of hiking staffs/poles.
Both of my wooden hiking staffs came from Hike America, one was obtained in 1992 and the other in 2001. I love using one or the other on my short hikes and because I collect medallions from wherever I hike and attach them to my wooden staffs. Most of my medallions I purchase from Hike America but others come from gift shops at parks and in tourist areas near to the hiking trails. Anyway, they form a very colorful history of my hikes and make it very easy to talk to people about our hiking adventures. With the book and hiking staffs, I was prepared for the big day when I would be announced as the mystery reader.
Just to see the smile on Mason’s face when I walked into his classroom was all I needed to make the day perfect but the morning held many wonderful surprises. The children were all very respectful and hung onto every word I read—they loved Grandma Gatewood’s adventure. When I showed them my wooden hiking staffs their enthusiasm knew no bounds and I never had a chance to talk to them about my hiking poles. I was surrounded by children asking about all the various medallions that were attached to my staffs. They kept pointing out new ones and asking about the hikes that I went on. I ran out of time before I ran out of questions from the children. Mason was really excited that I was the mystery reader and gave me a big hug when I was leaving his classroom. When Laura, Sophia, my granddaughter, and I met Mason in front of the school at the end of his day, he excitedly told Sophia about the hiking staffs and the medallions. Suddenly, they both turned to me on the sidewalk and demanded to know why I never showed them my hiking staffs. I started laughing and told them that I never thought they would be interested. Turns out they were very interested and after dinner, I walked out to my truck, got the staffs, and we spent the rest of the evening looking at the medallions and talking about many of the corresponding hikes. From that day forward, Mason always helped me put new medallions on my staffs and now we are working on the third hiking staff from Hike America.
I guess that is another memory bubble popped and I am back working on Mason’s Christmas gift. My first hiking staff had Acadia inscribed on it since I bought it in the Acadia National Park Visitor’s Center. The second one has my name on it. Donna ordered it for me when I was assigned to the New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area for 3-months. I used it hiking in New England when I was not skiing or snowshoeing on my days off. My thought was to have Mason’s name inscribed on the new hiking staff.
I went online to order Mason’s staff but could not find ordering information to have his name inscribed on it. I called Hiking America and spoke with Roy Klebe. It turns out that the company no longer has that capability but Roy provided a medallion that I was able to take to a jeweler and have Mason’s name inscribed on it. Along with the correct hiking staff, I ordered several medallions that Mason earned while hiking in Maine and Pennsylvania. He loved this special Christmas gift and several days later, Laura sent a photo of Mason with his new hiking staff after he attached his medallions. He can’t wait to go back to Maine this summer and use it on the trails.”