Don’t choose ‘easy’: Retirement gave Ken Perine time for Long Trail trek
MIDDLEBURY — To many people, retirement provides the opportunity to rest and relax after a career (or series of careers) that had kept them running and dictating day-to-day choices for what can be 45 years or more.
Sitting, resting and relaxing is what they crave most. Luxuries like reading novels and newspapers become easy to fit in, hobbies like knitting or exploring art are the center of attention, time to prepare delicious meals that previously were too rushed through is easy to come by.
For Ken Perine, it was harder to slow down.
The former president of the National Bank of Middlebury, who stepped down late last year, had a goal in mind much less sedentary, but (at least to him) just as tranquil as some of these others.
He wanted to hike the Long Trail.
Perine was a member of the ski team while a student at Dartmouth College over 40 years ago and was introduced to the Green Mountains as well as the White Mountains during that time. When he and his wife, Carolyn, were first married they spent two and a half years as caretakers of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, during which time he explored the hiking around that general area and became enthralled with the idea of hiking the full length of the Long Trail.
But life got busy with a career and four children, and the dream faded for a while.
About 10 years ago, Perine was introduced to winter hiking by a friend and has since stayed in shape throughout the year and enjoyed the time spent in the mountains again.
While there are many ways to hike the Long Trail, the Middlebury resident chose to hike it in sections that could each be done in a day. He designed 17 hikes (that turned into 20) over a period of four months, starting in June and finishing in September.
“First of all, I decided that I wasn’t going to be a fan of staying in shelters and sleeping on wood or with a very thin mattress,” Perine said. “So I wanted to try to do day hikes and I thought I would try to do it from a road to a road so it was easy to get dropped off and picked up each day.”
The 63-year-old was in excellent health and had trained for the hike, but he has minor sciatica and wanted to find a way to hike the trail while being a little gentler on his body.
“The way I did the Long Trail I was able to do a hike and then leave a little time for recovery before doing the next hike. I don’t like to think of myself as old, but I also want to be realistic and not naïve about what I could do,” he said.
The planning evidently paid off, as Perine says his legs felt great during all of the hikes and except for a minor twisted ankle he suffered no injuries along the way.
“It was sometimes a little bit afterward the hike that my legs would get sore,” he recalled, and the long drives afterward also weren’t always comfortable, but by and large, he said, he continued to have a great time from the start to the finish.
The twisted ankle came at a convenient time, Perine recalled, as he had planned to take a few weeks off anyway for other family commitments. He enjoyed the rest and was able to recover physically as well as prepare mentally for the rest of the trail.
Perine says he went into the hike with very few expectations.
“I guess I went in with a little bit of trepidation not knowing how long it would take and how it would feel to do 17 or 20 miles at a time,” he said. But he had three daughters and five friends join him for various hikes throughout the four months, so there was great company and plenty of conversation to help pass the time, not to mention the vistas, flora and fauna that Perine encountered along the way.
“I didn’t want to anticipate anything, I just wanted to take in what came. There were some gorgeous spots like Stratton Pond and the White Rocks area a little further north where there’s an area that’s almost like carpet through a balsam and hemlock forest and a clearing area with a whole bunch of cairns that have been built up. It smells great and is almost a mystical area.”
In the planning phases of his trip, Perine decided that he wanted to keep a blog that would help him record and remember each leg of the journey. After a bit of convincing by his wife, he generated a large email list of friends and family whom he invited to follow along and share in his journey.
“The blog was really for me,” Perine said. “It’s not really my shtick to share a lot — so that’s new and different for me — but it was good and I had a lot of nice feedback from people.” In fact, many of his posts drew 30 or 40 visitors to the blog.
The posts are filled with smiling pictures of Perine and his trail companions hiking along densely wooded trails or looking out over ridges to try to spot the route ahead. Many feature cabins and trail markers or unique features like waterfalls, stairways, flowers and cliffs.
“It was really fun to experience the different parts of Vermont,” Perine said, who hadn’t explored many of the areas previously, especially in southern Vermont. “Every hike had something different and beautiful in it.”
Perine officially retired from the National Bank of Middlebury at the end of December 2014 and began his Long Trail series in June of this year. As a goal-oriented person, he says that was his first major goal in retirement, but there will be others.
“I’m not sure exactly what the other goals will be, but I’m someone who likes to have something to work on to keep in shape, so I’m sure they will come.”
Perine says he learned a lot from the strategy he employed hiking the Long Trail in bits and taking the time he needed to enjoy each part, not just focusing on the final destination or goal. After having been heavily involved in civic life for many years, he says he’s working on focusing on more private matters in his retirement, supporting his four children and 11 grandchildren and pursuing individual goals that he can focus on and really enjoy.
“I’ve found that I’ve been so busy since retiring — actually, busier than I really want to be — that my challenge will be how to find a way to slow down a little bit.”