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Perspectives on Outings: My Sierra Hero
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by Dan Soeder, Chapter Outings Chair | 2011

Inspiration can come from familiar sources at unfamiliar times.

It has been two years now since my brother Jim died from a brain tumor. It progressed frighteningly fast; slightly more than 6 months from the onset of symptoms until he was gone. We barely had time to say good-bye. He was just 52.

Jim was more active in the Sierra Club than I am, and on a more grassroots level. He was a popular leader in the Cleveland Inner City Outings program, and he and I scouted many trails and parks during my visits home to Ohio that he later used for ICO excursions. He also participated on a number of national-level service trips for Sierra Club, working on projects like trail repair in Idaho, exotic plant removal in Hawaii, and the dismantling of an old hunting lodge in an Alaska wilderness area.

Jim was one of my favorite hiking companions. He was a minimalist, bringing along the least amount of gear needed for survival. There were never any frills or luxuries in his pack — he didn’t see any need to carry stuff he wasn’t going to use. Jim was proud of his thriftiness, and got most of his gear at secondhand stores, yard sales, and discount shops. This didn’t make him a poor outdoorsman; in fact, just the opposite. He relied on instinct, intelligence, and reason to avoid trouble, not his gear. He often expressed the opinion that fancy, expensive gear does not necessarily impart any wilderness wisdom to the buyer.

Jim worked for the local school board and got the whole summer off, which he spent traveling and hiking, a lot of the time solo. He made it to all 50 states, including four separate driving trips to Alaska (which I found out later is 4000 miles from Cleveland, one way!). He had a few misadventures, but nothing serious. The last big hike he and I did together was Mount Washington in New Hampshire a few years ago. We stayed at the AMC lodge in Pinkham Notch and went to the peak and back on a day hike. It was fun, even though it took a little longer than expected to get down, and we nearly missed dinner. Several people on the summit were amazed that we had actually hiked up. One well-meaning lady gave us brochures for the auto road and the cog railroad, and told us there wasn’t really any need to walk. Jim and I just looked at each other and tried not to laugh out loud.

My brother was a good guy who enjoyed life. He was late for the family Thanksgiving dinner every year because he volunteered down at the Salvation Army, serving up turkey to those who had nothing. Jim was a member of the Sierra Club for many years before I joined, and he convinced me that the environment and the outdoors that we both loved needed protecting. I joined up eleven years ago and got active in the national outings program, as well as chapter outings, and I think he was proud of that. In memory of Jim, I will be leading a spring bicycling outing in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, one of his favorite places, and a fabulous environmental success story. I hope some of you will come along.

See you outside.

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