The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
January - February 2008
Volunteer of the month
Carol Larson retires from leading hikes, but continues strong as hiker
For Carol Larson hiking is more than exercise; it bonded her with her husband and helped her keep going after his death.
Carol grew up with nature, on family farms in Washington and Oregon, where she was trusted to wander and explore. "I loved to walk," she says, "even back then." It was years later that she started hiking regularly with the Sierra Club. And then, within months, she met her husband-to-be "Rick" Larson.
Rick was leading hikes for the Bay Chapter's Solo Sierrans. Carol and Rick began going on trails together. Hiking became so important that in 1984 the couple incorporated a Sierra Club walk in San Francisco into their wedding ceremony - about 80 hikers joined them. Five years later they celebrated their anniversary with a 2A Club walk from the Cliff House to Pier 39. Rick went along on that hike - in a wheelchair.
Six days later Rick died of cancer. Carol says it was hiking and Sierra Club friends that helped her through that difficult time.
Ron Ucovich, a retired school teacher, is one such friend. "My wife and Carol's husband died about the same time, and both of us developed a renewed enthusiasm for the social aspects of the Sierra Club," he notes, adding that hike leader Elisabeth Rothschild helped provide the impetus. Elisabeth convinced Carol on May 5, 1990, to lead her first hike - not just for Solos, as Rick had done, but also for the Hiking Section, and Carol kept on leading such hikes, often with co-leaders including Elisabeth or Ron.
Carol says she prefers to lead with others. "You never know how many people will show up," she says, "and it's nice for hikers to have someone at the front and the back." Carol explains that it's more enjoyable for those who are slower to have a leader with them as well. It's also much safer. "Many of the trails have gotten worse over the last 20 years, so there's the chance of someone falling," she notes, adding that having two leaders means you're twice as prepared.
Ron says he appreciates having Carol lead with him, as much as she appreciates having Ron with her. He points out that as a long-time resident of the East Bay, Carol is especially familiar with that area's natural landmarks, and is "constantly on the lookout for new parks and trails." Still she holds dear to favorites, including trails in the Morgan Territory, on Mount Diablo, and in the Sunol Valley, and for nearly two decades she has ventured to such areas twice-monthly (at least).
Carol can remember only once when people failed to show up to one of her hikes. "And that's because rain threatened to wash us out," she says. Otherwise, there would be a group of eager participants, often 20 or more, following Carol's steps and words of wisdom.
No wonder. Ron points out her special attention to each hiker. "She makes an effort to learn everyone's name and a little bit about their background." She even takes pictures of the hikers and includes them in her albums, he continues, adding that Carol's hikes feel more like a family reunion than just a walk through the woods.
Carol Matthews, a friend and hiking buddy since the early 1980s, remarks on Carol's kind and diplomatic nature and patience. "It can be hard for people our age (Matthews is in her late 70s) to keep up. We might be able to hike as far as the younger hikers, but we can't all go as fast."
Matthews also recalls Carol's brownies. "In the winter, she brought hot tea and brownies and in the summer she brought iced tea and brownies." She also frequently baked cakes, pies, or cookies for the end of each hike. It was for this type of thoughtfulness that Paul Portch calls her "the warmest, friendliest, most caring hike leader I have ever met."
This past August, however, when her right arm started paining her, Carol decided to retire as a hike leader. "As a leader, I need to be able to administer proper CPR and first aid, and I don't feel that I can," she says, explaining that she recently was unable to apply a bandage to someone who requested it. (The Sierra Club requires first-aid training for all outing leaders.)
Yet Carol Larson, at 70, is still going strong. She intends to continue to accompany others and "sweep" for them on their hikes, making certain no one gets lost or left behind. She promises to retain the social aspect of these excursions, for which participants have come to appreciate her; after all, that social aspect is what attracted Rick and her to hiking with the Sierra Club in the first place. "It changed his life," she says of her late husband, explaining that he was painfully shy before he became a leader. As for Carol, she says hiking keeps her outdoors and in shape. "And it's a great way to make long-time friends."
© 2008 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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