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June 20, 2013

Hardy Hiker: Retired New Castle teacher becomes second oldest person to walk Arizona Trail

NEW CASTLE — You wouldn’t be insulting Howard Calvert if you told him to take a hike.

At age 73, he loves to journey by foot.

“That’s when some of the best ideas come to me,” the New Castle native said. “I’ve generated goals that have changed my life.”

After more than three decades of teaching elementary students in California and Arizona schools, Calvert retired in 1999. He sold just about everything he owned and literally walked out of his old life.

What some saw as the American Dream had no appeal to Calvert, who had a different aspiration.

Calvert, an avid runner and walker since childhood, wasn’t ready to stop moving. In fact, he was actually planning to pick up the pace.

He no longer owns a home, a car or a television set. He lives in a condo, reads books and rides buses — when he isn’t walking.

“I wanted to get away from everything, so I did,” he said.

Last year Calvert became the second oldest person to conquer the Arizona Trail— all 817 miles of it. And that wasn’t even the half of what he’d done previously — hiking the Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles) and the Pacific Crest Trail (2,660 miles), each taking five months.

And what does he think after completing such tasks? “It’s so much fun that you want to do it again,” he said.

And Calvert plans to just that at age 75.

Calvert, who walks about 50 miles during a normal week, credits his continued good health for being able to sustain such a demanding hiking regimen. And he attributes his demanding hiking regimen for continued good health.

“My only goal now is to stay alive, stay healthy and make as many friends as I can,” he said.

Nicknamed “Daybreaker” for his tendency to set out at first light, Calvert figures “you can go farther if you are lighter.” He carries only a tent, food and water during his trail hiking in addition to two extra pairs of shoes, which is he often wears out.

He doesn’t carry a light. “When it gets dark, you go to bed,” he explains. But he does pack a cell phone.

He said the Arizona Trail is the most challenging because “there’s not much water around.”

“I think the joy for any hiker is the time you get to spend alone,” he said. “It’s so beautiful on the trail and you never know what is going to happen next.”

Like the day he came upon two bear cubs and their protective mother.

“I was about 15 feet away from them and she was looking at me,” he said. There was a thicket in between them and Calvert just continued to walk away. “I heard the barking of the bear and the little ones going up the trees.”

Calvert grew up on New Castle’s West Side. He graduated from New Castle High in 1958 and was a member of the Red Hurricane track and cross country teams.

At 140 pounds, Calvert is about 10 pounds heavier than when he left high school. “Running was always easy for me probably because of my body type,” he said.

He remains in contact with boyhood friend Al Lowry, who lived a few blocks away and graduated from Union High School the same year. They spent many mornings, afternoons and evenings playing on the West Side playground and the Lee Avenue baseball field.

“We were always outside running around,” Lowry remembered.

Both went to the Army, but they managed to hook up one afternoon in Frankfort, Germany.

Upon returning to the states, Calvert attended the University of Akron and moved to Arizona. Lowry lived in Indianapolis before returning to his roots in Union Township, where he lives.

Calvert returns to his hometown on occasion, visiting a sister in Pittsburgh and a cousin in New Castle.

He learned how to dance at George Washington Junior High, and his sister taught him how to swing dance, which he is still fond of today.

Calvert said he had ADD when he was in elementary school and hated to read. “I would go to the library (in the 1950s) and spend my time looking at pictures in the Arizona Highway magazine,” he said. Last month he was the subject of a feature story in that magazine.

“Imagine that,” he said.

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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