Equally at home fording a stream, scrambling over rocks, strolling highways and navigating residential neighborhoods, Mike Helbing recently walked 17 miles from Harveys Lake to Wilkes-Barre.
For the 28 people who accompanied the MetroTrails founder, this “Mike Hike” was a chance to enjoy the outdoors with a charismatic leader who just happened to be wearing a suit.
Three fellow hikers played along, each pairing a sportcoat with shorts or pants and reminiscing about tuxedo jackets that had appeared on a previous outing. The rest wore conventional hiking attire.
Mark Albrecht of Shavertown, president of the Back Mountain Trail Council, didn’t care what they wore. He was impressed when he met the group near the Trucksville Municipal Building and realized some hikers had driven from New Jersey and Philadelphia.
“We usually have a steady stream of walkers,” Albrecht said, “but not such a large group that came together and traveled such a distance. We take great joy in seeing them.”
The 5-mile Back Mountain Trail was one segment of the ambitious outing, for which hikers met in Wilkes-Barre, carpooled to Harveys Lake and began the walk back on Kunkle/Alderson Road. At one point south of Misericordia University, they ventured to Route 415 for free lunch, courtesy of fellow hiker and Domino’s Pizza owner Seth Goldhardt.
Why do the hikers — most of whom connect through the MeetUp social-media portal — spend a day this way?
“I really like the scenery,” said Allison Aniska, 29, of Wilkes-Barre.
“It’s fun to be with everybody,” said Ariel Fillius, 11, who came with her mom from Jackson, N.J.
“It’s a nice break from staring at a computer screen,” said Amanda Murphy, an events planner from Philly. “It’s a different way to explore an area.”
Speaking of exploring, don’t be surprised if 23-year-old Justin Gurbisz or 25-year-old Michael “Lerch” Clark, both of New Jersey, run ahead to climb a tree or tackle a playground sliding board head first. If they spot a railroad bridge, they’ll at least mention a desire to climb it and jump into the river below.
“He does it to feel alive,” said their friend, 32-year-old Brandon Jermyn, pointing to one of them. “And he does it because he feels no fear,” he said, nodding toward the other.
While the climbing breaks and a dip into Toby’s Creek by Helbing, still wearing the suit, added a touch of fraternity-outing ambience, most of the hikers simply kept on trudging and chatting.
Helbing, 34, of Warren County, New Jersey, easily has walked thousands of miles, starting as a toddler who accompanied his grandfather. He founded hiking clubs of his own in high school and college, and Metrotrails is the latest incarnation. One of his goals for the group is to hike New Jersey’s perimeter, segment by segment.
“It’s all about connectivity,” he said.