By Hollie Grace James –
At an age when many people’s definition of a “trek” would be hauling their golf clubs from the parking lot to the first tee, Mike Baine has a radically different concept of the word.
The retired high school principal and grandfather of 11 (!), who turned 70 in January, decided to celebrate the milestone birthday by going on a trip to Europe. There’s nothing unusual about that, except that Baine’s journey through Germany, Austria and Italy in August won’t happen on a cushy tour bus or fancy cruise ship.
Rather, he’ll be doing the entire route through the Alps–all 570 kilometres of it–on foot.
“I’ve always been adventurous,” the Westboro resident says when asked to explain the wanderlust that has seen him embark on long-distance treks such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 170-kilometre walk through the mountains of Switzerland, Italy and France.
“It was hard, but felt like something I could really get into,” he says of that first experience with mountain trekking back in 2015.
Get into it he did. Already well into his sixties, Baine followed that up by hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca citadel located on a mountaintop in Peru, and summiting the Base Camp of Mount Everest in Nepal.
His other epic adventures include skydiving and paragliding in France. But he says his latest trek through the Alps–which he expects will take him a month to complete and require him to average about 20 kilometres of strenuous hiking a day–will be the pinnacle of them all.
He’ll be relying on an English-language guidebook that popularized the “Traumpfad” route from Munich to Venice a few years ago, as well as some GPS maps installed on his phone.
“There is also some signage on the trail, but not marked as well as one would like,” explains Baine, adding with a laugh that he has a “terrible sense of direction” and that’s what his family and friends are most worried about.
He readily concedes the high-altitude hike will be “very challenging,” but he’s confident his training regimen has prepared him well. For the last eight months, he has spent hundreds of hours training, clocking more than 1,500 kilometres and climbing 270,000 stairs, with only 50 rest days sprinkled in.
His gruelling approach included months of Stairmaster work decked out in full gear while hauling a 24-pound backpack (heavier than what he will actually be carrying)–’96 a method employed by the Polish national hiking team.
And he’ll be going at it completely alone. In addition to being physically demanding, the trek is also not without its hazards, requiring him to navigate his way along narrow paths.
“For the first time, I have to worry about getting to where I’m going all by myself,” says Baine, a father of four who worked his way up to superintendent of student services at the Ottawa Catholic School Board before retiring in 2007.
On top of all of that, he has to maintain a strict schedule, since his itinerary has him arriving back in Ottawa just in time for his daughter’s wedding.
But Baine, who says he has no chronic health issues, takes no medication and is very healthy for his age, doesn’t sound like a man who is about to hang up his hiking boots after his latest adventure.
When asked if he plans on slowing down, he smiles and says “not a chance.”
*This feature is brought to you in part by Back on Track Physiotherapy and Health Centres.