Active Aging: John Burke of Peterborough celebrated his 81st birthday with 81 hikes up Pack Monadnock

John Burke at the top of Pack Monadnock in Peterborough.

John Burke at the top of Pack Monadnock in Peterborough. COURTESY PHOTO—

John Burke celebrated his 81st birthday by hiking Pack Monadnock every day for 81 days.

John Burke celebrated his 81st birthday by hiking Pack Monadnock every day for 81 days. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

John Burke, left, receives a shirt with the number “81” to mark his 81st consecutive day hiking Pack Monadnock, for his 81st birthday.

John Burke, left, receives a shirt with the number “81” to mark his 81st consecutive day hiking Pack Monadnock, for his 81st birthday.

Views along Pack Monadnock in Peterborough.

Views along Pack Monadnock in Peterborough. John Burke

A view from Pack Monadnock in Peterborough, taken by John Burke.

A view from Pack Monadnock in Peterborough, taken by John Burke. COURTESY PHOTO—

John Burke often hikes Pack Monadnock by the paved toll road, particularly during bad weather, as a safety precaution.

John Burke often hikes Pack Monadnock by the paved toll road, particularly during bad weather, as a safety precaution. COURTESY PHOTO—

John Burke of Peterborough was joined on some of his hikes up Pack Monadnock by his daughter, Lynsey, and her dog, Berlioz.

John Burke of Peterborough was joined on some of his hikes up Pack Monadnock by his daughter, Lynsey, and her dog, Berlioz. Courtesy

Cheered on by his daughter, Lynsey, and her dog, Berlioz, John Burke of Peterborough receives a t-shirt from Pack Monadnock Staff, marking his 81st climb in 81 days, in celebration of his 81st birthday.

Cheered on by his daughter, Lynsey, and her dog, Berlioz, John Burke of Peterborough receives a t-shirt from Pack Monadnock Staff, marking his 81st climb in 81 days, in celebration of his 81st birthday. Courtesy photo—

John Burke of Peterborough was joined on some of his hikes up Pack Monadnock by his daughter, Lynsey, and her dog, Berlioz.

John Burke of Peterborough was joined on some of his hikes up Pack Monadnock by his daughter, Lynsey, and her dog, Berlioz. Courtesy photo—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-22-2024 9:07 AM

On March 29, John Burke of Peterborough marked his 82nd birthday.

Now, he will have to come up with a way to top last year, when he challenged himself to celebrate his 81st birthday by hiking up Pack Monadnock in Peterborough every day for 81 days straight.

“I wanted to do something, in my own mind, to celebrate,” Burke said.

Burke has always liked being outdoors, and Miller State Park, where he began his daily hikes, had a special place in his heart, as he worked there part-time as a park ranger while in high school. He said it was already a favorite of his, with access to both wood trails and a paved vehicle access up the mountain.

Despite 2023 being the rainiest summer on record, Burke said he was determined not to “cheat” by skipping any days.

“I only got caught in the heavy rain three times – and there’s plenty of trees to stand under until the rain passes,” Burke said. “I enjoy being there, even when it’s raining or snowing.”

Burke said in good, dry weather, he’ll tackle the wooded trails, but he usually follows the toll road as a safety measure. He said he has met many other regulars on the trails – one of the things he likes most about the hobby.

“You meet a lot of nice people who go up,” he said. “There are quite a few people that go up there almost every day.”

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Burke took on his challenge in the first half of June, and completed it on the last day of August. When he finished his hike that day, he was greeted at the Pack Monadnock base by park workers, who had arranged a surprise for him – a shirt with a jersey-style number “81” on the back, to mark his achievement.

Burke, who is retired from a career in sales in the dairy industry, said after completing his 81st hike, he’s still a regular at the park, and it’s his go-to hiking spot multiple times a week. He said he occasionally will branch out, climbing Mount Monadnock, North Pack Monadnock or going for walks in the back woods of Sharon or around Willard Pond, but Pack Monadnock and Miller State Park remain his favorite, for convenience and knowledge of the trails.

He said now that he’s celebrated his 82nd birthday, he’ll have to come up with a new way to mark his latest trip around the sun. He said it likely won’t be a consecutive challenge again but will likely involve a fitness goal, such as taking a certain amount of steps within 82 days.

“I think it’s been big, health-wise, for me,” Burke said of his hiking hobby. “It’s always fun when you’re outdoors, doing something.”

For those interested in picking up hiking, Burke said his main piece of advice it to take it as slow as you need to and enjoy the hike while it’s happening.

“Do it at a pace you can enjoy,” Burke advised. “Don’t be in a hurry to go up and down and go somewhere else. Enjoy the time. The first time I went up [Pack Monadnock], it took me an hour. Now, it’s more like half an hour. You can set your own goals, but don’t forget to enjoy the moment.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.