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This weekend is for hiking, surviving

Take advantage of this great weather. Lace up your boots and strap on your backpack. Today is National Trails Day.

Every first Saturday in June is designated as the time of year that Americans promote and protect “hiking trails, the natural lands around them, and the hiking experience,” according to the American Hiking Society (AHS).

Headquartered in Silver Springs, Maryland, the organization worked with Congress to establish this recognition in 1976. Buck Ridge Trail

The AHS maintains a directory of trails that are suitable for hiking, and the local trail is located at the Hidden Lake-Hensley Lake Recreation Area on Road 400.

The hike begins at the parking lot, and the full excursion involves intersecting loops, laid out like a figure eight, and a transition loop.

Hikers begin on a short approach to the Buck Ridge Purple Loop and then switch to the Buck Ridge Blue Loop. This part leads up three hills, called the Three Sisters, with each hill being progressively steeper than the last.

After the Third Sister, which can be a bit rocky, the trail comes to the crossover of the figure eight. At that point, the path meanders to the right through oak trees, a drainage area, and then a straight climb to the transitional Buck Ridge Green Loop. From there, hikers can see the rolling hills to the back of the loop.

The last section is steep, but the reward is a great view of the river as it flows down the canyon and into the lake. This year, for a welcome change, there is a lot of water to be seen.

The return section follows the contour of the lake and brings hikers back to the area of the parking lot.

Recently, a disc golf course was set up, and hikers are advised to bring their Frisbees. The trail was established by the local AHS Club, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the IMBA Subaru crew. Technically, it is a “shared-use trail,” meaning that it is approved for bikers, hikers, runners, and horses. Parking costs $4 for the day.

The overall experience covers nearly 6 miles with an average grade of 4 percent, and a maximum grade of 19 percent. However, most of the ascending and descending sections are encountered on the way out; coming back to the parking area is reasonably flat. The highest elevation is a bit under 600 feet.

Because of my detailed account of the Buck Ridge Trail, readers might believe that I took notes as I wandered o’er the hills and ‘round the lake. In real life, my idea of a hike is the walk from the door of my room at a four-star hotel to the ice machine.

My descriptions come from a virtual tour that is provided on the AHS website. However, I have viewed the real trail.

A few years ago, my dear friend, Dr. Duane Furman, who passed away toward the end of 2016, invited me to visit his land overlooking Hensley Lake. Our exercise was limited to setting up a couple of lawn chairs, placed alongside the river, from which we could watch a mama duck guide her ducklings through the tall grass.

I believe I worked up a sweat. Surviving cancer

Both of my parents and three of my four grandparents died of cancer. So, to me, the issue was never “if I get cancer,” but rather “when I get cancer.” The crisis came about 13 years ago. When I received the diagnosis, my head was filled with dark thoughts. But, the oncologist assured me that my death was not imminent. Naturally, I wondered if “not imminent” meant “not today” or “not this month.”

Well, that was then; this is now. Sunday is National Cancer Survivors Day, a “celebration for those who have survived, an inspiration for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of support for families, and an outreach to the community,” according to the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation. This year marks the 30th annual occurrence of the event to raise awareness of the challenges that are presented by the disease.

The organization reminds us that cancer affects everyone. It touches friends, family, and the community. But, Sunday is less about the disease and more about a celebration of life. While the foundation defines a survivor as “anyone living with a history of cancer — from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life, — it also reminds us that life “after cancer is about more than just surviving; it’s about living well. It’s celebrating milestones and thriving in spite of adversity.”

As I’ve written in many of my columns over the years, times change. And that’s fortunate for those of us who have had cancer. When I was a child (admittedly a very long time ago), being told that one had cancer was equivalent to a death sentence. I pictured the word “cancer” as having a skull and crossbones beneath the lettering, like the warning symbol on a bottle of poison. But, the overall cancer death rate has declined steadily since the early 1990s. So, for many of us, death is not imminent.

However, cancer is still a major health problem, both nationally and throughout the world. In the United States, the cancer incidence (number of new cases) is 454.8 per 100,000 population per year. And, cancer mortality (number of deaths) is 171.2 per 100,000. In the past, those numbers were much closer together. But, cancer researchers are confident that they will be even further apart in the future.

Last year, there were more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in this country, and — statistically, at least — somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 of those affected will die of the disease. In 2016, the most common cancers were breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, bladder cancer, melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, thyroid cancer, kidney and renal cancer, leukemia, endometrial cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

The key to surviving this dreaded disease, of course, is early detection. According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 (the last significant date), and that figure is expected to rise to almost 19 million by 2024. So let’s celebrate all those extended lives.

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