Packing Up Your Troubles

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If you, like me, thought the Payson Packers were so named after backpacks or otherwise packing things along on their hikes, you'd be wrong.

"I came up with the name from the song "Pack Up Your Troubles," said Rae Strunk, who founded the group back in 1981. "And it sure is true out there, just enjoying God's beautiful nature and forgetting all your worries and enjoying all the camaraderie and the beautiful scenery. We are really blessed with this area."

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The Payson Packers enjoy a hike on the bluffs between Highway 87 and Gisela. The Mazatzals are in the background.

When 150 Packers pause long enough to celebrate their 25th anniversary at a special dinner in a few weeks, Strunk will share some of her fondest memories. Although she stopped hiking in 2001, she'll give them 20 years worth of great experiences.

She founded the group for a simple reason -- to fill a void.

"I wouldn't have (founded it) if there had been a hiking group here in Payson, but there wasn't," she said.

She recalled how eight stalwart females took the very first hike ever -- on the Barnhart Trail. Other hikes that Strunk ranks among her favorites (in a language foreign to the uninitiated):

"I love the Hole in the Ground hike. We've done that from both ends. And Gibson Peak, the Rim Trail, Horton Trail -- all three ways, the old Stagecoach Trail."

Over the years, there aren't many places the Packers haven't hiked, and Dave Engleman, current Packers leader, has the photo albums to prove it. In fact the pictures that accompany this article are among literally hundreds upon hundreds in those albums.

And while much has no doubt changed in the quarter century since eight women took that first hike ("We were mostly women in the early days," Strunk said"), much remains unchanged.

"I understand it's the same now as it was then," she said. "We have a leader and a sweep who is at the rear end to make sure nobody gets behind and to stay with anybody who tries to do more than they can do.

"And you always stop periodically to do a head count. That caused a lot of jokes like, ‘Well, there's only one missing.'"

Fortunately that's never happened, according to Engleman.

"There have been a couple of broken wrists and ankles and a badly cut head that struck a broken tree limb while rock skipping in Tom's Creek," he said. "We almost lost a hiker, an 81-year-old who stumbled on a hidden rock and was pitched off a trail and came close to rolling a couple hundred feet down into a rushing stream.

"A fellow hiker grabbed his ankle as he began to roll and held on until another hiker came to help pull him up."

Something else that hasn't changed since the Packers' inception:

"There is no president, no vice president, no secretary, no treasurer, nothing," Engleman said. "If you want to hike, show up. If you don't show up, we'll catch you next time."

It's a formula that still works. The Packers have grown into four groups -- the A group, two B groups, and a C group. The A group is, of course, hard core.

"Well, we never stop," Engleman said.

The B groups?

"What the B group does when they meet on Tuesday mornings at 8:30, the hikers make up their mind who they want to hike with (and split up) because some of them don't want to do a hard hike," he said.

And that leaves the C group.

"The C group is really slow, but there's about 35 to 40 people in the group," Engleman explained. "They don't go very far. They go slow and they smell the roses and things like that."

Besides Tuesdays, the Packers occasionally hike on Thursdays and Saturdays.

"They're usually small groups (on Thursdays and Saturdays) -- maybe just three, four or five people," he said.

Engleman interviews prospective members to make sure they know what they're getting into.

"I've had people tell me they were experienced and then they start hiking with a can of pop," he said. "I had one guy claimed he worked for the state parks in California. First hike he went on we did seven miles on the Pine Trail, which has a lot of climbing, and he had two cans of pop.

"When we reached the top he said, ‘I can't go on. Will you get Search and Rescue.' I said, ‘You've come this far. You're going to go the rest of the way. I'm not walking all the way down and all the way back.'

"I'd walk a half mile ahead of him and sit down, and then he'd come. I've had a lot of funny experiences."

And a lot of fun and memorable ones, Strunk is quick to note.

"Some of my best experiences were those once a week hikes," she recalled. "There were some really joyful times, and it was always an adventure."

You can almost hear the lyrics in the background:

"What's the use of worrying,

It never was worthwhile. So:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag

And smile, smile, smile."

(If you want to join the Payson Packers, Engleman can be reached at 474-3040. And when you call, it might be best not to mention soda pop.)

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