Galloway kayaker is a man for all seasons

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Jan Jorgensen of Galloway negotiates trees above and water below. (Submitted) Jan Jorgensen of Galloway negotiates trees above and water below. (Submitted)

Jan Jorgensen, 72, doesn’t let snow or cold interfere with his enjoyment of the great outdoors

GALLOWAY – This time of year, many people – especially seniors – are hunkered down in their heated homes, just waiting for spring to arrive with its warm air and exuberant display of daffodils and greenery.

Not Jan Jorgensen, 72, of Galloway. This is when Jorgensen loves to dress appropriately, put on his cowboy hat, and hit the hiking trails or the rivers and streams in his kayak and revel in the beauty that is winter.

“You can’t really enjoy hiking in the summer, with the chiggers and ticks and pine flies,” Jorgensen said. “This is the time of year to really enjoy the outdoors. If you dress for it, be aware of the conditions, you will be fine.”

He has hiked in rainstorms, thunderstorms, snowstorms and other conditions that some might find unpleasant, but said he always enjoys the activity.

Growing up on a farm probably contributed to his love of being outdoors.

Jorgensen said he always did a good amount of hiking while growing up and continued that after he got married.

“I started kayaking after retiring, with a group in my community. After joining the Outdoor Club of South Jersey in 2005, I expanded my kayaking adventures,” he said.

A retired printer with two daughters and three grandchildren, Jorgensen said he did a lot of walking while serving for four years in the Army, too, but he didn’t find it much fun.

“They used to send us out and we had to follow certain coordinates and go from place to place. I always got to the end, but not necessarily the way I was supposed to.”

The longest hike he took was while in the Army, Jorgensen said – from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast.

“We were stationed in Panama, and the distance from coast to coast was 50 miles,” he said. “It took us about three days because we had to use machetes to cut our own path through the jungle. I prefer hikes with a nice trail now.”

He spent many hours tramping through the woods hunting in his younger days, but these days, Jorgensen is content to just observe the wildlife.

He said both he and his wife are thrilled that he saw a blurb about the Outdoor Club in the newspaper and joined that very day.

“She was getting worried about me because I would just get in the car and drive, find a nice trail or road that looked interesting and set off walking,” he said. “I never knew exactly where I was going or where I would end up.”

He recalled one particular hike that ended nearly eight hours later when a policeman finally found him trudging along a sand road in the dark and offered him a lift back to his car. But his other adventures ended successfully.

Jorgensen said if he hadn’t gone on the club-led hikes, he would never have learned about the Pine Barrens, places in South Jersey, and other areas.

Jorgensen is now a hike leader, though he is quick to clarify that his partner usually does the leading and he is content to be the “sweep,” or last person in the line of hikers, making sure no one gets lost.

There have been some scary adventures, Jorgensen admitted, including the time lightning struck a tree just a few feet in front of the hikers when they were exploring near Lake Oswego. Another time, on a kayak, someone new to the sport dumped into the water five times on one trip.

Jorgensen said he dumped once into an icy river, but it didn’t upset him much.

“I just got to the shore, stripped off my wet clothes, put on dry ones, got back in the boat and kept on going.”

He said his favorite location to both hike and kayak is along the Mullica River from Atsion to Batsto.

He said hiking is a great sport for everyone because it combines exercise, being outside in the fresh air and a good deal of socializing with other hikers.

“Anyone who enjoys walking would probably enjoy hiking,” he said. “It only requires a good pair of shoes and carrying a water bottle. Anything else is optional.”

Even though Jorgensen is slender, careful with his diet and gets lots of exercise, this past spring he was reminded that no one is immune to health problems.

“I was feeling great and just went to the doctor for a checkup. He found three veins with 90 percent blockage, and I needed to have stents put in, so I advise everyone to have regular checkups,” he said. “I was very glad to get back to my hiking and kayaking routine.”

He does a lot of traveling with his wife, and no matter what country or state they are in, he likes to arise early and do some exploring on foot.

He has walked in Norway, Germany, on the Great Wall of China, at the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and other favorite American sites. He has been on the Appalachian Trail in three different states, but only for short distances.

“My cousin did a through-hike and we could have done it together, but he was retired and I was still working,” Jorgensen said.

He no longer feels quite that ambitious, he said.

“I’d like to learn how to ski,” he said. “But I figure at age 72, it might not be a good time to start.”

Vera Stek is a member of the Outdoor Club of South Jersey, which is where she met Jorgensen.

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