His name is Art Lengkeek, but those who know him well call him the Happy Hiker.
If you’re a trail enthusiast in the eastern Fraser Valley, you’ve likely crossed paths with Art, and if you’re like many hikers, you’ve probably got a photo with him.
People love to stop him on the trail and ask for a pic. Art is pleased to oblige with an ear-to-ear grin lighting up a face that has seen 88 years.
People half his age marvel as Art motors up inclines that leave others gasping for air. They leave encounters with the Happy Hiker thinking, “If only I can be like that if I live to be almost 90 years old.”
Bright and early Friday morning, Art met up with a few of his hiking friends on Sylvan Drive in Promontory.
He didn’t know why they asked him out, but they had a surprise in store. The trek to the peak of Mt. Cheam is something Art has always wanted to do, and this was the day. Under sunny skies, Art and seven companions wearing “Happy Hiker Fan Club” t-shirts set out on a challenging journey that covers 715 feet of elevation gain.
That would have been excitement enough for Art, but something else was ahead.
A long curved set of 135 steps leads up from the Sylvan Drive trailhead. On Thursday night a crew from the City of Chilliwack hauled a bench up to a leveled-off landing at the 35th step and installed it.
When Art came to that spot with his friends, they got him to read the plaque.
“Art Lengkeek is an avid trail user and, at 88 years old, he still hikes Mount Thom regularly. Art has volunteered in our community for many years and has helped to maintain local trails to keep them safe for all of us to use. Happy Hiking Art. July 31, 2020.”
It was an emotional moment.
The bench and the plaque were perfect. No big fuss for a humble man who doesn’t want a big fuss. Just a few close friends in a picturesque place, taking a few moments to celebrate a life well-lived.
Then onwards and upwards.
Art always loved the outdoors, but he got serious about hiking when he was 74 years old and his doctor handed him a type-two diabetes diagnosis.
With laser-focused dedication, the Happy Hiker put the boots to the disease, dropping 40 pounds and causing his doctor to marvel, “Your blood sugars are lower than mine!”
It started as a way to get his health under control, but it has bloomed into so much more.
Art has faithfully documented all of his hikes, supplementing written words with beautiful pictures that bring his travels to life.
Over the years he’s built up an email list of 80 people who eagerly wait for his latest dispatch. Well past the age when health starts to fail, he carries on like the Energizer Bunny.
Art carried on Friday to the summit of Mt. Cheam, pulled out his camera and had a friend snap a pic.
Of all the photos from all the hikes, this might be the most special.
But for all of the Happy Hiker’s friends and followers, the only wish is that there are many more.
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