Carol Zack has walked more than 4,700 miles up, around and over Pilot Butte State Park. She knows this because, for eight years now, she has been keeping track of her mileage on little tally cards located at the state park and recorded with the Century Club.
Zack, 56, is the volunteer coordinator for the Century Club, an informal group whose members' aim is simple: record the miles you walk at Pilot Butte, and if you get to 100 miles, you get your name on a sign at the park.
“It's a very motivating program. You are encouraged by watching yourself move up in mileage. It keeps you going and keeps you motivated,” said Zack.
Every day, people pass by the Century Club sign at the parking lot at the base of the Pilot Butte trailhead, paying little heed to news about the club and how to join. But hundreds of people have participated in the club, turning in more than 250,000 recorded miles, according to Zack.
Some members, like Zack, have tallied thousands of miles. Most of the members, however, have logged fewer than 1,000 miles. Each trip up to the top and back down is about two miles; one trip around the base of Pilot Butte also counts as two miles — Zack sometimes racks up six or eight miles a day as she criss-crosses the butte.
The club was formed in 2000 by two local men, Denny Sullivan and Leonard Peoples, who is now deceased. Zack says their goal was to encourage people to be fit while also enjoying the butte. Many Century Club members say the act of recording miles keeps them accountable and motivates them to keep going to the park. Each month, Zack posts new results for Century Club members on the sign.
Zack says some people are a little competitive and want to get ahead of one person or another. Other people set a personal goal and try to aim for a specific number. For her, the journey is about much more than getting exercise. Like many regular butte-walkers, she enjoys the camaraderie. There's more to it, as well. “For me, it's sort of a spiritual renewal,” said Zack.
Susan Bethers, the park manager, believes the club is great. She thinks it is an unusual offering for a state park. “Pilot Butte is so unique. People kind of use it as an outdoor gym,” she says.
Peggy Stenkamp has recorded 7,200 miles, just behind the leader, Carol Smith, who has 7,400 miles. Stenkamp is exceedingly modest about her achievement, saying, “I'm thankful, but it's certainly not any claim to fame.” She says she is impressed with the moms pushing babies up the hill in strollers or the young woman she sees running up the butte three times each day who just doesn't record her trips. “I feel like mine is just putting one foot after another,” said Stenkamp about her accomplishment.
But, whether or not Stenkamp recognizes this, the 80-year-old is an inspiration.
Zack says Stenkamp motivated her to get moving. On her first trip up the butte, she recalls seeing Stenkamp, and she was jogging. Zack remembers thinking, “If you can do this, I can do this.”
Stenkamp walks the butte several times a week, sometimes going up twice in one day. She believes recording the mileage keeps her motivated to continue. Stenkamp has kept up her active schedule despite having ruptured an appendix a few years back and undergoing treatment for uterine and ovarian cancer last year (she is now cancer-free). Stenkamp walks in rain and snow, and says she actually likes the wind.
She keeps coming to the butte, in part, because of the people.
“You meet these wonderful people on the butte,” said Stenkamp. When she heads to the butte, she thinks, “Oh, maybe I'll get to see them today.”
Sometimes, yes, the journey can get old. She hits the first switchback and thinks “Oh, boy.”
“Then I recover my joy and I'm thankful,” said Stenkamp. She believes the trips help her mentally, physically and spiritually, and she sees the walk as a good time for prayer and reflection.
As long as she is able, she plans to keep making the trip, just like so many of the other Century Club members.
Susan Randle, 54, has logged more than 6,200 miles for the Century Club. She used to make the trek several times a day in order to prevent hip dysplasia in one of her dogs. Now she only goes once or twice a week, but her fondness for the hike and the club hasn't diminished. Randle likes the health and exercise benefits she gets from the walk.
“I don't know why — that walk, it never gets boring,” said Randle. She says the walk has changed a great deal since she first started coming to Pilot Butte. She recalls days when the park's only parking option was a few spots on the west side of the hill; a time when she could walk the butte and “never see a soul.”
She is the No. 3 walker on the list, behind Smith, who is one of the seasonal park hosts, and Stenkamp.
John Kerstetter, at age 86, may be the oldest Century Club member. He is nearing 4,000 miles at the park. He says he was never very good at conventional sports, but after walking the butte, he thought, “By golly, this is a challenge. And this is something I might be good at.”
His favorite part of the hike? “The quiet. The silence. The view of the Cascades. The unspoiled or pristine natural environment.”
Kerstetter may be a big reason for the pristine nature of the park. Every time he walks — about five or six times a week — he tries to walk up as quickly as he can. But on the way down, he stops and picks up any litter he finds.
Kerstetter is contributing to the community feel of the park, one of the many Century Club members making Pilot Butte feel like home.