For some, “take a hike,” is a phrase of derision. To Bill Gourley, it’s a mission.

Gourley is nearly seventy and looks in excellent shape, having been active in the Sierra Club for thirty years, serving in the Conejo and Ventura chapters in roles from program chairman to president. Interviewing him in his home in Thousand Oaks, there was not a rocking chair in view. Bill, you see, is a Sierra Club “hike leader,” up early Monday, Thursday, and Friday, and on a trail by 8:30 a.m. He guides groups of 4 to 20 hikers, from moms with infants on their backs to seniors in their eighties. And on Saturday mornings he may be busy with a group doing trail maintenance.

Gourley grew up near Pittsburgh and studied agriculture and horticulture at Penn State. He served in the Air Force for eight years as a navigator on B-47 bombers. Once out of the service, he became a landscape contractor, retiring in 1990. He still keeps his hands in touch with the soil in his own backyard, caring for about fifty fruit trees.

For those of us still working and even for many retired folk, the secret of serenity is elusive. I think Bill Gourley has found it.

“I can either go hiking for free,” he says, “or go to a psychiatrist for $90 an hour.” His equipment is spare – hiking boots and a fanny pack with water and a snack.

He’s been on about 100 different hikes, the majority in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. Last year he hiked along the coast of Sonoma County with his wife and a group of naturalists and botanists. When the Russian River met the ocean, they kayaked up river to a park and camped. This year he plans to hike the coast of Santa Cruz.

“When you hike,” he says, “your mind is taking in the beauty – the sky, the clouds, trees, flowers. You don’t look at your watch. You don’t worry about appointments. You’re completely free.”

Closer to home, his most interesting hike is “up to Boney Ridge in the back of Newbury Park.” It is a longer, more challenging climb to 3000 feet and ends with a magnificent view of Catalina, Mount Baldy, and Anacapa.

For Bill Gourley, “over the hill,” is a destination, not a state of mind.