VIRGINIA — Ron Walkky loves the outdoors and one fishing trip in particular made it that way about 30 years ago.
The 68-year-old Virginia man fished quite a bit after being raised at Sand Lake, but ironically it wasn’t the fishing that became his passion. He discovered his passion, though, en route to that day’s fishing hole.
“I was actually having more fun walking to the lake than actually fishing,’’ Walkky said.
Walkky eventually turned that love into Nordic skiing, biking or rollerblading almost on a daily basis.
His turn toward recreational sports also grew after he was laid off from Minntac in 1987. He ultimately applied for a job as an alpine ski instructor at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
“I took it and soon began to love it,’’ Walkky stated about alpine skiing.
After being called back to Minntac in 1988, he received some cross country ski training from Sandy Vicari and Ben Croft.
“I liked it more than alpine because of the way I felt after skiing. I felt somewhat younger,’’ he said. “Soon I was giving more cross country lessons than alpine.’’
Walkky then discovered Lookout Mountain north of Virginia, which he knew about from his teenage years as a lift attendant and skier with a $25 season pass.
At the time, the cross country trails were new and he thought they were only exercise trails he brought his daughter to on occasions in preschool. He found out the trails were started by a club, including Bill Somero, Jerry Saisa and Mr. Peterson from Mountain Iron, and the Forestry Department would occasionally groom them.
“Since it was close to my home, I began exploring them by skis, hiking and recently by (Schwinn mountain) bike. This area is under used and at times I feel guilty more people don’t know about them.’’
Walkky, who is married with one daughter and three grandchildren, has loved getting the grandkids involved in biking, skiing, swimming and running in recent years.
“They come up here and ride bikes with us’’ when the weather is good, he said. Just last week, he was riding with his family in the Twin Cities because there was no snow there.
Running was another one of his outdoor activities, which he did for 25 years. That stretch included one marathon in 1993 and many 10K races.
“When I turned 64, one of my knees began getting sore. Alpine skiing and running made it worse, but biking and cross country skiing had no ill effects.’’
Regarding running a marathon, Walkky quickly discovered he “just wanted to do one.’’ He was sore for a week after the race, which took him five hours, he added.
He knew he wanted to keep active, however.
“Even once I quit running, I felt I still had to keep feeling good, so I started biking and skiing,’’ walking around Virginia’s lakes and rollerblading on the half-mile loops in Olcott Park.
His other go-to spots are Big Aspen and the Mesabi Trail, which he rides on every spring, summer and fall. The $15 season pass (a penny a mile for Walkky) is well worth it, he said.
After he retired, the Northside Virginia resident said he was doing it all, including hiking, biking and kayaking. However, he discovered he only had energy for a couple of hours a day.
That coincided fairly well with his return to work as a Virginia school bus driver in 2000. Working two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon gives him “time to get out in the sun and fresh air’’ in between, all while still earning a paycheck.
Walkky has “time during the middle of the day for recreating and the whole summer to ride the new serpentine trails at Lookout and occasionally Big Aspen. I even get a chance to do some kayaking.’’
Walkky has specific gear and times to do all of his sports. No matter the temperature, he is always prepared to enjoy all the outdoor opportunities in the area.
“The Virginia Golf Course is a good place to start skiing (it is free)’’ and you can bring your own equipment. “The Virginia park is a good place to start walking and running. I love to walk around Silver and Virginia lakes because of the wildlife. It is my lake home without the high rent or taxes.’’
When Walkky returns from one of his outings, he showers, gets something to eat and often sits in his downstairs man cave.
He’ll use that time to work on some of the cartoonish drawings that he loves so much. Topics range from his grandchildren, to his outdoors activities, to his fellow school bus drivers.
“Actually I was in the Army (1970-72) when I started sketching little things that we were doing in the Army and sending it back to my mom and family.’’ The subjects were often boots and fatigues and doing kitchen patrol and doing silly things like the Beetle Bailey cartoon.
After the Army, he started going to college as an art major and was planning to be an art school teacher. However, Minntac started their computer system, he said, and he had to spend more time on that job.
Walkky continued his artwork and was drawn to being in contests. “Whenever I see a contest, I just like to enter it,’’ he said with a laugh.
Using drawing as a way to relax also went back to his quitting smoking when his daughter was 1 or 2 years old.
“I needed something to do with my fingers, so that’s when the drawing came in.’’
The love for outdoor recreation, though, has followed him for many years, and he hopes many more.
“I feel like I’m missing something if I don’t go out,’’ said Walkky, who is afraid if he gets out of the habit, he won’t get back into it.
Fifty years from his high school graduation, he feels lucky to be where he is physically. That is in “OK shape,’’ he added.
Walkky plans on continuing his healthy lifestyle for as long as possible. “God willing. It’s a good habit to be in I think.’’