A gator ride, free gong hits, and endless gratitude
By Andrew Harris
A Sunday afternoon like today, on a hilltop in October, is how the Ridgewalk was born. First it was Rich and Gwen Shear, on a walk with friends and dogs, who stood on that hilltop with a view for many miles, and agreed: This is too beautiful and idyllic not to share with others.
That notion created one of the most popular outdoor events in the region, bringing over a thousand people annually to Rich and Gwen’s farm to run or walk miles of carefully maintained trails. The event blossomed into a Wellsville Chamber of Commerce function, and today Jones Memorial Hospital continues to grow and improve the event.
Rich is still very involved with the Ridgewalk, and after thirty years of sharing the hilltop he has earned and achieved “emeritus” status. On the trails, he has celebrity status and has made hundreds, if not thousands, of friends over the years.
I met him at his house, we were both twenty minutes late, and exactly on time. His John Deere “gator” pulled up alongside my news-van for me to load my gear in the back and go. Our destination was a place known as the “lean-to,” also the likely wellspring of the Ridgewalk.
A view that extends forever it seems, and on a day like today the hills were as golden as possible. Riding on the trails, the woods were bright yellow with sunshine and maple leaves, and Rich just shook his head in amazement.
“Isn’t this just unbelievably gorgeous! I mean this is perfect,” as if he was a first time Ridgewalker.
Even though he has spent his whole life on this hilltop, the guy is totally amazed at the natural wonder and grateful for being able to share it with others. As we passed some of the runners and hikers, many recognized Rich and they shared waves that agreed without saying a word, “this is perfect, thank you.”
When we pulled up on the “lean-to,” the view well into Pennsylvania was spectacular. The breeze couldn’t have been sweeter and the fifty-five degree day was warm in the sunshine. Rich and Gwen had a very nice lean-to built on this lookout, and use the spot for family camping and day parties. Their new Amish nieghbors helped the Shears build the open air structure from red pine harvested on the property.
The mission was clear, and weird: Engage the walkers on the trail, let them talk with the founder emeritus, and give them: Free Gong Hits. Rich and I snickered at the offering and found a place to hang the 30 inch gong that I always have at the ready. The first group showed up and had a fun time banging the gong and taking pictures. But Rich was the main attraction and nearly every group of Ridgewalkers who walked by knew Rich, and he knew them!!
“Oh that was Patty, she’s been coming here for fifteen years from Pittsford.”
“Gosh is was nice to see him, he was one of our original horseback trail sweepers,” Rich remembers many faces.
Some younger generation Wellsville people came through, like the Nyhart and Cudney contingent. As we chatted and I tried to explain what the heck was going on, they muttered and pointed, “oh that is him ? wow, this is so great of him to share this place.”
This is how Rich and I spent a hour or so on the hilltop. Many gong hits, happy faces, old friends, and all in the bright glow of a perfect autumn day. Everyone was grateful for just being able to be at that famous spot, looking at a natural masterpiece.
The crowd of Ridgewalkers thinned out so we loaded up our gong and hopped in the gator for a ride back down the hill. With Rich, the tune doesn’t change after the show is over. He raved about what a great day it was, how fun it was to see those people in that spot, how big the event had become. Shear couldn’t be more grateful for being able to have a part in the tradition known as Ridgewalk.
It isn’t hard to understand why the Ridgewalk is so popular and this year was a showcase chapter in the event history. What isn’t as obvious, but equally important, is how the Ridgewalk got started. Hanging out with Rich Shear at the event, on a great day in Allegany County makes it clear: This event has been brought to you by gratitude, as defined in one sentence: “The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
I appreciated the lesson from Rich and Gwen, the Ridgewalkers we encountered, and that hilltop view.