When Dennis Petersen, of Pleasant View, hiked to Malan's Peak on Oct. 13, 2006, to celebrate his retirement, he had no idea where that journey would lead him.
The obvious destination was a beautiful peak overlooking Ogden at the top of Taylor Canyon. It was a hike he had taken many times since his childhood growing up in a nearby neighborhood.
What he didn't know was that he had started something that, nearly seven years later, he can't seem to quit. This Saturday, Aug. 17, Petersen will make his 2,500th consecutive journey to Malan's Peak, an approximately 5-mile-round-trip trek with close to a 2,000-foot elevation gain.
He hasn't missed a day since he retired.
The trail to Malan's Peak has become Petersen's home away from home. He has an extremely outgoing personality and a habit of introducing himself to other hikers along the trail.
Patti Miller, of Ogden, likes to hike to Malan's Peak with her husband, Ken. She met Petersen a few years ago, when she was new to the area.
"He stepped aside, introduced himself and offered a hand to shake as we passed," she said of their first encounter. "It was nice to know there was someone friendly on the trail."
Hiking every day without a break means Petersen, 67, hasn't left town for more than just a day excursion since he retired.
During his career with Hill Air Force Base as an equipment specialist for the foreign military, he said, he serviced the electronic and avionic systems on airplanes in nine different countries. It left him with little desire to go far from home.
"He said he had seen the world and he is happy with where he is," Miller said.
The unbroken streak also means Petersen has never skipped a day for illness. He has good health, which he attributes to his rigorous exercise routine. But when he does feel under the weather, he still hikes, even if he ends up taking a sick day in bed afterward.
Petersen says he didn't plan for things to be this way. Although he enjoyed hiking the trail system around Malan's Peak with friends during his youth, he didn't become a regular hiker until about 20 years ago.
Before his retirement, he preferred to mix things up -- hiking several Top of Utah trails and taking a trip to Tanzania to hike Mount Kilimanjaro in 2005.
He enjoyed hiking, but never imagined doing it every day, especially not the same trail every day.
On Oct. 13, 2006, Petersen said he wanted to hike to Malan's Peak to celebrate his retirement. "Even though I liked my job, it was nice to be free from having to work," he said.
The next day, he woke up wondering what to do with his newfound freedom. He had enjoyed the hike so much that he decided to do it again. Sunday was the same story.
The process repeated itself until it became a habit. At some point, it became a goal for him to see how long he could keep it going.
"I started to think getting to 500 days in a row would be quite a big deal," Petersen said.
A cold celebration
Every day, his routine is the same. He wakes up, drinks a cup of coffee and heads to the trail -- regardless of the weather. Before his hike, he consumes a banana and throws the peel on the ground near the beginning of Ogden's 27th Street trailhead. The banana has become as much of a habit as the hike itself.
Petersen has introduced himself to thousands of hikers over the years, and regulars to the trail know to look for the fresh banana peel on top of the pile of withered black ones to confirm that the loyal hiker has been there.
Petersen's 500th hike fell on what turned out to be a cold winter day. He had invited others to take the momentous trek with him, but, due to freezing temperatures, deep snow on the trail, wind and snow that was still falling, only about eight others showed up.
One of those who braved the extreme conditions that day was Kym Buttschardt, who lives near the trailhead with her husband, Pete. She described the hike as memorable and said the snow was waist-deep for her at some points. "It was a really, really cold day. But, also a great day with lots of laughs," she said. "It gave me a taste of what he does. He is out there every day."
Not only is Petersen there every day, many have also commented on how friendly he is to other hikers.
"He is super friendly. He talks to everyone. I don't know of a day he hasn't had a smile on his face," Kym Buttschardt said.
Pete Buttschardt agreed and added his appreciation that Petersen keeps an eye on things. "He is kind of like a good neighbor, even though he doesn't really live here," he said.
Petersen has also made an impression on Mike and Janis Vause, avid hikers who live near the trailhead. They frequently hike to Malan's Peak for training purposes before traveling to other countries to hike higher peaks.
They once hiked to Malan's Peak for 40 days in a row, which gives them a real appreciation for Petersen's accomplishment.
"I call him the 'Mayor of Taylor Canyon,' " Mike Vause said, a nod to Petersen's affinity for hiking and caring for this particular trail.
When they heard of his 500th-hike accomplishment, they decided to host a party in his honor. "Everyone was so happy to congratulate him," Janis Vause said. "We really admire him. It takes a lot of commitment, tenacity and focus to do what he does."
Stories from the trail
For years before his uninterrupted string of hikes began, Petersen took his three-legged dog Katie on the trails. She was a golden retriever and lab mix who had to have a hind leg amputated when she was 6 months old after being struck by a car.
She died in 2004, at age 13. Petersen drives past her grave every day on his way to hike Malan's Peak and blows a kiss to his old friend.
On the trail, he has seen wildlife, including rattlesnakes and moose and the tracks of mountain lions in the snow.
One time, Petersen said, he saw a lightning bolt strike not far from where he was standing and start a fire so he called 911. He shrugged off the dangers, joking, "I figure if (God) missed me once, I'll be all right."
Petersen likes to keep his hiking simple, wearing shorts and taking only a pole for a walking stick when the weather is warm. Spring, summer and fall are his favorite times of year, but he perseveres through winter -- wearing snowshoes when the snow gets deep and crampons when it is hard-packed.
He can usually make it to the peak in 50 minutes in good conditions, and he takes his time on the way down, talking to other hikers as he goes. Petersen said he enjoys the physical aspect of the hike, but looks forward to the serenity, too.
"It's a really beautiful place to go every morning. As much as it is a physical outlet, it is also a peaceful place to be to get your thoughts together," he said.
He hopes that others will follow his example of getting outdoors and exercising. "I tell my friends, 'You don't have to do what I do, just get outside. Go take advantage of the trail system we have. It is amazing.' What a great way to spend time with friends or family experiencing the great outdoors and getting exercise," he said.
Patti Miller said she feels inspired by his example. "It just shows you never know what you might be capable of doing until you set out and do it," she said.
Hikers are invited to accompany Petersen on his 2,500th hike. Meet him at Ogden's 27th Street trailhead at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17.