Remembering John McCullough
written by Hope Rogers
Long-time Thendara member John McCullough passed away January 4 after a brief illness. He was with his family in Evanston, IL, where he and his wife moved in 2009.
What follows are a few memories of outdoor adventures with him.
John and I met in 2007 at a July 4 canoeing weekend at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mohican Outdoor Center, in the Delaware Water Gap recreation area. For our first day on the water, we were all instructed to find a paddling partner roughly our size and weight, so that both ends of the canoe would sit at the same depth in the water. John quietly approached me and pointed out that we were about the same size. My unspoken, extremely ungenerous reaction was something like, “a whole weekend with this old guy with the hearing aids? Oh no.” (By the way, he was then a mere three years older than I am now.)
I couldn’t have been more wrong. We hit it off immediately. Behind the crusty, hard-of-hearing exterior lay a kind, gentlemanly soul with a wicked sense of humor, a taste for adventure and fun, and an appetite for the outdoors and wild places. That October we shared a canoe again, this time on a camping trip in the Adirondacks led by the same able AMC leader. Dismal weather; great times.
Everyone who knew John was aware that he could be irritable and impatient. But he knew himself well. One day on the Undercliff Trail near Cold Spring, NY, we crossed paths with an older, rather unfriendly hiker. After he had gone by, John remarked, “Just like me: old, deaf and grumpy.”
When I met John I had just started to hike. I didn’t even know how to read trail markers. He proved a tireless teacher, letting me lead and simply stopping silently when I veered off trail, leaving me to figure out where I’d gone wrong. John introduced me to Thendara, which changed my life. He got me started with trail maintaining; when he moved away I took over maintaining his Thendara trail section.
A retired chemist, John loved details: lists of supplies for camping and hiking, total recall of limericks and of songs from The Threepenny Opera (in German, of course), and immersive trail map studying. He didn’t have one favorite hike but rather loved to find new places to go or new ways to navigate more familiar terrain. He did have a sneaker for Schunnemunk Mountain though.
Thanks to John’s boundless hike ideas I was introduced to several areas I would never have discovered on my own. On a winter hike on the Kittatinny Ridge we were yelled at by a hunter for not wearing red or orange. He was right! We were so spoiled by hunter-free Harriman that we had forgotten all about hunting. We didn’t return there. Trips to the Adirondacks and the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania were far more successful. But his zest for every outing made them all grand adventures.
The morning he died, his daughter Mia wrote: “I opened the window so his energy could go out. I’m sure he’s headed back to Harriman. That’s where his heart lived.”