Gunn leading Tuscany hike

Ron Gunn will put you to the test.

“I can get you in pretty good shape in eight or nine months,” said Gunn, who runs a venture he calls Stone Cairn Adventure Tours. “In September, we do a 27.4-mile test hike at Manistee River trail (near Cadillac).”

Since retiring from Southwestern Michigan College, Gunn has been putting together travel trips, with Tuscany, Italy and Yosemite in California (with a 16.7-mile trek with guy wires) on tap this year.

Last month, Gunn showed fellow Rotarians the travelogue Tom Janssen made of the May 2010 “Highlanders” tour by 56 Cass County area residents.

Scenic Scotland is well-suited for hiking with rugged terrain and overcast moderate weather of 55 to 70, although Gunn’s group saw the sun every day.

“When you go through the Highlands, you never go up a mountain, you go through a glen or around a loch (lake). There’s never a place that isn’t beautiful and pristine. My daughter stepped in a bog deeper than her boots. You drive on the wrong side of the road. It makes you a better driver because you have to concentrate. If you don’t watch yourself, you can die.”

“Bridges” were constructed of a cable to walk on and two to grasp, turning the hikers into high-wire walkers.

Pubs line the “royal mile” down from high ground.

The capital, Edinburgh, is a medieval, yet vibrant city with a climbable mountain with a castle in its midst.

“Nobody can match it,” Gunn said. “Not Dublin, New York or Chicago. It’s so ancient.”

Hikers are allowed to cross farmers’ fields so long as they respect the land, so many photographs show Highlanders navigating flocks of sheep on steep hillsides.

There was no hotel to accommodate a group that large, so Gunn’s group distributed themselves between seven bed and breakfasts.

When it came time to leave, their hosts threw them a party for which the whole town turned out.

“When we got back, the trip was so incredible, we had a reunion,” he said. “Mostly, the people who go on my trips are professionals who need that stimulation.”

The soundtrack enhanced his presentation, from Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” on bagpipe to a female vocalist’s ballad rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.”

“The mantra of my company is there is a pub at the end of every trail,” said Gunn, who is now in his 70s. “We never sleep on the ground.”

When SMC ended intercollegiate athletics, “We were looking for a dynamite way to spark interest in physical education and take it out of aerobic dance and weight lifting with more pizzazz.

“I added white water rafting in West Virginia and rock climbing in Devil’s Lake, Wis.,” Gunn said of his 2006 semi-retired transition into part-time extreme sports director. “A lot say (hiking the Grand Canyon) is a tougher challenge than a marathon. You’re out there six to 12 hours with a 16-pound day pack doing reverse mountaineering in remote wilderness.”

Gunn came to SMC in 1967 and built a national Roadrunners powerhouse, including five national cross country championships, three national marathon titles, 142 student-athletes earning All-American honors and, with the community, Steve Briegel’s Run.

Gunn was five times the National Junior College Athletic Association National Coach of the Year.

“Everybody is blessed with some kind of talent,” Gunn told the Daily News in an April 2012 interview. “Coaching, whether I get in your face or give you a little push, and organizing trips are mine. I’m not talented like a real artist, so my way of being an artist is developing a course for a hike.”

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