When Marana Mayor Ed Honea reaches the top of a ridge – often after hiking upwards of 10 miles – he takes a seat, peers out at the world below, and life falls into perspective.
From this view, the houses below are only specks; the cars just slow-moving dots on the horizon.
“I’m just a little tiny grain of sand in these enormous mountains and valleys,” said Honea.
Humble as he is, Honea has long been, and continues to be, an inspiration to the residents he governs, even when he isn’t sitting behind the council dais making tough decisions.
As much as Honea appreciates the people in his community, having spent more than 25 years serving on council, there is another passion he clings to, one that clears his mind of the stress and anxiety that comes with his incredibly busy schedule.
“I really love to hike,” said Honea. “There’s a freedom to it. We all have problems in our lives, and it gives you a chance to burn off that nervous energy.”
For Honea, hiking also serves as a way to reflect on the many memories shared between him and his late wife Jan Honea, who lost a battle with cancer close to one year ago.
Honea smiled as he recalled one of their many adventures together at Madera Canyon years ago, when, while on the trail, his wife insisted she heard something in a nearby wash.
“You know how guys are,” said Honea. “I tell her it’s just a squirrel or something, but she says, ‘No, there’s something big walking down there,’ and I tell her, ‘Ah, it’s probably a deer.’ Then, all of the sudden, this big male black bear - it probably weighed 300 pounds – comes up out of the wash about 50 feet in front of us.”
Honea chuckled as he relived the experience in his mind.
“We were out there, two or three miles out with nothing to fight him off with but a bologna sandwich,” he said. “We would always joke about that afterwards.”
But beyond the heartache that came with his wife’s passing, and where some would quit, Honea, who has hiked on and off for most his life, is picking up the intensity of his workouts.
In the last six months, Honea has hiked a total of 200 hours, 615 miles, and burnt 58,000 calories.
“The guy walks like a maniac,” said Tom Ellis, director of Marana’s Parks and Recreation Department. “He is always doing loops through the town, around the park, and he is an avid hiker. We have 30 miles of trails in the Tortolitas, and he regularly gets out there and hikes. He can hike you all day long.”
Ellis said the benefits of Honea’s fitness drive resonate with town staff.
“It’s a great morale booster knowing that a head official is one of the town’s greatest advocates,” he said. “He talks to fellow hikers, and he’s always bragging up our trails. He also serves as an extra set of eyes out there, and lets us know if he sees something wrong with the trails.”
Often found along the trails of Dove Mountain, Sombrero Peak, Madera Canyon, and Pima Canyon, Honea, who welcomes residents to hike with him, said his progress has been gradual. For seniors who are in the early stages of becoming fit, Honea suggest a similar method.
“Don’t just go do 20 miles out of the blue,” said Honea. “Something as simple as walking around the block after dinner or taking your dog out instead of letting him in the yard. Get out and say hi to your friends. Exercise is more important as we get older. When you’re younger, you’re stronger. You haven’t had as much time to wear stuff out.”
Now, after his years of conditioning (and even some minor falls along the way), it’s tough for even the younger guys to keep up with Honea on the trails.
“I’ve gone on hikes with 35-year-old guys and helped carry their belongings back,” said Honea, who hikes or walks 20 miles per week or more.
But for Honea, it’s about more than mere conditioning, although that is key considering three out of four of his grandparents died from heart-related problems before reaching their 64th birthday.
“I’m 65 now,” said Honea. “I may eventually get something down the road, but I’m going to keep my heart strong. I have a blood pressure of about 120 over 70, and I credit that to getting out and staying active.”
Honea’s interest in fitness is heightened by the fact it helps sustain his mental health, allowing him to perform his job as mayor to the best of his abilities, and in the meantime prompting the question: Is it more enjoyable to hike, or to be the mayor of Marana?
“I enjoy all aspects of the community, including hiking and power walking,” said Honea.
Favoritism aside, Honea holds hiking in much the same regard as his 17 years of marriage and 25-plus years on council.
“I’m addicted to it,” said Honea. “I just love it.”