He loves nature and the great outdoors, likes to camp and…smokes like a fiend.

Or did.

Eric Larson quit smoking after 39 years and is back on the trail to good health.
Eric Larson quit smoking after 39 years and is back on the trail to good health.

What a pleasure–and surprise–to recently run into my longtime friend Eric Larson hiking in the Santa Barbara foothills. I DIDN’T ask, “What are YOU doing here?” But Eric must have known I was wondering how he hiked nearly three miles up San Roque Trail to a scenic vista point, because shortly after we greeted each other, he explained his new passion for hiking.

“I got a nasty, lingering cold and cough in February,” he began. “I took that as an opportunity to stop smoking.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

“Just like that. I’d smoked for 39 years. First couple days were hard, but now I’m OK.”

I was shocked. We all know how hard it is to quit smoking. Especially after 39 years!

“Eric, that is awesome!”

Eric told me more of his story as we descended from Inspiration Point and hiked along San Roque Creek. It seems Eric, a book designer, did like to get out of the office and take a hike, and more than occasionally, during those many years when he was smoking. It was a challenge getting back to the trailhead to get a smoke; once in while he even succumbed to the urge and climbed up into some rocks to smoke a cigarette, understandably nervous about the potential fire danger in the highly flammable Southern California backcountry.

Now he literally and figuratively breathes easier on the trail. And the sage and fennel that perfumes the air along Santa Barbara’s front country trails in spring smells mighty good.

“You on any meds, anything to counter the urge to smoke?” I ask.

“Just this.” Eric drops a piece of candy in my hand and pops one in his mouth. “Hikers like them too.”

He laughs when I pucker up.

“Salty licorice?” I question, resisting the urge to spit it out.

“Salmiak, very popular in Finland and northern Europe,” Eric explains. “Ammonium chloride gives the licorice an astringent salty taste.”

An acquired taste to be sure. Maybe there are more hikers than I imagined trying to give up smoking and they find salmiak the perfect trail trail treat.

Never mind that, it’s great to see my friend smiling, arms swinging, lungs filling with fresh air.

“Eric, congratulations,” I say when we get back to the trailhead. “Not many people can quit smoking after 39 years and take off hiking.”

“One day at a time,” he says. “One hike at a time.”