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Work to live: Outdoor Rec trips help Tinker man share passion for adventure with base

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A Rocky Mountain sun peeked over the horizon and spread a swath of golden light across the valley.


Erik Jones looked up the mountain some 200 meters from where he was situated comfortably on a rock, as the orange beams slammed against the face of Long's Peak. Jones was accompanied by a handful of friends and fellow mountaineers on that day several years ago. They were watching the sun rise on the Colorado red granite from 13,000 feet. The small party sat bewildered at the raw dawn, like patrons waiting for the show to begin in an expansive theater. Amazingly they needed no tickets for this matinee.


Jones has always been a outdoors kind of guy. From an early age it was playing in the woods, making forts, fishing and riding his bike with friends. An Arlington, Va., native, his parents had set the tone.


"When we were kids if we were home before the street lights came on it was 'what are you doing home? Get back outside,'" Jones says.


Seems that sentiment is still with him.


To say it plainly, Jones is happier outside civilization than in it. A paint supervisor with the 551st Commodities Maintenance Squadron, he describes the place where he's happiest.


"In a tent out in the woods somewhere," he says simply. "I don't like big crowds."


He owns no TV, doesn't have a home phone, uses the Internet about twice per month and longs for "a nice small house, as long as I have room for my gear."


Jones got his start in Boy Scouts, and before enlisting in the Air Force at 18, had solo hiked all 300 plus miles of the Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail.


As often as he can, he hikes, bikes, runs, kayaks, canoes, snowboards, camps, fishes, rock climbs and his favorite thing to do -- ice climbing. He's sweltered and shivered for the sake of adventure, with temperatures dipping to 30 below with a wind chill on some outings.


Though his outdoor exploits have taken him to several states, the Centennial State is his Graceland. From his favorite ice climbing spots in Rocky Mountain National Park and Vail, to the more than 50 "14ers," Colorado is his place of choice.


In southern Colorado, tucked away in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains lies Blanca Peak. At 14,345 feet it's the fourth tallest mountain in Colorado and the seventh tallest in the contiguous United States. It's also Jones' favorite to hike. After he starts talking you understand why.


"Bring a little fishing pole with you and catch fresh trout for dinner every night," Jones says. "On a clear night the stars that you see are amazing. You almost wake yourself up to look at the stars. You go out there enough you can actually tell what time it is because of where the moon is."


Eventually a future trip to Argentina to climb 22,841-foot Mount Aconcagua -- the tallest in the Americas -- will take place. Jones just isn't sure when.


But Jones is a generous man. For the last several years he's shared his time and his expertise, helping other Tinker patrons enjoy the same things he does. As a volunteer with the Outdoor Recreation program, he's shared many a campfire with Tinker-affiliated campers and has no plans to stop. From hiking and canoe trips in Arkansas to snowboarding and camping in Colorado, Jones is an Outdoor Rec regular. And there's always room for more participants, he says.


These interests took him to Long's Peak, Colo., those several years past, to absorb a sunrise with fellow Tinker adventurers.


"You're just waiting there, and as the sun comes up it starts lighting it up at the peak. It's like a sunrise on rock," Jones says. The Long's Peak trip is a mainstay of the Outdoor Rec repertoire and one of the prettiest treks on the docket.


For Jones, his enthusiasm for the outdoors started at a young age. Now, he wagers he has about 10,000 miles of hiking under his boots and each month tacks on a few more. It's safe to say he'll be an outdoorsman for life.


"You go out there and do it for the challenge and the thrill of it, so you have to go to where the thrill is," Jones says. "I used to live to work, now I work to live."