No matter how I feel when I wake up on a Monday morning, I'm always uplifted and ready to take on the world (or at least my small part of it) after that session of physical, spiritual and social activity.
Now, I've found the perfect end-of-week bookend for my start-the-week routine: a Friday afternoon women's hiking club. It's a club in the loosest sense of the word—no dues, matching outfits, or other requirements—and that suits me fine. It's just a group of women who get together once a week to explore Newaygo County's trails and appreciate its natural assets.
Avid outdoorswomen and longtime friends Peg Mercer and Mary Papes started the club several months ago, inspired by hiking and biking clubs in Arizona.
"Mary and I were in awe of the opportunities they had created and felt like we could do the same in Newaygo County," says Peg, who traces her interest in outdoor activities to childhood, "living in the farm fields of Alpine Township, where we biked all over the neighborhood—to my grandma's house three miles away, to the local party store for penny candy—and walked long distances to friends' houses."
Peg and Mary, who have also backpacked with a group of local women, invited friends and neighbors to join them on their Friday outings, and they encouraged those women to invite others.
"It has been a heartfelt pleasure to meet so many active women right in our own area," says Peg. "I look forward to the friends who have yet to come in our pathways."
From the outset, the idea was to make it easy for people to participate (or not), as schedules allow. On Thursdays, Peg and Mary send out texts and emails announcing where the hike will be, and anyone who's free can just show up ready to hike a route that one of the leaders has scouted in advance.
Many of the hikes follow segments of the North Country Trail, a 4,600-mile path that extends from New York to North Dakota, with a swath that cuts through Michigan from the Ohio border in the south, upward through the Lower Peninsula, into the Upper Peninsula and across to the northern Wisconsin border. A long stretch of the trail crosses Newaygo County and is easily accessible at several points (including one that's minutes from my house!).
Some hikes include optional kayaking afterward, and women from the group have gotten together for bicycling on other days.
I had read about hiking clubs and walking clubs in other parts of the country and always wanted to be part of one. So when my neighbor Sally told me about this club, I was excited to join. So far, I've been on six hikes, with groups ranging in size from four to thirteen. On every hike I've known at least one other person (several of the Monday yoga women are also Friday hiking women now), but I've also met a dozen strong, interesting women I hadn't known before.
And because the group values the getting-to-know-you aspect at least as much as the getting-fit aspect, chatting is not only permitted, it's encouraged. (One particularly apt name suggested for the club is the "Walkie Talkies.") Every time we pause to stretch or take a breather, the pack reshuffles and conversation partners change. While walking through groves of pines and glades of ferns, I've been enlightened on everything from cake decorating to the origins of pickle ball to what to do if you meet a bear.
Now, at the beginning of every week, I find myself wondering not only what challenging poses Ellie will lead us through and what we'll discuss at Hit the Road Joe, but also where the Friday hike will go, who I'll get to know better as we walk and talk and what I'll learn in the process.
What ways have you found of combining favorite activities with friendship?
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.