Whether you have just a slight fancy or a burning passion for a walk in the woods, it’s nice to have others with whom to share your interest. A few years ago when I first started to explore my avid desire to go backpacking, I had a real problem finding like-minded people. My husband and I have hiked for years, but backpacking isn’t his thing. My friends – the ones that didn’t find me mad for wanted to carry everything I needed on my back to hike for days – at most were only moderately interested in day hikes. Then I found an outdoor club, the Central Indiana Wilderness Club that was “going my way.” Up until that discovery, a week-end in the Red River Gorge or a week-long hike on the Appalachian Trail was only a fantasy, but I did both within a few months of joining the club. Since then, I’ve hiked hundreds of miles all across the US and parts of Canada on club trips.
If you’re having the same difficulty finding an outlet for your outdoor passion, then you might consider finding a local club as well. Here are a few of the benefits of doing so:
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Over the past several years, I’ve hiked with many of the 200-some members of my club. We may start off as strangers, but we end the hike as friends. They are “my people.” We have a shared interest that brings us together. This is very refreshing in the world that is so full of polarized disagreements these days. Political and religious beliefs that divide people are not so evident on the trail. The enjoyment of the outdoors and the accomplishment of the day’s challenge are what matter most. My club supports cooperation and inclusion, so I always feel part of the group.
I’ve made very good friends on the trail. We never would have met or even known the possibility of our friendship if we hadn’t come together in the club. There is an incredible bonding experience that comes from being out day and night for several days in a row with others. Club meetings, trips and activities become even more special because I’m going to see friends that I really care about.
My club takes over 30 multi-day trips a year and dozens of day hikes. These range from locations just down the road to destinations on many bucket lists. With the collective knowledge of club members I’ve learned of places I had never known before. In just three years, I have been to Manistee River in Michigan, the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, Shenandoah Valley area in Virginia, Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin, and Banff National Park Alberta. Others have been to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, The Grand Canyon in Arizona and Zion National Park in Utah. That doesn’t even count the numerous trips we have taken all across Indiana.
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Most clubs have a leadership training program that will give you the opportunity to plan and lead a trip of your choosing. The requirements and experience needed for this will vary, but you may someday find yourself taking a group to the Appalachian Trail, or to a state park in your area. It’s fun to plan the activities and have a ready-made audience to take part. Most clubs have a membership list, Meetup.com account, social media and so forth for you to reach out to members and entice them to your trip. I’m planning a trip later this year to Utah’s Canyon Country. This is something I probably wouldn’t do without my club buddies.
- Let someone else do the planning
Maybe you don’t want the responsibility to lead, but do want more opportunities to take organized trips. An outdoor club would be the perfect for you. Some clubs will have some type of membership requirements, but they are usually low barriers to participation such as a small annual membership fee.
When you take a club trip, you are likely to go with an experienced outdoors person that has thought through the itinerary, safety issues and transportation. You get the benefit without the effort of planning.
- Learn skills
If you’re just starting to hike or backpack, a club is the perfect place for you. My club offers a beginner’s backpacking class and beginner trips to get people started. In other clubs just joining club activities and hiking with experienced hikers, you’ll be able to learn all the basics. Are you not sure what to bring, how to set up your tent, or how to cook on the trail? Hikers are eager to bring more people into the fold and will show you what you need to know to become an accomplished backpacker.
You’ll also see a variety of styles and habits from which you can choose what is most comfortable for you. Even as an experienced hiker, I still learn new things (and about new gadgets) on all the trips I take.
- Save money
Travel can be expensive, but sharing the costs of transportation, attraction fees, and other activities can make it more affordable. Traveling together may entitle you to group camping fees, one vehicle entry into parks and shared trail meal costs. If you don’t have your equipment yet, you may be able to share stoves, water filters, and other group gear. The added bonus is that everyone’s load is lightened when you don’t carry unnecessary redundant equipment. Sharing transportation is probably the biggest cost savings, plus you get to visit with your companions along the way, or possibly take a nap while someone else does the driving.
I found my club through Meetup.com, but you can do an internet search and easily find one in your area. For a listing by state just search “hiking group ______” with your state name. Hiking and Backpacking.com is a website that has researched this for you. You’ll be amazed how many groups there are. Each club has its own culture and procedures, so you may look around to find one that is best for you. It is well worth the time and effort to make your hiking and outdoor adventure dreams come true. Write me and let me know what you find in your area. If you’re in Indiana, you have an open invitation to join CIWC in one of our many activities.