With spring’s warmer weather on the way, it’s a good time of year to think about exercising outside.
Need a buddy? Need a plan? Need to avoid extra costs?
Look no further than local meetup groups.
If you have internet access, you can easily check out the vast array of meetup groups in the Richmond area. There’s everything from sewing to software users.
In the category of outdoor exercise, the options are particularly plentiful. You can join in on backpacking, flag football, sailing, soccer, yoga and more.
I decided to test out a meetup. Without notice, I showed up for a late-afternoon walk organized by Rick Allen of the James River Hikers. I didn’t wear my tennis shoes, because I really just wanted to talk to the participants, and I’d already worked out earlier in the day.
But they couldn’t have been more welcoming and chatty.
Allen, who runs a hike about twice a week and has more than 40 routes he organizes, said the mix of people is always different.
“It’s mostly a word-of-mouth kind of thing,” he said.
As far as I can tell from the information about local meetups online, the James River Hikers is the largest, with nearly 4,600 members. (In case you’re wondering, the Richmond Mindfulness & Meditation Meetup Group appears to be second, with about 4,100 members.)
Almost every day, the James River Hikers posts several events from which to choose. Most of them have to do with walking or hiking near the river.
Some, however, are completely unrelated. They watch the Olympics together, they bake cookies and they throw karaoke parties.
Dennis Bussey, who took over as the leader of the Cary Street Hikers in 2011 and later changed the name to reflect the popular routes along the river, was a retiree and avid hiker who never expected the group to take off like it did.
“There are lots of meetup groups, but we have become one of the big ones,” Bussey said.
His first hike as a leader, in 2011, drew seven people. The official number of members in the group that summer was 25.
Today, there are 60 event organizers who lead groups on routes throughout the area. Many of them are well-versed in historical facts, as the full name of the group is now the James River Hikers — Hiking with History.
Bussey said he estimates that 80 percent of the members are women, possibly because women don’t want to go out on the often-secluded trails alone. A majority of the members are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, he said.
Because many of the hikes are in the James River Park, the group has become a huge base of volunteers for work in the park. Members often show up for work meetups, where they cut vines out of trees, repair trails and construct walkways.
With the James River Hikers, you can pick and choose your level of exertion, as the meetups range from easy walks in city parks to challenging out-of-town hikes at locations such as Old Rag Mountain.
Some other active meetups in the area advertise themselves as multilevel groups as well.
RVA Sandlot, for instance, a coed baseball meetup, is described online as a “recreational” gathering for all levels. “We have folks who have college-level baseball or softball experience, to those who have only seen a few games on TV,” the group says in its online description.
At least a few of the activity-based meetups, however, require a higher level of experience. The Master Hikers, for instance, advertises itself as an “adventure group that plans hiking, backpacking, cycling, kayaking and other outdoor adventuring events throughout the year which are intended for experienced outdoor enthusiasts.”
That definitely doesn’t sound like a walk in the park.