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Free for all and fun to walk

Trekking at your own pace is the name of the game for the Olympic Peninsula Explorers club.

Modeled after volkssporting, a German personal fitness plan, the club sponsors noncompetitive events for people of all ages and mobility levels to walk and hike.

Their next event, a Troll Stroll in Gardiner, takes participants to see hand-crafted troll wood art and local landmarks along walks of 5 or 11 kilometers.

Typical walks are 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) with the shorter walk for people with time or mobility constraints.

Each walk has something special to offer: scenic views, new company to walk and talk with and opportunities every other weekend to explore the peninsula from Forks to Bremerton.

Group members Richard and Glenda Cable said they've planned vacations around volkssporting and will hike Hawaii next month in conjunction with a walk on the big island.

They have more than 1,200 volksmarches, or walks, between them.

"When we go someplace, we can find a walk anywhere because they are all over the country," Glenda said.

"It's just downright fun," Richard said.

"It's habit forming and very enjoyable."


German beginnings

Janet Lenfant, former president of the group, said volkssporters live by their three F's - friendship, fun and fitness.

"Sometimes we add food and fermented drinks," she said jokingly.

Beer isn't an uncommon beverage at volkssport events since the first 1968 sanctioned event was held in Hohemark, Germany.

Check stops originally were set for 20k walks with beer stands, Lenfant said.

Despite mostly alcohol-

free events elsewhere, volks-sporting has ballooned in popularity in 40-plus years with more than 350 clubs in the U.S. and 30 countries.

On the peninsula, walks in Sequim, Port Angeles and other areas, biking the Discovery Trail and cross-country skiing near Hurricane Ridge are a few of the ventures the explorers club began.

All events are ranked from one (easy) to five (hardest).

Lenfant said people with baby strollers, wheelchairs and lesser mobility have participated in past walking events.

"If you are mobile, then you can do it," she said.

Sanctioned events

Each walk is free for par-ticipants, but for those looking to take volkssporting to the next level can pay to participate in sanctioned events.

Those who pay $3 per 10k walk can receive a stamp in a log book that officially enters them into the American Volkssport Association's records.

Guidelines at timed events are simple: the only requirement is you must finish by the early afternoon so a volks-sport volunteer can stamp your book.

Sanctioned events, such as the Troll Stroll, add up and put members toward milestone patches and pins. Significant milestones are entered into the volkssport newspaper.

One milestone local members are trying to meet is a sanctioned walk in every state.

The club plans to run 14 total seasonal and year-round events in 2010. Year-round events can be walked at any time and work on an honor system.

Log sheets and dues can be dropped off at certain locations such as QFC in Sequim before participating. Participants must keep track of checkpoints along the way to verify they went the whole 10k.

Walks and club dues pay for sanction of volkssport events, awards and membership into the state and national clubs.

Club walks are once a month. Other events are held with the Kitsap Volkssporters Club.

Why come?

Lenfant said shorter 5k walks were added to appeal to more people.

"Pace varies with the person. There are some who have to be at the front of the pack, some in a pack and some who walk alone," she said.

Frances Johnson, of Chimacum, started volkssporting in 1986 and hasn't looked back.

In her 70s now, she's logged more than 18,000 kilometers at sanctioned events.

Johnson said she traveled across Washington and Oregon to volksmarch, but driving has become harder than walking now.

"I used to think nothing of going to Eastern Washington or Oregon," she said.

"I haven't gone there in a long time because there are so many walks here."

More information on Olympic Peninsula Explorers can be found at www.olympus.net/community/ope/ or by calling 452-0593. More on the national and state organizations can be found at www.ava.org and www.esva.org.


Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.



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