Thursday, May 12, 2016

Volkssporting: Get out and see something, meet new people

"An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day." -  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
"The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk."  - Jacqueline Schiff (1985-present)
"If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish."  - Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

What: Noncompetitive organized walking.
Started: Germany 1968.
Today: Volkssporting clubs exist in 40 countries.
U.S. association: American Volkssport Association.
U.S. membership: 250 chartered clubs.
Mission: To promote and organize walking and other noncompetitive events that encourage physical fitness, fun and friendship.
Web site: for club listings, new walker’s packets.
Membership cost: $6.50

Editor's note: I wrote this story recently for The Columbian newspaper, Vancouver, Wash.

On any given day, Joe Titone, Vancouver, Wash. is out for a walk.
As president of the All Weather Walkers volkssport club in Vancouver, Titone helps organize noncompetitive walking events for his 45 club members.
“Walking is a healthy activity…we just give it a bit of organization to get people seeing new parts of our area,” Titone said. “And there’s the great social aspect to it.”
Titone’s favorite walks are inside Portland, Ore.'s Forest Park and a trail around the lower end of Lacamas Lake at Round Lake near Camas, Wash.
Round Lake, Camas, Wash.
All Weather Walkers is part of a national and international phenomenon known as volkssporting that began in Germany in 1968. In the U.S., volkssporting involves 250 clubs that sponsor 3,000 walking events a year.
These events are non-competitive for speed or distance but members of the American Volkssport Association may choose to record points toward Achievement Award incentives using an AVA journal.
For Jan Veeder, volkssport walking is about healthy exercise and as with Titone, she likes meeting new people. As a member of the Border Crossers, a Longview-based volkssport walking group, Veeder does local walks but also likes stepping out for regional events around the Pacific Northwest. She fondly remembers meeting friends for a weekend of walking in the Columbia Gorge.
“You don’t have to worry about whether it is a safe place to walk or what the terrain will be like,” said Veeder, who is 69 and widowed. “But the real appeal is meeting people. It’s incredible.” Two years ago, Veeder met a group of walkers from Italy and a large contingent from Canada at the Gorge event.
“Volkssport walking is a great way to see different places and earn badges for your accomplishments,” she said. “It is a way to stay motivated.”
According to the American Volkssport Association, nearly 400,000 people took part in AVA events during a recent two-year period.
Someday, Veeder would like to make a volkssport event part of a trip to Europe where thousands of enthusiastic walkers turnout to explore such locations as the Irish countryside or Italy’s gorgeous Cinque Terre coastline.
In fact, Walking Adventures International offers volkssport walking-travel opportunities in all 50 states and 58 countries on seven continents. The company’s Great Circle Route provides guided walking tours in the United Kingdom and Europe that “explore history, gardens, culture and natural wonders along the trails.”
Tom Baltes, 61, and his wife, Louise, Vancouver, began volkssporting in Europe when he was serving in the military in the 1980s. Their children were just babies. Baltes remembers pushing them along in strollers while out on volkssport walks.
“We liked getting the exercise while seeing the countryside at these events,” Baltes said. “The atmosphere was very festive. We’ve been hooked ever since.”
Now as president of the 90-member Vancouver USA Volkssporters, Baltes is kept busy organizing walks such as a recent half marathon at Clark College that was expected to attract as many as 140 walkers. Participants could choose from four planned routes of differing lengths and terrain.
The noncompetitive aspects of volkssporting appeal to Joe Titone, 76.
“We usually organize a walk from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. where walkers can arrive any time during that time frame to do a walk at their own pace,” Titone said. “There is no large group doing a mass ‘start,’” he said. “Walkers can pick up a map at the beginning, do the walk and give themselves credit for distance and time. If they want, they can get a stamp in their journal at the end of the walk, or not bother.”
Local club Web sites make it easy to keep up with a walking calendar and stay in touch. A national Web site,, lists clubs by state and city with contact information for each.
Is there a volkssporting “look”?
For many, volkssport attire may include a floppy trekking hat for sun protection, loose hiking clothing and sturdy footwear, along with one or two walking poles.
Titone agrees that many walkers use retractable walking poles for balance and to avoid falling on uneven ground.
 “Even if the trail is flat, a pile of leaves can hide an exposed tree root,” he said. “I’ve saved myself from falling more than once.” cont.

Siouxon Creek, near Amboy, Wash.
Both Titone and Baltes would like to see more young people joining the ranks of volkssporting, which has seen a drop off in U.S. participation in the past several years.
“Worldwide, walking is extremely popular,” Titone said. “In Germany if an event doesn’t attract 5,000 people they are disappointed. In the U.S, a good turnout may be in the hundreds.”
Baltes, who is the newly elected Northwest AVA deputy-regional director, expects ongoing improvements to the way volkssporting is promoted and managed.
“The national association is doing ongoing strategic planning to find out what appeals to younger families and younger people, generally,” Baltes said. “Over the next two years, we expect to see a number of improvements including better use of modern technology…social media and apps for online registration and event updates. It is an ongoing process.”

                                                                                  FOR MORE:
International walking tours:
Evergreen State Volkssport Association, click here.
Walk Oregon (and SW Washington), click here.
AVA news blog, click here.

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