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Perspectives on Outings: What's Holding You Back?
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by Dan Soeder, Outings Chair | 2011

You do not have to be the quintessential outdoors man or woman to lead a great outing!

A few years ago as outings chair in the Maryland Chapter, I had the opportunity to be on the Perfect Outing. The leader was an energetic lady named Helen Daniel, who came on one of my bicycle outings, and told me about a wonderful bike trail in the Washington area that she liked to ride. I convinced her to become an outings leader and plan the activity.

She put some effort into it, getting the OLT101 training, taking first aid, and planning the trip in detail. She rode the route in advance, learned the history of the various places along the way, found the locations of all the restrooms (important), advertised the event locally, and actively recruited participants. About a dozen people turned out for the Capital Crescent trail ride that April, including several long-time Sierra members who had never been on an outing before and several non-members who expressed an interest in joining the Club.

We rode from Bethesda down to Georgetown, and then to Roosevelt Island, a beautiful, nearly wild island in the Potomac across from the Kennedy Center that some congressperson was trying to force the Park Service to sell to developers. We returned to Bethesda for lunch after a total ride of about 18 miles. The outing was interesting, fun, and educational. The participants ranged in age from a 13 year-old girl riding with her mom, to Wil Chase, age 86. Wil did the whole trip, keeping up with the group the entire way, and then he rode home from the restaurant afterward, another 4 miles! I want to be like Wil Chase someday.

Some people think that Sierra Club outings are only for those extreme athlete guys who free-climb Half Dome at Yosemite, or the outdoorsy women who go over waterfalls in little plastic boats. The exaggerated way in which outdoor activities are portrayed on TV and in popular culture is enough to scare off all but the most adventuresome. Extreme outings appeal to a group of athletic, enthusiastic people, and I’m glad that some Sierra Club outings leaders are dedicated to such trips. However, a successful chapter outings program should offer a variety of activities, such as nature walks, birding, conservation trips, service trips to fix trails, flat-water canoe paddles, family camping trips, dogfriendly hikes, and bicycle rides, as well as the more extreme activities. We try to have something for everyone.

Please consider joining us on some outings. You don’t have to be a Sierra Club member to participate (in fact, outings are a good way to recruit new members). Find something that appeals to you, contact the leader for details and come on out. If you are an outdoor neophyte, we’ve got some easy outings scheduled. If you prefer more moderate to strenuous challenges, we have those as well. And if you have been holding back because you don’t know what equipment you might need for certain outdoor activities, simply contact the trip leader and ask. You’d be surprised how far you can get with just a good pair of hiking boots and a modest pack.

Love and respect for nature is why most of us joined the Club in the first place. John Muir started the outings program in Yosemite over 100 years ago to show others the magnificent landscape he was trying to protect. Sierra Club outings are not just for outdoor recreation. The conservation or “environmental” aspect of Sierra Club outings provides us with a niche that a lot of other outdoor activity programs don’t have. This is one of our strengths as an organization.

Almost anyone can lead an outing. I always tell people to lead an outing for an activity they would be doing anyway. If you go on walks or you like to ride your bicycle or paddle a canoe, why not do it as an outing and invite some Sierra Club people to come along? Get in touch with me, and I’ll tell you how to become a Sierra Outings Leader.

Our outings calendar contains easy hikes, strenuous hikes, bicycle rides, paddle trips, a visit to a mountaintop removal coal mine, a hike by a new leader, and lots of other activities. Don’t hold back — you’ll be missing out. See you outside!

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