“Where can you find such an inexpensive fitness activity,” asks Val McDougall, the president of the Vernon Outdoors Club (VOC). “For a $25 membership, you can hike every Sunday from April until October, and go on rambles and bike rides through the spring and fall, and snowshoe all winter!”
The club started in 1976 when a few wilderness-loving souls organized some hikes around Vernon. Later a mid-week program of low-level hiking (rambling) was set up, followed by a mid-week biking program. Since then, hundreds have enjoyed the outdoors together and somehow, with a current membership or more than 200, there is still room for anyone who shares a passion for the outdoors.
McDougall, who works full time, joined the club seven years ago after sending her husband, an avid outdoor enthusiast, out a year earlier to scope it out.
“I didn’t know if I was fit enough,” she said, adding that she started with easier hikes at the beginning of the season. “You can choose activities to suit you.”
The hikes, bike rides and rambles are scheduled ahead of time and posted on the web site at www.vernonoutdoorsclub.org. The travel time, length of the hike/bike ride, and intensity of the activity are noted.
“Some people think it’s a group for older, retired people, but it’s for anyone who wants physical fitness and loves the outdoors,” said McDougall. “I go for the sheer beauty of where we go, and because of the great people I meet.
“I have found the more experienced members act as mentors offering encouragement and advice.”
She explains that because the group carpools, (with passengers paying a gratuity to the drivers), anyone who has an acceptable fitness level for the activity is able to come whether they have an appropriate vehicle or not.
Curtis Shields works out-of-town and comes on Sunday hikes when he can. He first learned about the VOC from their book, Hiking Trails Enjoyed by the Vernon Outdoors Club. The book was helpful but he had some questions, contacted a member and ended up joining. He’s younger than most members but said, “Frankly age doesn’t seem to matter when you have the same goal, to get up the mountain.”
Shields has helped with scouting and clearing the trails, and appreciates the preparation that goes on before every activity.
“I used to hike with my buddies but we would have trouble finding the trail head or find out the road was closed,” he said. “With the VOC, you decide what hike you want to do, pack your lunch, put on your over-the-ankle hiking boots and show up. You know you always will get there.”
Early season hikes are easier and tend to be closer to Vernon. Then as the snow melts on the higher slopes, the club makes longer day trips and more ambitious hikes and bike rides. These scheduled activities are augmented with other outings. Last year VOC organized a hiking trip to Waterton Lakes National Park and a biking trip to Winthrop, Wash. This year, there is a hiking trip booked to Cathedral Lakes in August and a bike trip to Whistler in September.
Colin Baxter has been a VOC member for 21 years.
“I like getting out and doing what I love to do with like-minded people,” he said.
As a seasoned veteran who enjoys hiking and biking, he finds the organization continues to be self-sustaining.
“It’s like a living organism, welcoming new members every year,” said Baxter.
Gearing up for another year, the VOC is holding its annual general meeting March 31 at 7 p.m. at the Schubert Centre. Members and prospective members are invited to attend.