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Yikes! We Started the Year with a Stride & Stretch

Each year, I set one goal on January 1. It's the same goal every year: in the coming months of getting outside, try something different or new. I'm happy to report that I've already accomplished that goal, and we're only three days into the new year! We joined the Stride and Stretch NewYear's Day hike at a local trail. We never do group hikes, but this is one particular group that I've wanted to hike with for some time. And their 3rd annual New Year's Day Hike was the perfect opportunity to start the year on the right foot - literally -  and try something a little different.


Stride and Stretch was created by my friend Rhonda a few years ago, as a way to get outside and meet people who also enjoy hiking. As a certified yoga instructor, Hike Ontario Hike Leader and lover of life in general, Rhonda exudes joy in just about everything she does. Seriously! This woman is an inspiration to many. It was because of her that I received my Wilderness Day Hike Leader certification. And it was Rhonda who introduced me to yoga. Since she launched Stride and Stretch, Rhonda has also inspired a number of her group to receive their own Hike Ontario Hike Leader certifications.

Stride and Stretch meet every Monday and Thursday for evening hikes on Guelph trails. On weekends, Rhonda leads her group further afield and explores trails within a reasonable driving distance from her Guelph home base. She has beaten a path along many sections of the Bruce Trail with her group. But this is a hiking group with a twist... or rather, a stretch. During the hike, Rhonda leads a brief yoga break. This is where the stretch in Stride and Stretch comes in. #Seewhatshedidthere? The yoga stretches are easy to perform for all levels of experience and really are a nice break on the hike that helps to work out any muscle kinks. And that's how the members of this group came to be called Yikers.

New Year's Day brought us an absolutely perfect day for hitting the trails. When we met at Starkey Hill, just outside of Guelph, the temperatures were balmy, the skies were blue, sun was shining and there was no wind. Rhonda performed a quick smudging ceremony at the trail head, starting our hiking year off with positive thoughts and energy. I was excited to hike with this energetic group who clearly enjoy getting outside. The regular group is mostly made-up of women, but men are most definitely welcome. Our hike had two men hiking along with us, including Alex. We were quite the site of brightly coloured jackets, chattering members and two dogs. Our little Buddy was thrilled to hit the trail with his friend Timmie, Rhonda's Jack Russel Terrier mix and one of Buddy's BFFs.



When we reached the summit of Starkey Hill (I know. It's a hill. Calling it a summit may be a reach. But it's the best we've got around here, so give me a bit of a break.) Rhonda paused for the group to catch their breath and lead us in an awesome round of Breath of Joy. After we caught our breath (again) from Breathing Joy, we spent a little time feeding the chickadees and nuthatches that were flitting among the trees and bushes. Starkey Hill is well known for the friendly little birds that call it home.  It's always fun seeing the reaction of people who have never had a little chickadee land on their hand for a fleeting moment. No matter your age, it is always a thrill to have that little touch of wildness in your hand. The Yikers are no exception to this rule, and little gasps and giggles were heard by more than one person as the birds enjoyed a mid-morning snack from our hands.



The one thing that impressed me about this group was their open friendliness towards newcomers, and the way the look out for each other on the trickier sections of the trail. While the conditions were beautiful for hiking, this trail has its share of slopes that can be very slippery. Happily, we all made it up and down the hills without any problems and Rhonda's hiking sweep, Renata, kept a watchful eye on the group.

The Stride and Stretch group hike at a pace of approximately 4 km an hour, and take few breaks. This is a little different for the Sometimes Eventful family. While our hiking speed is also around 4 km an hour, we tend to take lots of breaks to look for geocaches or just sit and enjoy the surroundings for a breather. We were at the back of the pack for a lot of the walk, although not so far back that we lost the tail-end of the group. This is where individual hiking style and guided group hikes get interesting. I enjoyed the group dynamic and faster pace, where Alex honestly admitted it was not really his thing. And Emma was surprised that a bunch of middle-aged "oldies" like us could tire her out. At the end of the day, I decided that I definitely want to join this group on more hikes. Rhonda has inspired me yet again!


If you are located in the Guelph area, I recommend joining Stride & Stretch. There is a $10 annual membership fee to help maintain the group website and general liability insurance. You also receive the benefit of Hike Ontario certified leaders with current first aid training. Rhonda is also a certified yoga instructor.  You can find more information and the membership sign-up on the Stride & Stretch website here: www.meetup.com/Stride-and-Stretch and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/strideandstretch

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