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It’s a group thing
Don’t go it alone; local organizations offer outdoor group activities galore
BY DAVID VALDES GREENWOOD

While some of your peers have been hibernating in the face of 2003’s horrible wintry start, you were cross-country skiing across the tops of buried cars. While your roommate made plans to lie on a beach over spring break, you were checking out hikes in Iceland. Even rainy days make you think, "It would be really refreshing to go for a run right now."

You’re an Outdoor Fiend — you simply can’t get enough of the natural world and the pleasure of actively exploring it. In Boston, though, with so many of your peers lurking in coffee shops and libraries, you may feel a little isolated in your desire for activity. But never fear: you’re not actually alone. Organizations full of outdoor enthusiasts are thriving right here in Beantown. Whether you want access to a wide variety of fresh-air pursuits, prefer to focus on just one exciting activity, or simply seek to build community outdoors instead of in, we’ve got the local groups covered. So what are you waiting for? Go get ’em!

It’s a wide, wide world: General-activity groups

Appalachian Mountain Club (617-523-0655; www.amc.org). With 25,000 members in the I-495-belt region, the Boston Appalachian Mountain Club is the largest of the famed outdoor club’s chapters. But despite its massive membership, there’s something homey and convivial about a group that still holds potluck meals and discussion forums. And though membership is $40, nonmembers are welcome at most events.

The club’s name may bring to mind images of the dogged trekkers who set out to cover the entire famed mountain chain, but the AMC’s offerings go well beyond the backpack, spanning both land and sea. Traditional offerings include hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, canoeing, walks, windsurfing, and cycling, with events taking place throughout New England year-round. One unique event even blends hiking and instruction in classical music (as opposed to, say, yodeling). The schedule literally has something for everyone of the outdoorsy persuasion.

Get Outdoors New England (kkblues@hotmail.com; www.gonewengland.org). Dedicated solely to outdoor fun, Get Outdoors New England is a no-membership, no-dues, Web-based community that promotes volunteer-led outdoor activities throughout New England. Though there is no "membership" per se, over 1000 people subscribe to the e-mail newsletter, and many more check out the ongoing calendar of activities online.

The site makes a point of clarifying that its goal is to provide information about as many events as possible, but not to become a singles’ group or dating service. With that in mind, you are presumably free of concerns about making a good impression and instead able to cut loose and enjoy such offerings as snowmobiling in Maine, backpacking in Greenland, or scuba diving in Massachusetts.

Honing your skills: Specific-interest groups

Charles River Wheelmen (617-964-5727; www.crw.org). You’ve probably seen them, a stream of cheerful cyclists whizzing by on the back roads of the suburbs and small towns outside the city. No worries, no Tour de France pressure; they’re the Charles River Wheelmen, a cycling group that offers year-round rides and a true sense of community for its members (who include wheelwomen, of course). Weekly e-mail updates promote the next ride while recounting tales from the last.

You don’t have to be a member to go on any of the rides, but if you enjoy a ride or two and return for more, the group asks that you pay the $20 membership dues to join the 1200 members who participate in a variety of weekly rides and special events. One popular recurring event is the Wednesday Wheelers series, with weekly rides in scenic locations, suited for riders who can maintain an average of 13 mph (15 to 17 mph on flats) over a 30-to-40-mile ride.

New England Aquarium Dive Club (617-973-0240; www.neadc.org). So you’ve got your diving certification — now what? For certified divers without their own private boats and crews, New England Aquarium Dive Club is the answer. This group of 500 divers encompasses veterans and newbies alike, with sports divers, marine scientists, and scuba instructors in the mix.

The club organizes shore dives and boat dives for members, including extra-atmospheric night dives. Once a week, members meet at the Aquarium for dive-related lectures and discussions, followed by dinner out, plus a weekly drawing for permission to dive in the Giant Ocean Tank in the Aquarium — which has got to be the most unusual membership benefit of any organization in town.

North Shore Paddlers Network (acemaker@attbi.com; www.nspn.org). Created out of concern that paddling opportunities were scarce locally, especially for inexperienced paddlers, North Shore Paddlers Network was formed to create and promote frequent sea-kayaking activities. The group offers training workshops to develop skills and promote safety, so that new paddlers can participate with confidence (though the Web site is careful to note that trip leaders are not professionals, so paddlers must take responsibility for their own level of preparedness).

At this time of year, most of the paddling occurs indoors in pool sessions for skill-building, but it will not be long before winter-trained paddlers are hitting the outdoor waters. Scheduled trips include the Charles River and the ocean off Marblehead and Wingaersheek. One highlight is the Fourth of July fireworks paddle, which offers you the best floating seats in the house for viewing. To participate in group activities, RSVP in advance and then pay $5 per trip, or buy the $25 annual membership.

Stellar Running (coachbill@stellarrunning.org; www.stellarrunning.org). There are runners and then there are stellar runners, those who bypass the lap-around-the-lake approach in favor of marathons and half-marathons. If you’ve ever aspired to being a distance runner — or you already are one seeking a group of your peers — Stellar Running has a course laid out for you.

Running coaches Bill Durette and Karen Crounse coordinate weekly long runs as well as weekly speed workshops and maintain a list of upcoming distance events. If you become a member, the $175 fee covers the cost of coaching and marathon training, as well as discounts to area running-supply stores. Or, you may participate twice as a guest without joining, to see if you have the mettle to join a group so hearty that 26 members ran 18 miles on a recent below-zero February morning. No surprise that members enter marathons throughout — and beyond — the region.

People like you: Community-focused activities

Chiltern Mountain Club (888-831-3100; www.chiltern.org). With 1200 members putting the "out" in "outdoors," Chiltern boasts that it’s one of the world’s largest gay/lesbian outdoor organizations. A friendly and social group, it welcomes members and nonmembers of all skill levels to its activities, which occur year-round. Men, women, and kids are all at home at Chiltern.

The group’s offerings are diverse: trips to Yellowstone National Park and Stowe, Vermont, white-water rafting and garden walks, canoeing, camping, skiing, cabin rentals, and instruction in topics like wilderness first aid. It’s only $20 to become a member and receive a newsletter keeping you abreast of all the happenings.

Mosaic Outdoor Mountain Club (866-895-0615; www.mosaicoutdoor.org/boston). For a blend of cultural connection and physical exhilaration, Jewish Bostonians (and their friends) turn to Mosaic Outdoor Mountain Club. A unique, volunteer-led organization, it offers a slew of recreational opportunities for Jewish outdoor enthusiasts over 21.

Singles, couples, and families can develop environmental awareness, gain outdoor skills, and enjoy a vibrant community with Mosaic. Activities have included cross-country and downhill skiing, lodge stays in New Hampshire and Vermont, game night, park and urban walks, and a bike clinic. Annual membership is $20 for singles and $30 for couples and families.

Boston Ski Party (membership@bostonskiparty.org; www.bostonskiparty.org). The stereotypical face of skiing in the United States has never been African-American. The National Brotherhood of Skiers and its local chapter, Boston Ski Party, aim to change that. Providing encouragement, opportunity, and training in skiing and snowboarding for African-Americans, Boston Ski Party is one of 80 NBS clubs nationwide.

Twice-monthly day trips during the winter and year-round activities help provide continuity while fostering community. Last month, group activities included a trip to the NBS Summit in Canada’s Whistler/Blackcomb ski area. All event fees support the NBS’s goal of fostering minority participation in winter sports on both the local and Olympic levels.

Asian-American Outdoors Boston (AO_Boston@yahoo.com; www.asianoutdoors.org/Boston). This local branch of a nationwide organization is an epicenter of diverse outdoor pastimes for Asian-Americans in the Boston area. The group’s Web site modestly lists the following activities: hiking, trail and mountain biking, canoeing, orienteering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, rollerblading, rock climbing, paintball, kick boxing, white-water rafting, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, golfing, target shooting, parasailing, bungee jumping, skydiving, ballooning, urban hiking, foliage viewing, and camping.

Whether the group can squeeze all that in during any calendar year is debatable, but its very busy schedule suggests it’ll try. Ideas are generated by members, and any member can lead an outing. It’s an informal and energizing way to meet other Asian-Americans in Beantown.

David Valdes Greenwood can be reached at mambobean@hotmail.com.

Issue Date: March 20 - 27, 2003
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