A walking group fosters camaraderie in Omena.

Featured in MyNorth Inspired Life 2020. Click to read the full magazine.

It’s a sunny June afternoon, and the towering trees along Omena Point Road are bursting with fresh, lime-green foliage. There’s laughter ringing in the air as a group of four women walk and talk. While keeping a brisk stride, Wendy Wyatt describes what she and her friends must look like as they traverse the 4-mile loop in Omena each weekend.

“We’re like the James Gang, going to the saloon,” she laughs. “We like to spread out.”

On this particular Saturday, spreading out isn’t really an option—cars occasionally roll by. But as it’s just the four of them this time—Wendy, Kate, Alison and Linda—it’s an easy adjustment to switch to walking two across. “We normally don’t interrupt traffic at all,” Wendy adds. “Usually on summer mornings it’s not too bad.”

The walking group, which can range from a couple women to eight or nine at a time, has been meeting up since Wendy initiated things back in 1997. The venue has seen several iterations—from Lee Point to Suttons Bay to Omena Point Road—and the group switched from meeting weekly on Sunday mornings to every other week for a while. Today, they meet at 10 a.m. on alternating Sundays and 2:30 p.m. on alternating Saturdays year-round.

Alison, who’s been walking with the group on and off since the beginning, says the loop in Omena is perfect for year-round trekking as it’s protected by large trees. She enjoys it so much, that she and Wendy consistently walk the route twice whenever the group meets.

Wendy’s reasoning for starting the walking group is clear—a meal out with friends is great, she says, but it’s not the same as connecting while exercising in nature.

“There’s something about getting out and just being active. It keeps you more energized … and out of breath!” She laughs while keeping up her snappy stride.

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The group has members who enjoy sharing their expertise in flora, fauna and birding, creating plenty of learning opportunities, Wendy says. Alison adds that the walks often double as a swap—magazines, newspapers, movies, books, even onions and garlic, have all been traded. And it’s not uncommon for a larger group of walkers to pair off or split up depending on preferred walking speeds or topics of conversation.

“I think one day at the end of our walk, you said, ‘I’ve learned so much!'” Linda says to Wendy as they stroll along the shaded street. Linda estimates that she’s been walking
with the group for about four years now. “And that’s true, I come away with ideas of books to read, and movies and places to go.”

“And it’s a potpourri of things, isn’t it, Linda?” adds Kate. “It’s not just about the flora and the fauna, it’s just kind of a potpourri of things that we share with each other. And we’re all pretty active learners.”

On this particular Saturday, Alison is talking about a book she recently read about Marina Raskova—she was a Russian aviator who is considered a hero and created a team of women pilots who bombed at night during WWII.

Kate says the group loves to talk about books. “That’s one thing I love, and Wendy and Alison have always read something interesting. So, we get lots of ideas, and then we share.”

Seeing as how it’s late June, it doesn’t take too long for the conversation to shift to COVID-related topics, such as recent exposure sites and updates on testing. The women all agree that continuing to walk and socialize has been a saving grace for them during the pandemic—it was during quarantine that they decided to add the 2:30 p.m. walk on Saturdays. Wendy notes that their core group of members all practice low-risk behaviors, so they feel comfortable keeping a safe distance sans masks while walking together outdoors.

“Walking with friends was really my only socialization for months,” Kate says.

Beyond that much-needed quarantine interaction, Alison says the group of trusted friends is a great springboard—she’s come to count on their guidance and opinions.

“What’s nice about this group of women is that they are listeners,” Linda says. “It’s nice to just be with people who really care about what you have to say and are good listeners. It’s very refreshing.”

The women of the Omena walking group say they love having new people join and participate. The group is open to anyone who’s interested, and their members range in age. Some are mothers, some aren’t. But no dads, so far, they note.

“I’ve never heard any conversation against having men in the group, they just don’t show up!” Kate says, prompting some laughter.

Wendy says no matter the group or the time, the walk never has an agenda, and it will always be there for those who can attend. “If you can’t make it, we’ll miss you, but we’ll catch you next time!” she smiles.

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Tips for Starting a Walking Group

Interested in forming your own walking group? Consider the following:

Send schedule reminders. Kate says Wendy is great about sending out email reminders to the group so they’re always in the know when it comes to the weekly schedule. A simple reminder makes a big difference.

Find a good year-round spot. The 4-mile loop in Omena is great for all seasons, as the road is largely protected from the elements. Try to find a walkway where you won’t have to worry about too much ice during the winter months.

Aim for consistency. The walking group in Omena rarely calls off due to bad weather, and members say that reliability is key to retaining participants. If you decide to cancel your walk one weekend, refer to Tip #1—send a reminder via email!

Photo(s) by Allison Jarrel