Editor’s Note: This post was originally written for our April 2020 print issue, before the coronavirus pandemic began to spread through the DMV. Please contact Wanderbirds directly to find out when the group’s next hike will be scheduled.
Written by Renee Sklarew, Mathina Calliope and Nevin Martell
Here, we asked Marsha Johnston of the cleverly named weekly hikers club, Wanderbirds, what hikers should expect on an outing with the group.
The Wanderbirds have been around for 84 years! How many members do you have today?
More than 1,000 people receive our weekly email blasts. Most of our members join the hike more than half a dozen times each year. The buses to our hikes hold 56 people, and we fill them most of the time.
How do participants sign up?
We don’t use Meetup. You can sign up through the email link, or by calling the leaders.
You’ve been part of Wanderbirds for a while; what are your favorite hikes?
My favorite is Camp Rapidan, because of the history, and it’s so pretty. On the way back up from the river, there’s a swimming hole where you can swim or take a dip. I also love Riprap Falls in southern Shenandoah. It’s gorgeous and more remote; we’ve seen bears there.
What hikes do you enjoy closer to DC?
I love going to Great Falls. I think the Potomac Heritage Trail has been fun. I like muddy hikes, and we’ve had some that were a mud fest. Just go with it. You’re muddy; it can be fun and challenging.
How long are your typical hikes?
The Wanderbirds always have a moderate hike and a long hike. Moderate is 6 to 9 miles, and long hikes can be up to 13. We always have to account for the time factor, because hikers have approximately five hours to get back to the bus. Our first pickup is always at Farragut Square, with a second stop at Grosvenor Metro station for hikes in Pennsylvania or Maryland and at Vienna Metro station for Virginia hikes.
What advice do you give hikers who are new on the trail?
Always bring at least 2 liters of water, and in summer, potentially more. Bring something with calories for the trail. Some people stop and have lunch, but many don’t, particularly the long hikers. Bring a nutrition bar so you don’t run out of steam. You need those calories. Always take insect repellent, particularly in the summer. Also, wear sun hats and put on sunscreen, though generally, you’re not fully exposed because you’re going to be in a forest.
What gear do you recommend?
I think it’s worthwhile to have hiking poles, because they can prevent you from falling, or spraining an ankle. The younger hikers tend not to use poles, but I would say they’re pretty key. They take pressure off your knees, and there’s a technique to poling. Always have one pole down at a time. You’re supposed to use it like a tripod or a third leg. Boots tend to be personal. Some people use trail runners and some prefer ankle boots. I always want ankle support. You’ll know your hiking boots can be worn out if you’re feet are bugging you.
Why do you think Wanderbirds has endured so long?
Hard to say! We are serious hikers but there’s a social component too, with drinks and snacks after each hike. We also have a social event every quarter, like picnics, weekend retreats. People come for the friendship. Some have even met their spouse through the club.
This post originally appeared in our April 2020 print issue. For more Parks & Rec content, subscribe to our newsletters.