Group strong after 11 years

A group of seniors on Mercer Island has gathered their tennis shoes and walking sticks to celebrate the outdoors, exercise and friendship. Whether it is wandering the neighborhoods of Seattle or hiking around Squak Mountain, members of the Solemates and Trailmates, groups for seniors 55 years and up, come together to exercise their bodies and minds.

Solemates was started by Island resident Fran Call 11 years ago. The group meets rain or shine on Wednesday mornings before heading out to an unsuspecting neighborhood in the greater Seattle area to tackle a brisk four-mile walk.

Eleven years ago, the group included only Call and seven or eight other seniors looking for a way to exercise with a social component. Today, the average size is around 35 weekly participants, Call said. The group kicks things off with an 8:30 a.m. gathering at the Mercer View Community Center before they pile into vans bound for a coffee shop near their neighborhood of choice. Call said locations vary, but the group’s favorite places to walk are Queen Anne Hill, Laurel Hearst, Medina and West Seattle. Once on site, the seniors — who range in age from 60 to 84 — set out, walking, chatting and making a loop back to the vans before they enjoy a cup of coffee and visiting.

“There has been lots of rain recently, but it doesn’t deter them. It’s really amazing,” said Call. “There’s that group mentality and everyone is anxious to see friends.” Last week, 40 walkers showed up for the weekly walk to celebrate the group’s 11th anniversary.

“There’s social, as well as physical benefits,” said Call. “We’ve seen each other through the perils of growing older.” Through cancer battles, the death of family members, surgeries and accomplishments, the group keeps on walking.

Mary Anne Stewart has been a walker with Solemates for the past four years, since she retired.

“It was one of the things I was looking forward to when I retired,” she said. “It’s wonderful companionship and great exercise.”

Two years ago, Solemates expanded for the “diehards” of the group, Call said, into Trailmates. Every other Thursday, a group of 10 heads to a spot somewhere within an hour of Seattle for a five to six-mile hike. Armed with lunches and walking sticks, the group takes on scenic routes and moderate elevation hikes.

“There is a use it or lose it mentality, but we also enjoy each other’s company,” Call said of Trailmates. She added that for most of the individuals in the group, getting outside exercise is great, but doing it with company is even better.

Trailmates’ favorite locations include Cougar Mountain Park, Tiger Mountain Park and Squak Mountain. Call said she looks for places with a variety of trails with easy access at a fairly moderate elevation gain. In all, Call said about 20 people have been on Trailmates events.

“They travel a great deal, but like to stay active and connected when they are home,” said Call of those who go on Trailmate hikes.

Both groups meet September through May, taking a break in the summer as members travel. But before taking a three-month hiatus, the group travels to Leavenworth sometime in the spring to soak up the Bavarian culture, the annual summer plays and waves along the Wenatchee River during an innertubing event.

Even with Call’s absence from June to August, several group members take on the leadership role, Stewart said, leading Wednesday walks for those who are in the area.

Solemates meets at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning at the Community Center. Anyone over 55 is welcome to attend. Trailmates’ next outing is tomorrow morning to Twin Falls, where the group will take a 4.2-mile hike. The group also meets at 8:30 a.m. at the Community Center. Space for Trailmates is limited; contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 275-7609 to sign up.

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