IT’S A CLOUDY Saturday morning in West Tacoma. It’s not raining, at least for the time being. Ten of us have gathered at War Memorial Park and are beginning to make our way down to the pedestrian walk across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

“How was the wind?” we ask a couple of joggers headed back up to the parking lot. “Pretty brutal,” one replies. Members of our group exchange uneasy glances. Even 82 years later, the legendary collapse of the original Narrows Bridge, remembered by many as Galloping Gertie, still looms large in the collective consciousness of South Sound residents.

The Narrows Bridge of today, however, stands tall, strong and secure — and now encompasses two separate spans. Pierce County’s most well-known landmark, of course, is Mount Rainier. But its second might be this majestic feat of engineering.

“I’ve always wanted to walk across the Narrows Bridge,” says Joe Macias, sharing a sentiment I’ve heard from almost every walker in the group. “I’ve lived here for 27 years and never have.”

When we reach the bridge, we’re relieved to find that the wind has subsided, although I’m momentarily taken aback by our proximity to fast-moving cars and trucks. As we take a few more steps, the traffic noise melts away, somehow neutralized by the views of the water below and the suspension cables above.

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“It’s great up here,” says Macias. “I love the views across the Narrows.”

The clouds are high, and we can see for miles down Puget Sound. Looking straight out from the pedestrian walkway, we see Fox Island and Anderson Island to our right, the shores of University Place and Steilacoom on the left, and Ketron Island right down the middle.

Behind me, I hear, “Yup, it’s a gray whale!” I run over with my camera, but I’m too late to catch a glimpse, much less a photo. Barbara Isbell, who spotted the whale, is a biologist who has worked in oceanography and studied terrestrial mammals. “When we first got onto the bridge, I noticed some peculiar bubble patterns in the water,” Isbell explains.

The whale never reemerges on the pedestrian side of the bridge, but we’re still in the good company of wildlife. A bald eagle and a few seagulls fly over the bridge, and a peregrine falcon and waterfowl fly beneath it. Despite standing 187.5 feet above the water, we can still spot jellyfish bobbing below.

“Remember, this is your walk,” Catherine Walters reminds the group. “That means if you’re a fast walker, walk fast. If you’re a slow walker, walk slow. Take breaks however and whenever you want.”

Walters, a former mountaineer, began planning outings like this last February, when she started a Meetup.com group called Tacoma Unlikely Walkers & Hikers. Every Monday, the group walks at one of Pierce County’s large city parks, like Point Defiance and Wapato Lake in Tacoma, or Fort Steilacoom in Lakewood. “I’ve been encouraging my group to explore urban hikes because the national parks have gotten so crowded,” Walters says. 

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Once or twice a month, the group goes on a weekend hike or walk at a new location. Walters posts each event on the Meetup page, and sign-ups are first come, first reserved. She limits the groups to eight to 12 people, depending on the trail. 

According to my Fitbit, our walk clocks in at just under 7,000 steps. By the time we make it back to the parking lot, many of us are out of breath, but all of us are in great spirits.

Macias takes a moment to appreciate the grandeur we’ve just taken in. “There’s nowhere else like this place,” he says, referring to the Puget Sound region. “Where I grew up, in Southern California, we’d have to drive hours to find somewhere peaceful with a view of mountains. Here we just walk across a bridge in Tacoma.”