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MY INSTINCT was to make my first Volkssport walk competitive, despite an explanation on the Evergreen State Volkssport website that used the phrases “family-oriented” and “noncompetitive” for events.

It was New Year’s Eve, and I’d come to West Seattle to get started with the Emerald City Wanderers. Walkers had a choice between a 5k neighborhood walk with a viewpoint or a 10k down to Alki Beach. I set a timer and told myself I was merely trying to find out how long it would take to walk the 5k.

I wondered what would be so different about a Volkssport walk than any other 5k neighborhood walk I take on my own.

The first indication was the crockpots filled with soup and stew, and the plates of cookies at check-in. The people in the registration line ranged widely in age from kids to the elderly. Most came in groups.

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Once registered, we were handed a piece of paper with instructions for the walk itself. For the 5k, I was directed to follow the polka-dot yellow ribbons on the route.

I set my timer and was off. The walk meandered through the urban section of West Seattle near California Avenue, and there was a lot of traffic. I didn’t enjoy the urban setting at first, and wondered if I would have to keep pausing at stoplights; waiting for lights was hampering my time.

Soon, the route moved away from the main drag into a neighborhood still glowing with holiday lights. It was getting dark, and walkers laughed and chatted as they strolled down the street. I started to enjoy the walk. I didn’t mind being there alone, but knew I would probably have more fun if I were walking with a friend.

I walked briskly to keep warm and practiced my ChiWalking technique. Other Volkssport walkers didn’t seem interested in walking quite as fast as me.

In fairly short order, we reached a lookout over Elliott Bay, and I had to stop to take in the view. I watched lit ferryboats cross the water toward the city lights and snapped pictures of the beautiful scene. Other walkers oohed and aahed.

From there, the walk looped back toward the start. It was getting dark, and walkers helped one another with the directions. I couldn’t remember the last time I had used a piece of paper for directions instead of the GPS on my iPhone. I easily could have pulled my phone out, but I liked relying on the old-fashioned yellow ribbons and paper instructions.

It was chilly, and I attempted to keep up a fast pace, but soon was on the heels of some other walkers. Instead of running them over, I made their acquaintance, slowed down and chatted with them for the rest of the walk.

And, yes, that’s when I finally felt the spirit of Volkssport, which translates from German as “sport of the people.” Anyone is welcome at its events, which are scheduled year-round. Biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are included. Most events are free, and all are dedicated to supporting people in getting fit and healthy.

My final time was 52 minutes. I’m sure I could have done it faster, and I’m glad I did not. I appreciate having a structured walk available, snacks afterward and a chance to meet some new friends.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at Email: Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.