How many times has this happened:
You greet the year with the best of intentions, get yourself a brand new gym membership, work out erratically — at least for a few days in January — then run out of steam and interest.
By February, you end up stuck with a yearlong contract at a fitness club that you rarely, if ever, use, and you feel guilty for wasting money.
But the road to fitness doesn’t have to be paved with the carcasses of unused gym contracts. In Clark County, the road to fitness can actually be free, and it’s paved with, of all things, asphalt and gravel.
“Even going out your front door and walking around your neighborhood is a great way to start (exercising),” said Jennifer Campos, a senior planner with the city of Vancouver and an avid jogger. “And there are some great trails spread out all around the county.”
Guides and maps to many trails are available free online through City of Vancouver or at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth Street downtown. Campos said she’s most fond of the Salmon Creek, Lucia Falls, Lacamas Lake and Waterfront Renaissance trails — all of which offer scenic views of the area.
“I think a lot of people here may not know how many trails we have in Clark County,” Campos said.
Walking with family or friends is a great way to begin. Campos said she started jogging with her father when she was 7, and it turned into a lifelong habit.
“He was in the military, and it was a really good way to connect with him and spend time with him,” Campos said.
Brian Davis, who organizes several running events around town through his company, Energy Events, said walking some of the county’s trails is a great way to begin on the pathway to running.
“My advice is to take it slow,” Davis said. “Each person has their own style and ability. My mom started out with a three-mile walk, then moved to a walk/jog, and now she’s getting close to jogging her whole path.”
Davis likes to emphasize the social and fun aspects of running. Many of his runs, such as the Fort Vancouver Run in March and the Hot Buttered Run in November, include time for socializing, eating, drinking and fun runs for the kids. Each month, he also puts on a free three- to six-mile event called the “What? Group Run!” in Vancouver.
“It’s just a grass-roots training group for the Vancouver USA Marathon (which his company also organizes),” Davis said. “We go once a month, and usually end with a meal and some beer. The goal is to get people out there, get them motivated and give them something to look forward to.”
Davis’ favorite trail is Discovery Historic Loop, which includes the Waterfront Renaissance Trail along the Columbia River and a path along Fort Vancouver and Pearson Field.
He also enjoys the Frenchman’s Bar and Burnt Bridge Creek trails.
Maps and guides to those trails are online through the city Walkaround Guide.
For other community runs, Davis recommends checking out the bulletin boards at Fit Right NW and Max Muscle Sports Nutrition’s Vancouver stores.
And if you want to create your own route, Campos suggests driving your prospective path first and using your car’s odometer to get an accurate mileage reading.
Beyond hoofing it, most of Clark County’s trails are also great places for bicyclists, said Lehman Holder, outings leader with the Sierra Club/Loo Wit Group.
“One good ride that’s easy to do is what I call the two-bridge loop,” Holder said.
He leads organized rides along that route starting in the spring. The ride begins on the south end of Fort Vancouver Way, crosses the I-205 bridge to Portland, follows Marine Drive, crosses back to Vancouver over the I-5 Bridge, passes the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay and loops back to the starting point, he said.
The rides he organizes for the Sierra Club are free, although donations to pay for equipment and training are suggested.
“All the outings I lead are oriented to beginners,” Holder said. “And if I can, I like to build in a social element, stopping for coffee and getting to know each other.”
Holder also puts together sea kayak events in Ridgefield for the Sierra Club. Those trips are also free, other than the cost of renting the kayaks and equipment from a retailer there.
In the winter, other members of the club organize cross-country skiing events, which are also free.
“We always welcome new people to participate,” Holder said. “They don’t even have to be a Sierra Club member, although we hope they’ll join.”
Whatever you choose, probably the most important thing to remember is that fitness really can be great fun — and a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends without spending a lot of money, Davis said.
“Just do it,” Davis said. “Get out there.”