Group hikes in a pandemic: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

On the 15th of May 2020, the sun was shining in the old warehouse district of Potsdam, Germany. There were a few clouds dotted across the sky, and a light breeze to balance out the warmth of the sun. The world had just found itself in lockdown and Frank Meyer had just found himself at the starting point of an ad hoc community relay hike, the first – it turned out – of many virtual group Tours. 

With the world closed for business (and fun it seemed), the Berlin hiking community found itself at a loss. They could keep hiking, but they couldn’t keep hiking together. A tricky predicament for a community-driven by shared experiences. It wasn’t long before the ol’ trope kicked in: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Virtual events became the norm pretty quickly in 2020, from online networking and talks, to real-life events going digital. But behind all the marketing for the official events, there was a wave of virtual grassroots meet-ups inching its way across Germany. 

And it all started outside the komoot HQ in Potsdam, on the first leg of a virtual hiking relay. Frank planned the first route, setting off from Potsdam and walking through parks, along canal towpaths, and through woodland, to end the day at a train station 18 kilometers from where he started. The next day, fellow walkers Kerstin and Francesca took up the metaphorical baton, with a planned route starting where Frank left off, adding 24 kilometers to the relay route. 

Being part of the story

And on they went, each day a new hiker starting where the previous hiker(s) finished. There were no rules for route length, nor how long each person walked for. There were no prizes. The routes linked up in a rough circle around Berlin, finally ending back at the Postdam HQ. And instead of fame or champagne or a participants’ “swag bag,” each person who participated got to be part of the story. 

Their komoot Tours live in a Collection – 18 individual Tours telling the hiking story of one 18-day virtual “group hike”. 

Needless to say, it was a success. The hiking community embraced the relay hike, and different formats emerged, in different parts of the country. In Munich, 14 people completed komoot Tours over 14 days. Again, each person starting where the previous person finished. The routes were spontaneous, forming a mess of zigzagging (and sometimes even overlapping) lines on the map in and around the city. 

And the relay hikes have kept spreading, often in the above formats, with spontaneously planned Tours based on the previous walker’s endpoint. Sometimes they take a different form – a predetermined route is plotted out, and everyone walks their assigned segment on the same day. 

The pure joy of getting outside

The Tours always come together in a Collection, which paints a colorful picture of the route in its entirety, as well as the hiking community itself. This community is one that’s in it for the pure joy of getting outside and sharing the experience. They might not be able to enjoy group hikes in person for a while yet, but for now they’re leveraging their community organizers and embracing the ability of technology to bring people together, even when they can’t physically walk the same path, at the same time.

Join a virtual relay hike

Want to join a virtual relay hike? Keep an eye on komoot and follow people like Frank Meyer, Jan, LOradler, Romy, and MonacoTrail. Or try your hand at organizing your own!

All images courtesy of komoot relay hikers, header image © Bex 1328