SEATTLE - The inviting aroma of chili and hot beverages permeates the meeting hall inside Tibbets United Methodist Church on New Years Eve. Couples and groups of people enter or exit the building at regular intervals; a few sit at long tables eating, drinking and conversing. I'm not hungry, and anyway, there's no time to eat. I have 11 kilometers to walk through the byways of West Seattle.

volkkssport informationFor more information about the American Volkssport Association, phone (800) 830-WALK, or visit online at

(www.ava.org). For information about the Oregon and Washington organization, go to

(www.walkoregon.org)

and (www.esva.org). Locally, contact the Turnaround Trekkers at (503) 728-0400.

It's not the first time I've inaugurated the new year outdoors. Previously I've stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Manhattan's Times Square with a million other revelers watching a ball drop and competed in a five-mile running race through Central Park at midnight. Other years I've barreled down snowy New England slopes, played all-night basketball on a lighted court and skated across a frozen pond in the north Jersey countryside. Come to think of it, I've probably celebrated New Years Eve outside as much as in.

This time I'm ready to huff it with my friend and avid Volkswalker Christiana - first down to water level at Elliott Bay, then back up West Seattle's steep side streets to California Avenue and, eventually, the starting and finishing point inside Tibbits Church situated atop S.W. 41st Avenue. It's my first Volkswalk.

Bundled up and mentally braced for a frigid evening, Chris and I leave the church after registering with Evergreen State Volkssport Association, the sponsoring organization. Armed with a page of explicit directions - "Leaving the church, turn right onto Andover and turn right again onto 41st Avenue to Charlestown," and so on - we set off under dry but threatening skies. Clouds scud overhead much faster than we're walking, and a cold breeze blows uphill off the bay. A laminated pink poster board highlighted with a black direction arrow hangs from the telephone pole at the end of Andover Street.

"Do all the volkswalks have direction arrows at every turn?" I ask Chris. "Technically yes," she answers. "Courses usually are marked, but sometimes I'll get to talking with other walkers and we'll miss a turn."

I instruct Chris to read the directions aloud, and I'll do the navigating. Yet we're off course almost immediately when I mistake a jog in the road for an actual turn, and we end up heading west on Charlestown instead of continuing north on 41st. After a block Chris realizes our error and corrects our course.

Soon we're crossing California, a thoroughfare Chris calls the spine of West Seattle. We continue past an array of architecturally eclectic houses ornamented with holiday lights. One residence along 45th Avenue features my favorite display, a small deciduous tree bedecked with strands of bright purple bulbs that approximates a fountain of color.

We stroll along 59th Avenue across Admiral Way, then Alki Avenue, which eventually turns into Harbor Avenue at Duwamish Head, the site of a former amusement park and natatorium and now a green space. As we head southeast, Elliot Bay looms on our left and downtown Seattle highlights the near horizon. Not imposing like, say, the New York or Chicago skyline, the Emerald City's core area is a visual treat of twinkling lights, including the roof of Seahawk Stadium ringed with red and green.

"It looks like a Christmas ribbon," Chris says. My eyes are drawn to one of the Washington State ferries plying Elliott Bay. Fortunately, navigating our course means only continuing along the walkway above the water.

With Chris at the helm, we abruptly cross Harbor and turn again on California, the start of a mile-long uphill slog to the checkpoint at Hamilton Park. We deviate off course again, past picturesque homes that crowd up against the winding roadway. This time our detour is intentional; Chris insists it's a prettier route than passing through West Seattle's commercial strip.

We ascend a couple more blocks before reaching the top of Andover and the Methodist church. Exhilarated rather than tired, we re-enter the meeting room. Chris gets a certified stamp in her American Volkssport Association record book and collects her 2003-2004 AVA award, a multicolored patch showing the Seattle skyline, the Space Needle and Mount Rainier. I mull about and smile at other finishers.

On Thursday, New Years Day, Chris leaves her home in north Seattle's Lake City neighborhood for yet another six-plus-mile Volkswalk. Me? I sequester myself in her warm and comfy living room and watch college football on TV.

Richard Fencsak is co-owner of Bikes and Beyond. His column appears the second and fourth Thursday of each month in The Daily Astorian.

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