In Praise of Community Walks

How CANOPY member Lindsay Spiller got fit and helped overcome loneliness by leading morning strolls across the Bay

Two mornings a month, CANOPY member Lindsay Spiller dons a neon blue windbreaker and a gray “Cal” baseball cap, leaves his Marina District home, and heads to St Francis Yacht Club to lead a group over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Today, he might be joined by four walkers, who can pick out his brightly colored jacket easily against the steel gray of the early morning Bay sea and sky. Next week, he might set off at the head of a group numbering more than 40 people, many clutching steaming cups of coffee and smiling shyly as they strike up conversations and new friendships.

Lindsay was inspired to start the group, posted on social gathering platform Meetup, after experiencing the rejuvenating effects of morning walks during the pandemic. Like many others, Lindsay, a lawyer and certified skipper, experienced a dip in energy and optimism during social isolation and was dismayed when his Apple Watch categorized him as having below-average fitness. 

“It was insulting as I’ve always been in good shape,” he says. “The least I could do was walk, so on May 17, 2021, I got up at 5 am to make the five-mile round trip to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. I made that loop every day for the whole year, only missing a few mornings, and lost 35 pounds. I felt great.”

In 2019, neuroscientist Shane O’Mara published In Praise of Walking, a book that reframed walking as a superpower rather than an easy way to get from A to B. 

When we walk, our body cognitively maps our surroundings, keeps our heart beating and oxygen circulating, and observes others for behavioral cues so we don’t crash into one another. Boston Dynamics unveiled its first bi-pedal robot, Atlas, in 2013; ten years later, Atlas can execute parkour moves but can’t cross a busy street. 

Walking engages so many systems that it works as an antidepressant and puts us in a state of relaxed flow that fosters creativity and learning. Speaking with a journalist for The Guardian O’Mara references a 2018 study that tracked participants’ activity levels and personality traits over 20 years and “found that those who moved the least showed malign personality changes, scoring lower in the positive traits: openness, extraversion, and agreeableness.” 

In short, walking makes us happy and more social–something Lindsay came to appreciate deeply. 

On his pandemic-era daily walks, Lindsay said hello to everyone he met along the route. At first, nobody responded, which he put down to wearing earphones or simply a generational difference in communication style. But after seeing him making his morning loop, day after day, the people Lindsay passed started to return a smile or raise a hand in greeting.

“I realized that maybe at first people didn’t want to engage because they don’t know who they’re talking to, but then they started feeling more comfortable,” he explains.

Lindsay began jotting down the names of people he met. Over the course of several months, he felt great about making friends and building a community, but noticed other folks in his neighborhood weren’t doing so well.

“I saw a lot of malaise and lonely people around me. It’s a lot of fun to walk with others, and I thought, maybe if they knew that they had this beautiful walk just nearby, they’d take advantage of it.” 

He posted an event on Meetup, but nobody signed up for the first week, or the second. Lindsay was ready to let his idea die a slow death, and for a while, the group lay dormant until his phone notified him that three people had signed up to walk. He stuck with it, welcoming more and more walkers over time. Today, Lindsay’s Meetup group has grown to 621 members. 

Currently, Lindsay leads two walking experiences, which are free and open to all. The Golden Gate Early Riser jaunt is an homage to the walks he began undertaking during the pandemic, departing St Francis Yacht Club at 5 am for an invigorating eight-mile stroll from San Francisco to Sausalito over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. 

His “Bridge to Breakfast” walk follows the same route, departing at the more leisurely time of 7 am. After crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the group pauses for a “bring-your-own” picnic-style meal in historic Fort Baker. It continues to quaint, historic Sausalito before everyone returns to the city by Golden Gate Transit Bus or Ferry by 1 pm.

“On average, we get 20 people each time. I’ve found that people really want community, and it’s been a real delight to have this happen.”

Lindsay invites you to join him on his next walk! 

Sign up for “Early Riser” here and “Bridge to Breakfast” here. Get to know Lindsay better and follow him on Twitter or visit his company page Spiller Law.