The COVID-19 pandemic has halted races, group runs and having a post-run beer. The things we love most about trail running. JT Lehman started Alpenflo as a way to connect fellow trail runners and other adventurers. So we asked JT how he and Alpenflo are still relating to the community.
What is Alpenflo?
Alpenflo builds community and empowers individuals through wilderness experiences. My three goals with the project are to inspire, empower, and connect our community. That vision manifests in three areas; wilderness experiences, workshops, and community events.
Why did you start Alpenflo?
I’ve always had the desire to create and share, but before this I haven’t been brave enough to act on it. When I finally did find the courage to start this project, I wanted it to be something that was useful to other people. I’ve been fortunate to experience some transformational experiences in the wilderness, and I thought that sharing those experiences and helping others to have their own would be a worthwhile goal.
I saw an opportunity to help people find more community and experience. Connecting to other people and learning about ourselves through experience is a great way to find meaning and be true to ourselves, but we live in a culture that prioritizes consumption, distraction, and defining ourselves in comparison to others. Wilderness experiences are a place where the expectations of culture fall away, and we can form rich connections with ourselves, the natural world, and other people.
How does Alpenflo connect to the trail running community?
The trail running community in Portland is amazing. I first connected with the trail community here when I moved back to Portland in 2012 and started rounding the group run circuit as a way to meet people. I was immediately impressed with how welcoming and supportive this community is.
Alpenflo contributes to our community with a group run on Monday nights, workshops, and this summer, backpacking trips. Since in-person events aren’t possible right now, I’ve been hosting virtual community meetups that I call campfires and teaching online navigation courses.
I’ve had some amazing support building this project from our community. I’ve also been blown away by the generosity of our local brands. Steven Mortinson Photography, Territory Run Co, Go Beyond Racing, Daybreak Racing, Trail Butter, Wy’East Wolfpack, and The Dirt Churners have all been incredibly supportive.
How has COVID-19 affected Alpenflo?
A pillar of the Alpenflo mission is connection, not being able to do that in-person is a serious hurdle. I’m working on safe ways to run trips with Covid, but for now I’m hosting virtual navigation workshops to teach skills and create some virtual connection. As I mentioned, I’ve replaced Community Runs with Virtual Campfires for now. I really miss connecting in person, but I’ve been inspired by the ability to connect with trail runners from all over the country, which would have been much more difficult before this.
Alpenflo group run before COVID-19 (Steven Mortinson)
What will group runs look like (for Alpenflo and the rest of the trail running community) for the rest of the year as the trails and parks begin to open?
That’s such a great question and I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about that. We won’t be able to totally eliminate the risk of spreading Covid for some time, so the question becomes how can we mitigate it to a level we can accept? Smaller groups, social distancing on the trail, and wearing masks will all help, but we all have some thinking to do about what it means to adventure responsibly in a post-Covid world.
What do you think the trail running community will be like in the future after the pandemic is over?
Another great question. Everyone I’ve talked to is really missing the in-person connection we get through trail running. I think we’ll start coming together in small groups soon, and we’ll all be trying to figure out how to navigate that. Things will feel a little awkward as we figure it out but we’ll find a way.
What Alpenflo projects are still in works this year? How can one sign up?
The first round of virtual navigation workshops was a big hit, I’m about to launch the second round and they will be posted on my website (alpenflo.com/experiences/virtual). I’m also working hard to get Covid protocols in place and host some small group Trail Running Workshops and Fast & Light Backpacking trips. There’s more information at alpenflo.com and signing up for my email list is the best way to hear about future trips.