It's been there since December 2011, when I spent three of the longest days of my life biting through it in a desperate attempt not to not to dissolve into hysterical laughter at the absurd pop psychology being dispensed by the group leader -- an angry Midwestern housewife who obviously wasn't getting any -- during a Landmark Education Forum.
But all was not lost. It was during that incarceration that I met a couple of kindred souls who a) loved to hike and b) would have, in retrospect, opted for rectal surgery over a repeat experience of that unbearable three-day weekend. Over a toast on the night we were liberated, The Circle of Trust & Beer was born.
The name was a spoof on our weekend in hell. But the founding philosophy was legit: I planned to continue my quest of adventure, cataloging the best of the Bay Area's abundance of world-class trails, and then sacrificing all those burned calories to the beer gods in celebration. If anybody wanted to come along, all the better.
Some may consider it irony that such nonchalance led to today's version of The Circle, where long wait lists quickly compile for nearly every hike. I say it's karma.
We're different than other hiking meetups -- way different. Here's how:
*We limit our hikes to 33 members. We'd rather get to know you than herd you. And 33 is a manageable crowd for the breweries and brew-pubs where we celebrate the summit we just bagged. * The "& Beer" is part of the experience, not an option. If you can't devote the day to the whole experience, step aside for someone who can. We have awesome relationships with breweries and brew pubs throughout the Bay Area, in part because they know exactly when we're going to show up, and in what numbers. And it's partly because the atmosphere is so much warped fun. It's also where we double-down on the bonding that occurred on the trail.
* We know your name. We don't farm out leadership roles -- there are no assistant organizers or event organizers -- so it's on me to know who's attending, even before the hike starts. If you're new, a realistic picture on your profile hastens the process (it's hard for me to identify you via your dog's pic). Our humor-fueled "Intro Circle" before each hike has proven to be overtly popular for making everyone feel at home from the get-go. Just ask our members.
*We have a 100% attendance rate -- every week. No-showing for a hike -- or backing out in the final 24 hours before a hike -- is fatal to your membership.
* We don't do +1s. Ever. Your partner/spouse/friend/colleague/roommate/fuck buddy, like everyone else, must be a) signed up for the hike and b) have made it onto the confirmed list of 33 hikers. The demand is too great for tag-alongs (including your dog -- we're an over-21 humans-only club).
* We don't slam you with email. You get one email when each hike is announced. That's it. I've permanently disabled off the "send reminder email" function on Meetup. We don't need it. Our hikes fill up, generally within the hour, of announcing them. If you sign up for a hike, you'll receive one update a few days before it happens.
* You know where you stand. Beneath your name on your Circle of Trust & Beer profile you'll see a designation: "Rookie" until you attend a hike, then "One-Hike Wonder," then "Two-Timer," etc. ... until you reach 10 hikes, at which point you'll become a Veteran (and find it easier to get it in the hikes). Everything is updated the day after each hike. Although it started as a joke, Trustees have taken to wear their statuses as a badge of honor. In May 2015, we're adding an addendum to the status line: PBR, or Peak Bagger Rank. Once you've climbed into the Top 100 of hikes attended among our members, you'll see your PRB (1-100) on your Circle profile.
* You know what you're hiking. Every hike page is a deep-insider's detailed account of the awesomeness of the trail ahead.
* We let you step up your game. In response to those Trustees who like it higher, harder and faster, we conduct monthly(ish) Semi-Circle hikes. The sole criterion: No "Rookies." In other words, your first hike with the group can't be a Semi-Circle hike -- even if you summited Mount Everest or conquered K-2. Here's why.
* We heartily encourage you to attend other hiking Meetups. Compare and contrast. Otherwise, you'd just be taking my word for all the shit above, right? Sláinte! (our traditional post-hike toast)
Brian Patrick Higgins (Alameda, CA) Founder & Head Janitor, The Circle of Trust & Beer Hiking Club Climb. Descend. Drink.
p.s. Although Meetup made the "Introduction" section of your profile optional in 2014, please fill it with a sentence or two that gives us a glimpse of your personality. It's the only thing that appears under your name when you sign up for a hike. First impressions and all.