Each Fall, Cnoc Outdoors pledges 10% of the revenue from our website to an organization working hard to keep up our trails and care for our communities. For October 2020, our recipient is Unlikely Hikers, a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson. In the past, Cnoc Outdoors has donated staff time and products in support of Unlikely Hikers sponsored hikes and events.
Jenny Bruso, the founder of Unlikely Hikers, is a self-proclaimed ‘late-bloomer’ to the outdoors. After a hike in 2012, the course of her life changed from a career waitress to an outdoor leader and advocate for underrepresented outdoorspeople. We asked Jenny about starting and running Unlikely Hikers.
What is Unlikely Hikers?
Unlikely Hikers is an Instagram community, a nationwide hiking group and a podcast. The outdoor industry and media has, for too long, displayed a very narrow definition of who is “outdoorsy” that isn’t representative of most of us. We are people of size, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary. We are people with disabilities and people who utilize the outdoors to aid our mental health. We talk about access, politics and conservation while we honor the land and its Indigenous stewards. We don’t conflate these experiences, we explore and build community at their intersections. We all have a story! If you see yourself as an Unlikely Hiker, then you are. Welcome!
What do you do and what is your goal?
I am a white, queer, fat, writer, hiker, and group hike leader. It’s really easy to say the outdoors doesn’t discriminate and that it’s for everyone, but this isn’t true for those who fall outside of the cisgender, heterosexual, thin, able-bodied mold. Unlikely Hikers is trying to create safer, empowering outdoor experiences for everyone who doesn’t fit into that.
What motivated you to start Unlikely Hikers?
I didn’t grow up outdoorsy, but nearly nine years ago, I discovered my connection with nature, joyful movement and a sense of place in a world I struggle to fit into. I couldn’t help but think about those who haven’t yet found this for themselves. So many of us are working too hard and have too much going on to entertain taking entire days or weekends to galavant in nature. Or, we’re too intimidated or otherwise feel unsafe. For plus-size people like myself, trans people and/or people with disabilities, it can be difficult to feel embodied, in general, but in nature, there’s more space to be in our bodies. I want to bring this sense of freedom to everyone, especially those like myself who may have not yet gotten the memo about what the outdoors has to offer.
Which trips have been your favorite?
Our kayak adventures are always so bonding. So are our Accessible hikes. It definitely sounds cheesy, but nearly every group hike is my new favorite group hike. They are the heart of what we do and with COVID-19, this has been a particularly difficult time for so many of us who come to rely on these experiences for a sense of community and connection in the outdoors. Personally, I’m struggling with what is right for us as a group right now while COVID continues to rage, while also acknowledging and trying to embrace that those who join are adults, or accompanied by adults, who can make their own decisions and do the right things to keep each other safe while gathering.
What’s planned for the rest of 2020 and for 2021?
2020 feels like a bit of a wash, but we had really big plans for it, which will hopefully just roll into 2021. Cross your fingers for a vaccine and wear your masks! We will be rolling out an ambassador program which will bring Unlikely Hikers to more people across the country––maybe even, internationally. We will have regional tours for group hikes in the south, west coast and midwest. Maybe, we’ll finally have some international group hikes? I’m also hoping to have our first backpacking trips.
What are the primary ways that gear companies can promote underrepresented outdoorspeople?
Ask us what we want, trust our visions and use financial resources to back our plans. Pay us in actual money, not gear. A new backpack won’t pay for the gas or time we need to lead our trips. Gear is super inaccessible for a lot of us, but when it comes down to it, it’s a prop––not a paycheck for our time and visage. We are the experts of our experiences. For many of us underrepresented by outdoor media who are trying to create vibrant outdoor communities, we don’t have the time and capital to bring our visions to life, but we have so much knowledge about what our communities need.
How will the funds from Autumn Outreach be used?
They will be used to support our Ambassador program. Leading hikes takes a lot of time and energy and I want my leaders to be compensated. The love of hiking isn’t enough to ensure good leadership, though that’s a nice thought. I want my leaders to be well-trained, properly geared up and compensated for their labor.
What else should people know about Unlikely Hikers?
The outdoors is inherently political. While we all want an escape from daily life, and I acknowledge the outdoors is one of the best respites from the pressures and microagressions so many of us experience in our daily routines, the land we recreate on has a troubled legacy and is always threatened. Whether it’s the environmental struggle, land being sold off to gas companies or the displacement of Indigenous people and/or their sacred sites, the land is something to fight for and so is our place on it.
For more information about Bruso and Unlikely Hikers, check them out on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/unlikelyhikers/ and listen to the Unlikely Hikers Podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher and wherever you get your podcasts. Experience the closed captioned version on the Unlikely Hikers YouTube Channel.