The self-identified fat, queer hiker challenging what it means to be an outdoor person.

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Posted on: 16th August 2017

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Jenny Bruso's foray into the great outdoors started in an unlikely way — she was just trying to impress her partner on one of their first dates.

It was 2012, and the pair took a hike through Portland's Forest Park. Bruso, who identifies as fat, femme, queer, and a former "indoor kid," was curious about the hobby her partner enjoyed and also wanted to seem outdoorsy and game for a good time. While her first hike was challenging, she says it opened up something inside her she couldn't ignore.

"Something kind of magical happened, and I found that there was this part of me that was very intrigued by it and enjoyed it, and I wanted to do more of it."

Still, Bruso was intimidated by the process, worried she didn't know what she was doing, how slow she was on the trail, or how hard she was breathing. But despite her anxieties, she kept going back.

Photo via Jenny Bruso, used with permission.

But as Bruso found herself hiking more and more, she noticed something missing on the trail — diversity.

She simply didn't encounter many people of color, with larger bodies, with disabilities, or anyone identifying as queer or gender-nonconforming. And she didn't find them in the outdoor social media accounts she followed either.

"I was just really sort of disappointed and bowled over at times how [outdoor social media accounts] were constantly featuring many thin, young, white people doing these extreme things but looking sort of effortless like they were airlifted in there," she says. "I was just kind of calling bullshit on it. This is so not what it's like for me out there."

Photo via Jenny Bruso, used with permission.

Hiking provided clarity and balance for Bruso. She wanted to connect with others who may have felt the same way, but didn't feel like they fit in with the online outdoor community. She started a blog, calling herself an "Unlikely Hiker." Before long, hikers of all stripes came forward and said, "Me too."

Bruso's "Unlikely Hikers" has now expanded into an Instagram account, Facebook page, and hashtag that other traditionally underrepresented hikers use to connect.

Anyone who may not fit the expected look or identity of a typically outdoorsy person, anyone who's found their place in nature, healed their body and mind on the trail, or really anyone who sees themselves as an Unlikely Hiker is welcome.  

Fans submit their stories and photos by tagging them #UnlikelyHiker on Instagram, and Bruso shares them with her nearly 20,000 followers.

From local treks or more epic journeys along the Pacific Crest Trail, Bruso's hashtag has helped draw together hikers of all abilities — along with  swimmers, climbers, and other outdoor (supposedly unlikely) adventurers.

The stories and photos are powerful, filled with moments of healing, survival, and peace found while getting back to nature. Unlikely Hikers is a celebration of community-building and persistence.

"I started hiking a few years ago after horseback riding in the Blue Ridge Mountains for the first time & realizing how much you can really miss out on if you're just sticking to the road on a roadtrip. The experiences & memories you gain exploring new places are so much more intimate while on the trail. Being queer, fat, & also battling chronic autoimmune conditions + chronic pain, I face quite a few challenges, but mother nature embraces us completely as we are. Following communities of other unlikely hikers has really been SO inspiring. I'm in the process of planning my first backpacking trip and couldn't be more excited to start my thru-hiking adventures!" -Aura / @adventurousaura • Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured!

A post shared by Unlikely Hikers (@unlikelyhikers) on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:08am PDT

Because everyone belongs in the great outdoors. That's what makes it so great.

It doesn't matter your skill or ability or size or what you look like: Nature is a place where anyone can find solace, peace, and a fresh perspective. It can be life-changing and awe-inspiring, and no one should have to miss out because they feel uncomfortable. If you're worried or intimidated about going on a hike, Bruso suggests facing your fear and getting out there anyway.

"Don't let the fear of what other people might be thinking stop you because what you might find out there is so much bigger than that, and you deserve it. We all deserve it."



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