“Access for All” is a new blog series welcoming diverse perspectives that create an inclusive modern outdoors for everyone. Read on to hear why Women Who Hike Ambassador Brandi S’ most vivid family memories were spent at national parks and why she feels free on the trail. Words by Brandi S. Photos by Kate Rentz.
[One of my first memories of nature is] I remember being maybe 7 or 8-years-old and just walking through the woods [around Portland, Oregon]. As a child, it was common to play and explore outside with other kids and sometimes my neighbors’ parents would take me along to hiking trails nearby.
Growing up my home life was somewhat chaotic. So being able to take that break in nature was so liberating. I can remember the forest floor thick with damp leaves and tons of ferns and green. Oregon is so beautifully green. Green is my favorite color because it’s serene and tranquil to me. I remember hiking and being amazed by how many blackberry bushes there were. Though it was common to see those bushes growing wild right in my neighborhood, it was always nice to snack on them during a hike, too.
Spending time outside and hiking [at a young age] taught me that I belonged in an outdoor space and that proved to be a valuable lesson. As I got older it became painfully obvious that hiking and other outdoor adventure activities were not very welcoming to people who looked like me. However, because I had good experiences with hiking as a child, I already knew I loved it and that I belonged there.
“I love the lightweight Gateway Mid shoes. They were comfortable and felt as if they were already broken in—the perfect shoe for fun and simple hikes with Joseph.”
I love to see my nieces and nephew exploring and growing up with the outdoors being a familiar space. While outside exploring, the kids learn to appreciate creation up close, to respect the planet and those who live on it. We discuss trees, plants, animals, and rocks. My nephew Joseph has learned in action: how to pick up trash on the trail and how to dispose of it. We have taught him to greet other hikers with a “good morning” or “hello.” To me, these are not small things because in the end, the lessons are about respect, cordiality, resoluteness, and knowing you belong.
[While I was raising my four children,] family trips and adventurous weekends were a big part of our life. From camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, exploring bat caves, and spending time at the lake to the countless road trips with pit stops to check out landmarks and natural wonders, we have had so many good times outside.
Our first trip to the Grand Canyon is something that always stands out for me. We drove from home, here in Los Angeles, to the Grand Canyon. Just experiencing the awe of the canyon together, watching their faces light up. Or competing to see who could pitch their tent the fastest. How they would sit around our campfire reminiscing and laughing those deep belly laughs. I could write all day about memories from those different trips with them. I believe it has shaped them in a similar way it did to me. Now, my children—my humans as I call them—are adults. I see them taking up space outdoors in the ways they enjoy. It taught them to be well rounded and cultured.
[Most recently] I went camping with my boys and my oldest niece, who is really like my daughter. I went backpacking for the first time with my youngest daughter last year. I go hiking with my oldest daughter, who lives in Vegas, whenever she comes [home] or I go to visit. I go on hiking trips to Utah’s national parks with my niece. It feels amazing to share something that I love so much with the people I love the most.
Joseph wears the Toddler Hurricane XLT2 Sandals in Canyon to Canyon.
[My advice for those who want to start hiking with their kids is to] just start. Don’t overthink it. Remember that we all belong outdoors. Look up easy, kid-friendly trails. Gear and prep can become overwhelming but I think the most important item for hiking is shoes. If you can get your hands on a pair of sturdy hiking boots, trail runners, or Teva sandals then go hike.
What about baby carriers? Those things are expensive. Check out used packs in good condition on sites like Offer Up, Poshmark, and thrifty online sources. Remember to lower your standards a little bit. Pacifiers might drop in the dirt, diaper changing could be on a large rock or fallen tree. It’s all good.
Also, I am a part of a pretty cool community that helps families find their wild: WildKind. WildKind members receive discounts on gear and private gear swap, in addition to tons of advice and shared experiences. WildKind aims to break down those feelings of overwhelm to help families feel more comfortable learning together so they can focus on the fun, not the stress.
[The trail that taught me the most about myself was] hiking at Zion National Park. I was sick, I mean really sick, but we had already come so far. We planned to hike Scout’s Lookout and I don’t like deviating from my plans. Plus it was my first time to that beautiful park and I was quickly falling in love with Utah. So I made it a goal to get through that hike, to get through all those switchbacks. And I did. I took my time but I didn’t quit. That day taught me that I can push through anything I set my mind to. I can accomplish hard things if I just manage a steady pace.
To describe my feelings of the past few months in one word would be: overwhelming. The saturation of injustice is overwhelming, this pandemic is overwhelming, life is overwhelming. But, when I step on that trail for a hike, I can feel some of that prodigious weight from everything going on melt away. Spending time in nature is necessary for my mental health, it helps me feel free. I feel humbled and grateful standing on a mountain or next to a giant tree breathing fresh air.
I love hiking and the outdoors because it is truly freeing. The feeling is weightless. Like I am somewhere with no gravity, no bounds. Enjoy the good moments. Really stop and enjoy them.
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