Home » Outdoor » Hiking » Hiking because you like it: This “unlikely” outdoor community welcomes you
For Likely Hikers founder Jenny Bruso, “body type, speed and endurance” are not important when it comes to hiking. Their organization is all about the love of nature.
Discovering a connection to nature can go a long way. Some unlikely hikers may take even longer to find a sense of belonging.
Jenny Bruso felt the same way when later in life she discovered her passion for hiking. The disconnect she felt between herself and the way hiking is often portrayed prompted her to do something about it. she founded Unlikely Wanderers and is now a Merrell Ambassador.
At its core, Unlikely Wanderers emphasize community with nature and each other. From there, the group discusses the social and political barriers faced by its members. The aim is to improve access to and participation in nature.
Learn about unlikely wanderers
Unlikely Wanderers is, according to its website, “a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community with underrepresented outdoor people.” Its members also form one Instagram community and a nationwide walking group.
Members share an interest, if not a love, for the outdoors, but find a lack of representation on the trail, on social media, and in outdoor media advertising and coverage. The group’s “unlikely” moniker speaks directly to this sentiment, acting as a unifying umbrella for diverse ethnicities, body sizes, sexual orientations, gender identities, and physical abilities.
We caught up with founder Jenny Bruso to find her inspiration for creating the group and how it works.
Bruso’s path for hiking
As someone who has always enjoyed spending time outside, Bruso only made the switch to more outdoor activities a decade ago. It was a bit of a struggle to get there.
“I grew up cycling, swimming in the ocean and gardening with my mom,” Bruso explained. “We didn’t hike or camp, but being outside was just what we did to have fun.”
But her teenage interests drew her away from nature. Even as a young adult, riding a bike was more of a mode of transport than a recreation, although she admits the rides certainly benefited her mentally.
Things changed after she lived in Portland, Oregon for about 8 years. So she finally went on a hike and was thrilled.
While Bruso found a passion for hiking, she didn’t find many others to hike with.
“In general, I preferred to hike alone so I could go at my own pace, drop into my body and do my own hike without all the nonsensical messages hammered into us by the dominant culture about how should be and look like movement,” said Brusso.
“I don’t hike because I want to change my body – I hike because I love it. Body type, speed and endurance are just details. You are not the point.”
Even as she hiked and camped more, she noticed the lack of diversity on the trail and on the social media she followed. She said the online representation of an outdoor person was predominantly someone “white, young, thin, able-bodied, and identifiably wealthy.”
It just didn’t fit with her life, her approach to nature, or even her feelings about nature.
In the aura of otherness lay the core to starting a group like the Unlikely Wanderers, but there was another level.
“Why is the vibe always whimsical and devoid of fantasy? My outdoor life doesn’t look like this. Most people don’t,” Bruso said.
“I really wanted to find other people with marginalized identities who have had the unique experience of finding a love for outdoor recreation without growing up with it, or who maybe don’t have an innate sense of connecting with nature.”
In this way, the group caters to anyone who doesn’t fit that prevailing look or vibe and doesn’t have an established route to outdoor recreation. And so, unlikely wanderer wants to help show others a route or support them on their journey to outdoor enjoyment – and hopefully earlier in life.
On community hikes, unlikely hikers discuss in advance how the hike should go.
“We are establishing policies, intentions and community agreements that inform our collective highest good to have the safest, most fun time possible,” Bruso said. “Even though we have so many different life experiences together, it’s amazing what this pre-trek chat does to get us all on the same page. It’s kind of magical.”
Part of inclusion can mean not emphasizing miles or time and essentially taking performance metrics off the table. Then there are more subtle problems. Bruso explained that there are various microaggressions in group dynamics, including being left behind, being too slow, being the wrong gender, as well as talking about food culture that can discourage members from being in their bodies and doing their trek.
The Merrell connection
Bruso said it was her openness about issues like detrimental trail experiences or simply finding good plus-size clothing and gear that caught Merrell’s attention.
“You are one of our original sponsors and have been instrumental in supporting the continued growth of Unlikely Walkers,” she said.
Last year, Bruso and Merrell collaborated on a shoe manufactured in sizes and widths that go beyond the brand’s standard offering. She teased that more collabs could be on the horizon.
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In recent months, Bruso has been leading group hikes and a backpacking trip across the country. She lives in Portland and has been on trails in Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Utah, Oregon and California.
Bruso explained that while group sizes vary in the area, she looks for higher traffic areas that are more accessible and tend to allow for larger groups. “Most of our groups had about 20 hikers, and all but two events filled up online in less than 24 hours,” she said.
With those hikes complete, the focus this winter is on growing membership and participation in the great hope that this will lead to more group hikes and more access to personal experiences from the unlikely Hikers community.
If you’ve felt outside of activities, Check out the site for a local group. An outdoor gathering or hike can change the way you see yourself outdoors.
Learn about unlikely wanderers
This article is sponsored by Merell. Learn more about the brand walking boots on-line.
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