Reclaiming the Open air with Hike Clerb


Evelynn Escobar-Thomas grew up near a state park in Northern Virginia but never visited. She loved playing outside, especially in a creek near her backyard and in the woods with her friends, but since outdoor recreation was separate, she never really felt welcome on the many hiking trails and campgrounds. For Evelynn and other members of her community, hiking was “a white thing.”

‌In 2017, after moving to Los Angeles, Evelynn decided to change that: She founded Hike Clerb, an outdoor club for women of color. Today, their hikes often involve more than 100 women, dressed with a bit of style.

‌In this episode we take Evelynn and some of the women from Hike Clerb on a hike, talk about the benefits of being in nature and how these women of color are reclaiming and enjoying the outdoors.

‌For many Black, Indigenous and people of color, nature is rarely associated with safety. The legacies of colonialism and slavery still haunt the present – from the slaughter of tribal peoples on land to the lynching of black people in the forests, the idea of ​​being persecuted in nature is still very much alive for many.

‌As a Black and Indigenous Guatemalan woman, Evelynn knew only too well the traumas her ancestors on both sides of her lineage faced in the outdoors.

“We were forcibly removed from all sides,” she says. “Especially the history of black people in this country, nature is definitely seen as this dangerous place. Here they would kidnap people. This is where they would take people out. This is where these lynchings took place. So, yeah, of course, that trauma is in our DNA that’s passed on that it’s not safe to go outside and venture alone.”

“And then there is the feeling of not being connected to the land despite our ancestors’ deep connection. Evelynn describes her grandmother – Maya K’iche’ from Chichicastenango in the western highlands of Guatemala – as a central part of her upbringing. “She could literally plant any plant and it would sprout and be this perfect, beautiful plant. And that’s a skill I don’t even have today. So those basic things, like how to grow things, how to be imaginative and innovative with natural resources, are just things that I’m still striving for and teaching myself now.”

After moving to Los Angeles in 2017, Evelynn did a lot of traveling alone because she didn’t know anyone to hike with. On these paths she saw what she had also experienced as a child: nature was still very homogeneous and white.

“But Evelynn knew that there were more black people and brown people interested in outdoor recreation and that being in nature is good for people’s health and well-being. So she saved an Instagram name, invited a group of friends to go on a hike, and Hike Clerk was born.

“And off we went – fast. At times, up to 100 women and non-binary people took part in the hikes organized by Evelynn. No longer an outsider in nature, she encouraged everyone to come out in their authentic selves.

‌”We should be able to go there exactly as we are. When you get your nails done, when you have your fresh new haircut, whatever, bring out your whole self, your whole style, every part of you.”

The audio story will be available on this page on Tuesday 23rd August.

Featured image courtesy of Jess Alvarenga.