How These 6 Adventurers Are Giving New Meaning to Celebrating the Outdoors

·16-min read

A creative director who unlocked the power of the outdoors during the pandemic. A drag queen who can be their true queer self in nature. A military vet who uses the trail as therapy. These are the insiders and influencers who give new meaning to celebrating nature.

Below, explorers including Pattie Gonia, Teresa Baker and four others reveal insights into what the outdoors mean to them and the footwear they lace up on the trail.

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WOODIE WHITE
CREATIVE DIRECTOR, OYSTER HOLDINGS

Woodie White. - Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Trevino
Woodie White. - Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Trevino

Courtesy of Anthony Trevino

Intro to Nature: “I fell into it. Once the pandemic hit, they closed everything, every other form of enjoyment. That’s where the outdoors started. Before the pandemic, I would have told you I’m not into hiking. There was no other option. I told my girl, ‘Let me grab my binoculars and let’s go on this trail.’ We would do that every day. It started with bird watching, which led to me going out with my boys, and then people started asking, ‘When are you going out again? I’ll come with you.’”

Role the Outdoors Plays in My Life: “It’s taken over my life. Everything that I did indoors, I try to take outdoors, whether it’s my workout or the place where I need to clear my mind. I’ve realized that most of my enjoyment, most of my hobbies, take place outdoors.”

How Brands Should Step Up: “What are these guys doing to bring you toward the outdoors? Nothing. They’re all trying to worry about playing in the lifestyle space and doing collaboration projects with brands that they think are going to make them hot, but they’re not actually focused on the outdoors. Where you organizing? Where is the community with it? Or is your community a mailing list to sell products? I would like to see them talk to the person that they’re here for and stop worrying about this lifestyle market and becoming cool in this inauthentic way.”

Companies Making a Difference: “None. Your favorite outdoor brand is worried about this made-up category called ‘lifestyle’ that doesn’t actually exist. I come from a place where we bought performance and then it was built into our lifestyle. We don’t design off of lifestyle. That’s imaginary. Who are you designing for? The person who stands in line to buy sneakers?”

Favorite Excursion Ever: “I’m not sure if I’ve been on it yet. All these trips have been wonderful, but I’m not sure if I’ve been on that one favorite trip yet. Now, I will say I’m looking at every place else I’ve been before in life and wondering what the outdoors are like there? I remember having a showroom in Paris, running around the city, and everybody is like ‘Go to this hotel, this restaurant.’ But how many of those people have left and gone hiking? Gone to the French Alps? I’m looking at where I’ve been and thinking to myself, ‘Man, I really haven’t even been there.’ I’m still looking for the ultimate road trip, the ultimate outdoor experience, and I want to experience that with a group of people, I want to bring people with me.”

Favorite Place to Explore: “I really enjoyed Borrego Springs, that was my first camping trip. It was interesting because it was just off the beaten path. We took the mountains to get there and just ended up camping for the night. I would say that would be one for the books.”

Footwear I Hike In: “The navy Cloudrock [from On] is the first one that I got ahold of, then the green and then they sent me the raw color. And I’ve been running in this marathon trail running shoe, the On Cloudultra. I love that shoe. I was drawn to it and they sent it to me for performance running, and I was never thinking about wearing them anywhere other than the trail. Now where I go do something, I wear them. I took the performance and made it part of my lifestyle.”

L. RENEE BLOUNT
PHOTOGRAPHER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR

L. Renee Blount. - Credit: Courtesy
L. Renee Blount. - Credit: Courtesy

Courtesy

Intro to Nature: “I started climbing 10 years ago in college, in 2011, and it was about finding a sport that felt good for me. I largely climbed indoors until I felt comfortable enough to go outside. If you’re a person of color and you grow up, we all go outside, but we’re not outside the same way our white peers are. I didn’t grow up going to national parks or anything. There’s a fear if your parents don’t go on these destination-style trips because of safety, and your grandparents haven’t gone because of safety. Instagram has made it a lot more palatable for people to want to go, but sometimes you need that person to give you a guided hand and say, ‘This is where I go and I feel safe.’ But I’ve always been a curious person and did winter YMCA camps where you did outdoor stuff.”

Role the Outdoors Plays in My Life: “It’s about finding reprieve. I like climbing and I like anything that allows me to push and have fun. It’s more about curiosity and finding where there is a great adventure. I lived in New York, and a great adventure can be urban hiking, doing a full walking tour from Harlem to Manhattan. That’s an outdoor experience, we’re just not touting it as such. What am I curious about? I haven’t been to this national park, let me go check it out, let me see where I can find a cheap flight. For me, it’s more about finding the funds and making people want to go with me. When you see a particular set of people and you don’t see yourself, you don’t think it’s a place for you or you feel like you can’t show up in the way you’d like to. Some people may not find that the most desolate places are for them, and that’s totally cool. If you find a city park and can be immersed and have a good experience, that’s all that matters.”

How Brands Should Step Up: “They’ve taken steps in advertising, but it’s not hard to put a Black or brown face in an ad. What are you going to do beyond that? My work is all about the visual. [The outdoors is] more than just about conquering, I have to reach the summit, I have to conquer this. Show different narratives. You can parallel to certain brands like Nike, which has historically been about the most elite, but you can see how they’ve switched their messaging to ‘everyone is an athlete.’ The North Face probably has the most similar model. It felt so odd to be hit up after I’ve been climbing for a while — people knew I did a bit of modeling and storytelling from behind the camera, in front of the camera — to only be noticed after tragedy. I think that’s because brands didn’t want to notice. All of a sudden you see Black climbers, Black trail runners, all these people who have been here but never got any recognition. The first step is recognizing that they weren’t including people and they weren’t celebrating how a mass of people were outside. They were only celebrating a few. But changing advertising is the first step. I want to see if it lasts. I want to see who is behind the scenes, who gets elevated, whose voices are truly listened to. I’d like to see more points of view in leadership and in thought. Once you diversify who is in the room, you get a lot better product.”

Companies Making a Difference: “They all have a lot more to go. You do see strides, everybody made a little bit more of a stride to diversify the social media, but how about behind the scenes? In the last year, I have had one conversation with somebody who was a person of color behind the scenes in a leadership position, and I talked to so many brands.”

Favorite Excursion Ever: “I haven’t done it yet. I’m looking at a vision board. There’s a lot of stuff still on it. I have to say, riding those Cake bikes in the Utah Salt Flats was on the bucket list. I studied mobility and I studied design, so it was super fun to ride something electric that didn’t degrade the environment.”

Favorite Place to Explore: “Probably Japan, because I felt safe. Sometimes when you’re in the U.S., the bumper stickers change, so Japan is my favorite place that I have explored thus far.”

Footwear I Hike In: “Depends on how far I’m going. I like a lot of [Chaco] sandals with socks. I do that all the time, because a lot of hiking shoes to meet historically haven’t been that cute, so I like to show a little flavor. No one wants to wear their mother’s outdoor boot. I like Danner, I like Hokas, I run a lot in Arc’Teryx shoes. I just like stuff that looks fly.”

WILL “AKUNA” ROBINSON
THRU-HIKER

Will “Akuna” Robinson. - Credit: Courtesy of Myah McNeil
Will “Akuna” Robinson. - Credit: Courtesy of Myah McNeil

Courtesy of Myah McNeil

Intro to Nature: “I got involved to help treat the PTSD from my military service. It worked better than medication and traditional therapy. When you go to a therapist’s office, you sit down and work out your problems. That’s what I do when I’m in the outdoors. It’s where I re-center and focus.”

How Brands Should Step Up: “Some are trying to have more visibility with people from marginalized groups. It’s an important step because if people don’t see people who look like them in ads or in commercials, then you think there are barriers to the outdoors for you. I would love to see more brands putting their money and resources behind individuals versus orgs. I don’t have a problem with orgs, but they don’t seem to be putting the money in the individual’s hands to get into the outdoors. I would love to see brands sponsor individuals to get them on outdoor trips and adventure.”

Companies Making a Difference: “Merrell has been doing it for a long time, and I might be biased, but it seems like they were [focusing on] diversity and inclusion before it started getting popular, before [people started posting] the black squares.”

Favorite Excursion Ever: “Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It has taken me two attempts to finish it, and there’s going to be a third, I already know. This last trek I was on, the Tahoe Rim Trail, we got on the PCT for 30 miles and it was emotional returning to it. It made me know for sure that I’ll be back.”

Favorite Place to Explore: “The [Columbia River] Gorge, the Tunnel Falls in Oregon. Absolutely beautiful. Being able to walk down the gorge, the swimming holes near waterfalls, and not knowing that you’re going to walk behind the waterfall blows your mind.”

Footwear I Hike In: “I wear Merrell, usually MQM Flexes. They’re good for all terrains and have a nice, wide toe box. And I just used the Nova 2s on the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’m digging them, too.”

PATTIE GONIA
ENVIRONMENTALIST & DRAG QUEEN

Pattie Gonia. - Credit: Courtesy of Hannah Shea
Pattie Gonia. - Credit: Courtesy of Hannah Shea

Courtesy of Hannah Shea

Intro to Nature: “I got involved in the outdoors as a kid through the YMCA summer camp. I was also a Boy Scout, so I have this very Midwest view. [During that experience], I found myself in a lot of ways, and I also found a lot of barriers to being who I was. Being queer in the Boy Scouts in the early 2000s was not a welcoming place. Even when I was a little kid, I used to go to the outdoors to be myself and perform musicals in my backyard for an audience of no one. I feel like I’ve been doing me in the outdoors forever.”

Environmental Matters: “It’s a reminder that this planet is worth fighting for. I do a lot of my work with the environmental community, and often we hear that we have to fight for our climate when we miss the whole first step of falling in love with this world, because we fight for what we love. If we fall in love with this planet, then we can do a better job fighting for it.”

How Brands Should Step Up: “The brands doing an amazing job are the ones authentically supporting the community-makers and the communities themselves. They realize they don’t have to make it themselves, they can just support what’s already being made. We need more of that. But I want to see diversity represented at the highest levels, in the board rooms and among C-suite leadership. And I want to see companies support diversity internally as much as they want to champion diversity in their marketing campaigns. Everything is built on trust in relationships. With trust, you have beautiful, authentic relationships with the outdoor community. Without trust, you have tokenization, which is limiting the potential that the outdoor industry has to make an impact. I’m always amazed at the hidden allies inside, who oftentimes work in marketing, work in partnership departments, just killing it. And that’s not for the brand to be celebrated — that’s for those individuals. I would love to highlight the work that Backcountry is doing, specifically the females in marketing — Colleen O’Neill and Sarah Crockett — who are doing amazing things to create authentic relationships in support of the outdoor community.”

Favorite Excursion Ever: “Any time I’m in heels, any time I am in drag is my favorite because I get to be my true queer self, I get to embrace my femininity, I get to do my artform in the outdoors. And oftentimes, I’m doing my art with others from the queer community.”

Favorite Place to Explore: “Nebraska. Born and raised, from there, love it. There’s nothing like it. It’s so beautiful, the magic of the Grassland Prairie is unbelievable.”

Footwear I Hike In: “Hands down Hoka One Ones, specifically the Anacapa. It’s amazing. It hikes like a shoe instead of like a boot, which I love.”

TERESA BAKER
FOUNDER, AFRICAN AMERICAN NATURE & PARKS EXPERIENCE

Teresa Baker. - Credit: Tim Davis
Teresa Baker. - Credit: Tim Davis

Tim Davis

Intro to Nature: “I grew up in the time when our parents would be like, ‘Go outside, don’t come back in until the street lights are on.’ And my family was part of a horse ranch and we would go on the weekends, so the outdoors has always been a part of my makeup.”

Role the Outdoors Plays in My Life: “It’s solitude, a place to escape the city noise, a place where I can be one with my thoughts and put ideas into action mentally. It’s my way of being in tune with who I am.”

How Brands Should Step Up: “I’m seeing progress. I’m seeing companies create films about this work, creating grants around inclusion. It’s moving, and that’s a positive indication that the industry knows it heard us and now it’s acting. I would love to see companies bring in designers of color and make sure that marketing departments are inclusive with people of color. I would love to see ideas from designers of color implemented. Merrell does a good job at that with their shoes, especially working with Jitterbug [Latasha Dunston]. They are definitely ahead of the pack, and I would love to see more of that.”

Favorite Place to Explore: “The California redwoods, the Big Sur area, along with Weott where Avenue of the Giants is. Two amazing places.”

Favorite Excursion Ever: “There’s such an amazing history in Yosemite, from the Buffalo Soldiers to all the various expeditions that have taken place there. What started my work in the DEI space was a trip I took to Yosemite. I spent a week there, probably around 2015.”

Footwear I Hike In: “My favorite are Hokas, the Toa GTX. It’s comfortable, it wears more like a basketball shoe with grip, with a better sole.”

NOËL RUSSELL
WRITER, ADVENTURER & PHOTOGRAPHER

Noël Russell. - Credit: Courtesy
Noël Russell. - Credit: Courtesy

Courtesy

Intro to Nature: “I didn’t grow up doing any of the sports that are featured in publications, but I did grow up gardening, spending long days fishing at the river, swimming in the ocean and having bonfires and cooking food outside. I didn’t know anything other than life outside.”

Role the Outdoors Plays in My Life: “Nature reminds me of our interconnectedness. It offers experiences of being humbled by the reality that I’m just a little part of something very big. The experiences allow me to remember that I’m nothing without the community that I’m a part of, which extends into the spaces outside and the beings that exist in those places.”

How Brands Should Step Up: “Not just by showing more diversity and being inclusive in advertising or strategy, but allowing people who have been historically marginalized or underrepresented to have a voice. And that’s not just in the way they present themselves aesthetically. It’s having a voice in how things are made, what sizes are made, what materials are used, how they’re being priced and what words are used when we talk about the value of the thing we’re trying to sell. While I love the inclusion efforts, I have yet to see it in those C-suite positions at brands. As a person who identifies as a Mexican woman, I have not yet seen folks who look like me, my community, who share certain values. When we’re led by folks we want to amplify and lift up, that’s when radical change happens. I appreciate the campaigns that Merrell has been running. They’ve done a great job identifying leaders who are building a community and speaking the truth we need to hear. I love seeing the work that REI has continued to do, toeing the line speaking to diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and justice in the outdoors. I would say the same about Eddie Bauer, who continues to stand behind leaders who inspire and encourage me.”

Favorite Excursion Ever: “Hiking the length of Paria Canyon in Utah. It was spectacular and challenging and awe-inspiring. To spend a couple days wandering around 40 feet beneath the surface of the earth is something meditative and beautiful.”

Favorite Place to Explore: “Yosemite National Park is my favorite place in the world. My mom swears that even when I was a baby it was my favorite place.”

Footwear I Hike In: “I wear Hokas, not just on a hike but to a bar, to the store, to walk my dogs. I’m a new convert as of a year and a half ago, and someone’s going to have to pry them out of my cold hands if they ever want me to try something else. I like the Torrent 2.”

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