I blame my need for adventure on a childhood growing up in the wilderness of Wisconsin. I thought four tree houses, a lake within biking distance and wild-spirited friends were the norm, and have continued seeking the same ever since.
A studious and steady college career launched me head-first into the Peace Corps. A military Coup, noble fight against the Guinea Worm, and many many cases of Giardia later, I left Burkina Faso, West Africa for the seduction of my first long-distance hike: The Appalachian Trail.
The challenges really weren’t that different from the Peace Corps. I was comfortable being dirty, didn’t mind the lack of electricity or running water, and I constantly thought of food I would eat if I had a chance.
I fell in love with walking every day for five months. This was what I was meant to do. That, and figure out that whole career thing.
So I moved to Washington D.C., started interning as an exhibition design intern at the Smithsonian and found myself at one point with a power drill in one hand, a priceless Lichtenstein in the other. Even I surprised myself when my hand didn’t slip as I was unframing the painting.
Well what does one do next? Why go to grad school! I attended Goldsmiths College in London to study exhibition design in the hot-bed of the very, very exiting museum world. (not so exciting to some I might imagine) No matter that I was studying the theory of sustainable design, there were jobs in this kind of thing right?
Reinventing myself take 23.7: moved to Portland, Oregon and worked as a graphic designer until I could get myself on the next trail: The Pacific Crest Trail in 2006.
A solo hike in a high snow year, bring it on! In fact I wasn’t solo all that much. I met amazing people and had amazing experiences on what will remain one of the most incredible experiences of my life. If I wasn’t addicted to living out of a bag for months at a time and sleeping on dirt before, now I was.
So lets try out this whole “making a living by working outdoors” thing. It worked for a good 5 years too. I started by leading hiking and crosscountry ski and snowshoe tours out of Portland; moved to Durango, Colorado to lead backcountry trail crews; taught a lightweight backpacking class at Portland Community College; became a field staff for 2 years at a wilderness therapy company in Bend, Oregon; and then did a season of logistics for Outward Bound Odin Falls.
Those were good years, and I ended hiking more trails like the Northville Placid Trail, Colorado Trail, and Arizona Trail, but I desired a home, and decided to leave the illustrious position where I was barely able to pay off my student loans, for an incredible opportunity with a publishing company in Bend, Oregon.
Even while not working specifically in the outdoors during this stint in time, I needed to scratch that creative and hiking itch, so founded the brand Hikertrash with fellow pal Brian Frankle. What started with a screenprinting project in my boyfriend’s garage turned into a business that donated a bit from our sales back to trail organizations and made hats, shirts, and other fun things to dress our favorite hikertrash pals on the trails.
In 2015 the unknown beckoned once again, so I set foot on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) for a solo thru-hike of the trans-continental trail. I worked with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition as their first Trail Ambassador that year, and was taken under the wing of the ED, Teresa Martinez, who gave me a glimpse into the world of what it takes to create and manage something like the CDT. 160 days and 2,708 miles later I reached Canada, and completed my Triple Crown.
Returning to Bend after hitting over 10,000 miles hiked was an intimidating prospect. What could I possibly do to top the CDT? As I struggled for traction in the absence of the next big goal, an answer appeared: establish the newish 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail.
I jumped on the chance to work for the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) to help figure out…now what? ONDA had created a “virtual route” and needed to figure out the next steps to make this a viable, doable adventure in the deserts of eastern Oregon.
I just happened to have a million past experiences that helped me figure this out. Community development? Peace Corps, check. Trail maintenance? Southwest Conservaton Corps, check. Hiking routes? CDT, check. Managing a long distance trail? CDT Trail Ambassador, check. And while I knew this job was perfect for me, it was when I realized that the Oregon Desert Trail was my museum exhibit, that the prospect really clicked.
I now see my roll as facilitating a person’s experience through eastern Oregon, and through the resources I create, and the connection I hope to inspire in those spending a day to a week to a few months out there on the route, they will leave having learned something about eastern Oregon, and hopefully themselves.
contact me at renee (dot) firstname.lastname@example.org
I like to walk…a lot.
My previous thru-hikes include:
Appalachian Trail 2002
West Highland Way 2004
Pacific Crest Trail 2006
Colorado Trail 2007
Arizona Trail 2009
Wonderland Trail 2009
Continental Divide Trail 2015
Oregon Desert Trail 2016
Tahoe Rim Trail 2017
Sunshine Coast Trail 2018
Timberline Trail 2019