The founders of LatinxHikers want to change the way you define outdoorsy.
Adriana Garcia and Luz Lituma have been working together for months across time zones, state lines and hundreds of kilometers to maintain LatinxHikers – the community platform they founded in 2017 to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors. And while their mission is experiential by nature, they have continued to find ways to promote the importance of outdoor activities, even amid the challenges of a global pandemic. Garcia, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, and Lituma, who loved an “accidental hike” in 2016, encompass in many ways the full spectrum of people LatinxHikers seeks to reach: true adventure sports veterans, those who grew up without much exposure outside at all and everyone in between. And while the two founders were largely denied the opportunity to conduct large-scale expeditions together this year, they are ready to use their digital platform as a forum for Latinx people to network, exchange advice, and break new ground in nature to explore. We met with the two women (virtually) to learn about the aha moments that LatinxHikers had, about the work they are doing to make nature more inclusive, and about how they understand the realities of Surviving COVID while continuing to practice what they preach. What were some of your first experiences outdoors? Adriana: I grew up in a really small town outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I spent much of my childhood playing outside in the woods behind my house. We used to camp there, we hiked – but back then we just called it hiking – and we played out there all day. Nature has always been a place of freedom and also a place to run to when I was having a hard time or needed an escape from what was going on in my life. Luz: What’s cool about me and Adriana is that we have such different stories about our introduction to nature. Mine is pretty new. I was born in Queens and grew up in a very strict household where I was the youngest and only girl. I was very protected and wasn’t even allowed to play in the parking lot in front of the house. Then we moved to Georgia, where I got a little more freedom, but nothing too outside. We cooked a lot outdoors – in Ecuadorian culture, roasting pigs is a great family tradition, and it would be an all-time affair if we were outside or by the lake. It wasn’t until 2016 that I did an “accidental hike” in Cuzco, probably the hardest I’ve ever been on. This great guide who was trying to sell tours said, “Hey there is this really cool walk and you can see this beautiful view.” In short, the top was nearly 17,000 feet. I think it was an eight mile hike. I was wearing jeans and sneakers, the air was so thin, and when I got there I said, “If I can do this, I can do anything.” It was at this point that I started exploring public land here in the US and finding out how cheap it is to travel this way. How long did it take you two to go outside together? Adriana: Basically I needed a roommate and Luz too [after meeting at a party] We ended up living together in Georgia for a year. I don’t think we were the best roommates. We’ve just been in very different places in our lives … so the arrangement didn’t end on the best of terms. But we reconnected a year or two later. I saw Luz go outside a lot on social media and thought, “Okay, we can do that together.” I didn’t know anyone in my group of friends at the time who hiked, explored, or camped. What was the moment LatinxHikers was born? Luz: We both went to Panther Creek State Park in Washington, and while we were hiking we had all these cool discussions about the fact that there is no representation in the outdoor community for women with color – everyone thinks it’s a ” Knows “to be outside people thing. “We talked about doing a podcast or starting a blog, but we didn’t really solidify anything until August 2017. It’s a good story – Adriana can tell the rest. Adriana: [Laughs] Okay, so we took five friends on a trip to the Havasupai Native Reservation in Arizona and Zion National Park. During this time we were with a lot of creatively thinking people and we started sharing ideas about using social media to tell our stories, knowing that we definitely weren’t the only women of color who felt we were not represented seen in the world of outdoor sports. It all came to fruition as we turned a corner to go down into that one valley of the reserve where a waterfall hit, and below us all these people were playing in the water. We both looked at each other because they were all brown people. We had never seen so many brown people hanging out like that in the US. So we came to Zion and – do you want to tell this part, Luz? You tell this part so well. Luz: We’re coming to Zion and we’re excited because we’ve just seen all these people who look like us on our previous hike. Then we hike through the Narrows where you literally hike on a river and up to your ankles in the water. It’s beautiful – left and right are all these canyons. On the way we meet another group of hikers led by a colored man and immediately connect. We start talking and the emotions are high and we are excited and Adriana and I look at each other and something clicks and I say, “LatinxHikers. That’s it. “So I grab my phone and sprint away from there to find a signal. Thank goodness the Instagram handle isn’t taken. That’s how it all started. In the end, we invited the new friends we in Zion was back at our campsite and we all stayed up until midnight telling stories. It pretty much shaped what we ultimately wanted from LatinxHikers. What does it mean to you to make the outdoors more accessible? Luz: I think , it’s all about awareness – about helping people understand that these places exist and that they are accessible Adriana: It’s about meeting people where they are – redefining what outdoor recreation is A bit like what Luz says about her family who do roast pork; our family also do carne asadas – it was perfectly normal for us to go to the lake and have a barbecue and hang out with family and friends, but we did not as outside en viewed. It’s about making sure people understand that these little things are also looked at outdoors. You don’t have to climb a mountain or be a hardcore trail runner or whatever it is. You can just appreciate having a garden or going for a swim. I think we’re just trying to change the narrative that was published there. How can you balance creating content for audiences who love the outdoors with those who are new to interacting with nature? Adriana: One thing I do in my personal life is to invite friends with me on hikes. I tell people this all the time: if you have friends or family members who have never been introduced to this particular sport or outdoor activity, invite them over. That’s the best way to get them interested. On a larger scale, however, it is about using social media. We show instructions, make nature activities accessible and live by example. I like to practice what I preach. I don’t climb hardcore mountains so I’m not going to tell you to do the same. That’s exactly what we do with LatinxHikers – lead by example. And that sometimes inspires people. Luz: On a personal level, it was difficult to get involved this year. But we want to say that there is no right or wrong way to be outdoors. Sometimes when I go outside I sit in a chair all day and look at the landscape. I’m outdoors – we all deserve rest too. How did you adapt your work over the past year? Adriana: We started with LatinxHikers in August 2017 and started hiking in March of next year. I like getting in touch with people so much when we weren’t allowed to [due to the pandemic]I think I mourned the whole experience. Then Luz started doing some virtual things. I did happy hour just to check in with people. I feel like she did a better job with it than me. Luz: I’ve always been interested in social media, so it was a little easier in my opinion. It was quite difficult not to be able to hike, so I hosted a virtual hike where I hiked alone and exchanged information about packing, trail markers, snacks and current footage of my way – almost like a vlog. It made me realize how many people I could reach across the country using a digital platform. So many people signed up from Georgia to California to Minnesota, states across the country. I think we will try to keep doing this when things get back to normal. What would you like to see for LatinxHikers in the future? Adriana: From my point of view, of course, I think we want it to grow. But with COVID we only take things day by day. It’s really hard to see the future with what’s going on with the pandemic. Little did we know when we started doing this that at some point we would lead hikes, tell our people our stories and they would really care about it, you know? I think we are still in shock at times that we are in the position we are in, that we have this community that we have helped to shape in a certain way. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Do you like what you see? How about a little more R29 grade, right here?