By Allison Dopp
Jenny Bruso identifies as a fat, queer #unlikelyhiker. In 2015, Bruso started the Unlikely Hikers Instagram account with a focus on diversity, inclusion, and visibility in outdoors culture, and began blogging about her experiences. Now Bruso is turning this online community into a community in real life with events like group hikes and Queer Adventure Storytelling nights in Portland, Oregon.
Bruso started Unlikely Hikers because she was sick of the persona in outdoors media suggesting the outdoors is only for people with money who are white, thin and, young. “I just couldn’t believe that basically every picture was like this same kind of person and nobody was talking about it…All kinds of people use or commune with nature in various ways and the reality of it only faintly resembles what we see in mainstream media.” And so, Bruso told herself, “Sometimes if you can’t find the thing you’re looking for, you need to be the person to make it.” Today, thousands of people post using #unlikelyhikers, which Bruso uses to find the stories she features.
Bruso, a former indoor kid, now finds the outdoors to be a huge part of her life. She was first introduced to hiking on her 30th birthday when her partner took her on a hike. On previous outdoor excursions, she never thought it was for her, but this time was different. “I started using hiking and camping to be with myself to recharge and actually sort of be disconnected from all of the troubles of my day-to-day life. You know, be disconnected from how it is to survive in this weird capitalist and body negative culture. I started using hiking to kind of dry out and it became my lifestyle. Within a couple of years, it’s all I really wanted to do. I ended up healing a lot of trauma and mental health stuff.”
While the outdoors should be for everyone, it’s not accessible to everyone. “Early on I became acutely aware that I didn’t see a lot of people of color on trails or people of different walks of life in general. You know, I didn’t see a lot of other fat people either. A lot of times I was the only one and I did experience and I still experience really weird stuff on trails from people who don’t expect to see someone like me.” Bruso goes on to describe how historically our country has excluded people from the outdoors and there are barriers to entry like the unapproachable tone of outdoors media, personal safety concerns, and lack of representation. “When we don’t see ourselves represented, a lot of times we subconsciously decide that it’s not for us.”
Unlikely Hikers is all about representation. The connection Bruso discovered with herself through nature is something she hopes to share with others, not only through online channels, but also through new in-person connections. “I’m so excited to share space with other people who feel the need for this. Who feel like, you know, this is their invitation to the outdoors. That’s what’s so exciting, because a lot of us have to find this on our own and it’s so intimidating.”
For me, as someone who hadn’t hiked since I was a kid, this invitation to the outdoors is something I wish I had found when I moved to Portland a year and a half ago. Living for many years in D.C., somehow I’d become so detached from nature and my body. I had pain and inflammation. My demanding desk job was basically slowly killing me. When I moved to Portland, I took it as an opportunity to work less and spend more time outdoors, and for me, that meant hiking.
Portland has some of the most beautiful landscape in the country. But it quickly became clear to me that when it comes to hiking in the Pacific Northwest, this is not amateur hour. We have vast, lush nature on a large-scale and I felt inexperienced. This is where communities like Bruso’s make a difference. Having an approachable space to help you get started is half the battle. Because doesn’t everyone deserve to have access to that one moment, on a trail, alone, surrounded only by nature, where you can just be?
Check out Bruso’s tips for new hikers looking to get started and favorite trails near Portland. Read More >>