For months now, Adriana Garcia and Luz Lituma have been collaborating across time zones, state lines, and hundreds of miles to maintain LatinxHikers — the community platform they founded in 2017 to help promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. And while their mission is, by nature, experiential, they’ve continued to find ways to champion the importance of outdoor activities, even amidst the challenges of a global pandemic.
In many ways, Garcia, a lifelong outdoors enthusiast, and Lituma, who got hooked thanks to an “accidental hike” in 2016, encompass the full spectrum of folks LatinxHikers hopes to reach: true adventure sport veterans, those who grew up without much exposure to the outdoors at all, and everybody in between. And while this year, the two founders have been largely denied the opportunity to lead major-scale expeditions together, they are primed to use their digital platform as a forum for Latinx people to connect, share advice, and explore new territory in nature.
We caught up with the two women (virtually) to hear about the ‘aha’ moments that led LatinxHikers, the work they're doing to making the outdoors more inclusive, and how they’re weathering the realities of COVID while continuing to practice what they preach.
What were some of your first experiences in the outdoors?
Adriana: I grew up in a really small town outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I spent a lot of my childhood playing outside in the woods behind my house. We used to go camping back there, we hiked — but back then, we just called it walking — and we would just play out there all day long. The outdoors was always a place of freedom and also a place that I could 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 the outdoors. Mine is rather new. I was born in Queens and raised in a very strict household, where I was the youngest and only girl. I was very sheltered, wasn't even allowed to go play in the front parking lot. Then we moved to Georgia, where I got a little bit more freedom, but nothing too outdoorsy. We did a lot of outdoor cookouts — in Ecuadorian culture, roasting pigs is a big family tradition, and it would be a whole day thing where we'd be outside, or at the lake.
It wasn't until 2016 where I went on an "accidental hike” in Cuzco, probably the hardest one I've ever been on. This awesome guide trying to sell tours was like, “Hey, there's this really cool walk, and you get to see this beautiful view." Long story short, the very top was almost 17,000 feet. I think it was an eight-mile hike. I was wearing jeans and sneakers, the air was so thin, and once I got up there, I was like, “if I can do this, I can do anything.” That's when I started exploring public land here in the U.S., and finding out how cheap it is to travel that way.
How long did it take before you two ventured outdoors together?
Adriana: Basically, I needed a roommate, and so did Luz — so [after meeting at a party] we ended up living together for a year in Georgia. I don't think we were the best roommates. We were just in very different places in our lives...so that arrangement didn't end on the best of terms. But we reconnected a year or two later. I saw Luz getting outside a lot on social media and I was like, “okay, this is something we could do together.” I didn’t really know anybody else in my friend group at the time who was hiking or exploring or camping.
What was the moment that gave birth to LatinxHikers?
Luz: The two of us went up to Panther Creek state park in Washington, and while we hiked, we were having all these cool discussions about how there's no representation for women of color in the outdoors community — everybody thinks being outdoorsy is a “white people thing.” We talked about doing a podcast, or starting a blog, but we didn't really solidify anything until August of 2017. It’s a good story — Adriana can tell the rest.
Adriana: [Laughs] Okay, so we went on a trip with five friends to Havasupai Native Reservation in Arizona and Zion National Park. During that time, we were around a lot of creative-minded people, and we started throwing around ideas about using social media to tell our stories, knowing we were definitely not the only women of color who felt like we weren’t seeing ourselves represented in the world of outdoor sports.
It all kind of came to fruition when we rounded a corner to go down to this one valley on the reservation 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 that many brown people hanging out outdoors like that in the U.S. So we got to Zion, and — do you want to tell this part, Luz? You tell this part so well.
Luz: We get to Zion, and we're inspired already, because we’ve just seen all these people who look like us on our previous hike. Then we hike The Narrows, where you're literally hiking on a river and up to your ankles in water. It’s beautiful — to the left and the right there are all these canyons. Along the trail, we run into another group of hikers, led by a man of color, and instantly, we connect. We start talking, and emotions are high, and we're excited, and me and Adriana look at each other, and something clicks, and I’m like, “LatinxHikers. That's it.” So I grab my phone, and I start sprinting out of there to find a signal, and thank goodness, the handle isn't taken on Instagram. That's how it all began. We ended up inviting the new friends we’d made in Zion back to our campsite, and we all stayed up until midnight, telling stories. It pretty much shaped what we ultimately wanted LatinxHikers to be.
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're approachable.
Adriana: It’s about meeting people where they're at — redefining what outdoor recreation is. Kind of like what Luz is saying about her family doing pig roasts; our family also does carne asadas — it was very normal for us to go to the lake and grill and hang out with family and friends, but we didn't look at that as being outdoorsy. It's about making sure people understand that those little things are also considered outdoorsy. You don't have to climb a mountain, or be a hardcore trail-runner, or whatever it might be. You can just appreciate having a garden, or going for a swim. I think we’re just trying to change the narrative that's been put out there.
How do you balance creating content for an audience that loves to be outdoors versus those who are newer to interacting with nature?
Adriana: One thing I do in my personal life is invite friends with me on hikes. I tell people that all the time: if you have friends or family members who have never been introduced to this specific sport or outdoor activity, whatever it might be, invite them. That's the best way to get them interested. On a larger scale, though, it’s about using social media. We’re showing how-to tutorials, making nature activities approachable, and living by example. I like to practice what I'm preaching. I'm not climbing hardcore mountains, so I'm not going to go tell you to do the same thing. That's pretty much what we're doing with LatinxHikers — living by example. And that sometimes inspires people.
Luz: On a personal level, it's been difficult to remain engaged on my end this year. But we do like to say there's no right or wrong way to be outdoorsy. When I go outside, I sometimes just sit all day on a chair and look at the landscape. That’s me being outdoorsy — we all deserve rest as well.
How have you adapted your work over the past year?
Adriana: We started LatinxHikers in August 2017, and we started leading hikes in March of the next year. I enjoy connecting with people so much, so when we weren’t allowed to do that anymore [due to the pandemic], I think I was mourning the whole experience. Then Luz started doing a couple virtual things, I did a happy hour just to check in with people. I feel like she’s done a better job with this than I have.
Luz: I've always been into social media, so I think that's why it was a little bit easier. It was pretty hard not being able to host hikes, so I hosted a virtual hike, where I hiked on my own, sharing info about packing, trail markers, snacks, and actual footage of my path — almost like a vlog. It made me realize the number of people I could reach around the nation using a digital platform. So many people signed up from Georgia to California to Minnesota, states all over the nation, so I think we’ll try to keep doing that, even when things go back to normal.
What would you like to see unfold for LatinxHikers in the future?
Adriana: From my perspective, obviously I think we want to see it grow. But with COVID, we’re just taking things day by day. It's really hard to see the future with what's going on with the pandemic. When we first started this, we had no idea that we were going to be eventually leading hikes, telling our stories to people, and having them actually care, you know? I think we're still sometimes in shock that we are in the position that we're in, in that we do have this community that we've helped, in a way, create.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.