As part of REI’s #everytrailconnects campaign, I was asked to answer the question of why are trails meaningful to me. As a professional skier and mountaineer, this question made me dig deep into my background in the outdoors and connect with my roots. Often, I like to venture where there are no trails, but the trailheads are always the start.
To me, trails are a source of inspiration. They reignite my childlike curiosity and help me remember my drive to explore, to see what is around the next corner. Trails force me to be intimately connected with my surroundings, to remember each rock and tree and to notice the subtleties of foliage and sun.
To me, trails mean a sense of belonging. It is on the trailhead where I meet up with my tribe, and on that trail where I can be my true, authentic, wild self.
My favorite childhood memories were made on the trail, backpacking through the Wind River Range, the Sawtooths and the San Juans with my dad and my brothers. Growing up in the Midwest and traveling to the Western U.S., I was awestruck by the rugged beauty and complexity of the mountains, and it was there that I found my sense of place. Those mountains stood in stark contrast to the flatlands of the Midwest and gave me a goal to look towards. I always knew I wanted to go back and climb those mountains. I loved the alpine starts, watching sunrise while walking with my family.
In college, I majored in anthropology. I spent a lot of time learning about human evolution. Sometimes I feel more akin to our ancestral homo Homo sapiens, the pre-modern humans who roamed around, hunting and gathering, and lived sustainably off the land. The trail connects us to our ancestral self. Whether we are looking to pick the best huckleberries at our favorite stash, searching for that beautiful, high alpine lake, or hunting down the best powder on skis, going out on a trail is a practice that is innate to us.
In this way, trails connect us with our humanness and our tribe. They also connect us with our environment. On the trail, we remember we are not superior to nature. Every trail connects us to our place in the natural world. Trails help us find our edge and push us to make brave choices. They give us a framework for exploring our wilderness. Trails mean stewardship and a chance to leave no trace. It’s one arena where humans can have a positive impact by having little impact.
My very first job in the outdoor industry was working at the Salt Lake City REI, first as a cashier and greeter, then as an action-sports specialist. I loved meeting people who were excited to venture into the outdoors and I’m excited about REI’s ongoing commitment to giving back, to protect and improve the places where we love to play. This year, REI will give back $5.9 million dollars to nonprofits who are committed to caring for outdoor places, and this fall, $500,000 will go to trail networks in the places where REI members live and play. Check out REI.com/trails to learn more and see what trails will be funded.
And remember, adventure is not a destination, it’s a state of mind. Whether you live in the city, near the mountains or by the sea, there are always opportunities to have an adventure and interact with the natural world. Be brave, play hard, have fun and be safe.
Caroline’s original story: “Why Trails are Meaningful to Me.”