Kelly Kate Warren received her scholarship back in 2017 to assist her along a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Three years later this is what she had to say.
“My PCT hike was wonderful, and challenging, and still teaching me a lot about myself and the world 3 years later. I never finished the trail, broke my leg 700 miles in and ended up in bed at my mom’s house writing a book I’m just now finishing. The trail provides us growth in unexpected places, and the gift I was ultimately given was time and space to write. I’d contacted you guys after my injury to return
my scholarship, it was granted under the premise I would hike the PCT and volunteer along the way and I felt guilty keeping it. I was told not too worry about it, and that money helped to support me as I healed. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it. What started as an adventure scholarship, became an artist’s grant. I’d spent my whole hike wishing I had more time to sit down and document the things I was seeing and feeling, and the trail listened, and broke my leg, and for the first time in my life I had the resources I needed to write every day.
The 700 miles I hiked were fantastic. I met incredible people from all over the world, many of whom I’m still in close contact with, and expanded my perspective on the wild state of California and the country of which it is a part. It made me really appreciate how much land we’ve protected in this country, and what a blessing that is for not only its citizens, but the world at large. Hikers kept asking me “is this still California!?” because they could not conceptualize that so much wild land could be in just one of the 50 states. It made me proud, and grateful, and settled in my desire to help people to access wild lands.
I also encountered a part of the outdoor world I wasn’t familiar with, the thru-hikers obsessed with mileage and physical prowess, disinterested in public service, and often bent on asserting dominance through demeaning less experienced hikers. It broke my heart, and I’ve had a hard time writing about my experience on trail since. Thru-hiker culture was radically opposed to the culture of inclusivity I’ve found in other outdoor spaces, and it’s motivated me to focus on methods of making people like they belong in public lands. Outdoor education is so important, a lot people grow up without it, and that can be a huge barrier to access. And the outdoor world is dominated by the narratives of athletes and experienced recreationists, which can make newcomers feel unqualified and undeserving.
I’ve also found experienced hikers and athletes whose mission is to help and inspire others. Ryan’s core values and the work of Flyin Ryan are representative of everything I love and hope for from the outdoor world. We need folks who are willing to invest in the dreams of folks at different points in their relationship with the outdoors.
And I see a change happening in the outdoor world. Organizations like @UnlikelyHikers, @OutdoorAfro, @LatinoOutdoors, @IndigenousWomenHike, @DisabledHikers, @getout.stayout, @melaninbasecamp, and the @EasternSierracc are providing support and visability to folks who haven’t always felt welcome or represented in outdoor spaces. People like @teresabaker11, @noelruss, @naturechola, @ashanishinaabe, @goulding_jr, @lennecefer, @she_colorsnature, @akunahikes, @queernature, and @go_barefoot are writing about their experience in outdoor spaces, and inspiring others to feel confident and welcome. It gives me hope, and has changed the way I approach my work in public lands.
Right now I’m figuring out my next step. I’ve cooked for backcountry crews and worked as a Wilderness ranger since my PCT attempt, but the uncertainty that comes with seasonal employment has degraded my health and happiness, and I’m looking for new ways to be of service. There is a lot of inequality and hostility wrapped up land management, and there is a censorship you must adopt to work for these agencies that doesn’t sit well with me, and stepping away has felt freeing in ways I did not expect. I’ve focused more on nature writing, which can help transport people who cannot otherwise access the Wilderness to the sensations of being there, and inspire others to get outside. I continue to write about
my experience as a bipolar person and addict, which is scary, but has helped myself and others to navigate the shame and difficulty of living with a diagnosis and difficult past. I continue to cook, and am leaning into doing so in the community in Northern California I’ve seasonally called home.
The future looks like publishing my first book, much of which was written with your support during and after my PCT attempt. It looks like cleaning campsites and clearing trail in the Wilderness of Northern California I love best. It looks like cooking for hungry people. It looks like supporting the hundreds of corpsmembers I’ve fed and mentored over the last 8 years. It looks like writing about public lands and mental illness and addiction in a way that makes people feel like they belong. And hopefully, it looks like a home that’s more solid than a backpack and a tent. I’m getting old, and tired, and ready for a room of my own.
Keep on keeping on. The work you do gives me hope, and it has paved the way for many of my accomplishments over the last 3 years. I think of Ryan often, keep his core values in my wallet. They remind me to live in service of my own.”