Rough Thoughts

Or, as I like to think of this, All the Things I Didn’t Say in the Recently Posted All the Things I didn’t Say in 2017.

I went to a writer’s retreat this weekend on the Oregon Coast with some serious powerhouses: Carrot Quinn, Rahawa Haile, Vanessa Friedman, Lacy J. Davis, Chardonnay, Nicole Antoinette, Kelly Kate, Christina and Alley Hector (pictured above). This rough list of things was me trying to create a starting point. I wanna barf it out and move on to writing the good stuff.

Impostor syndrome. Definition: Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience, is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”

Survivor’s guilt. Definition: Survivor’s guilt, also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.

Figuring out where my fatness and queerness fit into outdoor culture. This is a big one and could likely be the center of my work in 2018. Judging by outdoor social media, advertising and all of the conferences I went to in 2017 (except for the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit), the answer is nowhere. Or maybe the better, more positive, answer is where myself and very few others are creating it. Being the only fat or queer person in groups or gatherings SUCKS. Being the only person with both of these identities is worse. Queerness and homophobia are rarely discussed. The casual fatphobia and body-shaming I’ve heard from well-known and loved people in the outdoors has shredded me, at times. So many of the conversations about diversity and inclusion are about race and this is absolutely necessary and needs to continue happening and moreso. However, I have not yet found room for myself in my queer and fat identities outside of where I am creating that room. This is both difficult to navigate and troubling to embody. Fatphobia is one of the most oppressive forces in American culture and the most accepted. I more than acknowledge that racism, transphobia and class are just as, and at times more, prevalent, but they are often coded. People don’t have to code their fatphobia. We aren’t yet in the foothills of this conversation, we haven’t even approached the parking lot of the trailhead to the foothills of this mountain of a conversation.

The extreme and not-so-extreme wealth in outdoors culture and the bitter reality of not fitting in. There is a lot of inherently entitled, privilege-based inspo in the outdoors world. “Follow your dreams!” “If you want something bad enough, you can have it!” “Work hard, play hard!” The other day a friend of mine made an FB post about how he wished he could just be an artist in the woods, but how impossible that was as a poor, fat, queer, person of color. I’m not a person of color and I don’t want to hijack his experience, but I know this so fucking well. That feeling of impossibility around things so many people do with ease. Because lack of money and time can translate to lack of energy and the stifling of creativity. Then there’s the depression and mental health stuff that often barnacle poverty. So many easy-seeming things feel impossible when you don’t have money. Taking any time off when you could be working and making money. Or having debt, which makes you feel like you can’t do anything fun in good conscience. And then there’s the whole visibly possessing certain identities (being a person of color and/or trans, queer, fat, etc) and how unsafe that makes so many things feel, in general, especially when in new situations and you’re The Only One.

I’ve found it really difficult to connect with so many people I’ve met this year. Hearing about casual trips to Sweden or about spending two months in a National Park for fun and not work-trade feels alienating and disenchanting, especially when I’m then asked about my adventures. Well, I did a lot of day hikes and I went camping for one weekend about 4.5 hours from home because I didn’t have the time or money to do anything more. And no, no one is doing or saying anything wrong because they have more wealth and opportunities than I do, but the disparity is palpable. Sure, I know plenty of people who aren’t wealthy who’ve had their share of international travel, etc. Resources aren’t always financial. Access and transparency with information (like how to do things on the cheap) and access to gear are also privileges. So is an inherent sense of personal safety in terms of people not messing with you or knowing that if something happens, you actually have the ability to ask for financial help from someone like a family member. There’s always so much more that goes into this than simply getting to a destination. As I find myself with more of this access now than I had even a few months ago, I am committed to sharing everything that I learn.

Lastly, there is a shit-ton of wealth in the outdoor industry and I can’t help but think about how weird the disbursement is. In short, always ask for money for your time.

Making mistakes. I am extremely hard on myself. I freeze in it. It’s joyless and disrespectful to the good work I do. Man, the scarcity runs deep. As if one mistake will topple everything. Yes, I am putting myself out there and naturally people will look at me as a figure of something, but I’m just another person doing their best. I can’t control the weather on group hikes or whether or not park services have properly stocked toilet paper in bathrooms or if you can’t enter my photo content because I’ve asked for selfies and you have a stalker. It’s all little things and clearly none of it is really about me even if it’s directed at me, but I internalize the hell out of it. Obviously, I also have to let other adults take care of themselves and their own needs! I feel embarrassed admitting this stuff, but I’m just going to leave it.

Success and the future. Maybe it’s foolish to call what I’m doing successful when I can’t even begin to think about doing this as my full-time job, but there have definitely been successes. There is a feeling of knowing more is to come and that feels absolutely wild to me. I don’t know if it’s because I am doing this in the wealthy outdoors world, but so often when people ask me what’s next for Unlikely Hikers I don’t even know how to answer because it’s all so new. Basically, I want to keep doing a good job. I want to keep learning how to make the outdoors as accessible as possible for as many people as possible. When working with big brands and even other small ones, people are often surprised to hear that I’m not pressed to get more followers (ie that I won’t simply volunteer my time for someone else’s work simply for exposure) and that I don’t intend to make this a big outdoors brand or take over the hiking world. There will be no ambassador program or anything like that. There are too many liabilities with how intentional this work is.

This quote from a recent facebook post by, Jainee Dial, of Wylder Goods, makes me feel really seen and also like I want to rip my skin off because every day I feel like I’m both nailing it and completely blowing it:

“The highs are sharp with knifeblade edges, the lows cut deep forming cavernous lines, and day in and day out the pattern looks like a graph charting an earthquake but extended out over hours, weeks, and months.

Thrilling highs.

Gut-churning lows.

Powerful growth.

Financial crisis.

Unbelievable generosity.

Utter desperation.



Group Hikes!

We now have regularly scheduled group hikes! More will be posted this week including hikes across the country! I have put an obsessive amount of work into setting these up in ways that are as inclusive for as many Unlikely Hikers as possible.

The three series are General (every third Saturday), Low Intensity (every other first Saturday) and Nice & Slow (every few months or when requested). For schedule and details:

I would LOVE to host all three of these series every month, but it takes so many hours of unpaid work that it just isn’t realistic, which is really sad because this feels like one of the most important parts of doing Unlikely Hikers. Please consider making a donation if you enjoy my hikes or simply want to enjoy knowing they are happening and building invaluable community.


All the Things I Didn’t Say in 2017

2017 – place yourself directly in the trash

Every Day Was Bad News. If you survived 2017 with a modicum of good mental health, my hat’s off to you. If you tragically asked me at any point, “how are you?” I’m sorry. My blank, wide blinking eyes and mouth trying to fix itself into words that wouldn’t come out was not cute. I really tried, y’all. We are not even going to talk about The Circus Peanut, but white nationalists and sexual predators were a regular part of daily U.S. news and if that’s not enough of a synopsis of where we’re at as a country, I don’t know what is. I think depression, anxiety and terror are reasonable responses. In 2018, I will do everything in my power to not be taken down by the news of the world. I’m not going to duck behind privilege and stop paying attention either, but I’ve got too much work to do. Too much to give.

2017 was my own personal blooper reel in its own right. This time last year, I tore a meniscus in my left knee that left me unable to walk for weeks and living in poverty for most of the year because there is no paid leave in food service and my expensive health insurance hardly covered anything. I’m still in a lot of pain. Then both of my cats died. There were more bad things. Hiking is my therapy, it gets me through and I couldn’t hike for three months.

There were good things, too. It’s been humbling and confusing processing it all. I dug deep.

Who am I as a writer? And why can’t I just let myself have nice things?

I’ve always felt a call to share my process of figuring myself out through writing. I started keeping a journal at age six, graduated to LiveJournal like a good on-the-cusp millennial, made zines, started this blog, I say that I’m working on a book, etc. A few things nag at me about this. In the least, but okay, sometimes most, self-deprecating way possible: why would anyone care what I have to say about anything? What is my angle? Who am I in the world?

I am a naturally introspective person, but my trauma brain, ego and I are in a constant grudge match. It makes me lose my way as a writer. I forget what my intentions are and it turns into some wild self-loathing. We live in a time where many people, especially women, feel compelled to write about and share their lives, even on a daily basis thanks to the encouragement of social media, which is both comforting and confusing. Where am I in this sea of voices? What do I have to offer?

Everyone has a story and they should be able to tell it if they want to. Women and marginalized peoples voices are commonly and historically erased and, currently, more contentious than ever (Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, etc.). We’re fighting back with more platforms to be heard. This is enough of a reason to keep telling my stories and I need to grab onto this entitlement and stop questioning myself into quicksand.

In 2018, I will allow myself to tell my stories. I will allow myself to be a writer.

An Unlikely Hiker turned Unlikely Businessperson

I got lost with my writing last year, so I poured that energy elsewhere and things happened. Six years ago, I never would’ve guessed I’d become a hiker, start a blog about it and create some instagram community that would lead me to purpose. I was an adult well before social media became a thing and I still have a filter that finds these words strange. Instagram community? Social media platforms? This is life in 2018.

Hiking has taught me how my brain works and how to love my body. It’s the only thing that gives me enough clarity to keep moving through my days, so why wouldn’t it be the thing that helps me figure out What’s Next? I never thought about the future. I’m a fat, queer, high school dropout with chronic PTSD and depression. Every day is a survival. I know plenty of people have been through horrific things and still Dreamed Big and achieved. I deeply respect and admire them. Their stories are the ones I like best. However, I simply do (did?) not possess that strand of hope or entitlement or maybe imagination they have. There are many things I could’ve done, I should’ve done, but I was so tired and truly, I was giving my all.

I always knew Unlikely Hikers was special. I’ve told the story many times now, but I called myself an “Unlikely Hiker” in something I wrote early on in this blog and though I had few readers, it sparked. I knew seeing the same narrow definition of a hiker on all of the outdoorsy media I followed was harming me and it must be harming others as well. June 1, 2016, I made my first post as Unlikely Hikers (UH) on Instagram with the sole purpose of reflecting what was missing from my outdoors feeds. People of color, fat, queer, trans and gender nonconforming folks, people with disabilities and mental health issues, all benefiting from the healing power of nature. The response was bigger than I could’ve imagined. It gained 6,000 followers the first year, which felt like a lot. It was bubbling with potential and the question of what do with it started answering itself. Six months ago, REI got wind of it and asked me to partner with them on their Force of Nature campaign. A few days later, Portland Monthly published an article about me including a one-page glossy photo taken by an actual photographer at the summit of Wind Mountain. This gained a lot of local attention for UH, but it also got picked up by Huffington Post where it went viral-light. UH and I have since been written about in dozens of publications, spoken at conferences, did a few podcasts (I hate speaking live, why do I keep doing it?!) and led hikes in Oakland, California and D.C. sponsored by REI. Without this sponsorship, I wouldn’t have done most of these things. My well of gratitude for REI is an ocean. Currently, Unlikely Hikers has more than 28,000 followers in just a year and a half of existence. A lot has happened in the outdoor industry in this time. Not because of UH, but I, and many others, caught the kite string at a crucial point in time. Dozens of similar outdoorsy social media efforts have been created since. The conversation about diversity, inclusion and representation in the outdoors is happening in articles published by nearly every outdoor brand and project. It is amazing to witness.

I’ve been in a constant state of dumbstruck awe… on top of a lot of anxiety. The learning curve of going from a person who has no idea what they want in life to an accidental businessperson is complicated and counterintuitive to my nature. I’ve fought myself every step. I have to repeatedly tell myself this isn’t all simply happening to me. I wrote things, I created things. There was a trajectory. I deserve it. I can figure it out and when I can’t, I have people in my life who are so generous with their advice, perspective and love and it’s not only going to be okay, but I’m doing a great job. Mistakes and wrong turns have been made, but why wouldn’t there be? There will be more. It’s how I respond to them that matters. Knowing this is so freeing. The possibility that I have been successful because of my lack of knowledge or savvy has not missed me.

Understanding the value of my work and worth and learning how to ask for it have been huge challenges. I’m using my time and energy to create culture and resources for others. It is a service and people are using it. I am learning to expect compensation. Without it, I can’t spend all of the time on this that I do. I’m learning that it is okay to say “no” or even not respond to certain opportunities. In the beginning, I thought I had to say “yes” to everything or possibly lose it all. I’m now saying “no” more often than “yes,” and it’s made a huge improvement in my mental state and output. It’s empowering.

Another thing, sponsorship and brand partnership look glamorous and sometimes it is, but just because a company has money does not mean I am getting a lot of money. I can’t even begin to entertain the thought of quitting my day job. (Hey sponsors, get at me!)

In 2018, I will continue to figure out good boundaries with my time and worth. I will get over myself and regularly ask for donations from followers. It is so hard to ask, but it’s even harder to not have the resources to do this important work. If you are reading this and enjoy or use my content in any way, please consider making a donation.

A reluctant public figure

Social media is the worst of the best. There are major downsides to a mostly social media based project or job. All of the impression management is such a boner killer. Most of us are addicted and it isn’t our fault or about being weak-willed. The “likes” and attention create little chemical pings in our brains, so we want more and more. The immediacy of modern communication is addicting in itself. There is always something to check. And there are a lot of opinions.

If I post something about a brand I’m wearing or working with, I’ll get tons of comments about how that brand has failed someone in some way, or worse, they’ll want me to answer for it. Um, Karen, I’m not about to ask you to answer for the U.S. government because you work for it. Sally, I don’t think you’re guilty for Walmart’s sins just because you’re trying to get a check. I know it isn’t actually about me, but it gets me down.

I am honored that people feel moved to share their stories with me and I answer most of the messages I get. Don’t stop contacting me! However, just because I share my life online, doesn’t mean one knows me and it doesn’t make one entitled to my time. Emotional labor is REAL! I don’t always have a lot to give, especially when the negative correspondence comes in waves. We aren’t even going to talk about the endless comments and messages I get about why I have to bring politics and identity into things when the outdoors is supposedly for everyone. It’s exhausting and disheartening.

What’s next in 2018?

This all feels so new it’s hard to say. I’m still trying to claim my seat at the table and many things remind me of its fragility. Being a big brand will never be the point. I want to lead more hikes across the country, create merch, keep normalizing diversity and representation in the outdoors and continue my efforts to make all that I do as inclusive as possible.

I want a lot of things for myself, too. I want UH and my writing practice to be my full-time job. I want to write a book and update the blog more. I want to hike longer, harder trails and backpack for the first time. I want to read so many books, travel and visit more national parks. I want to make plus-size outdoor gear more accessible and cute. I want to keep showing people how to get outdoors and find the healing, place and peace nature provides. There are many ways to do so. Hiking is only one of them.

Yesterday was New Years Eve. It was an elusively sunny day in Portland. I led a hike in my beloved Forest Park with a group of people who truly exemplify Unlikely Hikers’ mission. All of us together, sharing space in nature at the intersections of our experiences. I can’t think of anything better than this as I greet 2018.

Oh, and a few weeks ago I got kittens!

Love, luck and nature healing to all of you. Thank you for being here with me.

-Jenny Bruso

Photo re-cap of 2017 and some of my favorite hikes:

Happy New Year from Unlikely Hikers! I can’t think of a better way to ring it in than a hike with fantastic people on an elusively sunny day in one of my favorite places, Forest Park in Portland, Oregon! I’m feeling deep love for the communities I exist in and those I work and create with. Luck and love to you all in 2018 ❤️ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Words: @jennybruso 📸: @breezy__does__it ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Location: Wildwood Trail, Forest Park, Portland, Oregon. Ancestral land of the Chinook, Multnomah, Kathlamet, Kalapuya & Clackamas. #forestpark ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ [image description: group of hikers in a patch of sun between a tree and hill surrounded by swordferns and other verdant things.]

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Group Hike: Cape Horn

RSVP on facebook or e-mail me if you’d like to be kept up to date with any changes. I like to know how many people to expect. Thanks!
Unlikely Hikers creates safer, supportive outdoor community for people underrepresented in outdoors culture. We hike together as a group. No hiker left behind! Absolutely no diet or weight loss talk. Be mindful of gender pronouns, group dynamics, microaggressions, cultural appropriation and different physical ability levels.

LOCATION: Cape Horn. Google Maps “cape horn trail”

DATE: Saturday, January 20, 2018

TIME: 10am

TRAIL STATS: 7.2 miles & 1,300 foot elevation gain, loop

Write-up from my blog:

Free to park, no pass necessary.

This will be a CHALLENGING hike with steep inclines and declines and MUD. If you need an easier trail, check out one of our low impact hikes: Continue reading “Group Hike: Cape Horn”

Low impact group hike: Tryon Creek

RSVP on facebook or e-mail me if you’d like to be kept up to date with any changes. I like to know how many people to expect. Thanks!

Unlikely Hikers creates safer, supportive outdoor community for people underrepresented in outdoors culture. We hike together as a group. No hiker left behind! Absolutely no diet or weight loss talk. Be mindful of gender pronouns, group dynamics, microaggressions, cultural appropriation and different physical ability levels.

This Low Impact Hike is specifically for folks who need a slower, shorter trail. There will be very short inclines and declines. Super body- & fat-positive!

LOCATION: Tryon Creek State Natural Area. Google maps “Tryon Creek State Natural Area”

DATE: Saturday, February 3, 2018

TIME: 10am

TRAIL STATS: tba, around 3 miles and under 300 feet elevation gain. Continue reading “Low impact group hike: Tryon Creek”

Queer Adventure Storytelling – January 10th

RSVP on facebook or don’t, just come!

Queer Adventure Storytelling is back after taking a month off! Come hear stories of the outdoors, traveling and beyond by queer, trans and gender non-conforming speakers. Let’s build a NEW outdoors narrative together!

Lucky Labrador on N Killingsworth. 7pm. Free! All ages, but we can’t promise stories will be kid-friendly.

Our guests for January 10:
Carrot Quinn, Kimberly Davis, Vanessa Friedman & Alley Hector (bios below)

& your hosts!

Travis Clough & Jenny Bruso

NOTE: Come early! The room only seats 45-50 people so grab a seat before things get nuts. This is also a good idea if you’re planning to have dinner there.

Allies are welcome to attend. This space and the bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. Continue reading “Queer Adventure Storytelling – January 10th”

NYE Group Hike with UH!

Please RSVP on Facebook, or shoot me an e-mail to RSVP, so I can keep you in the loop of any changes. I’ll be posting the GPS coordinates for where we’ll meet/park in the next couple of days.

Unlikely Hikers creates safer, supportive outdoor community for people underrepresented in outdoors culture. We hike together as a group. No hiker left behind! Absolutely no diet or weight loss talk. Be mindful of gender pronouns, group dynamics, microaggressions, cultural appropriation and different physical ability levels.

Hey everyone, I thought a group hike could be a positive way to start off the new year, but NOT in diet/weight loss kind of way. Hell no. Just a little physical movement in nature while building community! We’ll have a mini ceremony where we will individually set some positive intentions for the new year as well as set intentions for what we desire to let go of. And YES, you can keep yours private!

TIME: 10am

TRAIL STATS: 4.7 miles, 400 foot elevation gain. We’ll be doing a loop in Forest Park rated “easy,” but there will be short inclines and declines and MUD.

Location: Leif Erickson Trailhead on Germantown Rd. (Doesn’t come up in google maps, but you can plug in “Wildwood Trailhead on Germantown rd.” The Leif Erickson trailhead is 0.3-miles BEFORE the wildwood trailhead on the left if coming from Portland)

Free to park, no pass necessary.

Please bring a water bottle and snacks for when on trail. Not sure what the weather will be like! We’ll check in about that closer to then.

You can read some of my thoughts on group hiking here and get a good idea of what you’re in for:

For more hiking 101 and gear info and nerdery:

Leave No Trace: