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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Hamilton Mountain

Location: near Stevenson, Washington. Couldn’t find original land name(s). Ancestral home to the Chinook and Multnomah Tribes

Photo blog! This was an exceptionally gorgeous fall day. Trail stats, info and more photos can be found here.

hamiltonmountain1 Continue reading “Hamilton Mountain”

Great Falls

Location: Great Falls National Park in McLean, Virginia. Ancestral home to the Patawomeck, Tutelo, Saponi, Shawnee, Ohio Valley tribes & likely more.

Level: moderate
Round trip/Gain: 4ish miles/less than 200 feet
Type: loop
Permit: $10 park fee

I just had to see Great Falls before I left town and I went literally hours before I was to fly back to Portland. I’d flown out that way for my first REI sponsored group hike. I’d seen the photos, but this place was STUNNING. So gorgeous, easy to get to and with options for many needs. Two of the best viewpoints of the falls (above) were wheelchair accessible.

I didn’t take a specific route, just sort of planned to hike and jog for a couple of hours. I started at the furthest parking lot past the visitor center, checked out the three viewpoints of the falls and then continued on the Patowmac Canal Trail to the River Trail. Then looped back on the the Matildaville Trail and Old Carriage Road to the visitor Center. I LOVED IT, but I’m so relieved I didn’t pick it for the group hike. While it was mostly flat, it was super rocky.

greatfalls2 Continue reading “Great Falls”

Warrior Point

Location: Sauvie Island, Oregon. Originally known as Wappatoo Island. The ancestral home to the Multnomah Indians of the Chinook Tribe.

Level: moderate
Round trip/Gain: 7 miles/0ish elevation gain
Type: out-and-back
Permit: Fish & Wildlife permit. You can get a day pass or year round one at the Cracker Barrel store.

I love Sauvie Island. It is such a gem and so close to home. The perfect easy nature trip. I did this trail years ago (January 22, 2014, as indicated in a photo below) and it’s ridiculous that it’s taken me so long to return. This was SUCH A GOOD DAY! I think I’ve turned into someone who loves group hiking! Sort of. Sometimes. I guess when I’m leading the group? This group was fantastic. Super mindful of everyone, stayed together. It was supposed to rain, but ended up being sunny until the last mile or so, as if to remind us of our good fortune to that point.

Continue reading “Warrior Point”

Eagle Rock

Location: Warner Springs, California

Level: moderate
Round trip/Gain: 6.6 miles/900ish ft.
Type: out-and-back
Permit: n/a

There are so many things I loved about this trail. 1) It feels good hiking in/around San Diego. It’s adding so much dimension to the place I grew up in. Being a tourist in your hometown can be a good thing. 2) I’d seen the photos, but damn, that is a motherfucking eagle! 3) I love dry desert grass lands this time of year. All of that gold! And the cacti! 4) It’s fun playing Thru-Hiker and then getting to go home. 5) I liked thinking about my friends who’ve hiked those miles.

A lot of this trail is super exposed. Wear sunscreen, bring extra water. I lucked out with perfect weather, overcast and cool. Another interesting thing, when I got to Eagle Rock, I realized you could almost drive up to it. The main road through Warner Springs skirts it by a few hundred yards, though you can barely see the road while on trail. I still would’ve chosen to hike, but it’s good to know that you can see it without hiking if you don’t want to.

A beautiful oak grove lines the first mile or so.

Continue reading “Eagle Rock”

Saddle Mountain

Location: near Seaside, Oregon

Level: moderate
Round trip/Gain: 5.2 miles/1600 ft
Type: out-and-back
Permit: n/a

One maaaaajorly notable thing: TRAFFIC. I left Portland at 8am, and the traffic was stop-and-go there and back for many miles. I think I spent about 4.5 hours in the car round trip. If you’re in or around Portland, it’s prob a good idea to leave super early in the morning and be on your way back by 1pm.

Not gonna lie, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do this one. I know those stats aren’t crazy, but the elevation gains on this trail are… creative. Some of the steepest pitches I’ve ever been on, but they’re short. My feet have been doing a lot better so I decided to give it a shot and much to my surprise, there wasn’t a single moment where I felt like I wasn’t going to make it to the top. Not that it was easy, but I’m doing so much better than I thought I was. I had a great time!


Continue reading “Saddle Mountain”

Falls Creek Falls

Location: near Carson, Washington

Permit: Northwest Forest Pass

Option 1
easy to falls / Beginner Level: challenging
Round trip/Gain: 3.4 miles/650 ft
Type: round trip

Option 2
moderate to top of falls
Round trip/Gain: 6.3 miles/1150 ft
Type: loop

My mind is a little blown by this trail. I’ve been out there three times in three different seasons, and I keep finding out new things about it. Apparently, after the top of the big falls, there are two more waterfalls! And caves! I can’t vouch for any of it as I’ve only done the trail to the falls and then the loop to the top of the falls. Anyway, some things to research if you decide to get out there.

My little sister was in town and I wanted to really impress her, which isn’t hard to do here. I arranged for us to see my two favorite waterfalls, starting with Panther Creek Falls.

panthercreekfalls2 Continue reading “Falls Creek Falls”