Creating Community, One Hike at a Time

Girls Who Hike launched its Oregon chapter late last year, and it’s since taken off. Our writer spoke with a few of its members about why they joined and what they love about it the most.

Growing up in Southern California, Sharron McBride never considered herself “outdoorsy.” For much of her life, the closest the SoCal native came to hiking was a trip to the beach, she didn’t camp until her 20s, and she rarely found friends eager to explore the great outdoors. She enjoyed solo trips and hitting the trails with her boyfriend, but McBride couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.

All that changed on New Year’s Eve 2015, when McBride launched Girls Who Hike LA, a Los Angeles-based collective for women to plan hikes and explore the outdoors. In the 14 months since launching a Facebook group and Instagram account, Girls Who Hike has swelled to more than 7,000 members across 10 chapters throughout the United States.

McBride found numerous co-ed groups, a few outfits with paid memberships, and other clubs geared toward experts—but none, she felt, spoke to the competent woman who longed for a sense of genuine connection and community for hikers of all levels. “I was looking for a community of women, regardless of age and experience, that could connect together, bounce ideas off each other, network with each other, and discover trails together,” she says.

McBride launched Girls Who Hike LA from the the seat of a Sprinter van while on a hiking trip in Sedona. “I was like, ‘Why not?’” she recalls. “The worst-case scenario was, no one joined. I needed to go for it.”

New chapters sprouted as members moved elsewhere. Today, women in Los Angeles, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Idaho, New York, Orange County, San Francisco, and Oregon can join local Facebook groups, coordinate outings, and hike together. McBride estimates that members have planned “hundreds and hundreds” of hikes since she founded the group.

One of those expats, Michelle Vasquez, helped start the Oregon chapter in September 2016; today, nearly 600 members have joined the Oregon chapter’s Facebook group, and more than 4,700 users follow the Oregon chapter’s Instagram account. We chatted with a few Oregon members about how they found the group and what they’ve gotten out of it since joining. Here are their stories.

Michelle Vasquez

Last year, as Michelle Vasquez prepared to leave California behind for Medford in Southern Oregon, she felt a tinge of sadness about leaving the Girls Who Hike community and missing that local connection. So, shortly before the move, she reached out to founder Sharron McBride about starting an Oregon chapter.

McBride agreed, and the groundwork was laid. While Vasquez lives several hours from the Willamette Valley (where most chapter members live), she loves the community that’s developed and looks forward to seeing it grow. “There’s definitely been excitement for what’s to come,” she says.

Vasquez shared with Hiking Project a few of her favorite things about the group.

Its rapid growth in Oregon: “I’m extremely grateful that we’ve branched out into Oregon and for how fast the group is growing. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the group in Oregon. It’s neat to see how members are already meeting up on their own and connecting.”

Strong friendships: “I was looking for a local group to connect with, and to belong to something with women of similar interests. Girls Who Hike was exactly what I was looking for. I’m so appreciative of the amazing women I’ve met along the way and for the friendships that have formed.”

The emphasis on community: “It’s been amazing to see ladies connecting and meeting up for hikes and getting to know each other. It makes me feel like I’m playing a part in someone’s journey when they share their life’s moments. That connection, to me, is what this community is all about.”

Gisella Cabrera

Gisella Cabrera moved from California to Oregon in early 2016 and fell in love with the state’s natural beauty soon thereafter on a snowshoe trip around Trillium Lake, in the shadow of Mount Hood. On that trip, a friend suggested the 52 Hike Challenge, in which hikers complete 52 hikes in a year. “It sort of just clicked,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera described her experience in Oregon and time with Girls Who Hike.

Discovering Oregon: “Nature, to me, was more like the beach. I ventured into the Redwoods occasionally, but nothing like the lifestyle people live here. There are so many wonderful mountains, lakes, and all kinds of attainable wilderness. You don’t have to go very far to find a good trail.”

Joining Girls Who Hike: “It was a good forum for information. It made me feel safer, the notion of having other people that could be there with me.”

Forming bonds: “It was almost like an instant bond. We had this same love for nature, wilderness, and setting goals for ourselves. Whenever I met one of these girls for the first time, it was instantaneous; it was like we’d been friends for a long time.

“I really find it important to support other women and encourage other women, and that’s new for me. Now I’m starting to realize how important it is to have that sisterhood.”

Franziska Weinheimer

Franziska Weinheimer’s love of the outdoors runs almost as deep as the roots in the forests outside Eugene, where she lives today. Weinheimer started hiking at the age of five, conquered South Sister two years later, and has backpacked through several picturesque regions in Europe, including the Alps, Italy, and Greece.

Weinheimer found the group on a solo hike in 2016; she met another hiker that day who suggested a few women’s-only hiking groups, including Girls Who Hike OR. Three months later, she’d already hiked with six new friends.

Weinheimer talked with Hiking Project about how she found the group, and what she’s gained from it.

Finding Girls Who Hike: “This group has been amazing because I’ve met so many women with the same love for hiking and the outdoors. I’ve always struggled making friends with girls, but this group has made it easy.”

The best thing about the group: “There is no judgment from anyone. I can be myself in this group. It has expanded my friends group, and I can already tell that some of these gals will be lifelong friends.”

Her favorite hike with another member: “I did an 11-mile hike with my new friend Tabitha—who I met in the group—up to Moon Point in the Hills Creek Reservoir Area. It was absolutely spectacular! We bonded over how challenging the hike was, VERY fresh cougar scat, and amazing views at the top.”

Sarah Dagostino

For as long as she can remember, Sarah Dagostino has been a fan of the outdoors. She hiked and camped with her family as a child and, as an adult, went on solo hikes in Texas when she couldn’t find like-minded friends to join her.

That isolation dissipated when she stumbled upon the Oregon chapter’s Instagram account and Facebook page in late 2016 while looking for local outdoors resources. Since then, Dagostino has gone on several hikes with women she’s met through Girls Who Hike OR.

Dagostino, who counts the Misery Ridge Loop hike at Smith Rock State Park as one of her favorite treks, shared more of her story with Hiking Project.

The best thing about Girls Who Hike: “I love how I can just go on the page and say ‘Hey, does anyone want to go for a hike Monday?’ and multiple women will reply. It is so fun to get together with other like-minded women and do something that we all enjoy.”

On the sense of community: “I love how personable the founders are. They always respond to your questions and comments on Instagram and Facebook, and they love to share your pictures and stories with the group. Even though they are a big group, they always make time for all of the members.”

Ed. Note: Quotes have been edited for clarity.

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