Fostering Community with Evelynn

For Evelynn Escobar, nature wasn't always second nature. In fact, it wasn't until she was in her teens did she really explore and develop an affinity for the great outdoors. Now, as the founder of Hike Clerb (undoubtedly one of the most popular intersectional women's hike clubs), she aims to equip Black, Indigenous, women of color with the tools, resources and experiences they need to collectively heal in nature from Los Angeles and beyond. Read on at Field Notes to learn more about her commitment to increasing representation in the outdoors and how she suggests taking the first leap to the outdoors for beginners.

How would you describe your relationship to the outdoors? You’ve mentioned that your first trip to a national park was when you were 23. What was your experience with the outdoors growing up? 

  • I’ve got a very symbiotic relationship to nature in that I go out there to restore myself. To explore. To be inspired. To feel, and to also get people out there to experience it themselves. Growing up, my experience was pretty typical in that I usually went  outside to play and was exploring nature unconsciously doing so.  And as I grew older, whenever I visited my aunt who lived in LA, she introduced me to hiking (she really loved hiking). She took me on trails and it really planted that seed for me. I grew up in Virginia and we did have a national park, but before [visiting her] I never felt those spaces were really for me or defined my experience.

You have a rich cultural background being from Guatemala, what role does the outdoors play within your culture? Are there any outlooks, rituals or traditions that you carry with you?

  • I feel that I am in the place to do what I am doing because I am Black and it was restoring that relationship with the land that helped me restore the poetry of my being, of it all.  I think that connection [to the outdoors] in this way had brought me an understanding of self that lay dormant until I was able to dive in a little bit deeper. I think a lot of the things that I would take for granted were honestly bigger teachings. Like, you know that we’re all interconnected – that we are just a speck as part of a bigger thing. We’re here to be land defenders, and the way we operate is not natural to us. Feeling those things and (when I’m going out) looking up at the stars and the beautiful silence of camping –things like that, really made everything click from an identity perspective.  

The history of the outdoors in the U.S is a multi-layered one that has greatly impacted the lives of individuals in the past to today. What’s your read on the outdoors and the outdoor industry in the US? How did your “call to action” reach you?

  • I never set out to be this thought leader in the outdoor space. I had my first outdoor experience at 23 and that’s truly when the A-HA moment happened. I went to the Grand Canyon and Zion [National Park]. I expected both to be super touristy destinations –which the Grand Canyon for the most part is - but going to Zion, it was so homogenous and so white. I remember going up one of the most popular trails and people looking at me with curious stares. I was like, “this is so bizarre. I look more like the people whose land this actually belongs to than the people who are looking at me crazy.” So, in that understanding, knowing there must be other black and indigenous people who were interested in the outdoors and also felt all of the effects of being outdoors in places like that. In this moment I was really being able to silence and listen to myself in a way I hadn’t ever before. I remember thinking how integral it was to my being to get a group of us out there to create a safe space to literally take up space and show that we care about this too, that it’s not just a white people “thing” to do, it’s also actually very natural to us. 

You launched Hike Clerb back in 2017, and what a strong, vibrant community it has become! How has the journey taken shape? Can you share a great challenge and great success?

  • The great challenge has been the business side of it all. As I said, I never sought out to be who I am and what it is now. And in doing so, making it an official non-profit organization and never having done anything like that, finding out from a legal perspective. And the wins, obviously, it’s too many to count. I think seeing the tangible, physical, real impact that we are creating and you know whether that’s connection or the relationships that are forming out of it, or the women who are coming to the event, and hosting an event that is selling out in ten minutes, it’s really something to see what a loyal and engaged community have been able to  create.  And we’ve got great feedback and we have people in different countries, it’s really cool to see.

There is something very powerful that takes place when a community of diverse womxn come together. How would you describe the spirit at a HC hike?

  • Overwhelmingly welcoming. Someone had told me it’s like the cool kids who are inclusive. I think that hits the mark there. You know, we are a very creative community. There are women who are doing lots of really cool and unique things on their own, and I think what makes Hike Clerb “cool” itself is that everyone is showing up fully as themselves in whatever they are doing. As a result, it gives you this vibe of the cool kids that are inclusive because no one is doing anything that they’re not. What’s cool is everyone is doing themselves, and whether they come alone or with others, it’s a great friendship making service in LA.

For a long time my engagement with the outdoors was governed by intimidation, but the strongest vibe I get from Hike Clerb is accessibility. For any budding hikers reading, any starter tips - prep, locations, gear?

  • When most people think of hiking, their perception is a heightened level of what it actually means — the gear, the backpack, the hiking poles. But it could be really simple and tailored to you. I try to tell people to start where they are, and with what they have. I started with tennis shoes. For the easier trails in LA, you know, you don’t have to have all of those whistles, you can get things as you need and start at a tangible place. 

The pandemic has sparked a great deal of change in each of our lives. You welcomed more change into your life with the birth of your beautiful daughter Isla. Congratulations! What role do you want the outdoors to play in hers?

  • It played a huge role in her life, because even in the womb, we went to four national parks during my pregnancy. She’s already been on multiple road trips as a five month old. I mean her experience in the outdoors is beyond anything I could have ever had even in the first quarter of my life, and it’s so amazing because she won’t know anything otherwise. She will have a great understanding of the role that she plays as far as the human experience, but also nature and the outdoors as a modality, how to feel yourself and be yourself. You know, I take her to Hike Clerb events (if I’m not leading them), but through that she will also see that the outdoors are for everyone and people who look like her are out there too. It’s been beautiful to provide a safe space for her in the outdoors and see how that manifests and how it develops as she gets older. 

You’ve spoken about motherhood being a rebirth for you. How are you adjusting to shifting priorities? What practices have helped you in this life changing moment? 

  • Honestly, I feel like this is so timely, because I was thinking to myself yesterday, “how am I doing all of these things”? Honestly, going out and making time to just have fun, get away from LA, and go on adventures with her – having these bonding experiences – keep me on track. You know you can get bogged down with the day-to-day, and it’s very important to prioritize rest, prioritize play, prioritize time to yourself. During my pregnancy I was so into going to acupuncture, going to a prenatal chiropractor – you know, after five months of motherhood outside of the womb, I’m starting to try to get back to my routine of getting back to acupuncture, getting back to yoga, because you really have to make yourself a priority by any means necessary.

There’s no doubt she’ll be an explorer! What first three big adventures do you want to take her on? Near or far.

  • So obviously, being indigenous to Guatemala, I absolutely want to take her on that experience. There are beautiful lakes, beautiful hikes and volcanoes. Having that experience of being able to immerse her in that world and immerse her where we have come from. Also, on the other side of that, Yosemite National Park has a big spot in my heart. So does Big Sur. Honestly, there are so many places that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. It’s a continuation of taking her to beautiful places, and hike with her. You know, Lake Tahoe, doing all of these great things. You know whats really up next? Taking her to the snow, playing in the snow, honestly, I’m excited to do it all. 

What is your idea of time well spent?

  • My idea of Timewell spent…is to be really and intentionally thoughtful. We’ve been really meditating on intentional things versus being productive. For me, “Time Well Spent” is “conscious time spent”, if that makes sense. You know, doing those things you want to be doing in that present moment, whatever it may be…as in reading a book, taking the time to do whatever it is, that’s my idea of time well spent.