Go Take a Hike (And Bring a Really Good Sandwich)
Featuring packing tips from Hike Clurb’s Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, the anatomy of the perfect hiking sandwich, and lots of ideas on where to go to.
I know you’re here for the hobbies, but first I want to hold space to acknowledge and condemn anti-Asian violence, especially the shooting that targeted Asian spas in Atlanta last week. I’m thinking of Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon C Park, Suncha Kim, and Yong A Yue. Speaking up is important, but it’s just the start. Please click here to read Hollaback’s bystander intervention training, and if you’re able, donate to Red Canary Song, a grassroots collective of Asian and migrant sex workers providing mutual aid, medical care, and standing in coalition with prison abolitionist groups.
And if the last newsletter inspired you to try growing mushrooms, Smallhold is donating 100% of their grow kit profits to Heart of Dinner, a non-profit combating food insecurity and isolation in NYC’s elderly Asian American community, through March 26th.
Hi, hello. Welcome back to Amateur Hours.
I do my best thinking while my body is moving, so it’s not terribly surprising that I came up with the concept for this newsletter scrambling up a hill, staring at lichen-crusted rocks and trying not to trip. Somehow, it’s easier to process things when my feet are preoccupied with pebbles, my eyes fixated on plush moss and aggressively autumnal leaves.
It’s not surprising that many folks have turned to hiking in our year of outdoor-everything. Yellowstone Insider reports that the park’s July 2020 attendance was up 2% compared to 2019, as pandemic travel restrictions drove demand for domestic travel and outdoor activities. But many people are also hiking closer to home to reap the benefits: improved mental and physical health, a view that’s not the living room.
Over in New York, my partner Michael and I found comfort this fall in the many trails of our state parks (more on our favorites below). We even developed a taste for cold-weather hiking, which might come as a shock to anyone who knows me. As a perpetually cold person, I somehow developed a strange satisfaction in layering up before we left the apartment. I’d swaddle my legs in knee socks, running tights *and* sweatpants, grab a beanie, mittens, *and* mask. The truth is that I was always a little cold when we started. 20 degrees is still 20 degrees. But that made it even sweeter when the incline kicked in and my body warmed up. Navigating icy trails can be treacherous, but the benefits—Frozen-level snowy landscapes, virtually no crowds— were worth it.
For this, I blame the many plucky-protagonist-survives-the-great-outdoors paperbacks I read growing up, especially Hatchet and My Side of The Mountain. The latter is a 1959 adventure novel and hand-me-down from my dad, which explains the following plot: A 12-year-old boy (!) named Sam Gribley runs away from his family’s New York City apartment to live in the Catskill Mountains (!), where, among other hijinks, he makes a house inside a hollowed out tree (!) and trains a falcon (!) to hunt for dinner.
I often find myself hiking in the Catskills these days, and inevitably I begin to wonder how I’d fare in Sam’s shoes. Not great! But the truth is that hiking doesn’t have to happen in a national park with an overstuffed day pack strapped to your back—and it certainly doesn’t require you to be a survivalist. Everyone is a hiker, and trails can be found everywhere.
So, what does a “good hike” look like? There’s no one correct answer—or rather, there are countless correct answers—but it’s true that a little planning is key. I spoke with Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, founder of the L.A.-based intersectional women’s hike group Hike Clurb, about how to get the most out of your time outdoors.
Start by picking the “perfect” trail
National/state/local parks are obvious places to start, but they’re not the only option. “Do what you can with what you have,” says Escobar. “Hiking can sound more intimidating than what it is—sometimes it’s just a literal walk in the park. If you can walk, you can hike. It’s just about taking that first step and seeing where it leads you after.”
AllTrails is a popular resource for finding, well, all the trails. Think about what level of exercise you’d like then check out each hike’s difficulty level, which is based on a combination of mileage and elevation. And trust me when I say that an “advanced” hike really is hard. Michael and I still ruefully reminisce about our mostly uphill, 7-mile trek through Harriman State Park. The views were spectacular, and for days after, my ass was spectacularly sore too.
A few ideas for where to go:
Evelynn’s California favorites: “Obviously some places attract more tourists, like Runyon or even the hike to the [Griffith] Observatory, which is actually a good hike to do during the week. It’s much less crowded. Mornings are generally more of a rush; some people have a morning hike routine. A lot of very well known parks in the city have hikes that aren’t super crowded, like Ernest E Debs Park and Kenneth Hanh State Recreational Area, which are both in Black and brown neighborhoods. The last otherworldly hike I did was during a camping trip to Lone Pine in Alabama Hills, CA.”
Michael and Aliza’s NY recs: Harriman and Fahnestock are two of our favorite hikes about an hour’s drive from the city. Harriman is accessible via Metro North, and it features tons of large rocks and hills (read: lots of elevation). At first you’ll hear the freeway, but it quickly starts to feel secluded. There are lots of trails to explore on subsequent visits, and it even connects to Bear Mountain St Park. Fahnestock is much less popular aka less crowded, and it has lots of cool old stone walls. If you’re spending a weekend upstate in the Catskills, go to the Big Indian Wilderness forest preserve or the Kaaterskill Wild Forest (North–South Lake has some good trailheads).
My sister Chloe is a semi-retired #vanlifer and probably the most proficient camper I know. These are some of her faves in Northern California and Oregon: “Columbia River Gorge, Yosemite High Country, and the whole Eastern Sierra region—especially the Inyo National Forest. But honestly, my favorite thing to do right now to avoid crowds is to familiarize yourself with national forest rules/regulations, then to drive out to a national forest. Pick a random service road and just drive until you reach an area you want to check out. Then get out and walk on the forest service roads. You can even do some cross country travel/bushwhacking if you know how to stick to walking on durable surfaces. Even during non-COVID times, my goal is usually to be as alone as possible in nature, so this is the best way to do it for me.”
Wherever you go, check out the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace to learn how to minimize our impact on the outdoors.
Pack some provisions (a.k.a sandwiches!!)
In addition to plenty of water and a brimmed hat, I bring a small fanny pack with band-aids, hand sanitizer, SPF, and an extra bandana for sun protection/extra warmth/a makeshift napkin. And then there are the snacks. Apples and oranges are champions of the game—they’re portable, hydrating, and boost blood sugar. See also: Tangerines, roasted almonds, dried apricots.
But really, my lifelong pursuit is perfecting the hiking sandwich. It must be substantial enough to provide energy without necessitating a nap, delicious enough to encourage me to keep going until lunchtime. And of course, it must be eaten somewhere beautiful, ideally a large, flat-ish rock. Crusty bread is essential (to ward off dreaded soggy sandwich syndrome), but the filling options are endless. PB&J is always a classic vegetarian option; I also love to make a quick smashed chickpea salad with tangy pepperoncini peppers and whatever tender herbs are in the crisper. (Hit that hyperlink for my full recipe on Basically.) For a meatier version, I crack lots of fresh pepper over thick-cut cheddar cheese, salami, and shredded lettuce, then pile it on bread smeared with Dijonaise (1:1 ratio of Dijon mustard and mayo, ideally Kewpie). If tomatoes are in season, add em. And I f you’re in L.A. and prefer to buy your hiking sandwich, The L.A. Times just published a seriously comprehensive guide.
Nobody wants to lug a heavy backpack up a mountain, but a few essentials can really make a difference. These are Evelynn’s must-haves:
“My simple hiking kit is a little waist bag with my inhaler and a GoMacro bar, which is the only meal replacement bar I’ll buy. We pass them out at Hike Clurb! They’re vegan and gluten-free, and the maple sea salt flavor tastes like a pretzel, which makes no sense, but it’s great.
I always end up carrying my wallet on the hike because in L.A., there's always people selling fruit somewhere.
I also hate holding onto a water bottle so I use a water bottle strap that I got on a tour of Antelope Canyon in Arizona.
If you want to make hiking a regular routine in your life and take bigger excursions around it, hiking shoes are key. Especially when you’re on steep trails or loose terrain, navigating all that is way easier if you’re not wearing old running shoes. Your old shoes will definitely do the trick if you’re doing local, smaller hikes that don’t require serious gear. But we love ankle support!”
Ground yourself with a brief hiking meditation
Okay, you don’t have to do this. But it’s a great way to see a trail through new eyes and be present. Give it a shot.
First: Orient yourself on the trail so you won’t have to take out your map two minutes in. Collect your group if you have one—a circle would be nice, but no pressure if that’s too summer camp-y—and do a long, slow inhale/exhale.
Stand in silence. Close your eyes and slowly bring your attention to the sensory input trickling into your brain. Notice the wind whispering through the leaves. Notice the sun/wind/rain/snow/mosquitos on your skin. Notice the birds/brook/annoying loud campers farther up the trail.
Then open your eyes and start to walk. Pay attention to what you can observe in silence. I love to stare at moss and rocks, but animals might be more exciting to you. Start with sight, then (watching where you’re going!) bring your attention to those other senses. Was that birdcall always so loud? Is that low rushing sound coming from an unseen nearby creek? Keep walking this way for as long as feels right, then regroup. If you’re feeling the macrame/free swim spirit, share one thing that stood out most.
Remember where you are, and who came there before
Virtually all of the land in this country was once the home of Indigenous people, and our parks are no exception. Native Land, a map of Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties by the Indigenous-led nonprofit Native Land Digital, is an important resource to contextualize the history of the stolen land we hike on. But consulting the map before you head outside is just the first step.
“While there are land acknowledgements, I'd like to see true land sovereignty for the indigenous and native people of this country to regain the rights over the land we use to hike and do everything else on,” says Evelynn. “Acknowledging the land is one step into that, and so is acknowledging that the outdoor space looks white and homogenous.”
“The next step is investing in communities and doing what you can do as a privileged person to help dismantle the outer appearance down to the systemic and structural level. Look for local ways you can advocate in support of communities—there is a bill in L.A. right now about putting safe distance between oil rigs and black and brown communities. Write to a representative. Donate to organizations. There are so many different ways you can lend support to environmental justice that goes back to being outside, breathing fresh air, and hiking.”
That’s all for this week. As always, thank you for reading. If you have any requests, questions, or 2 a.m. musings you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. Just respond to this email.