Fat Girls Hiking: Fat Van Life

It’s Fat Girls Hiking 4 year anniversary!

I started FGH in Portland, OR because I was hiking A LOT and sharing my photos online. As a photographer, I love Instagram and at the time was disappointed to find that there weren’t any online spaces for someone like me. I’m a fat, queer, working class femme that has a lot of tattoos and hikes in dresses. The images I kept seeing didn’t represent me or the people I hiked with. I wanted to offer a different idea of what an outdoorsy person looks like and what’s possible for a fat girl hiking. In addition, I wanted ALL marginalized people to have a place where they could be celebrated just as they are.

As FGH evolved, followers began asking to hike with me. At first I wasn’t sure...I didn’t know how to lead hikes, I’m not an expert or authority in the outdoors, I’m not a leader... how do you even DO that?! BUT, I did it. I figured it out. I so desperately wanted a community to hike with that would understand what it’s like to be fat on a trail. I wanted a space where I could hike at my own pace (slow) and not be left behind or shamed. I learned so much about myself and how to build community that’s inclusive to all types of marginalized people. Turns out, a lot of other people also felt left out of the mainstream outdoor community.  And the demand for more FGH chapters continues still.

A year ago, the obvious need for FGH communities outside of Portland was apparent. I began to have so many doubts about my ability to open chapters and find ambassadors. BUT I did it anyway. I knew the healing aspects to having a community of like-minded people in the outdoors and I wanted to find a way to offer that to people across the continent.
I started opening chapters in places near Portland:  Seattle, Vancouver BC and Los Angeles.  Then, the online FGH community continued to express their desire to have the same type of community in their area.  Not knowing how to financially make it happen, I decided to take a huge leap of faith and travel to the places that wanted an FGH community, meet folks interested in becoming ambassadors and offer guidance on how to lead hikes that were inclusive, healing and accessible.  Fat Girls Hiking, On The Road was created.  
I took off from Portland to live on the road in my 1996 Toyota Corolla, determined to find others who wanted to create similar inclusive outdoor spaces where they live. After a month and a half in my car, I went to Minnesota where my mom gave me her old minivan to turn into a mobile work/home space. I had no idea how to live in a van. BUT, I did it anyway. I began the #fatvanlife and lived on the road. Along the way, I lead group hikes, found folks who wanted to be FGH ambassadors and opened 16 new chapters!

I’m back in Oregon now, managing 23 chapters of FGH and working on opening more chapters remotely. I still have my moments of self doubt and imposter syndrome but I’m also so proud of what this community has become. I have put immense time, energy, tears and sweat into making a space in the outdoors for marginalized people to come together and be celebrated just as they are.

In continuing to do the amount of work it takes to manage 23 chapters, I have pared down my hours at my nanny job. There was no other way for me to successfully do both full time.  And it’s been working out great!  Financially, I’m barely getting by...BUT I’m doing it anyway. People tell me all the time that I’m “living the dream.”  And I truly believe that.  

However, I’ve hit a snag in this beautiful dream job/life situation...my rusty old minivan, #Vanatee, broke down and needs to be repaired or possibly replaced. The brakes went out (several times) and because Vanatee is from Minnesota, there’s so much rust to deal with that it’s likely not worth fixing or there will other issues in the near future.  The battery needs to be replaced as well.  And I have a mechanic who will look the rest of the van over but, more likely than not, the continued costs of maintaining an old van will keep piling up.  So, with a heavy heart, I’m looking for a new-to-me, used van under $3000.  

I want to continue to do the work to maintain the existing chapters, find new ambassadors to build more communities where they live and continue to offer representation for anyone who feels like they don’t fit in or have a safer space in the outdoors. I’ve also been creating YouTube videos about marginalized folks in the outdoors or living on the road and would love to continue doing that work.  Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgGvvyi0kMSHS2ZWmB4B2CA I also love sharing my experience of places I’ve hiked and camped and am working on a book to share my knowledge about accessible outdoor spaces with y’all.

I will use the money raised here to purchase a new van, obtain Oregon registration and insurance.  I am currently staying with friends in Oregon until I can find a new van/home to purchase.  

Representation is so important to me and to so many of you.  I love creating videos, photographs and writing about this incredible community, fat oppression, the intersections of my identities, hiking and accessibility in the outdoors.  Through your support, I am able to continue doing this work. I’m hoping to raise enough money to get a new-to-me used van in safe, reliable, working order to live in and work from in Oregon while continuing to create more FGH chapters.

Ways you can help:
*Donate to the Go Fund Me.
*Buy a Donation ticket to a hike in your area:  https://www.eventbrite.com/o/fat-girls-hiking-8629131029
*Buy FGH merch: https://fatgirlshiking.com/merch/
*Donate any amount to Venmo @fatgirlshiking or PayPal fatgirlshiking @gmail.com
*Share this post with your family/friends/community and tell them why FGH is important to you.

I can’t thank y’all enough for supporting me in doing this work! I am so grateful to y’all for giving me so much already in the growth of myself and Fat Girls Hiking and for being part of a healing and safer community space in the outdoors.

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Sumr Valentine 
Silverton, OR
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