Meet the 52 Hike Challengers

One of the primary goals of Modern Hiker is getting people outside, exploring the trails and parks that may literally be hiding in plain sight right in their backyards, so when we started seeing Instagram photos from our readers tagged with the 52 Hike Challenge hashtag, we had to investigate further.

The idea behind the Challenge is simple – hike 52 times in a year, keep track of your hikes, and share your adventures on social media to help inspire others to do the same. The response, so far, has been fantastic – and even if you’re a veteran hiker, scrolling through their feed to see beautiful campgrounds, epic trails, and joyous, exuberant hikers is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

We had the chance to ask the Challenge’s founders Karla and Phillip about what got them started with the Challenge – and what keeps them going.

When did you start hiking yourselves?

Phil: My introduction to hiking was when I was young, maybe 10 years old, my uncle took me camping a couple times and I was fascinated with the grandeur of nature. Hiking wasn’t a frequent thing for me, but it definitely was something I enjoyed very much. Fast forward 15 years later, my poor eating habits coupled with the stress of full-time work and graduate school had me gaining weight until I became obese. I wanted to enjoy life without all the effort and pain the extra weight was giving me, so I knew I needed to set a goal to get back in shape. I set my sights high and told myself that I would have to be fit if I was going to be able to reach the summit of Mt. Whitney. I really started hiking in 2002, and after 8 months of training, I lost 40 pounds and made the summit of Mt. Whitney. By the two and a half year anniversary of my “lifestyle” change, I had lost 80 pounds, transitioned into a mountaineer who climbed many peaks including Mt. Rainier and Aconcagua (Highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere at 22,841 feet) as well as completing two marathons.

Karla: I was introduced to hiking by my parents, we lived in Los Angeles and would hike up to the Griffith Observatory. Later in life we would hike on family trips, I remember loving the hikes, but I didn’t think I could hike weekly. It was almost as if hiking was reserved for special occasions. Then, my marriage ended and a friend of mine asked me what I wanted for my “new life.” In my vision, I saw myself climbing Machu Picchu and feeling free and happy. Fast forward, I met Phillip, (my soul mate!) once I saw his mountaineering and backpacking adventures on his Facebook profile, I knew I wanted in. In January 2014 I told Phillip that one of my resolutions was to hike once a week minimum that year. So that started my personal 52 Hike Challenge. The journey was amazing and I’m happy to say that we explored a lot of new trails, made new friends, traveled to some amazing places, but best of all, I healed all the pain I felt from my divorce. Aside from that, I had a lot of insights and inspiration from all the hiking and it eventually allowed me to summit Mt. Whitney too.

What was the inspiration for the challenge?

It started with an idea to write a book about Karla’s 52 Hike Challenge journey. Hiking has changed both of our lives and we wanted to share the benefits we received with the world, then we thought, how cool it would be if encouraged everyone to go on their own 52 hike journey! We all come from different walks of life and we all go through obstacles at some point – having a healthy way to cope with life’s stresses in addition to having goals, and a support system is really the best way to regain the confidence we need in life. We felt that if hiking allowed Phillip to get healthy and Karla to heal her emotional pain– what else can hiking do? Phillip always believed that the physical act of climbing mountains leads to gaining confidence and that would allow people to overcome other challenges they faced – like, “if I can climb a mountain, I can definitely do XYZ”! We really want people to embrace getting outdoors, seek nature’s therapy, and change their lives in a more positive way; this way we’re all a better society together, and we’re getting there one step at a time.

What do you do to inspire others to stick to the Challenge?

We are inspiring people to stick to the challenge by creating a culture where people are encouraging each other, sharing cool hiking locations and meeting each other to complete the 52 Hike Challenge. Basically, people who use Facebook post photos to our page and other challengers like/ comment when they see it in their feed. For Instagram, people tag their photos using #52HikeChallenge and when a fellow challenger looks that hashtag up, they can find really cool and inspiring photos that other challengers take. Creating this community has been super exciting for us, we love that challengers are getting inspired by all the adventures and trails the other challengers are going on. People are getting pumped by the community – everyone is rooting for each other!

As facilitators of the 52 Hike Challenge, we still do a lot on the backend from featuring new challengers and their inspiring stories, to connecting challengers, and planning pop-up group hikes that people can join. Sharing challengers’ inspiring stories so everyone in the community can see we all face adversities also keeps people motivated.

A few other pieces that help keep our challengers motivated to finish the 52 Hike Challenge is making them accountable and having them track their progress. We ask all of our challengers to first state they are taking the challenge on their social media accounts so that they are accountable to their friends and family. One of the challengers created a great spreadsheet, so we shared that one on our website for others challengers to track / plan their 52 hikes.

I’ve noticed the Challenge is starting to get very popular on Instagram. Do you think social media is a good way to motivate people to get active?

We feel social media is a great way to motivate people to get active because it satisfies our basic intrinsic needs. In our 52 Hike Challenge community, the intrinsic need of personal growth, creating relationships, and helping others is facilitated on the social platform. While studies show that satisfying intrinsic needs leads to more happiness, we definitely believe the beautiful photos that are shared on social media get people planning their next outing!

Through social media, we see friends are reconnecting to go hiking and do the 52 Hike Challenge. It’s great to see our challengers’ friends asking to take them hiking, so it’s just growing. Social media makes it easier to get information about hikes, people are commenting back regarding directions and really helping each other to hike new trails … even going back to the same ones to take their friends! We also notice that people are going to places we recommend and sharing our content, so it just goes to show people are really tuned in.

How are you helping beginner hikers get started?

We are helping beginner hikers get started by removing a lot of the obstacles surrounding getting outdoors. First, we provide resources such as links to groups they can join, answering questions and giving advice. We have a gear center on our webpage where people can buy necessary gear as well as our quick-drying official t-shirt. This t-shirt has our logo and the purpose of it is to act like a signal for other challengers to identify each other on the trail and connect! Last, we host pop-up beginner hikes where we introduce challengers to each other so they can make new hiking buddies. We are already seeing people come together to complete the 52 Hike Challenge, it’s been gratifying to watch!

What about people who prefer to hike with others?

For people who want to hike with others, we created a section in our website called “Challenger Connection”, this is where we put both hiking groups and people looking to connect with other challengers. In addition, once a week we post on our social media platforms new hiking groups, events, and people looking for hiking buddies so that they can get a lot more visibility through our feed. We are also doing something fun where we are partnering with individuals or groups to “host” a 52 Hike Challenge pop-up hike. This allows challengers to meet and connect with different hiking groups, which further unites our community within the 52 Hike Challenge. Our intention is to get challengers to see new places, connect, and make their hiking journey more memorable.

What’s the best success story you’ve heard from the Challengers so far?

There have been way too many success stories to narrow it down to the best one! There are cancer survivors, couples bonding, new friendships being made, parents of special needs children taking them outdoors for “nature” therapy. Phillip was introduced to nature by his uncle at a young age and it left an indelible positive memory that made him want to get outdoors more and share the beauty of nature with everyone. It makes us ecstatic to hear parents telling us that their kids can’t wait to go for another hike! Certainly, some of those kids will be our future outdoor advocates. If there is one thing that we would call our biggest success story, it’s that our challengers are bringing their friends and family outdoors, and in the process, making healthy, positive lasting bonds.

And what’s next for the 52 Hike Challenge?

We are stoked about the possibilities in the future! Still in line with our mission – making hiking easily accessible and encouraging people to embrace the outdoors for positive mental and physical benefits, we have quite a lot of avenues to do this. A few months ago we were approached by Sea to Summit Productions to film a documentary about the challenge and how it’s inspiring people all over the world to get outdoors. In addition to people doing the 52 Hike Challenge all over the United States, we have people doing it in Egypt, Australia, Poland, Venezuela, Indonesia, Canada and UK, just to name a few. We also just announced the #52HikeChallenge Tour! The tour will allow us to visit some of the states we have challengers at so we can connect in person to hike, camp and share stories with them. So far we are seeing challengers already planning to make a trip out to experience a new place and meet fellow challengers. A part of the tour will entail working with outdoor travel and guiding services to put together trips for our challengers. We are also very interested in hearing from others to set up tours around the world!

Also, remember the book idea that started it all? Well it’s still happening except the book will contain the challengers journeys. We plan to publish it in 2016, after the first set of challengers finish their 52 Hike Challenge and submit their stories and photos. We would also like to develop an app for the hiking community, although we aren’t ready to announce the exact features yet.

Oh yeah, and we’re praying one day to be on Oprah! Laugh if you like, but Oprah featured Erik Weihenmayer, a blind mountaineer who reached the top of Everest and inspired Phillip to stop letting his perfectly capable body atrophy, lose 80 pounds and become a mountaineer. He later inspired his soulmate, Karla to start hiking which started the challenge. – So we only see it fitting that we tell Oprah the 52 Hike Challenge movement was inspired by her 🙂

Thanks to Karla and Phillip for taking the time to answer some questions. If you want to start your own 52 Hike Challenge, head on over to their web site to learn more!

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