Evelynn Escobar-Thomas is an LA-based social media manager and the founder of Hike Clerb, an LA based intersectional womxn’s hike club and 501c(3) founded in 2017. In this interview, we talked about what brought her to LA, how Hike Clerb blossomed from an idea to a movement, and about the state of and ways to address continued racism in the outdoors.
See Evelynn, above, in the coolest pants ever IMO.
I’d love to kick things off with a little bit about you and your background - tell me - how and where did you grow up?
What brought you to LA?
I’m black and indigenous to Guatemala (Maya K’iche’). My mom came here from Guatemala when she was very young. Growing up in Northern Virginia, there wasn’t really an emphasis on going outdoors, camping, or doing nature trips - I think with immigrant and ethnic families, there’s this draw to just assimilate and do things the American way, like go to Disney World, not go camp and sleep outside.
When I did go off to college, I spent a lot of time hanging out near the river and using nature trails, and would visit my aunt in LA often, which led to me spending a summer interning there, too. She planted the seed for my love of hiking. I always looked forward to visiting her and going on hikes, and by the time I moved full time to LA after school, it felt like home. I was drawn to having so many different environments readily available.
When did you have the idea for Hike Clerb and how did you get started?
LA is considered this diverse and liberal city, but the outdoors scene could still use some work. There’s an unspoken acknowledgement, specifically, with other black people on trails. We give each other a nod - yes, I see you here. After moving to LA, I started adventuring further - my real road trip took place when I was 23, to Grand Canyon and Zion - it was my first national park trip ever. I realized, especially in Zion, there weren’t many people who looked like me. There were stares of curiosity. I thought - white people don’t have to deal with curious stares in national parks - so why do I? That first national park experience as an adult blew my mind. I realized I wasn’t the only WOC obviously interested in nature and these experiences, but that we needed a community and a safe space.
Being alone as a woman in the outdoors isn’t the safest choice. That, combined with this need for spaces for women of color and how inspired and healed I felt in nature made me want to give other women that foundation. To help women of color, specifically black and brown women, get out there.
Above, a Hike Clerb event from early 2020 (pre Covid)
What challenges have you run into along the way?
Having a formal non profit is a challenge. There are so many facets and resources necessary, and simply getting off the ground in that sense and feeling supported can be hard!
We also definitely run into micro-aggressions on the trail. When we started off as a small group of 10 or 15 - other women were excited to see us and had questions, showed joy, and gave affirmations. Now, when we have 100 women together, we get so many interesting questions, like, ‘is this an urban hike group?’ It feels like people are excited only when change is a comfortable size for them - any larger and they start to get uncomfortable and give looks and comments. There’s still a lot of entitlement to push back on.
How do we deal with these kinds of comments? How do brands do better than a bit of melanin in a brand campaign?
The whole industry needs an upheaval. Lots of companies are now trying to address the “issue” of diversity, but it’s not a buzzword topic. You need people who represent the communities at hand - not lots of white people - in the room to address the issues. And not just entry level, but directorial positions. The more groups the better! We also need programs to make gear more accessible and to break down socioeconomic barriers, able bodied barriers and create equitable change in the space.
Brands don’t need to reinvent the wheel when there are so many groups that already exist. Let those organizations grow - the people who are already committed to it and are actively doing the work. Whether it’s money, gear, or programs - invest in these groups and people first.
What are some of the big reasons why you think there’s still a lack of representation of people of color in the outdoors?
The racist history of the outdoors! From a legacy standpoint, we don’t necessarily feel welcome in these spaces. It’s the systematic killing of so many people, and the savagery and violence that went into that. The white-washed history we have doesn’t address these parts of history. Many of the principles of preservation are under a white privileged lens - not with people of color in mind. That’s why you saw segregated entrances and facilities like in Shenandoah national park in Virginia. They were places of violence; with lynching in the woods and the outdoors, for example - black people didn’t find it safe then, and unconsciously or consciously passed that fear down to their children and so forth. It’s a generational idea that those spaces are not safe and not for us.
You’ve spoken about land acknowledgements before - tell me what’s on your mind?
I’m someone who started to add land acknowledgements recently - tagging the original owners of the land - then, I had a moment of questioning myself whether the action was performative or not. At the end of the day, we need our land back, whether it’s native’s in North America or indigenous peoples in Central and South America and so on. If you aren’t supporting the people on that land in their pursuit of sovereignty, a tag is simply just raising awareness. It’s not enough. It feels very much like the proverbial black square to me. A lot of Indigenous and Native people have spoken up about just this - have conversations with friends and families, learn, donate to people whose land you spend time on, and invest in them.
Above, Hike Clerb group during 2020 Pandemic on a masked hike in SoCal
How can women connect during a pandemic?
2020 was meant to be a big year for us (Hike Clerb) to get outside and grow and COVID said no, like it did to most people. Despite that, we have experienced tremendous growth, because we have initiated tough conversations around the outdoors and provided a platform for WOC to be seen and heard, and we cater to a wide range of experiences. We have built camaraderie digitally, as content has taken a whole new life this year. Organizations like Intersectional Environmentalist for example have created so much beautiful information that they’re giving us, and it’s still, even during a pandemic, so possible to flock to these conversations and have them in digital communities.
If you’re feeling alone, I’d recommend finding a digital community that feels most like home, and if beyond that you’re seeking that human connection - actually engage with others! With Hike Clerb, we have so many women who come alone and leave with a friend, but that can happen on social media, too.
What’s your vision for what Hike Clerb might become?
Whether it’s in South Africa or France, it’s amazing to see people interested and wanting to experience us. We are working to facilitate events and experiences on a larger scale - to guide women outdoors and continue creating bigger and better safe spaces. Aside from getting together in real life - we are creating our own Hike Clerb universe to equip women on all fronts - virtual and real life. Giving them the tools and gear and guides they need too.
Above, Evelynn climbing up Half Dome!