John Muir famously said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Thousands of young families subscribe to this belief and participate in a growing group called Hike it Baby (HiB).
In July 2013, HiB founder Shanti Hodges invited some new families in her Portland, Ore., area to go for a hike. What started as a few casual hikes among friends kept growing as more families wanted to get outside to share nature with their young children. Thus, with the help of volunteers, HiB morphed into a large family-based community.
Today, the nonprofit has more than 300 branches with nearly 180,000 participating families. There are short toddler-oriented hikes, faster-paced hikes up to 7 miles long and everything in between. No matter what, though, the group will always stick together and support each other along the trail.
Although not established with military families in mind – and with no official military ties – many military families have found a like-minded community in HiB. Military spouses across the country, and even some overseas, have found their people.
A New Framework
Jen Hershberger is a self-described “annoying person who loves every PCS. I relish every new adventure to meet new friends, get lost amongst new streets and start all over,” she says. “But our sixth PCS was different. I arrived in the dead of winter to cold, rainy, smoggy South Korea after an epic three-plus months living in hotels in PCS Purgatory. I had thrived at our previous duty station overseas, but struggled to find my rhythm and confidence to explore here in Korea.”
After noticing other military spouse friends throughout the world posting pictures with a Hike it Baby hashtag, she looked it up and was immediately mesmerized by the primary goal to enjoy the outdoors with young children.
“Finding there was no branch in Korea, it was an easy decision to start a branch here myself,” Hershberger continues. “HiB did not give me an instant community, but gave me the framework and structure to build one. High-rise apartment living, tight urban spaces, pollution and lack of green space makes getting outside challenging in Korea. But Hike it Baby gave me a community of people who collectively work together to embrace the unique features of our temporary home. Our events may not look like other branches; we don’t have many hikes on mountains or trails. But we adapt and our events to often feature exotic farmers markets and urban strolls. I encourage anyone who has interest in getting outside with young children to look up Hike it Baby and find or build your community.”
Army veteran Annie Davis and her Air Force husband moved from Okinawa, Japan, to Albuquerque, N.M., when she was 32 weeks pregnant with their first child. Always active, she ran until 36 weeks and started daily walks with her new son at one week old.
“By the time Hunter was six months old I was walking miles with him in a carrier but was feeling super isolated,” Davis reflects. She decided to try a hike with Hike it Baby, but a diaper explosion and hungry baby made her late. Davis solo walked the trail, and it was enough to get her hooked.
“I felt so good getting to see a new place and so empowered getting out of the house and trying something new that I eagerly awaited the next hike,” she says. “I instantly felt like this was my group of people – other parents who wanted to be outside with their kids, who didn’t mind stopping if I had to nurse my baby, who helped each other get babies in carriers and comfortable. They were the first non-family members I told about my next pregnancy and they walked slower and took breaks when the first trimester was kicking my behind.”
Davis praises HiB for its acceptance and culture of building each other up that can be difficult to find in parenting groups. “This is the first group I’ve found that doesn’t care if you wear your baby or stroller your baby or breastfeed or bottle feed or whatever,” she says.
“I love the parents I have met in this group; they are my home away from home,” Davis says. “I’ll be sad to leave Albuquerque but know that I can bring this style of inclusivity, support and building up to the next place I go (which doesn’t have a branch – yet) because it is something we desperately need as parents, especially as military parents who are far away from traditional family support.”