(Renee Patrick on the Oregon Desert Trail Abert Rim | Photo courtesy of Renee Patrick Consulting)
Intrepid long-distance hiker Renee Patrick has translated a lifelong love of the outdoors into a new business path, with the launch of a pioneering consulting business designed to enhance extended trail experiences and encourage advocacy for the environment.
The Bend-based athlete, affectionately dubbed “She-ra” for her exploits — after her childhood favorite superhero warrior princess character from the Masters of the Universe animated series — has undertaken some of the most daunting “thru-hike” trips (essentially, an end-to-end backpacking trip on a long-distance route such as the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail) across the U.S. and beyond.
As part of completing multiple long-distance treks, she is what is known as a Triple Crown hiker, which is a recognition for those individuals who have undertaken, in their entirety, the complete lengths of the Appalachian Trail (AT), The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and the PCT.
Now, after a varied education and career accumulating a diverse range of complementary skills, she is embarking on a fresh direction, offering services in enhancing endurance hiking experiences through her new business venture: Renee Patrick Consulting, specializing in “long-distance trails for an engaged future.”
One of Patrick’s primary goals with the initiative is to provide trail audit reviews generating insight and services to help long-distance trail organizations and developers to improve the hiking experience and inspire action on behalf of the environment.
She said, “The short version is I’m a creative who seeks to combine my love of design, language, nature, people and long-distance hiking into positive changes for our community and the environment. I like to say my favorite trail is the one I haven’t hiked yet!”
The longer story is that she traces an abiding need for adventure to a childhood growing up in the abundant wilderness of Wisconsin with three younger brothers. There, she thought “four treehouses, a lake within biking distance and wild-spirited friends” were the norm, and has continued seeking joy through the outdoors ever since.
She attended Bradley College in Illinois where she followed her curiosity with art, design and multimedia classes along with creative writing, literature and science courses, and after graduating with a liberal arts degree joined the Peace Corps for a two-year stint in Burkina Faso in West Africa as a health education volunteer.
She recalled, “I managed to make it through to the other side of my two-year experience intact. Well, almost. I found myself in a military coup in Ivory Coast over the holidays, battled to eradicate guinea worm from the 15 villages I was assigned to, and formed a theater troupe of young folks from my village of Zogore to hold performances about AIDS education.”
Patrick also painted murals but picking up Jean Deeds’ seminal book There Are Mountains to Climb, written in 1969, proved to be a turning point.
The book details how Deeds, at 51, gave up a successful career and comfortable lifestyle to spend six months carrying a 40-pound backpack over the rugged Appalachian Trail.
It is a personal account of “walking more than 2,000 miles across mountain ranges and through small towns; of finding the magic in nature and the beauty in people; of overcoming fear and discomfort and of finding the inspiration to continue hiking each day.”
The story of an unexpected spiritual evolution that grew out of a remarkable test of physical endurance and mental fortitude proved inspirational for Patrick and “many cases of giardia” later, she left Africa to embark on her first long-distance hike, following in Deeds’ footsteps on the Appalachian Trail.
She observed, “The challenges really weren’t that different from the Peace Corps. I was comfortable being dirty, didn’t mind the lack of electricity or running water, and I constantly thought of food I would eat if I had a chance!
“I fell in love with walking every day, all day, for five months. This was what I was meant to do. That, and figure out that whole career thing.”
So, thereafter, Patrick moved to Washington D.C., and interned in exhibition design at the Smithsonian before heading to London for more learning, at Goldsmith College international school looking at design futures “to study how design can make the world a better place.”
She said, “My small class was filled with students from around the world who were interested in designing a healthier society for all of us. I chose to look at museum exhibition design through that lens and theorized that we need to ‘take the museum out of the museum’ to create an immersive environment for people to learn and apply knowledge in a more dynamic way.”
The following chapter involved moving to Portland, Oregon, and working as a graphic designer until she could satisfy the urge for the next big trail: The Pacific Crest in 2006, which proved to be another key step.
She said, “I thought a solo hike in a high snow year? Bring it on!
“In fact, I wasn’t solo all that much. I met amazing people and felt incredibly strong through what will remain one of the most joyful experiences of my life. If I wasn’t addicted to living out of a bag for months at a time and sleeping on dirt before, now I was.”
Striving to make a living by working outdoors, she spent several years leading hiking and cross-country ski and snowshoe tours out of Portland; moved to Durango, Colorado to lead backcountry trail crews; taught a lightweight backpacking class at Portland Community College; became a field staffer for two years at a wilderness therapy company in Bend; and then did a season of logistics for Outward Bound Odin Falls.
She ended that phase hiking more epic trails like the Northville Placid Trail, Colorado Trail and Arizona Trail, but desired to lay down some roots and took a position with our very own Cascade Publications group in Bend, publisher of CBN, where she dove into the Bend arts community as editor of the A&E magazine, wrote extensively and helped launch a new arts coalitionin Central Oregon.
Even while not working specifically in the outdoors during this time, she needed to “scratch that creative and hiking itch” so founded the brand “Hikertrash” with fellow hiking pal Brian Frankle (they sold the company a few years later). The label ‘Hiker Trash’ is a term of endearment for those in the long-distance hiking community who have chosen to ditch social norms and live another way while on a trail journey.
What started with a screen-printing project in a home garage turned into a business that donated a percentage from sales back to trail organizations and made hats, shirts and other whimsical items to dress favorite pals on the trails.
She was drawn to transition back into the outdoor industry and joined a coalition of Bend outdoor companies to help establish the nonprofit Oregon Outdoor Alliance, while also engaging with outdoor companies as a hiking ambassador.
By 2015 the unknown beckoned once again, so Patrick set foot on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) for a solo thru-hike of the trans-continental trail.
She describes her five-month odyssey in completing the CDT as a “pivotal” experience, which opened her eyes to the true value of a personal communing with nature, and the benefits that could be derived from widening access to such potentially life-affirming “deep time” opportunities during long-distance hikes.
The notoriously difficult CDT meanders some 2,400 — 3,100 miles (depending which route is taken) along the backbone of the Continental Divide from the Mexican and Canadian borders, stretching through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho & Montana.
An accomplished writer, speaker and podcaster, Patrick also produced a daily blog of her travels as she chronicled her experiences over the course of the adventure.
She worked with the CDT Coalition as their first trail ambassador that year and was taken under the wing of CDTC Executive Director Teresa Martinez, who gave invaluable insight into the world of what it takes to create and manage an incredibly expansive trail. 160 days and 2,708 miles later Patrick reached Canada to cap off her Triple Crown achievement.
Returning to Bend after hitting over 10,000 miles hiked, the next big goal appeared in the shape of helping establish the relatively new 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail, that traverses some of the most spectacular natural areas of the state’s dry side, including the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Steens Mountain, the Pueblo Mountains and the Owyhee Canyonlands.
She jumped at the chance to work for the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) which had created a “virtual route” but which needed help to figure out the next steps to make this a viable, feasible adventure in the deserts of Eastern Oregon.
Patrick’s breadth of experiences to date proved a perfect fit, and she recalled, “It was when I realized that the Oregon Desert Trail was my museum exhibit, that the prospect really clicked.
“I saw my role as facilitating a person’s experience through eastern Oregon through the resources I created and the connection I hoped to inspire in those spending a day, to a week, to a few months out there on the route.
“I was curating the hiker’s experience and creating a way for them to learn about the ecosystems, habitats and public lands issues to help them see the value in participating in their stewardship and future.
“I wanted them to leave the 750 miles having learned something about eastern Oregon, having learned that we, as hikers, have a role to play in the health and future of the public lands that make trails possible and having learned that we are all a part of nature, not separate from it.”
To that end, Patrick has designed and created a dozen different unique “story maps” using her multimedia experience to offer an interactive and compelling platform to illustrate an issue or describe an experience in an immersive way. Through maps, images, video, sound and text, trails can be brought alive and deepen a hiker’s experience.
Over the last three years she has also been instrumental in developing the Blue Mountains Trail — an immersive adventure through the diverse interconnected eco-regions that comprise the Greater Hells Canyon Region of northeast Oregon, while also working on an upcoming new route named the Columbia Plateau Trail, tracing the John Day River through many wilderness study areas.
As a veteran thru-hiker with over 20 years of experience planning, hiking and improving long-distance trails, Patrick says she is at heart an environmentalist and passionate outdoor enthusiast who believes that long-distance hiking can deepen our relationship with the landscapes and environmental issues that desperately need more advocates.
Current environmental hot-button issues being encountered in Oregon wilderness areas include potential moves toward lithium mining, a controversial mooted jet fighter training program involving low flying over the pristine Owyhee River area, and wildlife migration path impacts.
Patrick added, “When we see ourselves as part of nature, we act differently.
“By following my curiosity for over 25 years, my interests and passions now culminate in this work to improve the long-distance hiking experience through resource development, community outreach and hiker engagement, all through the lens of thousands of miles backpacked on trails around the world.
“I want to guide long-distance trail organizations and developers in improving the hiking experience and inspiring action on behalf of the environment.”
Following her new company launch, Patrick will be increasing exposure through attending major events such as the American Trails Webinar on March 23, followed by the American Long Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA)-West Cascade Ruck conference in Stevenson Washington later this month, and the International Trails Summit in Reno, Nevada, in April.
From resource reviews to logo design, stakeholder engagement to mapping, her business honed over the last year in preparation for its official launch, can design, build, write, communicate, or publish the materials and resources needed to make client trails a world-class experience.
Patrick said, “Trails have been created and used since time immemorial. Each has its own personality and traits.
“They are a form of communication with the world around us, and they provide a way to be in relationship with the land and connect us to the earth, to each other, to our histories, and our future.”
An extra dimension Patrick is looking to add to her enterprise is factoring in paddling to the trails equation.
She said, “Rivers are trails too. I began packrafting over ten years ago, and I came to understand firsthand that rivers were the original trails in many parts of the world; they are often the path of least resistance through a landscape.
“Since then, I have paddled on numerous rivers around the country and embarked on several long-distance paddling trips. I want to use my skills to enhance the paddling experience on river trails.”
Another initiative she is working on is the creation of a survey that will be posted on the website to gain information on current trail pinch points and how resources could be improved.