The first Hike it Baby hike was just me asking some women in a new baby gathering to meet me on a trail in Forest Park. It’s called Lower McCleay. What I love about this trail is it’s a quick fast hike with a nice creek, a lot of shade and a “witch’s castle” in the middle. Really, it’s just an old stone building. This is not only the first Hike it Baby hike (although we weren’t Hike it Baby then), but it’s also where my hubby awkwardly proposed to me.
That’s Shanti Hodges describing the beginnings of Hike It Baby, a group that she was inspired to form as a long time adventurer and a new mother. Shanti initially started Hike it Baby as a website for families to connect with other families to go hiking. For her, Hike it Baby became a way to make other friends with kids that also enjoyed getting outdoors. “I never imagined it would become my friend circle of the greatest people I could ever get on the trail with,” she said when asked about why she started Hike it Baby.
But clearly, she is not the only person with young children who enjoys having a network of support to encourage outdoor activity. Since those early days, Hike it Baby has exploded with families that want to reap the benefits from getting outside with other families.
From its humble beginnings in 2013, Hike it Baby has now grown to over 300 Hike it Baby branches across the US and Canada with close to 180,000 families. But starting a non-profit is not for the faint of heart and it has taken a lot of work to get Hike it Baby to where it is today. Shanti quit her job as a graphic designer, website builder and freelance writer for magazines like Outside magazine to focus solely on Hike it Baby. Up until a couple of months ago, the small team that runs Hike it Baby is drawing a modest hourly wage to cover childcare.
She wanted to provide a “supportive environment for families to have their first taste of the outdoors together and to get them outside.
Shanti has an incredible amount of passion for getting families outdoors and a great vision. Last year she launched a new business called Forest Fest, a weekend camping festival geared toward families which includes kid friendly music and a Teddy Bear hunt that is sponsored by Deuter where the kids actually find little teddy bears in the forest. She wanted to provide a “supportive environment for families to have their first taste of the outdoors together and to get them outside.”
And Hike it Baby really does provide an incredibly supportive environment. There is a place for people of all ability levels, from a child using a walker to a new mom having just had a baby. They educate branch leaders on how to teach women skills that you just can’t pick up anywhere else. Think, how to breastfeed while hiking or how to tandem hike (i.e. one kid on your front, another on your back!). They’ve even rallied community members to support a family that is hiking the entire Appalachian trail with their baby. The Hike it Baby community will be meeting the family at the various pit stops on their 3,524 km (2,190 mile) through hike. There’s just no doubt, Hike it Baby is a full-on community that empowers families to get outdoors and to support each other along the parenting journey.
A strong, hardworking woman Shanti is clearly working hard to run Hike it Baby. A busy mom and non-profit business women, Shanti was just running out of a daylong meeting with Backpacker Magazine when I interviewed her. I could tell she had a long day but her energy and passion for Hike it Baby radiated out of our conversation. She spoke of their top secret project that will change the hiking world for families which only proved her desire to help get families outdoors. Her ultimate goal? To reach 1,000,000 families by the year 2020. I will not be surprised if they surpassed this number.
Register your family for their Hike it Baby April challenge here . It costs $10 to register and the money goes towards funding their top secret project that will be pretty epic and all the other ins and outs of running a non-profit. Registration ends on April 15th. To connect or start a Hike it Baby branch in your area check out their website.
Get to know Shanti the founder of Hike it Baby!
Before you had kids what types of adventure activities did you like to do?
I hiked, surfed, snowboarded, rode dirt bikes, mountain biked, went paragliding a few times. I pretty much have always loved being outside but I usually had to have a thing attached to me. A piece of gear. Hiking is very freeing because you just need a pair of shoes and your feet and off you go.
What is your favourite adventure snack? And what about your son?
Dried mangos, cheezy puffs, trail mix, fruit leather, jerky. We pretty much like to mix up the salty and sweet.
What is your favourite hiking trail? (with or without your son)
There are so many! I don’t even know where to start. I love the waterfalls in the Gorge. We do Wahclella Falls a lot because in the summer there is a nice place to wade around and get wet with a little one.
What is your favourite trail for you and your son to hike together?
I really like the Wildlife Refuges in Oregon and Washington around Portland and Vancouver. They are flat and very open so kids can run and those with wheelchairs and strollers can join in too. I also really love Tryon Creek when I am in Portland. It’s a good quick one and easy to get into deep forests with toddlers.
How many hikes have you done with your son?
That’s hard to say. In his first year we hiked 3-7 times a week. So easily close to a few hundred at least.
Have you ever found it challenging hiking with your son?
OMG yes. Watch this. I documented the hardships when I went solo hiking and traveling with him for 30 days. (Watch Shanti’s video here. You will be happy you did!)
Hiking with a toddler can have its moments. You just have to remind yourself that the goal is getting outside, not how far you get.
What are your top 3 suggestions for working through some of those challenges?
Snacks, keeping it light and short if it’s not going well, bring other toddlers and parents along so if you can’t shift your kiddos mood, you at least have someone who so feels your pain.