I had interviewed the pre-natal yoga instructor Amarylis. A while later I received an email from her: “I wanted to pass along a girl’s name that is totally a dynamo- Shanti Sosienski Hodges. She created Hike It Baby a little over a year ago and has been rockin’ out the hikes ever since. It’s even branched out to be national!!!”
Amarylis had gone on a hike with the group, met Shanti, and then directed me to her. I couldn’t be more grateful.
I have now witnessed first-hand the power that Shanti has to create community, inspire others to do things they didn’t know they could do, and to follow her heart vision, even when it’s hard and lonely.
We met up at Cathedral Coffee (I can’t wait to go back!) chatted while her son and nephew bounced around us, then met up with others at Cathedral Park for a newbie Hike it Baby hike. The hike was a meandering 1 mile walk around the park, the perfect intro for people with babies as young as 6 weeks who showed up. I was impressed with the group. The hike lead introduced herself and went over some things like “no mama left behind” – in the case of needing to breast feed, diaper change, etc. Each person introduced themselves, their baby, the age of their baby, and what area of town they lived in. You could then connect with people from the same area to meet up on other occasions if desired. There were about 15 families there and I’m so grateful for the chance I got to feel their energy and care for one another, even with just an initial meeting.
Hike it Baby is doing awesome things to build a community that builds each other.
After the hike Shanti invited me to her home were she told me about the journey of Hike it Baby, her dreams for the future, and her challenges with the whole process.
I think Shanti is Dynamo. Not only is does she get out, but she takes others with her. She works so hard to make a place where people feel comfortable and successful. She is joining the Carrot Bowl Dynamo Community. Each of these people are on a different health journey, but that’s the beauty of it. We are all different. We are each moving at different speeds, distances, and with different equipment, but we’re moving forward with a similar goal. These interviews are meant to capture the journey, where ever that is right now, and inspire each of us to continue in our own unique journeys. You are Dynamo. Shanti is Dynamo.
What do you want to be remembered for?
A community builder. Someone who brings together awesome people, like-minded people. I would like to be speaking and really helping people. I want to be someone facilitating the planet, understanding how communities form.
I don’t know if that stems back to when I was a kid, I was alone a lot. My parents lived in 2 different places, my Dad lived in Canada and my Mom lived in the US. I flew back and forth a lot and was in multiple schools back and forth. I didn’t ever have a very good sense of community because I was in and out of a community. I’d come back to a town and all the kids had their friends and I hadn’t been around all year. I craved fitting in somewhere. I want to create communities that are really open and accepting so that people can find community in a non-false way.
Something like Hike it Baby is open to all kinds of people. I’ve had many many moms and dads write me and say thank you because we feel like we’re part of something.
And inspiring families to do what they didn’t think they could do. There was this one woman who had never hiked before she met me, now her and her husband are hiking with their 1-year-old. It just wasn’t something she did before so that’s neat.
What’s the mission for Hike it Baby?
We are the place you go to to turn your family into an outdoors family. Go out camping or hiking or whatever it is. Just get outside. That’s the big mission.
Tell me about the beginning of Hike it Baby?
I started hiking in July of 2013 when Mason was 3 weeks old. I was sending out an email to people and it got really big…FAST. It was a couple hundred people within a few weeks. So I started sending out a newsletter. Then I built a website.
The website just went along and I had a facebook group that was private. I had about a couple hundred people in Portland doing it and I was still leading all the hikes.
Then people started asking me if I could do other days. I was just doing once or twice a week. So then I started asking other people to start leading the group, and they did. And then that grew. And I was getting emails every day asking to put up a calendar to say who was leading what. It just got so big that we started a submission form. Then someone saw it on someone else’s facebook page in another city and they called me and asked if they could start one in their city. And it just sort of grew from there.
It went from one branch to four branches in July 2013 to June 2014. Then in June 2014 it just started blowing up. Between June 2014 and now, we went from 4 to 72 cities. It’s over 10,000 families. We added 600 people on the waivers in the last 4 weeks. That 600 people is most likely 600 families…it’s moms and dads and kids that go out. So it’s probably more than 11,000. We also just added 12 branches in Mexico and each branch picked up 200 people within a few days. We also have a branch in Australia and Canada.
Now people are starting to visit different cities and go hiking with the groups in different cities.
Someone in Anchorage went down somewhere in California and she hiked. Someone here went to Houston, TX and went hiking with them.
Another thing is moms are moving away from Portland and starting branches in their cities they’re moving to. One woman just moved to Kansas and started a branch there, another moved to Bend, another one moved to Corvallis, another one to Durham, North Carolina. They already know the Hike it Baby thing and what they got out of it.
What do you want to turn Hike it Baby into?
If we were a non-profit we would be exempt from taxes and able to apply for grants. A lot of big companies, like Kaiser, REI, or the National Parks Service, won’t support us unless we’re a non-profit. But because we’re not, even though we’re not making any money, and we can show the books. It’s all costing me money. So the big challenge right now is the media. Media is contacting me right and left all over the country, which is great. Trying to get the word out about the next challenge.
The mission: getting really good information up on the site, to get people out safe, to explain what we’re doing, and to create Hike it Baby Foundation. The non-profit would make it so it would be free forever.
I need money to create all kinds of literature and videos and things to teach people how to get outside in rain, sun, snow, like every possible scenario with your child. Whether it’s working with other bloggers to get lots of guest blogs…I don’t need to own any of this, I just want to be the conduit for it.
Has Hike it Baby changed the way you see yourself?
Yes. I feel like not only Hike it Baby but having a baby changed me fundamentally as person. My whole life was a selfish romp around the planet having fun and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without concerns for my family.
For a long time I was an adventure travel writer. I’d think about it sometimes and I’d be off in some weird corner of Earth and I could die right now and nobody would even know. My parents wouldn’t even really know where I am right now. I was just so busy going, going, going, traveling around the world. I was living sort of a glamorous life, but it was also hollow because I’d go assignment to assignment. I was a snowboard, surf, adventure sports writer. It’s like being a war correspondent. You go happening to happening. It’s very high adrenaline and high energy and very cool. It’s very surreal, the situations you find yourself in. One day you’re in the Andes paragliding on an expedition and a week later you’re in Costa Rica on a surf story. I was all over the world.
Where do you find peace?
Just going on trails is really nice, with a group, without a group. Sometimes I find I go on some of the bigger hikes and a lot of people are talking and I just walk alone a lot. I’ll chat with people, but then I’ll bop off on my own with Mason. I like going with Mark and I hiking alone. Hiking. Just, life is pretty simple for me.
Tell me about the “Hike it Baby 30 Challenge.”
The challenge started because one of my friends called me and said she wanted to do the Wildwood Trail in Portland, 30 miles in the month. As I was thinking about it, I thought, “What if we got everyone in Portland to do it with us?” And then a few hours later I thought, “Wait! I want everyone in the country to do 30 miles and it doesn’t matter what 30 miles they do!” And that’s how the challenge started. I literally put it up 4 days later and 320 families signed up.
It was neat to see that people wrote, “I’d normally do this certain errand driving, but today, because I had to get my 30 minutes in, I walked it.” It’s SO cool. We’re not doing anything spectacular. My original tag line was “changing the world one little hike at a time.” But really now it’s “inspiring families to get outside on trails together and make new friends.” That’s what we’re doing. And just the simple thing of “we can do all 6 miles because we’re just talking and having a good ol’ time.” It’s not a workout and if we don’t make the 6 miles, it’s okay. Or if you don’t think you can make it, you have this team that’s with you that will say, “Can I carry some of your stuff? Can I help carry your baby? I’ll double carry.” We’ve had all kinds of scenarios on the trail.
In the last challenge we had families going up to 100 miles, carrying, in 30 days. We had 7 moms do 100 miles. We’ve just learned that with these challenges people go a lot further which is really cool. Really cool to see how much we can get people to do with the challenges.
Another thing is that there’s a place to log your hikes. For the first time people are able to track how many miles and how many minutes they’re going. It’s really exciting to see people say, “I thought I could do 30…but I did 80 this month!”
(to join the current March challenge, open throughout the month, go here…and use the #hikeitbaby or #HIB hashtag!)
How do you think Hike it Baby changes other people?
I look at it as mind, body, and heart. You can go outside to walk for your body, but really it’s for your mind and heart that we’re trying to heal with Hike it Baby. We’re trying to feed into your nurture and support and then using that for your whole family, it’s for your child, mom, and dad.
Yesterday for example, there was someone that had a Valentine’s Day walk and I went. My sister and her husband showed up a little later and I went for a second walk with them. While I was out, I ran into 4 or 5 Hike it Baby families that just happen to be out. I was like, “This is what I’m talking about.” A year ago I bet they wouldn’t have thought, “Valentine’s Day let’s go out for a walk.” But this is what they’re doing now because it’s become part of everyone’s routine.
We’ve made it so accessible and so easy to get out. That’s awesome.
Do you have a favorite memory from a hike?
Some of my very favorite memories were some of the first. In the first couple months of Hike it Baby I put a hike up to go to Tryon Creek and it started hailing. I thought, “This is crazy, there’s no reason for me to go out and do this, but it’s too much of a hassle to call it off, I’d feel bad if someone showed up, so I could just go and sit in the nature center, I’ll just go. ”
I went and it took 30 minutes for everyone to get their gear together and change gear and figure out what they were going to do and share gear. But we did it. 14 moms showed up on a hailing day. It poured. By the end the sun had just broken through and the sky opened up. We were all out there, I have a picture still, and that’s when I felt really strong…Hike it Baby was nothing then, it was just a few hundred people that kinda knew about it in Portland. It was a big moment where I thought, “We can do this!” I don’t know if I’d ever hiked in that severe of weather and it was crazy epic hiking, but we can do this, we can get out with our babies. You can go in the sun, rain, wind, and snow with your baby. Just gear up and learn how to gear up. You don’t need expensive gear.
A few months later Mark and I threw up a hike the night before and said, “We’re going up to the Gorge tomorrow, if anyone wants to meet us we’ll be at this parking lot.” 15 families showed up. It was like 40 people, counting the babies, on trail at Latourell Falls. Literally just throwing it up. It was 32 degrees. It was sunny, but still. It was icy, cold, you know, rigorous on the trail. But it was really neat. I was like, “There’s something happening here to people that they feel this strong of a need to get out into nature.”
I’ve done 6 miles with women who probably never in their live envisioned that they would have the ability and strength to carry a baby 6 miles. They, by doing that, have fundamentally changed their DNA. They’re changing their health and their fitness, their mental health, and they’re doing it through a simple act of walking.
Tell me about a scary thing that has happened?
In November during our challenge people stopped being safe. I went out on a hike and 2 hikes happened on the same day on a 35 degree day. Moms showed up with babies wearing cotton leggings and socks and nothing else. There was probably 15 families on that hike. And there was another one simultaneously going on with the same situation. The lead for the other one called me in tears afterwards saying she had to put the baby in her coat because it was shaking so badly.
I just halted all hikes. I threw up this huge panic email and halted all across the country and said, “If you’re in a wintery region, you cannot hike this week.” It was a panic, it was the wrong approach, and that was a really big lesson for me. Learning the influence we have as a group. We’re getting all these people to go out and feel really safe with us and it’s a false security because at the end of the day I can’t protect someone in Idaho or South Dakota and see if their children are dressed correctly. I can only protect my own child.
That’s when I realized we needed to become the organizer that could give you the tools to correctly get out there, but you are responsible for yourself. That’s when I got a little scared about how big it had become. Because I was getting stories all around the country about what was happening.
On that week too, a mom tripped and fell on her baby. They went to the doctor and the baby was okay and she sprained her ankle. The group really reacted quickly, they walked her down the hill, and she was embarrassed.
I saw her a few days later and she had run out to REI and bought herself some really good shoes and geared up correctly. It was really neat to see how she took it in her own hands to get responsible after that. I thought, “If this kind of stuff happens, this is the kind of reactions we want to encourage.” Where someone sees that they were at fault and weren’t geared up right, then correct it and get the right gear.
That woman’s really involved with us now, leads heaps of hikes and is on tons of hikes. It made me really happy. There’s a few people like her that I see out that were so rookie when they started and it’s so neat to see them now.
Any exciting upcoming challenges?
Our June challenge – we paired with the American Hiking Society. They’re one of the biggest trail organizations. They do all different trail protection and trail awareness stuff. We’re their family thing they’re going to promote people to do. We’re listing hikes in every single one of our cities all across the country on June 6th (National Trails Day). We’ll have at least 72 and in bigger cities, multiple on that day. Probably close to 100 on their calendar. We’ll account for the largest organization of hikes for them.
The goal is to get all these families out on that day all across America. The 2nd part of that goal for that month is for every person to take one new person out a week who has either never been on a hike or always says, “Hey, let’s hike and never goes.” Get that person out. The challenge for you is to take a friend and they don’t necessarily have to have a baby.
Any other dreams for future business?
Hopefully within a year it’s supporting us modestly. My husband used to be a guide. He’ll say, “What if we buy an old house in Portland and turn it into an urban lodge?” We could take people on hikes and take families out doing fun stuff around Portland and the outskirts of Portland. We could totally do something like that. That would totally fit us and suit us. He was a hunting-fishing-rafting guide in all his early 20’s. He really would love to do that.
What do you see as the future of Hike it Baby?
I hope that it continues as it’s going and ends up in every major city and smaller ones too. I want it to be a support group for parents, not just for moms. I feel like there’s all this support for moms and dads get kinda left behind a lot. The physical aspect of what we’re doing makes it so dads are more interested in being involved. I would like more dad groups to spin off of it. I’m hoping that it’s just in every city and it’s just natural when people have a kid to join in with the group. I want hospitals to hand it out to parents.
What’s something you’ve learned that you don’t know you would have otherwise through Hike it Baby?
I’ve always been like, “Everyone’s my friend!” I’ve met all kinds of people through Hike it Baby and some relationships have worked out and some haven’t. So really learning to keep my boundaries up, to invite the world into the process of Hike it Baby but know that I am not Hike it Baby. I need to pick my friends more carefully. I have had a few experiences through Hike it Baby where they get involved and then feel really entitled, like it should be theirs. In the very worse scenario, it turned into a letter to that person.
What would you tell someone considering hiking with Hike it Baby?
Right now the vision is I don’t want anyone to ever feel alone or they don’t have a community to step into when they have a kid. It’s that simple.
Find a Hike it Baby hike in your area (72 cities across the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia)
Picture credit to Ashley D. Scheider via Shanti (for some pictures)