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I’m Thru Hiking JMT and raising funds to Create Access to the Outdoors for Urban Youth


We all have access in our lives but some have it more than others. 

When it comes to ACCESS TO THE OUTDOORS, there are those who live literally next door to the mountain trails and have the financial means to enjoy outdoor endeavors (e.g. hiking, climbing, camping).  However, there are segments of our population that don’t have access to the outdoors readily.  One such population consists of urban youths/children who are deprived of access by virtue of being born into a family that struggles financially and deals with social ills such as gang violence, bullying, high crime areas, discrimination and domestic abuse situations that can be prevalent in urban settings.  And, the youths/children of Washington, DC are not exempt from this unfortunate set of circumstances.

So, what is the thru-hike about and who am I?

I, Marinel, (aka Brown Gal Trekker) has been selected as one of the 15 Ambassadors for Thru Hike Syndicate (THS) in 2018.  As an ambassador, I’ll be hiking the entire 221 miles of the John Muir Trail, northbound, with the support of Osprey, Vasque, Leki, Nemo Equipment, Otterbox and Darn Tough Vermont.  The thru hike is set to commence on July 29, 2018.  In conjunction with the thru-hike, I'm raising funds to support City Kids Wilderness Project in Washington, D.C.

I’m Filipina by ethnicity, born and raised in the Philippines.  My family and I migrated to the U.S. at the age of 13.  I’m first-generation Filipina American.  Despite financial challenges (my parents worked as housekeepers in the U.S.), I managed to earn my law degree and Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington in Seattle.  I then practiced law for 15 years in Washington, DC and during that time I discovered my love for mountain trekking.  You can say I lived a dual life – lawyer by day, and the rest of my free time was devoted to hiking, camping, and trekking all over the world.  Over ten years ago, I decided to start organizing groups to trek locally, domestically and overseas.  I have taken people (mostly from the D.C. metro area) to Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa to hike and trek the most popular and off the beaten path destinations. 

That passion never left.  In 2016, I launched a social enterprise, Peak Explorations, to continue my mission to create “access” for people to see the world, hike some amazing trails, learn about other cultures and appreciate an extraordinary journey and connections with people who differed from them.  Peak Explorations also promotes women and diversity in the outdoors.  In a male dominated trekking tourism industry, we are creating “access” to job opportunities in the outdoors as guides, porters, entrepreneurs, etc. for women and indigenous communities by partnering with local operators who align with our vision for a more inclusive and equitable trekking tourism industry.  

On a more personal level, I also run the media platform, Brown Gal Trekker.  This entity serves as the means for me to share my trekking and travel stories from all parts of the world, to create “access” to dialogues on unpopular and controversial topics in the outdoors and travel industry, to celebrate diversity by featuring women (of color) and their hiking stories and promote equity and inclusion in the outdoor industry. Hence, Brown Gal Trekker is thru hiking the JMT this summer.  Just like Peak Explorations, Brown Gal Trekker aims to create “access” – to bridge the gaps and create dialogues on topics that we normally avoid, thereby continuing to divide us, humans, on a deeper level.  

In 2017, I left my 15 year career as a prosecutor to follow my calling and become a full-time entrepreneur, writer, and mountain nomad.  

Why thru-hike the JMT?

The 221-mile John Muir Trail is dubbed as the most beautiful trail in America.  Also, it is symbolic in many ways. It is a trail named after the father of America’s National Parks, John Muir.  Muir himself created “access” as part of his legacy while armed with the same passion I hold towards the mountains.  He fought for conservation of the land through his activism which led to the founding of Sierra Club.  However, even during those times, the notion of “access” was limited to those of European/white background.  Now, in 2018, redefining what Muir envisioned of America’s National Parks would behoove us to include all Americans regardless of backgrounds.

On a personal level, when my mother died in May of 2017, I spent days hiking in Sierra Nevada including parts of the JMT.  At that moment, I knew I wanted to return to finish the entire JMT in memory of my mother who happened to have been the pivotal person in my life as she suffered from untreated mental health condition that led her to emotionally, mentally and physically abuse my brothers and I while growing up in the Philippines and the U.S.  Her passing gave me the gift of rebirth and the once in a lifetime opportunity to finally allow myself to fully heal from childhood trauma and abuse.

Why support the City Kids Wilderness Project organization?

When I decided to support City Kids Wilderness Project as part of my thru-hike of JMT, the choice came rather naturally for me.   As a prosecutor in Washington, DC for 15 years litigating child abuse and neglect cases, I worked with the same population of youths/children in Washington DC with the same set of challenges facing urban kids/youths of today.  This population consists of youths of color (Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans) who have experienced some form of trauma whether on the streets or inside their homes.  These youths/children don't have access to resources readily available to them.  To me, supporting the work of City Kids is merely an extension of my longtime commitment as a children's rights advocate and a natural consequence of my having suffered trauma as an abused child.  The aftermath of experiencing child abuse can be devastating and can linger in the person's life forever.  Despite finding a way to function as adults in our society, for many child abuse survivors, the pain and internal struggles remain. 

I'm owning the responsibility to heal for myself now and while at it sharing this journey with you to emphasize the most powerful asset we have as humans - resiliency.  Because of my family's immigrant and low-income background serving as barriers to accessing resources readily, I didn't find the means to find healing for myself until later in my adult life.  And, in my case, it wasn't the medication and regular therapy that paved the way to healing the trauma and depression.  It was the outdoors that led me to inner peace and love.  Hence, I found the courage to leave my 15 year career as a prosecutor to become an advocate for the outdoors and inspire people to incorporate nature as part of their lives.   I believe there's plenty of individuals out there who, like me, manage to function well on our jobs and on the surface, and yet, continue to struggle with the aftermath of child abuse in silence.  Many of us are forgotten.

 I want to create "access" for people to heal in nature the same way I healed from hiking and trekking all over the world.   Hiking the JMT is the last effort on my end to rid myself of limiting beliefs that resulted from childhood trauma and abuse. Each mile I walk will get me closer to the new version of myself by giving myself permission to leave all the pain behind - a process I initiated by leaving my career as a prosecutor in the field of child abuse and neglect so I can fully heal.  I realized advocating for children who shared my pain became my crutch for 15 years and the person I forgot to advocate for all these years turned out to be me.  Quitting my career after the passing of my mother came naturally as a way to put closure on my own story of childhood abuse with my mother.

Through nature and the outdoors, I found a profound level of healing and a solid sense of self-worth.  I would want the same outcome for those who have endured similar challenges such as the young adults and children that City Kids Wilderness Project serves.  I want these youths/children who oftentimes are overlooked and misunderstood in our society to know that they can do extraordinary things in their lives "because" of the trauma they experienced early on and that they can own that part of themselves as a way to fuel their capacity to become limitless and unstoppable in life.  City Kids is an organization that does exactly that.   

Nature has so much power to save lives the way it saved mine.  But it has to start with "access."

What is City Kids Wilderness Project about?

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Each year, City Kids Wilderness Project provides 130 DC youth, in the 6th-12th grade, with life changing opportunities to help them learn, grow, and build the skills they need to set goals and work towards their dreams. They provide year-round outdoor and wilderness programming, and academic and social support for participants, including: tutoring, mentorship, internships, leadership training, weekend outdoor experiences in the DC Region, and a 2-6 week summer camp experience in Jackson, WY. The City Kids program is based around three core principles: long-term (7+ years) youth engagement, experiential education programming with a focus on overcoming challenges, and goal setting with a focus on future planning. City Kids uses the wilderness as a tool to challenge their youth participants, ease them out of their comfort zones, encourage them to broaden their horizons, and invite them to explore their personal courage and resiliency.

As a result of this long-term investment in these youth: 97% graduate from high school and 3% earn their GED, vs 67% of their peers in DC; 90% enroll in college, the military of vocational training, vs under 40% of their peers; and 90% believe that there are other opportunities for them outside of where they live.

“Since starting with City Kids, I think I have changed as a person completely. City Kids opened my eyes and let me see a different view. I feel like I’m more ambitious and daring, and I’m not afraid to try new things.” –City Kids, 12th Grade Participant

How can you create access?

I invite you to join me on this journey to create “access.” It’s a small, and yet impactful, of a step towards making the outdoors more accessible and inclusive.  Donate whatever amount you can. No amount is irrelevant.  Your contribution helps!  Here’s how:

(1)    Make a one-time donation of a specific amount.

(2)    Donate per mile (221 total) & follow me until the end to see how far we get!  When you follow my journey via the Facebook donation page, you’ll not only learn about my progress and continuing journey towards healing on the trail but also about City Kids and ways in general to create “access” to the outdoors. I invite you to join me in having an ongoing dialogue about “access” while I’m on the trail!

(3)    Join brands like REI, KEEN, Patagonia, and GSI Outdoors by donating gear to City Kids.

(4)    And, finally, share this fundraiser effort with others so more people can have the opportunity to make the outdoors a reality for all.

Thanks for being a part of this journey!