I met Renee Patrick in the winter of 2015, shortly before she began a 160-day, solo hike of the Continental Divide Trail. We were bundled up, outside at a mutual friends’ house, where Renee was demonstrating the gear she and her partner, Kirk, had made for her backpacking trip.
I watched as she raised a dark umbrella with a mosquito-netting cloak. She stood under it, joyfully exhibiting the usual rain and sun protection and—as the small crowd oohed and aahed—how the mosquito net had an elastic waistband to keep bugs off her while she hiked or slept. Renee flashed her characteristically toothy grin and I got the distinct impression I was meeting the Mary Poppins of American Trails. But as Renee showcased more of her and Kirk’s creations—a beer-can stove, a trail wallet, alpine skis with modified bindings for hiking boots—I thought, no this is more of a James Bond scenario. What I didn’t know then, is that Renee Patrick is an original, a prototype, as made evident by her lifestyle choices and her accomplishments on the trail.
I’ve been a broke dirtbag for most of my life—and because I don’t need money, and I know I have a tent, I can live anywhere, I can sleep anywhere, and I consider the outdoors my home.
Renee "She-Ra" Patrick is a Triple Crown Thru-Hiker
By the time Renee turned forty, she was a triple-crown thru hiker. That means that not only did she complete the CDT, she had also solo-hiked the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails—that’s more than 7000 miles that she walked and navigated alone—through rugged terrain—carrying a 30-40 pound pack. Outside Magazine called her “the thru-hiker laureate,” which is a distinction never coined before there was Renee Patrick. Another title she's earned is the trail name “She-Ra,” and if any of y’all were in an ovary in the eighties, She-Ra is the Princess of Power.
Renee explains on her blog, Sherahikes.com, that her first thru-hike, the Appalachian Trail, instilled a deep sense that walking long distances, over long stretches, is what she was meant to do. Now with her own hiking and trail development company, Renee Patrick Consulting, she weaves her passions into a livelihood.
Renee Patrick Thru-Hiking: The Force is Strong with This One
Before founding her own company, I watched with salaried-job-ball-and-chain and new-mom-envy as Renee would take long pauses from work in order to complete her trail goals. Who does that? Why, and how? She knew what she wanted to do— hike—and the allure of a steady paycheck wasn’t enough to divert her off-course. It was remarkable to me: Renee is affable, employable and yet not tethered to a traditional job. Perhaps she is a super-heroine after all? I had the opportunity to sit down with Renee in Central Oregon recently and ask her about her lifestyle power moves.
Thru-Hiking: "I refer to it as Retirement as I Go"
Renee doesn’t believe in waiting until she’s a senior citizen, proper retirement age, to accomplish her outdoor goals. There’s no guarantee that her body will be healthy and able to hike later in life, so why not go hike now, while she’s strong, she says. “I refer to it as retirement as I go.” Her time volunteering in the Peace Corp, in developing countries of West Africa, molded her perspective and instilled values she carries today. “I put my energy and time into experiences, not money—I’ve been a broke dirtbag for most of my life—and because I don’t need money, and I know I have a tent, I can live anywhere, I can sleep anywhere, and I consider the outdoors my home.” Renee’s mindset is refreshing and self-reliant without a waft of American-brand-consumerism, so I asked her to confirm she is in fact American. She chuckled—and confirmed.
Surprise, a Big Part of Solo-Hiking is Community
For someone who loves being on her own in the quiet wild, Renee is well connected in a community of thru-hikers:
She was the CDT’s first-ever trail ambassador. The Continental Divide Trail Coalition is one of the largest conservation efforts in the United States.
She currently serves on the Blue Mountain Trail Committee
She was a founding member of the Oregon Outdoor Alliance
She and fellow hiker Brian Frankle founded a screen printing and lifestyle brand, Hikertrash (which they have since sold) which raised money for the triple crown trails
She has helped over 50 hikers plan and hike the Oregon Desert Trail (where one will see more pronghorn than people)
Blogging Superpowers: She-Ra Hikes and Writes from Anywhere!
It turns out Renee also is well connected, in the technology sense, while hiking: she is an avid blogger who posts daily from the trail, and through her Instagram pix and captions, has amassed more than 10K followers @WeareHikerTrash.
It’s possible I’ve seen more pictures of bruised toes, pointy mountains, and junk food binges on Sherahikes.com than anywhere else on the Internet. But there’s also a bevy of river canyons, wildflowers, petroglyphs and bucolic images of natural America that inspire me to skitter out of the city and never look back. The thing that gets me though, as a fellow blogger, is how, how exactly is Renee blogging from the middle of nowhere, with intermittent cellular service?
It turns out that Renee has been blogging for over 20 years—an OG! She says back in the early 2000s, she wrote physical journal entries and would mail them weekly to her mom or a friend. The friend or mom would then be tasked with typing up the entry and posting it, sans photos, on Renee’s behalf.
Blogging Gear for Thru-hiking
These days, Renee’s blogging gear on the trail involves a smartphone—for writing, capturing images, and posting directly to the blog—plus an external power bank that provides up to six charges. Her blogging tenacity is admirable and a modern miracle considering her rustic settings for writing—which brings me to another probing thought. Renee is hiking 15-26 miles per day, (more than I do in a month, mind you) so when does she find the time to write?
Early mornings, before sunrise, Renee explains. She wakes up, makes her coffee, writes for an hour, makes breakfast, then edits, selects photos, and schedules the post to go live a few days in the future.
“That’s sometimes my favorite part of the day,” Renee says. “The space, the quiet, the ritual of it: My coffee, and reflecting on the day before.”
The notes and stories Renee provides on her blog may be a boon for aspiring thru-hikers, but she says the motivation to blog comes from within, and if others find it helpful that’s a bonus. We have this in common— if I go seeking external validation I lose my footing.
Watch Video: Renee "She-Ra" Patrick's Game-Style Interview
Solo Hiker Turned Solo-Entrepreneur
In recent years, Renee incorporated her writing, design and trail experience into her role with Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), where since 2015 she has contributed to the development of the Oregon Desert Trail, 750-mile pathway through the lesser-known Oregon Desert. In March, she launched Renee Patrick Consulting, and while she continues to help ONDA finish the trail, she is also advising trail associations and local governments across the country as they create or improve existing trail systems.
Real Trail Talk: We are HikerTrash (but I'm Expendable)
Renee and I had a conversation about a hypothetical hike I could take this summer—pending affordable childcare, a slow sewing week, and a double shot of self-confidence the day before. South Sister Trail, outside Bend, Oregon, is a popular route to summit the ten-thousand-foot peak, Oregon’s third tallest. It requires you to climb 4,900 feet in elevation over 5.5 miles—then you still gotta walk out. It’s not technically a thru-hike since it can be completed in a day, but it is a full day commitment and challenging for a casual hiker like me.
Even the state’s website calls it “non-technical but very demanding.” I explain to Renee that my my biggest challenge is what to carry in my pack—I’m always thirsty, and I hate a heavy pack. Whatever can be done? Yeah, Yeah, I’ll just grin and bear the water weight, but I was curious what advice Renee has for packing for a challenging hike.
What to carry on a long hike? Your Fears.
Renee says to start with the 10 Essentials of Hiking and then customize it for my fears.
That gave me pause. Politicians use fear to motivate voters. Sith Lords—and my child impersonating a Sith Lord—use fear to suppress galaxies. Embracing my fears is counter-intuitive to everything I think of as personal growth.
“It’s not always a bad thing to be carrying your fears,” Renee explains. “What are you worried about on a longer hike?” When planning your hike, she says to pay attention to our concerns of being cold, going hungry or running out of water.
Other than the 10 Essentials, your pack’s contents will vary from other hikers because you are preparing for your needs, what will keep you content on the hike, Renee says. “If you're worried about it, that’s a good sign to plan for it.” Makes sense: the primal skills that kept our ancestors alive on the African Savannah—the threat of being eaten by lions—listening to their survival instincts and their natural fears was what kept them alive.
How to Power-Thru Backcountry Camping
I was curious about one other thru-hiking hindrance: camping—alone—outside. I realize that question has a layer of first-world sludge on it, but I really want to know how Renee manages to sleep outside for weeks, months on end.
“Dirty little secret,” Renee says, “I don’t sleep well either the first few nights out. It’s like my body needs to get used to being outside, all the little sounds. But after 2 or 3 nights, I realize, nothing is out to get me, nothing is stalking me, the wild animals are not looking to not to mess with us. It’s like, ‘Okay, I can relax,’ but it does take a few times, almost every trip, to get into the groove.” Renee also assures me she looks for a hotel, warm shower and washing machine about once a week on the long trails. With Renee's disclosures, I can see how thru-hiking can be sustainable.
While I have yet to embrace my fears and skitter deep into the woods for a significant amount of time, I look forward to the day that I do, and I fully embrace the idea that if Renee can do it, I could too, one day.
That is the sway of Renee Patrick: with her easy smile and earned confidence, she makes all those miles seem doable.
Trail photos are courtesy of Renee “She-Ra” Patrick and a little trail magic