Interview by Hailey Hirst
Marie-Pier Tremblay is an artist and a current Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hiker who hails from Montréal, Canada.
We’ve been following her work on Instagram since long before she hit the trail—and regardless of whether she’s on-trail or off, her PCT-related illustrations showcase thru-hiking in bright, fun ways. Her illustrations are relatable to fellow hikers, and they help those of us who’ve never endeavoured a months-long hike live vicariously through some of the doubts, worries, and victories.
In neon greens and vibrant purples, she captures details that are quintessential to a thru-hike—like sad looking feet and KT tape, a PCT Karma chart, and real life vs. on trail comparisons—in addition to portraits of other hikers.
We were interested to know more about Marie, so we caught up with her between Kennedy Meadows and a back-home wedding. She replied in transit to tell us about her experiences so far and explain a decision that will change her hike (for the better).
Find out more, in Marie’s own words:
What is your medium of choice (on trail and off)?
I have always loved digital illustration as it allows me to explore without the fear of messing it up.
I used to draw on my laptop using a graphic tablet.
After 12 years of sitting at a desk to draw, I decided to invest in an iPad Pro. I am not exagerrating when I say this tool unexpectedly changed my life!
Suddenly I could make illustrations of professional quality from the comfort of my couch or at the coffee shop before meeting up with a friend. This turned work into play and made me want to spend my free time drawing.
What inspired you to begin illustrating portraits of other hikers? What do you like about these vignettes? What did you learn from them?
Thru-hiking the PCT had been a scary dream of mine for a few years and I secretly thought I would only have the courage to do it if my life was turned upside down by some dramatic event. In the meantime, the best I could do was follow hikers on instagram and experience my dream through their eyes… the boring reality was me sitting on the toilet watching them tell hilarious stories from trail all summer!
On a sunday afternoon in the fall of 2018, I was sitting outside with my iPad and had fun making an illustration of the Northern Terminus, a representation of a beautiful yet untouchable goal for me. I thought the illustration would feel more alive if I added the people I loved following in there and that these portrait could also be a sort of gift to them for entertaining me. Then I realized it would be amazing to spend the months leading up to christmas making portraits of hikers, so I turned it into a service.
Connecting with PCT hikers and their loved ones (who want to surprise them with a portrait) is what I love most about this project. People will open up to me about the importance of the trail in their life and then I have the priviledge to create a unique piece of art that will remind them of their accomplishment every day.
This for sure comes with a lot of pressure and I have had to learn to let go, otherwise I would freak out about every little detail. Is their nose too big? Their skin too pale? Their legs dirty enough? And so on… this teaches me to be more observant. I try spotting the features that make a person really look like themselves in an illustration. Sometimes it’s quick but most often it’s a lot of trial and error and moving the nose around.
You drew a lot about the PCT before you began your hike. What kinds of thoughts or worries did those pre-hike illustrations help you process?
We hear a lot about the importance of mental preparation before hitting the trail. For me it was so helpful to turn thoughts into illustrations. Some fears were tangible, like crossing creeks and suffering from heat exhaustion, but most of them were more complex. “I am a creative person, can I really do something so physical? Am I fit enough? Tough enough? I want to be a bad ass woman so much.”
Every time I would shared these worries with the instagram community, thru-hikers would flood the comments sectipn and drop into my inbox to tell me about how they had faced the same fears and jumped in regardless! The passion and support from the online thru-hiking world was amazing and it’s what pushed me to set foot on trail.
Tell us about your experience so far drawing on trail. Is it worth the weight?
At home, I love sitting on the couch with a coffee and stay there for hours, starting and often finishing an illustration in one sitting. So I packed my iPad with me on the PCT with the intention of having fun creating a body of work while on trail.
Well, the reality check came quickly… if I want to make miles and keep up with my amazing trail family, time to draw is very limited. I refuse to isolate myself with my iPad while others are laughing and making memories. So what am I supposed to do? Draw when everyone is asleep? Then I get cold hands and worry that I will be tired the next day and running behind.
I packed my iPad with me on the PCT with the intention of having fun creating a body of work while on trail.
I have walked through the whole desert struggling with conflicting thoughts—on one hand I do not want to disappoint my followers, and on the other hand I am hiking this trail for me and drawing shouldn’t feel like an added pain-in-the-bum to an already challenging experience.
So is it worth the added weight in pounds and in pressure? Unless I have a special sherpa that takes my iPad from town stop to town stop (I do not trust the postal service with my baby), I have decided it’s not… and I feel so much relief!
I will soak it all up and eat whole bags of m&m’s without guilt-tripping myself about what I should be doing instead. I do look forward to life after trail, when I can illustrate my memories and create heart-warming post-trail-nostalgia art. Perhaps even make a book? In the meantime, I’ll be busy having the best summer of my life.