Episode 163: The Art of Thru-Hiking

Interview with Alina “Abstract” Drufovka

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From the age of 13, Alina Drufovka dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail. She spent years thinking about her next hike, but her long walks haven’t been an escape or a cure-all, they’ve played a very formative role in her front-country life through her relationships, her identity, and in her burgeoning artistic career.

Alina “Abstract” Drufovka is a Colombian-American painter and illustrator based out of Philadelphia, PA. She has hiked the Appalachian Trail (2015 & 2017), Israel National Trail (2018), and Pacific Crest Trail (2019). She is also an outdoor professional and hopes to inspire more women and people of color to get outside and explore the trails.

Full transcript available by 12PM EST on release day after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Alina “Abstract” Drufovka

Hosted by Gale Straub

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Alina “Abstract” Drufovka

Alina on top of Mount Katahdin
Hiker Art by Alina Drufovka
Hiker Art by Alina Drufovka
HIking the AT in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Alina Drufovka:

The truth about thru-hiking is that, I always thought that it would solve all my existential dramas and this and that, but there’s so much time where you just end up thinking about food and pizza and ice cream and just these basic survival needs.

Gale Straub – Narration:

This is Alina Drufovka. Now, I know this isn’t the most inspiring opening quote. But that’s the point. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that some of you out there listening have dreamed about the time a long thru hike would afford — for thinking, for figuring all that big life stuff out. I know I have: the luxury of hitting the pause button for miles upon miles in the woods, only to find clarity at the end of the trail.

Gale Straub – Narration:

And for all that fantasy, there’s something more comforting in Alina’s story. Her long walks haven’t been an escape or a cure all, but they have played a very formative role in her front country life: through her relationships, her identity, and in her burgeoning artistic career.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I chose to air my conversation with Alina this week because her thru hiking journey starts with the Appalachian Trail, an almost 2,200 mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. And Alina’s story felt like the perfect opportunity to announce that we’re launching a She Explores mini-series called “Where We Walk” on Monday, in partnership with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This special six-part series explores the women who help make the AT what it is today, as well as those who are helping to shape its future. Over the course of six weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at how the history of the Trail has included and excluded women, the next generation of caretakers, overcoming challenges to make a thru-hike possible, the wildlife that inhabits this corner of the United States, and more. The series kicks off Monday with listener memories from the A.T. And if you’re tuned in now and subscribed to She Explores, it’ll be the next episode that pops up in your podcast feed. And if you’re not subscribed, all you’ve got to do is hit the button. I’m really proud of this series and I can’t wait for you all to hear it. But back to Alina, and this week’s episode. Alina grew up in Philadelphia, and her relationship with the AT started on a whim at the age of 13.

Alina Drufovka:

It was pretty happenstance that I went to the summer camp in New Jersey every year. And it was just a normal summer camp, but they had an optional two week trip canoeing down the Delaware and hiking the Appalachian trail. And yeah, I just on a whim decided to do it, never expected to do something like that. I never camped my parents weren’t campers. And from the second I start, especially the backpacking portion. I just fell in love with it. I think it was really cathartic for me, especially at that time in my life. At the time my parents were actually getting divorced and I had a lot of anger and resentment and the trail was really the first time that I felt like I could let go. And I think a huge part of that was not being able to talk to my parents and just being in my own head. But beyond that too, I think just being a 13 year old girl, so much of my self worth at that time was surrounding my appearance. I remember growing up everyone on field trips, they would have these hot or not list and everyone in the school would be ranked. And so that was just so much. Yeah, I know. That’s a terrible, I feel like it’s pretty common.

Gale Straub:

I probably was naive enough not to know about it, but continue.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. I was like in the back of the bus when they’re making this list, I’m like, Oh, so I’m number 25. But the trail really the first time, especially since I was around only women on that trip and not having any mirror where I was really able to redefine my self worth in different terms. And I think the biggest takeaway for me at that time was just this almost anti-consumerism a mindset, I had grown up, you know, with a mom, a grandma, mom, and aunt, and they all love to shop. And so much of their joy in life came from things, which of course, you know, being a middle school girl, I like to shop, but it didn’t really fill this like existential void I had since I was a young kid and then finding other ways to find happiness beyond things was pretty huge for me and revolutionary and change my whole life trajectory. Just this one trip.

Gale Straub:

Hmm. Did you keep going back out onto the trail and other trails, you know, after you were 13?

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. So I begged my parents every summer. My ultimate dream was to go to Alaska. I know it’s such a total trip, but I fell in love with, into the wild, the book and the movie. And I was like, Oh, I have to go to Alaska. And I just idealized this so much. I would just watch it on repeat. And so I finally convinced my parents to let me take a NOLs course in Alaska, which was way more hardcore than, you know, like sauntered on the Appalachian trail. My pack way at the time was like double my size. We got our food resupplied through Bush plans. So it was way more hardcore. It was all off trail navigation. It rained for the first two weeks. And I think that was my first introduction to type two fun. But when I returned home to Philadelphia, I just felt so empowered by that experience. And so confident that even at the age of 15 or 16, that I could like go out and lead my own trip. No problem.

Gale Straub – Narration:

If you’re not familiar with NOLS, it’s a nonprofit global wilderness school that runs programs for ages 12 and older. In any case, you can hear an Alina’s voice. She’d caught the through hiking bug and started making plans to walk from Georgia to Maine on the AT.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. So ever since that first trip, when I was 13, I was totally obsessed. I read every single book. I could get my hands on about it. I have this giant bookcase and it’s super nerdy, but I actually won a library award in my high school when I graduated and I was able to make my own section of the library. And so I added all these through hiking books, especially Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis. That was super impactful since it was the first story I read that that was from a woman’s perspective. And then I actually, when I was in college, went and lived briefly on this commune in Virginia.

Gale Straub – Narration:

You heard that right, Alina lived at a commune called Twin Oaks during a break from undergrad at Colorado college.

Alina Drufovka:

At the time I was studying sociology in college and I was really interested in polyamory. So this was like the commune go study polyamory. But I, I ended up switching and studying quantitative sociology and doing a lot of statistics instead studying racial inequality in terms of how we use technology.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Though Alina changed her major, the experience gave her the push she needed to follow through on her dream of hiking the A.T.

Alina Drufovka:

That summer, I had planned to go hike a section of the Appalachian trail, um, when I was 19, but my parents wouldn’t let me go by myself and I couldn’t convince my boyfriend or my brother, any friends to go with me. So my plan B, I had always wanted to spend some time on a commune, which is super random, but I found one in Virginia online and sent them an email. And they’re like, yeah, come on over for a month. And when I was there, I happened to meet all these women who were past A.T. thru-hikers. And just from talking to them, it really inspired me that, okay, this is something I can do solo as a women woman, I don’t need to wait till I find this outdoorsy boyfriend or have my brother go with me. I can do this solo.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Alina started setting up her life around hiking the A.T..

Alina Drufovka:

I mean, the biggest thing that really happened when I was in college, where I actually made it happen was I realized I could take all these additional adjunct classes, like super random ones, like ballet, modern dance, yoga, and they were free these adjuncts. So if I did enough of them, I could take a semester off. And then my junior year of college, my dad actually got really sick. Um, he had been a smoker his whole life, and he had developed COPT, COBD sorry, getting that acronym wrong. C O P D. He had this giant air socket in his lung and had to have all this surgery. And at that time I just realized like, going to an expensive liberal arts college was putting a lot of financial strain on my parents at that time. So I’d always wanted to through hike. I had the extra credits, so I decided to just go for it.

Alina Drufovka:

But there was definitely a lot of backlash since I don’t come from a family that does this kind of thing. Especially as a woman, a smaller woman, my mom was not on board, but at that point, you know, I was 20 years old and I told her, I’m taking a semester off college. I’m doing it. And she cried every single day at the beginning, she made me carry three phones, which is really absurd. She got me one with AT&T, one for Verizon, and then also a personal location beacon. And I just remember doing that pack shakedown at Neil’s gap that they do for you for free. And the guy being like, are you serious? You have three phones, but yeah, just taking all those extra courses really enabled it, but I still had to get back to school and at a certain time at the end of August. So it was a huge time crunch. So I ended up definitely pushing my body way too much. And I did end up getting injured then in 2015, after 1200 miles, which was very devastating.

Gale Straub:

So how did you feel before that? Did you feel, you know, and I know it’s every day, you probably feel different when you’re on the trail, but did you feel like you were where you were supposed to be?

Alina Drufovka:

Oh yeah. I mean, every day I woke up with so much purpose. I was so happy. It was like, wow, I’m really doing this life dream from when I was 13 years old and met these women by a water spicket in New Jersey that were like, yeah, I walked here from Georgia and I’m going to Maine. And it’s like, Oh, okay. Now I am that woman I’m doing this and I didn’t have any pain. And I wonder now looking back if I was just so in love with the dream of being out there and through hiking, that I couldn’t feel the pain. I mean, bone contusions are something that build up over time, which is what I had. So I had to felt something, but I didn’t, I just woke up one day and couldn’t walk. So I don’t know. It’s interesting looking back and I was so, so devastated.

Alina Drufovka:

I mean, I, when I got injured and got off trail to go home, I was like, okay, a lot of people have injuries on trail. Like I just need to take a week off and I’ll get back and I’ll be fine. But my mom works in a hospital and she’s like, no, you’re getting an MRI before you go back. And I just remember so vividly being in her office when the doctor pulled up the MRI and his face just went blank. And, you know, I could tell he really didn’t want to tell me, but it was something bad. And you could just see all over the MRI on both my knees. I had several bone contusions, which is the step before it fractures.

Gale Straub:

When you got off trail to go to that doctor’s appointment, were you doing the math in your head thinking about the time you were losing, thinking about how many days you have left to hike?

Alina Drufovka:

I mean, totally. I mean, honestly, that’s the reason that I don’t want to do anymore through hikes that mentality. I mean, even on trails that I’ve gone back to, or like when I went back to do the 18 and 2017 or the PCT in 2019, it’s like, even though I don’t have to go back to school and I don’t have this end date with the weather window on these trails, you do have to constantly be crunching those numbers and be like, if I take this one day off, then I have to average 19.2 miles for the rest of this trip with one zero a month. And it’s like, that mentality is no longer what being in nature means to me and the through hiking culture. I think, especially with all this ultra light gear that’s come out is really changed. People are more fixated on the miles and I just don’t find the same meaning in it that I used to in the beginning.

Gale Straub – Narration:

But when Alina stepped off the trail, more than halfway through in 2015, she didn’t know she’d one day feel that way about thru hiking. She wanted to get back on the AT to finish what she started. We’ll hear about that, and the connections the trail has helped Alina make in her life, after this.

MIDROLL BREAK

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We last left Alina leaving the Appalachian trail in 2015, she would return again in 2017, but she had something that she really wanted to do before then.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. So I finished off college my senior year. And then after that, I went and worked for NOLS as a diversity and inclusion fellow for the summer. And then I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after I ended up like two things that were important to me was going to Colombia and going to Israel since those are the two parts of my identity. My mom’s Jewish and my dad’s from Colombia. And I just really wanted to get to know my culture, especially Colombia. Cause I had this huge family in Colombia that I had recently reconnected with through writing this grant. My second cousin is a, actually a big artist in Columbia called Fernando Botero. I don’t personally know him, but a lot of my Colombian cousins are painters. So I wanted to go there and study his art and reconnect with my family. My dad actually has a twin sister. He hadn’t seen in 30 years. So I dragged him along on this grant that I got from college, um, and reconnected with them. So after college, it just felt natural to go back there, spend some more time, improve my Spanish and just learn more about that culture.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Alina had learned a bit about Colombian culture growing up with her dad, but she’d bristled against it. Living at an eco-village in Colombia helped her better connect with her dad and her roots.

Alina Drufovka:

Definitely. I think it was something that there was a lot of backlash for me growing up since I went to super white school bowls. And so it’s something I always tried to downplay. And my dad actually had worked as a substitute Spanish teacher at certain points, um, at my high school and middle school. And for whatever reason, I was like mortified by it. And I think it is very much just like being in such a white environment. Like I didn’t want my friends, like seeing my dad speaking to me in Spanish. And like my mom would tell me growing up as a kid, my dad would try to read to me in Spanish and I would throw the books across the room and be like, this is America. You have to speak English. And my whole life, I always responded to my dad in English and he would speak to me in Spanish.

Alina Drufovka:

And then once I was in Colombia, you know, I had to embrace it. Like no one spoke English where I was in this somewhat remote eco village. And from that point on, I started speaking to my dad for the first time in Spanish when I would call him from Colombia and just, yeah, like learning more about my family history. I mean, I was such a big family. My dad’s one of seven kids. Like I don’t know, it did feel important to me and especially being alienated from them. Like I used to go to Colombia every Christmas growing up. And then at a certain point, my mom just decided it was too dangerous, like after the age of seven and then we just never had any communication until I wrote that grant to go back and just reconnect in my family.

Gale Straub:

That’s beautiful.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. It’s really cool.

Gale Straub – Narration:

After Colombia, Alina returned home to Philadelphia and she delved into art.

Alina Drufovka:

And then after that, I came back to Philly and started making art, which was not something I ever intended to do either, but there’s a lot to this story, but it actually went back to when I was in college, I took this very strange course called naked and delicious, um, which my mom was not thrilled with that course title, but it was things to experimental Japanese performers, primarily dance performers. But there was just like a lot of room for creativity in that class. And the final project was completely open-ended. And so for the final project, I had taken a drawing class prior where I did a lot of like nude figure drawings. And I, for whatever reason really did not like the art that I created for that class. And so I had all these giant pieces of paper with these nudes on the back, but I decided to start making abstract art for my final project for this class.

Alina Drufovka:

And I just fell in love with that process. And when I went back to Philadelphia after college and after Colombia, I had given my brother one of these paintings and he went and got it framed at this like small, um, Framestore slash gallery near where we lived. And the lady, when he went to get it framed was like, Oh, this is really cool. Like, what did your sister want to be in the show? Um, but the gallery was putting on and that really opened the doors of like, huh, like an outside force, like things, my art school, like this is something I could do professionally.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Hold onto that thought. Alina still had her sight set on finishing the Appalachian Trail.

Alina Drufovka:

So in 2017, I went back to attempt the AT again from the beginning. Originally my intention was to start where I left off in Pennsylvania. And then I saw a $50, one-way flight to Georgia. And I was like, well, get, you know, I already have all the gear and this time I’m going to do it solo because the last time I had hiked with a trail family and I’m going to respect my body, I’m going to take it as slow as I want. Like I only hiked one 20 mile day over the course of six months, which is pretty rare for a through hiker. I was very much like, okay, I’m doing 13 to 15 miles every single day, no matter what, like if I don’t have any friends and no one wants to walk with me, that’s fine. Like, this is the only way I believe that I can do it.

Gale Straub – Narration:

You know, Alina was determined to hike the trail solo, but the trail had other ideas. Alina met her now boyfriend on day negative one.

Gale Straub:

Did you start hiking together right away after day negative one?

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. So we met at the hostel in Salonica, Georgia and we were one of very few people to do the approach trail to the Appalachian trail, which is an eight mile add on, which is the old Southern Terminus before Springer became the Southern Terminus. And I was hiking up the stairs, feeling all confident. Cause I was ahead of other people. Then all of a sudden he comes up behind me and we start talking and we realized like, Oh, he’s already done the Northern half. I’ve already done the Southern half. And I remember really cheesily being like, Oh, well together we make it.

Alina Drufovka:

So cringe-worthy um, but yeah, we just like immediately started hiking together and then the drama continues. Cause on day two I got injured again. I sprained my ankle really bad and had a golf ball size swelling on my ankle and yeah. And I was like really day two. Like, I don’t know. I mean, like going back to the trail, like I knew there was a chance that I would get injured again after what happened the first time. And I figured, you know, my knees were already going to be sensitive, but I never anticipated having an ankle problem. And I had to get off the trail for three days and then just stayed in this really shitty motel by myself. But right before I got a shuttle to town from this gap, I just impulsively was like, Hey, I should get your number. You know, we’d been hiking with each other for two days and we’d really connected.

Alina Drufovka:

And I was feeling impulsive, which especially for me, that was not something I ever did. That was the first time I’ve ever asked the guy for his number. And then he texted me a few days later being like, Oh, I’m going slow Winky face. And then we caught up in Hiawassee, Georgia. And he had actually taken a extra zero day wait for me, which was really cute. We had only known each other for like two days. And at that point, like, you know, we hadn’t been romantic or anything. We were just friends. Um, but that’s just the kind of guy he is. And it’s like, I have such a sucker. It’s like I said, going into it. I was like, okay, I’m not going to be involved with any guy. Like, I’m not letting a guy to find this journey. But on day one we actually stopped at this other gap.

Alina Drufovka:

And there was a woman who was from China, just falling, crying, and looking at her phone. And we were like, Oh, what’s going on? Are you okay? And she’s like, yeah. I just found out a friend died of cancer, like back home in China. And there was like a huge language barrier and none of us really knew what to do or what to say. Like, obviously we were like, Oh, I’m so sorry. Are you okay? And then my now boyfriend Lyle, he came over and he didn’t say anything. He just went and hugged her. And I was like, okay, that’s the kind of guy I want to be with.

Gale Straub – Narration:

So the decision to hike solo was kind of out of Alina’s hands at that point. But her boyfriend was actually only planning on hiking until Harper’s Ferry. About halfway through the trail, giving Alina plenty of the alone time that she craved.

Gale Straub:

What did it feel like when you two left parted ways at Harper’s Ferry and you set off by yourself for the first time on the 18th?

Alina Drufovka:

It felt very heavy because I had my tent back and all my gear, but no, I mean, it also felt good. Like the first couple of miles were super awkward for sure. It was like, Oh, I’m just alone by myself now. And this is really hard. My pack’s really heavy, but it also felt really right. Like I definitely missed him, but this was why I was out there. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to unlearn, you know, all the anxiety that my mom and my grandma had given me surrounding, like being a woman and traveling alone. And it was like, okay, like I need to camp alone. Like I can’t just have this be a crutch. Like I knew I fell in love with him genuinely and it wasn’t just so I wouldn’t be alone, but it’s hard. And like, because I’d been with him, I hadn’t really developed a ‘tramily.’ Like I knew people around me of course, but I was very much on my own. And because I was so committed to pacing myself at this 13 to 15 miles a day and a lot of hikers, they do, you know, they’ll do a random 30 mile day and then take two days off in town. And so that consistency, wasn’t something that other hikers around me were doing. So I did often find myself alone.

Gale Straub:

And you have lots of time to think.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. A lot of time to think, which is what I wanted, but I don’t know the reality about thru hiking is that. I always thought that, you know, it would solve all my existential dramas and this and that, but there’s so much time where you just end up thinking about food and pizza and ice cream and just these basic survival needs. It’s kind of like, I think it’s all about like, do you know, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs psychological concept and it’s like that. It’s like, okay, I can’t really reach this like self actualization. If my basic needs of like food and shelter, aren’t really consistently being met. I’m constantly at a calorie deficit and in pain.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Despite the challenges of the trail, Alina enjoyed doing it for herself. She told me that her favorite state was Maine, but the famous hike up to Mount Katahdin was the last big hurdle to completing a goal she’d set for herself at 13 years old.

Alina Drufovka:

I’m scared of heights. So I don’t love it. Like it’s beautiful, but it’s definitely the most challenging climb on the AT to me. And so it’s like you get there. And like, it’s funny because I used to lead trips almost summer in Maine and the a hundred mile wilderness, um, with teenage girls and the final trip was always Katahdin, but I always had to suck it up and pretend not to be scared of heights because I have these like 14 year old girls that are looking up to me as a leader. But then going back there after having hiked, they for over six months, it’s like, Oh, I’m so confident. You know, I’ve been out here for so long and then I get to Katatahdin and I’m like, Oh my God, I’m terrible. How did I forget the fear?

Gale Straub – Narration:

Fear and all, Alina summitted Katahdin and completed the AT. She sent me a photo of her atop the famous sign commemorating the northern terminus. She has a big smile on her face and she’s hoisted her two hiking poles into the air. It’s a foggy day, and on a day like that I typically hike wearing leggings and a rain jacket. Alina’s wearing a Wonder Woman costume. It feels fitting.

Gale Straub – Narration:

More from Alina, after this.

MIDROLL BREAK

  • Ikon Pass: Learn more about the Ikon Pass and Ikon Pass Session 4 Day for your 20/21 winter adventures here.

Alina Drufovka:

We’re back.

Gale Straub:

So you ended the 2017 trail, obviously really happy that you did finish this time, but also thinking about the next hike.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. I mean, the PCT was always on the horizon. I think most people who successfully complete the AT at least entertain the idea of the PCT, especially because you know, that it’s more beautiful objectively, obviously it’s a totally different trail, but yeah, that was always in the back of my mind thought that was something I wanted to do. And at the time I think I also wanted to be a Triple Crowner. I’d heard about it. And I was like, Oh, well, that’s the logical next step.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Before attempting the Pacific crest trail in 2019, Elena and her boyfriend flew to Israel in 2018 to hike the Israel National Trail, a 636.9 mile path that crosses the entire country of Israel. She actually got the idea on the AT.

Alina Drufovka:

Somehow I’m trying to remember it. Now this business card just like landed in my hand, like another hiker had given it to me and on the business card was this book and hostel that these, um, the hostel owners had written this book about the Israel national trail. And I think it was actually some Israeli camp counselors who had given it to a through hiker and they gave it to me and I was like, Oh wow, that’s so cool. The Israel trail. And I looked it up and it was like on national geographic, top 10 hikes in the world. And it was modeled after an Israeli who had hiked the Appalachian Trail. Um, so I was immediately like, okay, this is my next trail. This is what we’re going to do next.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We could do a whole episode on each of Alina’s trail experiences, but I was struck by how Alina sought to develop deeper relationships with both the Jewish and the Colombian side of her identity through the outdoors and travel Elena hiked around 1800 miles of the PCT in 2019, but was stopped by a heavy snow year. The experience changed her perception of what thru-hiking is all about.

Alina Drufovka:

I think the PCT was the first time I let go of my like purist ideology surrounding thru-hiking. Cause for me, I got really frustrated on the, AT when I went back in 2017 because I felt people were skipping around all the time and then you’d go on Instagram and, Oh, they’re already at Katahdin or they’re just at the highlights, but then you see them just getting in a car and hitching 20 miles ahead. And that was really challenging for me, especially when I was alone, like in Maine. And there was some bad weather and I just remember so distinctly going into town with these two guys. And then when we decided to go back to the trail, I was like, Oh, Hey, like, should we share a shuttle or something? And they were super cagey. And I then realized, cause I heard them talking to the hostel staff that they were being dropped off at a different point, like 50 miles ahead.

Alina Drufovka:

And I was super judgmental about it. It felt like a slap in the face of like, what I thought through hiking was I was like, this title doesn’t mean anything if people are skipping around. I mean, that’s why I am like really careful with my language surrounding the Pacific crest trail. Like I don’t say that I’m a through hiker. I say that I hiked it and hiked 1800 miles, but I definitely let go all of a lot of that because that’s not what it’s about. And it was very judgmental of me at the time to look at it that way, like everyone, you know, the whole hiking idiom, like hike your own hike. It’s true. I mean, who am I to judge? Like everyone’s journey is different and there’s reasons why people were skipping ahead. Maybe their family was meeting them at Katahdin. Um, yeah. So I let go of that on the PCT. And my boyfriend definitely helped me with that. Cause we would see a side trail into town and I was like, okay, we know we can get into town if we take this side trail before dark, like, why not? We’re literally skipping one mile of the PCT if we take this alternative and I’m happy I did it that way.

Gale Straub:

Do you feel differently about wanting, be a Triple Crowner?

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah, I mean, I’ve done like a small section of the CDT and I have friends, you know, from my times on trail, who’ve gone on to do it. And you know, again, the weather windows even shorter, it’s more miles there’s Grizzlies. There’s a lot less people. And I think doing the PCT just affirmed for me that like what I loved about the Appalachian trail and like what I fell in love with like, yes, I love hiking, but it really was like the community and the people and the PCT, because it was such a hard snow year and people were flipping and flopping all around. Like there wasn’t that community. At least I didn’t find it. And I think for the CDT, like of course people find their own smaller community, but I just think that there’s not enough people hiking the trail. And it’s just not really what I’m looking for in life. I think I got to this point where I realized I love through hiking. I love that culture. I’m so inspired by the people that do it. But for me it became my comfort zone going on the next trail.

Gale Straub – Narration:

If planning her life trail by trail was Alina’s comfort zone, She’s well outside it now as she pursues a freelance art career and yet she’s still connected to the trail.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. How would you describe your career path right now?

Alina Drufovka:

I mean, it’s been all over the place. I mean, I’ve worked at a wine company in Canada, I’ve done corporate sales, I’ve done canvassing, I’ve done a retail job and I’ve worked at an art gallery and you know, now I’m doing the art full time, which is not something I ever thought would truly be feasible. And I really think it is because of COVID and it has been this huge silver lining that I’ve always been passionate about art, but kind of like through hiking to a lot of people, it’s kind of few tiles, like why would you walk for six months while it’s like, why would you paint? Like not many people actually make a sustainable career in the arts, but with COVID I felt like there was nothing to lose. Like my boyfriend, I, we were in Costa Rica just for vacation and you know, COVID happened and we had no jobs to return to. And Costa Rica was taking COVID even more seriously than the United States. So all the national parks were closed. We were only allowed to drive once a week, depending on what our rental car license plate ended in. And we couldn’t really go or do anything. So I was forced to entertain myself. And what came out of that was my hiker art.

Gale Straub:

Well, what was the first one that you made? Like, what did it look like?

Alina Drufovka:

That’s the funniest one. The first one I made was a “banana blazer.” Do you know what that is?

Gale Straub:

I don’t know. No.

Alina Drufovka:

It’s a trail term for when a woman is chasing a guy, hence the banana is a phallic symbol. So far guy it’s called pink blazing if they’re going up there girl. And so I don’t know why it just came to me. Well, like originally in Costa Rica, I was just making very different art, like jungle art, a lot of new jungle art and people wanted prints like home or wanted to buy it. And I was like, Oh, I don’t know when I’m going to be able to go back to the U S but let me look into making prints. And just through looking into that research, I was like, Oh, well I wonder what kind of trail arts out there. And I couldn’t really find much so, especially cause the Appalachian trail and all the long trails, we have such a colorful language with things like banana blazer and pink blazer and hiker trash.

Alina Drufovka:

I was really surprised that no one had made these kinds of designs. And the banana blazer was the first one that came to mind, just like having a little female hiker, silhouette hiking on top of a banana. And then I made a pink blazer, one that had these pink cats, which was, you know, and anyone do as well. But then I started making hide your fresh ones. And I just like one of them to be fun and quirky and something that through hikers could relate to at the end of the day. And it was super fun. And like my arts probably evolved from that, but it was a really good project while being abroad stuck in a pandemic.

Gale Straub:

It got the attention of other thru-hikers.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah. But the first thing I did from Costa Rica was I reached out to, um, hiker royalty, which was just an account making a lot of really funny hiker memes that I’ve been following. And I just had this idea, like once I had the Prince up of just like having a little meme contest and like from there, it kind of opened the flood gates of being part of this, like virtual through hiker community, which like I’ve always been on Instagram and social media, but I wasn’t on it daily. I occasionally would post a photo from my hikes or travels, but I wasn’t ever really part of that community. And now I definitely would say, I am.

Gale Straub:

Hmm. That’s cool. I mean, that’s like another…you said the community. It was one of the things that you love the most about thru-hiking.

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah, exactly. And I think especially like during COVID right now, it’s like, okay, yeah, I have like my boyfriend and I call my mom and like my few close friends. But beyond that, you know, it’s pretty solitary. So being able to communicate with all these other hikers and like, especially through the process now of doing all these commissions, like I feel like I am like entering their world and their trail stories and have this community that I never really had before. It’s almost stronger than the community I had while I was hiking in a weird way.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Alina describes the colorful, surreal commissions she paints of hikers as portals to the trail, a connection when many are feeling far away,

Alina Drufovka:

I don’t know. It fills me with so much purpose and joy just like imagining, you know, actually seeing photos of my art in people’s homes all over the world and giving them this little portal back to the trail, especially now during COVID and be somewhat lonely times where a lot of people can’t go on the trail.

Alina Drufovka:

I don’t know. I really do have hope that it’s changing. I mean, when I originally got into backpacking and spent time on the Appalachian trail, when I was a teenager, there were very few women. And now when I was on the PCT, it felt like it was 50/50. So that really does give me hope that the future of thru hiking will be diverse and will look closer to what the demographics of this country are.

Gale Straub:

Did your commissions evolve too, to start telling a deeper story of diversity on the trail?

Alina Drufovka:

Yeah, I think it honestly started before I even took trail commissions. I think in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and social media really focusing on this, like, it’s been really interesting to watch how the Black Lives Matter Movement has then trickled into this topic of diversity and inclusion on the trail, which yeah, people always talked about it here or there, but it feels like a focal point on social media now, which is really exciting to see. And I think through the process, the black lives matter movement. I started making these protest paintings I’m of George Floyd and Briana Taylor. And I was like, wow, this is the first time I’ve ever painted a black person. Like how have I never done this before? Like obviously I’ve been making art for awhile, but my is generally not a realistic people, but still like the nude models that were painting from, they were all like fair-skinned people.

Alina Drufovka:

And I think through that process, I started looking back at my first batch of trail drawings and I was like, huh, like, why is it that like me as a Latina female hiker, my prototypical hiker in my mind is still a scrawny white guy with a beard. And it actually took me back to, I took this class in college called, um, art and society. And we talked, you know, I’m going to use my fancy liberal arts where it talks a lot about how art works dialectically as both shaping society and being a reflection of society. And I realized that my art at that point, my trail art, well sure I’ve only been doing it for a month or so. It was very much just a reflection of the thru-hiker community as it is now. And the truth is when I’ve been on these trails, I would go six months without seeing a single Black person.

Alina Drufovka:

Maybe I would see like two people of color and that’s not what I want the trail to look like. And obviously there’s tons of different kinds of people hiking and doing outdoor things. But I think that thru hiking community in particularly it’s predominantly white and that is something I very passionately want to see change because thru hiking has changed my life. And I think by featuring more paintings, like as artists, I get to choose to paint, whatever I can create, whatever reality I want. I don’t need to just create it as it is. And through that, you know, I started painting more diverse hikers. And I think that just makes a lot of people feel more welcomed when they land on my Instagram page or website. And they see themselves in those images. And I hope that, you know, it empowers people and makes more people want to go on the trail and feel welcomed.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Her work hasn’t just changed how others potentially see themselves on trail, it’s changed what Alina shares as well.

Alina Drufovka:

For me, it was like, yes, like I identify as Latina, but it wasn’t something that I was ever like broadcasting on my social media. And it actually was kind of like this internal debate is like, is this something that I need to like put in my Instagram bio or my, about me on my website, because before it never really felt significant. But I think like calling myself what I am is important right now, especially as someone that like can pass as white and like ever since I’ve done that, like I get so many other like Latina women reaching out to me just like saying that they feel inspired or they want to get a painting of themselves. And it’s like, okay, well, like just stating my identity has power in and of itself.

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