Episode 209: Taking Up Space on the Trail

Interview with Victoria Amico of Plus Sized Outdoors

Victoria Amico would say that hiking 100% ruined her life, but in the best way possible. Seven years ago, she thought she knew what she wanted in her career and devoted her whole self to achieving her goals. But then hiking came along and forced her to examine what she really wanted. In the process, Victoria ended up learning how to choose herself and take up space with her body on the trail.

Victoria shares how she got started hiking (and the transformation it inspired), why 100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail was the right number this year, why she started her social platform Plus Sized Outdoors, and her hopes for everyone out there listening. 

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Full transcript is available after the photos.

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Featured in this episode: Victoria Amico

Hosted & Produced by Gale Straub

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Victoria on the Trail

The hike that started it all – Victoria in New Hampshire in 2015

At the Southern Terminus of the PCT

Suited up for a rainy hike

The joy of water!

 


 

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TRANSCRIPT

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

Preroll Ad: This episode of She Explores is brought to you by Danner Boots.

For nearly a century, Danner has crafted boots with purpose and integrity. They use the best possible materials to create boots built to last, so you can hit the trail with confidence for years to come. 

Learn more and find your perfect fit at Danner.com

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

Victoria Amico: Hiking. 100% has ruined my life, but in the best way possible. everything that I thought that I wanted, everything that I had gone to school for and worked fors and told that that was what I was supposed to do with my life. I was fully on track to do that and then incomes hiking. And it’s just like, Nope, it’s not for you.

Okay. Guess we’re going here now. but my life is. I’m so grateful for it. I just have become intentional with how I live it and, have been able to become more present in so many aspects of it that I, I don’t think I would have been able to before.

Gale Straub – Narration: This is Victoria Amico, who goes by “Plus Sized Outdoors” on social media. And this transformation, this ongoing journey to take up space in her own life, is what we’re going to talk about today. 

Victoria Amico: I’m kind of the photographer, hiker, backpacker, hippie, be trying to live life the best I.

Gale Straub: I love that hippie wannabe So how would you describe yourself, before you started hiking?

Victoria Amico: before I started hiking, I had wanted to be the stereotypical. government employee, all about job, expected fully to live for the work that I did stressed out anxiety driven person, but that was the life that I thought that I had wanted. and that kind of all changed once I found hiking.

Gale Straub: It’s a lot To wrap that much of like your identity into work.

Victoria Amico: Mm-hmm definitely, definitely, yeah. I, I didn’t pursue things that I thought would distract myself from that, which looking back was really unfortunate.

Gale Straub: Hmm. And, uh, when did you go on your first hike?

Victoria Amico: It was November of 2015. I was at a point in my life where I felt stuck in every way, and I needed a challenge, something to push me way far outside my comfort zone. When I say it was out of the blue, it was very much out of the blue that I woke up one day and I said, I wanna go for a hike. called up one of my friends that I knew that hiked and said, Hey, let’s go.

And she told me to pick a trail and we did. And it was up lake Winnipesaukee up in New Hampshire 

Gale Straub – Narration: Victoria unknowingly picked a 3 mile trail that had 1200 feet of elevation gain in a mile. So while it had a gorgeous view of the lake from the top, it was not for the faint of heart. But something about that first hike hooked her.

Victoria Amico: The whole climb up to the top. I was just kind of cursing under my breath and being like, why did people do this? This is awful. and then we got up to the summit and it was, you know, New Hampshire in November. So all the leaves have changed. It was beautiful. It was looked overlooked, Lake Winnipesaukee and I’m like, oh, okay.

Victoria Amico: I’m kind of starting to get this. and then on the decent, we. Had gone a different way around that wasn’t straight down. and we came across this stream that had a log across it that had like a bunch of broken branches that were kind of sticking up the stream was too wide to step across too deep.

Just kind of like weighed through. So you had to either walk through the water or walk across this log. And I am in no way. a graceful person. I will trip over air So I thinking, like, there is no way that I’m setting foot on this log because I’m gonna trip and I’m gonna get impaled and this is where I’m gonna die.

And this is not happening today. And just the panic that started ensuing. my friend literally grabbed my hand and said, Hey, put your foot here, put your other foot here. And in two steps I was across and my whole world just cracked open that I realized in that moment that I’m way more capable of things than I thought that I was.

And it just started deconstructing everything that I had thought. as time passed I realized that I wanted a life that was more intentional, that I was more grounded, that I wanted to live a life that I was proud of. Instead of living for, being a workaholic or whatnot. 

Gale Straub – Narration: Before Victoria discovered hiking, she was a very private person. In fact, she described herself as Fort Knox to me over the phone when we first chatted.

Victoria Amico: vulnerability is something that I’m still learning even my closest friends didn’t know me because I never let them in, and learning that I have friends that aren’t gonna run away. The moment I let people in or share something vulnerable that I can take up space and have people there that are gonna be there to support me was a huge realization for me.

Victoria Amico: And definitely still something that I’m, I’m working through. But the connections that I’ve made in the past few years are night and day to the connections that I’ve had when I was younger, because there is that level of trust. There is that, vulnerability between us, there’s just allowing yourself to be seen and to see others and make space for other people has drastically changed my life.

Gale Straub: What do you think it is about the, the trail and, and hiking that allows for that?

Victoria Amico: when you’re on the trail, everything is stripped away. You’re all going through a shared experience because it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re still climbing the same mountain. You’re still walking the same trail. You’re still doing the same thing.

So that’s that shared experience and that, the understanding like, oh, did you just climb up this thing? Wasn’t it awful? Oh my gosh. it just creates a space where the, quote unquote real world it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t, it’s not there. it’s simple. So you’re just existing.

Gale Straub: Hmm. Yeah. I definitely know that. I, I can relate to your sentiment of that. Ability to feel openness, especially after I would say after a day hiking, you know, somebody’s in the middle of it. I’m just trying to get through it. But afterward that mood kind of follows me around for a little while, after I’ve spent a day on the trail and. I think for me, at least I can see the potential that already exists in life that I maybe am not able to see in other times when I might be feeling a little more. Down or depressed.

and I know that like time outside, isn’t, an instant cure for any mental health challenges or anything. But I do love that feeling of potential that I feel after, especially after backpacking, you know, that, concentrated time in nature.

Victoria Amico: Mm, definitely.

Gale Straub: So, what was the process like for you after going on that first hike, realizing it was something that you really enjoyed. How did you start incorporating it into your life?

Victoria Amico: I basically went down a giant rabbit hole of this new shiny thing that I am enthralled with, I need to know everything about everything that there is to know So I just started immersing myself into like the quote unquote hiker life and wanting to do it again and push myself and, learning.

More. And once I realized that this experience wasn’t unique to me and that other people have the same experience and they, it’s why they’re drawn to the outdoors, I’m like, oh, but yeah, I just kept going on more and more hikes and even more so when I moved to Colorado and was just.

You know, even closer to the mountains and trying to get out and learn as much as I could and keep pushing and pushing and pushing.

Gale Straub: Hmm. And, uh, when you were out in Colorado, you ended up going to a hiking, my feelings event, right. And connected with Sydney and connected with other people who feel similarly to you in terms of their, their connection with nature.

Victoria Amico: Mm-hmm it’s such an interesting, full circle thing here. because how I learned about hiking, my feelings was on, she explores podcast and I remember listening to it on the way into work and I’m just sobbing. And I’m, it’s just like the first time that I had ever really felt seen, or had someone’s story that was similar to mine, kind of reflected back at me.

there was something there. then I ended up, seeing that Sydney was doing a kind of a speaking tour around. Different Reis. There was one close to where I was living, so I’m like, okay, I gotta go and went to the event and then had walked up to her after barely got two words out and just started sobbing and she’s like, oh, okay.

Yeah. So we’re we had to cry together and then she showed me her van. Then we still keep in touch 

Music transition

First backpacking trip

I’m curious , when you started incorporating, backpacking and camping into your, hiking life.

Victoria Amico: I went on my first backpacking trip in August of 2018. there’s one thing about me that is frustrating, but like admirable at the same time, like I’m an all or nothing person. And I tend to go all into really big things sometimes. And sometimes it really bites me in the ass.

so my first backpacking trip was a 30 mile loop around the maroon bells out in near Aspen that goes over four passes over 12,000 feet. And that hike tore me apart. It chewed me up and spit me out in so many different ways, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. 

Gale Straub: Did you go by yourself for

Victoria Amico: oh, no, I . I went with two two of my friends that I worked with at REI.

 I was like, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I have all the gear. Can we go here? And they’re like, absolutely. So they were fantastic. They, really helped. I don’t think I would’ve made it out of that hike without them. 

Gale Straub: is there any, advice that you would give someone or even your past self for that first backpacking trip? 

Victoria Amico: I think my biggest pieces of advice are to take care of hotspots as they come up. because I had blisters that had blisters and those blisters had blisters. So, so yeah, my, my feet, I couldn’t walk right for like two weeks. and. pay attention to what you need. because I got severely dehydrated I wasn’t listening to my needs because I was afraid that I was gonna hold people back.

So I was not filling up on water when I was out, because I didn’t wanna take the time to do it. so I, I, I think the biggest advice I have is to know your, what your needs are and make sure that you’re, giving yourself them.

Gale Straub: Hmm. Yeah. That can be challenging in a group dynamic, speaking up for, for what your needs are or. depending on who you’re with, I’ve been on backpacking trips where it’s all about getting as many miles as possible and it can be at the cost of the experience. So is that a skill that you’ve grown at over time?

Victoria Amico: Yeah, definitely. especially on that first trip. I was kind of in the space that like, I was already taking up too much space, so therefore I couldn’t need anything beyond what I was allowed, which is not a good place to be in. And it’s also not a safe place to be in. but over the years, I’ve really spent a lot of time trying to understand, like I have needs.

And I can meet my needs and I can, , really take care of myself and I’m allowed to take up space and I’m allowed to, vocalize the things that I need and the people who are in my circle now, they’re not gonna give me crap about it. They’ll be like, okay. Yeah, go get your water. That’s good. Yeah. Take the time you need. Okay. Cool. Thanks.

Gale Straub: That’s about like unlocking the, the Fort, as you said, the bank. what are some other memorable backpacking trips you’ve been on since then?

Victoria Amico: The most recent one. on the P C T I did about a hundred miles this year, and that was a whole basket full of lessons, but also amazing memories.

Gale Straub – Narration: We’ll hear more, after the break.

MIDROLL BREAK

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Gale Straub – Narration: We’re back.

Victoria Amico: I had a realization 2018 that I had so many things on my someday list that someday I’m gonna wake up. Not have done a single thing on it. So I started trying to make an effort to start checking off things on my Sunday list and making it a, a soon list.

Gale Straub – Narration: When Victoria discovered hiking in 2015, she went down the PCT or Pacific Crest Trail research rabbit hole. She says that the idea of hiking for months at a time latched onto her soul — and onto her someday list.

Gale Straub: a someday list. the way you describe it sounds different than a bucket list. Cuz like a Sunday list. It’s easy to kick that down the road right?

Victoria Amico: Mm mm-hmm.

Gale Straub: what for you were some of the reasons why you were worried about having this list of things that you’d never, get to.

Victoria Amico: I think it was Uh, maybe like a quarter life crisis. Like I was turning 30. I was looking back at my life. I feel like I haven’t done anything. And like, I feel like I have nothing to show for my life, even though logically. I know that it’s not true because I have done a lot Yeah, just the, the pondering of, of life and wanting to have something to show for it.

And that made me start questioning some stuff. And I, I think it came out, I wasn’t happy, so I, I needed to change it.

I moved home. I kind of needed to reset my life. I was not in a really great space mentally. and I wanted to pay off some debt. So the past couple years I had kind of worked on both of those, ended up paying off a lot of debt and was in a better spot.

And I’m like, okay, let’s, let’s try and do this. So last year I made the decision that this year I was gonna start the PC. And I did started down at the Mexican border and made it to just before Warner Springs.

Gale Straub: Hmm. We’ll say the logical brain can be. The most frustrating brain because it’s like, you know, that I’m this way at times where I’m just like, okay, I’m gonna try to talk myself out of this emotion. that only works for so long too. It ends up being that the thing that you think is the rational thing is like the most irrational it’s not helping you in the long run.

So, I’m glad that you followed your, your intuition and. Getting out there to hike a hundred miles of the P CT. looking back at that experience, are you glad that you, that you went out and did it?

Victoria Amico: Oh, absolutely. A hundred percent. even looking back at like before the P C T and after, like, I just feel like a, a different person I can only imagine if I had been able to like continue on, 

Gale Straub – Narration: Victoria had planned to thru hike the entire length of the PCT, but ran into unforeseen challenges on the trail. But before we touch on those, it’s worth noting that Victoria experienced much of the magic of the trail that she’d hoped for – the unexpected kindness of strangers, the reward of the slog, the beauty of the desert. But, as a plus sized person, she also experienced a level of freedom that wasn’t a given.

Gale Straub: Mm.

Victoria Amico: such an amazing experience in, in the sense that it was the first time that I had ever been really seen as just another hiker, body size didn’t matter. oh, you just came over that climb. Okay. How was it? 

Like I was just a hiker and. I’m sure that any plus size person, who is also like hiker or any kind of athlete can tell you that a lot of straight size people like, oh, you’re too in such a great job. I understand it’s well intentioned, but at the same time, it’s stop, please. but. To not have that on trail.

When you go into a town or you go into, you know, campground, people are like, oh, that’s so cool. Like you’re doing amazing, blah, blah, blah. Like, I wish I could have done that. Or holy crap. You’d walked from here to where, it’s cool. 

Gale Straub: Hmm. That’s really good to hear too, cuz uh, you never know really like I’m sure that was a consideration going into the P C T too, because communities can be insular or the same types of things that you’ve maybe heard on the trail and other places can pop up. So, that’s wonderful to hear that about the P CT community for you.

Victoria Amico: definitely.

Gale Straub – Narration: Those 100 miles were sweet in many ways. But also incredibly challenging. A head’s up, Victoria’s story of leaving the trail includes brief mentions of suicidal ideation.

Victoria Amico: I ended up getting off trail because I was kind of having a mental health crisis. I had lost my grandmother the month before I got on trail.

And,

Gale Straub: Hmm.

Victoria Amico: something had triggered a memory and a town. I realized this after I got home, but I started processing losing her and I was. About ready to roll off a cliff and was not okay. So,

yeah, but I’m grateful that I made that decision, and I’m still really proud of what I’ve done on it. And I still hiked a lot It was an amazing experience. And I still wanna go back and I think I’m gonna try and section hike more of it, 

Gale Straub: Yeah, I mean a hundred miles. I’ve never done a hundred mile backpacking trip. If you just kind of zoom out and think about it that way, it’s like. That is a long way. That’s more than, you know, I live in New Hampshire. You live in Massachusetts. I think you live less than a hundred miles away from me.

And so if I just like walked out of this interview and went down to meet you, it would take me a very long time

Victoria Amico: yes.

Gale Straub: and I wouldn’t be in the desert.

Victoria Amico: Oh yes.

Music transition

Gale Straub: I know something that you wrote about leaving the trail is that you, you called an act of, of choosing yourself. that feels like something to be proud of too.

Victoria Amico: Absolutely. 

Even a few years ago, I still would’ve shoved all these emotions down and just suffered through it and just not dealt with it in a healthy way and that would’ve come up in some other way. so being able to choose kindness for myself and choose.

That I needed to heal from this right now, instead of being in the desert and driving the struggle bus, not even on it, I’m driving that bus. So, 

Gale Straub: You’re pushing it. You’re outta the bus and you’re pushing it from behind to feel like

Victoria Amico: definitely yes. Oh man. but yeah, choosing myself learning to do that has been a really interesting process. but I’m super grateful for the journey that it’s taken me on and being able to not feel shame about choosing myself either has been really interest.

Gale Straub: Hmm. Do you remember when you realized that you’d be heading home from the trail, was it around that a hundred mile marker.

Victoria Amico: it was probably the, the section in between Julian and, Rancita, which is where I got off trail. that 25 mile section was, was tough. I remember leaving Julian with, a hiker that I had met in town. Her name is crunch and we had met at two foot adventures, the P C T outfitter in Julian. We were hiking about the same pace we had both been hiking alone up until that point. So we decided to hike out together and kind of stick together. we had made it maybe 500 feet from the trail head and I just turned around. I started crying and, uh, I was like, I don’t know if through hikings for me.

I think I might wanna be a section hir. Like I’m not feeling okay. Like, She had basically just said, what’s going on, let’s stick together. Let’s we have four miles to camp. we’ll go at your pace. We’ll do whatever we need to do. I’m here for you. which was amazing.

So crunch, if you’re listening, thank you so much. she had asked me if I wanted to go back into town or if I wanted to continue. And I said, you know, let me get through this next section. Then we can figure it out. So the next day I woke up and left camp and every time that I stopped to like, take a, breather break, I would just start sobbing.

And I would sob for like five minutes and then I would just collect myself and then I would keep hiking and then I would stop like an hour or two later and just start sobbing again. it was basically the course of the day. and then we finally made it to camp that night and I was starting to think like, I think I need to go home. I don’t know what’s going on right now, but I’m not, feeling this right now. I kept trying to think, think it through. And the idea of leaving trail broke my heart. I was, I was really struggling with that.

and then the next day it was a 10 mile day to the road crossing to get into Ranchita. I had booked a bed at, kind of a retreat place that caters to hikers. I was gonna go into there. and spend a day or two there and figure out what to do. But by the time I got to the road, I was done, I needed to, to pull it.

That 25 mile stretch follows the road from Julian to Ranchita. You can see the road pretty much the whole time, but you’re just 2000 feet above it. so I, anytime I saw a car, I’m like, if I just roll off this cliff here, I can get a hitch into town. but like there’s rocks, boulders, cactus, cacti, you would make it to the road.

and then throughout the rest of the day, I just kept thinking. I could just roll off this and I don’t really care if I live or die. Like I don’t care at this point. So I’m like, this is not a good spot to be in. by the time I finish the day, I’m like, yeah, I can’t do this right now. so I went home, tried to regroup for a little bit, had intentions of getting back on trail.

At some point was thinking about meeting up with some of the hikers that I had met. In central California or something like that. but after I was home for a few weeks, it didn’t feel right in the moment to go back to trail, and dealing with that mentality for a minute and just sitting in it was hard.

But I’m, I’m grateful that. I had the space to kind of work through that.

Gale Straub: Hmm. Yeah. 

Music Transition

 so do you feel like after having, that through hiking experience that you. Take to the trail a little bit differently. how would you describe yourself as a hir today?

Victoria Amico: so I still work at REI and I work with a lot of people who have through hiked and I’ve had conversations with them about like, the term like hiker trash it’s kind of thrown about in the, through hiking community that you’re just kind of grungy and you’re just disgusting and you stink.

And it’s just this whole

Gale Straub: Hmm.

Victoria Amico: spirit of being, and I’ve had conversations with them about like, can I still hold onto this title? And they’re like, absolutely, you are a hundred percent hiker trash. And. I feel like I kind of wear that as like a badge of honor in the sense that like, I’ve done long hikes and I’ve done long backpacking trips and, and stuff like this.

And I get dirty and grungy and kind of gross. But at the same time, like

Hiking for me is in so many ways, just connecting back to myself, into the earth and to learning, to be present and content in the present moment. and I feel like everything else just melts away. So hiking is kind of my safe space for lack of a better word.

Gale Straub – Narration: As integral as hiking has been for Victoria, she still jokes that she has a love hate relationship with it. For one, it’s plain hard sometimes, physically, mentally. But it’s also taught her one of the biggest lessons of her life, which she wants to pass on to you, too.

Victoria Amico:  Society doesn’t get to dictate how you can take up space or where you can do with the body that you have. So if you wanna go on a. Go on a hike. If you wanna learn how to climb or you wanna go kayaking or you wanna go paddleboarding, whatever it is that you wanna do, you wanna try do it?

My, my whole thing is like, if we remove failure the, or the, the threat of failure from the equation, we get to see what we’re made of. So if you remove that and you, are not afraid of failure. You get to do some pretty awesome stuff.

Music to out

Gale Straub – Narration: If you want to follow along with Victoria, here are a few places to find her. 

Victoria Amico: I run a social media and occasional YouTube channel called Plus Sized Outdoors and my whole mission in this. To increase diversity and representation in outdoor spaces. And to promote that you’re allowed to take up space in the body that you have and, helped change the narrative the outdoors are not just for the skinny, straight white guys.

And if you are, not a skinny, straight white guy, you still have, you still have this place out there. 

Gale Straub – Narration: Victoria also recommends following: Unlikely hikers, Fat Girls hiking, Ash’s adventures, Kween Work, ChillTash, and Sam Ortiz. I’ll link them all in the show notes.

That’s where you’ll also find the many ways to follow along with Victoria. 

Thanks to our sponsor Danner Boots for making this episode possible. Learn more at Danner.com.

You can find She Explores on social media, our website, and wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe to our biweekly newsletter to stay up to date! You can find me on Instagram @galestraub. 

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This episode was produced and hosted by me, Gale Straub.

She Explores is a production of Ravel Media. We’ll be back with a new episode in early November. Until next time, stay curious.

 

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