By Kendall Tripathi Clark and Kiley Clark of WeHikeCalifornia, about their outdoor mentors, as told to Hailey Hirst
This is the final part of a four part “She Came Before Me” series sponsored by Vasque Footwear, profiling the feminine mentors in our outdoor lives.
WeHikeCalifornia is an Instagram account co-created by Kendall Tripathi-Clark and Kiley Clark. The Sonoma County couple has the goal of hiking every park in California, but they’re not simply documenting it on their Instagram feed.
WeHikeCalifornia is also purposeful in its representation of the land and people’s interactions with that land. They do this by talking about access and starting conversations about ancestral land. But they also share their own personal narratives as they interact with their home state.
I caught up with Kendall and Kiley to learn more about the hiking project and to hear the stories of each of their feminine outdoor mentors, who inspire Kendall and Kiley on and off the trail.
Kendall: WeHikeCalifornia is an Instagram account that started as an interesting idea to help us explore more of California. Kiley and I are both lifelong Californians and realized there was so much of the state we hadn’t seen.
We’ve been together close to 9 years – we just celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary – and we hadn’t really spent much time exploring how much natural diversity there is in California’s landscape. We wanted to have a way to connect with a place that we love dearly, and also be honoring the land and the people that the land was taken from as well.
It’s cool just to engage in the outdoors, really, as two queer, plus size women. We’re both people of color and often times our communities are limited in what we have access to, from clothing to wear outside comfortably, to feeling like we are welcome on the trail. It’s important for us to share our story with the hope of motivating other folks to create community and change the narrative. This project is also a way to keep a diary of our adventures and encourage ourselves to get outside more.
It’s important for us to share our story with the hope of motivating other folks to create community and change the narrative.
Kiley: I think of WeHikeCalifornia as our long love letter that we’re writing to the state. We’re such big cheerleaders of the natural beauty here. There are huge swaths of the state that don’t get talked about or seen outside of the larger metropolitan areas.
This is a way for us to engage with smaller towns and nature. And on top of that it’s just a great way for us to spend time together. We’re getting exercise, getting out and seeing nature. It’s like therapy before we actually need therapy, right?
My outdoor mentor is my paternal grandmother, Delora Tripathi. She passed away just over 5 years ago, but she was and continues to be a strong force in my life. I think about her a lot when I’m out on the trail, especially when I do things that are difficult or I feel out of place or self-conscious.
My grandmother was a survivor. She contracted polio when she was 18 years old and spent over two years in an iron lung. The doctors basically gave her the prognosis that she would never walk again, never have a family, never have a full happy healthy life. She didn’t listen to any of that.
She met and fell in love with my grandfather, who was an Indian businessman. She was a girl from a small town outside of Chicago and she ended up moving to India within a year of meeting him. They had four kids, lived in ten different countries, and traveled the world.
She would probably actually laugh a lot when I say she’s an outdoor mentor of mine, because I don’t know if she would necessarily agree… she was an avid swimmer, but she wasn’t very outdoorsy. When my grandparents went on their honeymoon to Yosemite she was the woman in the green dress who was rolling up in their Cadillac, feeding the deer that were coming to their car (it was the early 1950’s after all). I don’t think she hiked a day in her life, but she always supported me and showed up for her family in big ways.
She motivates me to never be limited by the expectations of others and to refuse to live by anyone else’s standard.
I take a lot of strength from her story and the way that she chose to live her life. She never sweated the small stuff. She was an incredibly optimistic and positive person. She motivates me to never be limited by the expectations of others and to refuse to live by anyone else’s standard.
My grandmother faced a lot of pain throughout her life and I think that chronic pain and access aren’t topics that are addressed as often as they should be in the outdoor community. I always want to think about how we’re making places and communities accessible for folks and also make sure that we’re having conversations of inclusion.
When I think ‘outdoor mentor’ I don’t specifically have anyone who taught me how to hike, or how to backpack, or how to do any of those outdoor activities – it was more about that spirit, especially in a place where you don’t always feel like you fit in, or you’re outside the typical mold of an outdoorsperson.
She taught me humility. She taught me how to ask for help when I need it, and also not to assign guilt around needing to ask for help.
I don’t specifically have anyone who taught me how to hike… it was more about that spirit, especially in a place where you don’t always feel like you fit in, or you’re outside the typical mold of an outdoorsperson.
I think of her when I’m out on the trail and I’m feeling anxious about my ability to make it up a hill – just being able to calm myself and say, do I want to get there? Well, okay. Maybe it’s going to look a little different from how I thought I was going to get there and it might look different than the rest of the people I’m hiking with – but I’m really just trying to make it there for myself. It’s not about others’ expectations of what I can and can’t do.
My outdoor mentor is my mom, Beverly Richards. She’s not really an outdoorsperson, per say. Honestly, when I was growing up in Compton, California we didn’t really spend a lot of time outside together in the way that I do now hiking, but she was definitely the person who influenced me to get out and do that.
Growing up in such a low-income area, I was going to summer camp every summer when kids in my class hadn’t even been to the beach yet. That’s kind of the sad reality because we weren’t that far away.
My mom would take me to the Boys and Girls Club in Long Beach, and I got to do outdoor stuff through there, so that kind of set the stage too.
My mom was always an adventurous person. We got into cycling together and we’d bicycle everywhere, especially on the LA River. She took me to see a cycling event at the Olympics when I was a kid. I feel like I’m different from her in that my objective is that I really just want to stay home because I’m afraid of everything. I was so shy and an only child, but with the encouragement of my mom I did acting classes and cheerleading. I did horseback riding and I’m afraid of horses, canoeing and I’m afraid I’m going to drown. She’s not afraid to try new things.
That’s the most important thing she’s taught me – to not be afraid to try new things. But I don’t think I’ll ever get my 18-wheeler driver’s license like she has. [Long story short, Beverly got a part-time job driving a truck, and needed the license to do it!]
That’s the most important thing she’s taught me – to not be afraid to try new things. But I don’t think I’ll ever get my 18-wheeler driver’s license like she has.
She’s about 5’2 so maybe the feistiness comes with that size.
I think for her, too, she’s always on her toes. She moved around a lot as a kid and grew up with five other siblings. She’s also a Registered Nurse, so there have been times when she was the first person on an accident scene. Without a thought she would hop out of the car to help somebody. I remember when I was eight years old there was a drive by shooting and we were the first ones there. She always kept napkins from restaurants in her glove compartment. She grabbed a stack of those and helped someone with a gunshot wound until the paramedics arrived.
She’s a traveler. She grew up in Texas, Oklahoma, moved around a ton growing up. Then working as a nurse and truck driver – I think she’s probably seen every state and lived in maybe half of them. She inspires me to get out and see more places.
She’s always kind of been my hero and I don’t think I’ve ever told her that. I probably should.
She’s really fearless in a lot of ways. I don’t know how to equate street smarts to hiking, but she taught me that, too – to be aware of your surroundings, always have your eye looking out, and to take care of whoever you’re with.
We went horseback riding once on the beach in Tijuana. I was probably 12 or 13 at the time. I’d never really ridden a horse before and mine kind of just took off. My mom was able to direct her horse in front of mine, grab the reins, and get the situation under control.
She’s always kind of been my hero and I don’t think I’ve ever told her that. I probably should.
My grandparents always had an open home – people from all over the world were there, sometimes staying for months at a time. Especially in the kind of climate we find ourselves in today, even in the outdoor world too, there’s no reason why we can’t put an extra leaf into our table and be able to invite more people to sit around it.
We’re going to have richer conversations and experiences, and just have like a bigger family, you know – family being a loose word for all of us who are in this work for the same reason, too. I think in terms of WeHikeCalifornia – it’s something that we’re really passionate about.
You don’t really think of social media as a way to create community, but we’ve met up with so many folks who want to hike, be outside, and really respect the land. It’s been surprising and incredibly encouraging so far.
Learn more about WeHikeCalifornia by following along on Instagram @wehikecalifornia. You can also participate in the project and community by tagging your California hiking photos with #wehikecalifornia.