Meet the Trail Community: First Generation Hiker
Meet a woman who is the first in her family to go hiking, and learn what inspired her to start.
We're highlighting trail users across Washington state. Hear what hiking means to them, and the future of their on-trail pursuits.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Gisselle Pichardo is the first person in her family to hike as a way to relax and recreate, rather than simply go from point A to point B. And she's passing it on: she and her husband Elbert are teaching their three daughters the importance and value of time spent in nature.
We meet at the Mercer Island Nature Slough, in the middle of a heat wave for the Pacific Northwest. The girls pile out of the car, looking less than enthused about this stranger with a camera who is the reason for their midday hike in the oppressive heat. But as Gisselle and I start down the trail, Elbert takes the girls to a structure where they play while Gisselle and I have a chat.
My first question, ‘What is your favorite trail here?’ is met—unsurprisingly—with indecision. There are a lot of trails to choose from, and Gisselle and her family have only been hiking for three years. It quickly clear that she doesn't have a favorite trail, but a favorite type of hike—one with a variety of things to see.
“In Issaquah we have some trails we really like on Tiger Mountain. Heather Lake is a good destination, too. My girls and I went last year and the view from the top is amazing. Any hike that combines different views is great. Even something close in like Discovery Park or Volunteer Park. As long as there’s a view at the end.”
When I ask what made her start hiking, Gisselle laughs.
“I came from the Dominican Republic, where there are trails, but I never got myself out to explore them. I wasn’t an outdoorsy person at all.”
But it wasn’t so much that she wasn’t interested in hiking, the trails simply weren’t in shape to be hiked.
“The difference between trails here and the ones in the Dominican Republic is that here they get regular maintenance. My family can go on a hike here and feel safe. In the Dominican Republic you can’t do that because you don’t know who is on trail with you or what it might be like when you head out.”
Elbert chimes in, too, explaining that the hiking culture simply isn’t there.
“People walk there because they have to get from one place to another, but they don’t go on a hike just to look at their surroundings.”
The Pichardos moved here after Elbert got a job contract. Gisselle and Elbert already had their two oldest girls, but wanted to come to America to raise their family. So he applied for a job in Seattle; shortly after he was hired and they moved.
Washington is well-known for its variety of terrain and outdoorsy lifestyle, so it didn't take long for Gisselle to explore hiking. What ultimately pushed her on trail though, was her children.
"[Elbert and I had the] realization that, as parents, we really needed to teach our kids to appreciate, cherish and protect our planet and there is no better way to get them to do this than to get them in contact with nature at an early age."
Since she started hiking recreationally, Gisselle has discovered what so many other people love about it: how rejuvenating it can be.
“Every time I’m stressed, I can make myself feel better by going on a hike. If I can go somewhere I can breathe, and simply be in nature, it is so helpful. I just love hiking because I love that contact with nature.”
In addition to feeling safe and rejuvenated on trail, Gisselle loves the seasonal change on trails in Washington.
“It’s great because here you have all four seasons. The Dominican Republic only has summer. But the seasons here aren’t too extreme. If it’s cold, it’s not too cold, if it’s hot, it’s not too hot. Every season is so beautiful.”
Gisselle is right. Even in the close heat on the day of our interview, the green canopy of trees we’re standing under is verdant and lush, and the girls are loving their playtime, clambering up and down a large ladder while Elbert watches, offering a helping hand when they need it.
A Work in Progress
I ask Gisselle if the girls like to hike, and she smiles wryly.
“It’s something they have to learn. They ask what we’re doing this weekend and we say we are going for a hike and they are like, ‘What? No!’ Sofia, our oldest says it drains her energy!”
At seven, five, and three, the girls’ concept of having fun is going to a playground or a lake, not spending time walking through the woods. But Gisselle says they come around.
“When they think they’re going hiking, they are not excited, but usually once we start down the trail, they enjoy the hike the most out of all of us. So we keep trying; we just keep taking them out. We try to encourage them by telling them we are going to explore, or find a treasure.”
Gisselle and Elbert take careful note of what kind of hikes the girls enjoy best to help nurture that love for the outdoors. Elbert and Gisselle both agree that if there’s a view, the girls remain more engaged.
“Sofi doesn’t like doing loops," Elbert adds, "but a trail with an endpoint— like a goal to work towards—those are usually good. Twin Falls was a good one.”
Sofia, their oldest, confirms what her dad says. When I ask if she likes hiking, she says, “Not that much,” but when I ask what she would want to see if she had to go hiking, she lights up: “A waterfall!”
Just Keep Hiking
The Pichardos want their girls to be outdoorsy—to appreciate nature the way they both do, and to take advantage of the trail network Washington has to offer. But it can be tricky to keep young kids engaged or even excited about hiking. Gisselle's take on this is practical, and good advice for any hiking parent.
“Don’t ever believe they’re going to be excited at this age to go for a hike, but don’t let it stop you going out. Take them outside, even if it’s just for a little bit. At the end of the day, if they are walking and discovering something cool on trail, they do have fun.”
And that inspiration may be there already, just below the surface. Sofia's energy when she talked about waterfalls was obvious. Then I asked her what she would rather do than go hiking, Sofia says “Painting!”