Trans-Continental Adventurers: Lyla and Cal’s Birthday Bash Interview
Hi y’all, Oats here! I’m the Social Media Wiz for The Trek back on IG Live with another interview, but this time we’re jumping over to the Pacific Crest Trail to chat with someone who probably looks pretty familiar if you keep up with Trek content – Lyla and Cal, currently on the PCT celebrating Lyla’s birthday!
I first met Lyla when she blogged for The Trek on her first thru-hike ever last year on the AT. We even did a Hiker Spotlight interview as she made her way through the southern half of the trail – but now Lyla and her partner Cal have been bit by the thru-hiking bug and are taking on the PCT together with their pup in tow.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full recorded interview can be found here @pacificcrest.trail on Instagram.
Lyla, I have the pleasure of keeping up with your adventures on The Trek, but for the benefit of our audience, and myself in Cal’s case, I’m going to assign a wildly difficult task to both of you; if you can give me your “why” behind what brought you to thru-hiking and a little about your backpacking resume in a quick elevator-pitch that’d be perfect for getting our audience up to speed.
Lyla: Sure! I’m Lyla, my pronouns are she/her. I started thru-hiking last year on the Appalachian Trail in March after becoming sober and going through a gender transition.
I had a really intense few years that required some deep soul searching, but I came out on the other side stronger and a more authentic person. I decided I wanted to reclaim the lost time and enjoy my life in the deepest way that I possibly could.
I’m from Mass so the AT was the natural trail to start with. Being out there, I realized that thru-hiking was my thing and only 6 weeks in I decided I was going to head over to the Arizona Trail for my next adventure. I also thru-hiked the Bay Circuit Trail and set the self-supported FKT.
Cal: I’m Cal, my pronouns are they/them! I’m actually on the third leg of my triple crown, and saved the best for last. This is the first time I’ve done a thru-hike that is within spitting distance of my home, so I’m getting lots of fun support on this trail. My backpacking career is actually surprisingly short – my first backpacking trip ever was my AT thru-hike. I don’t like to romanticize the experience, I was wildly unprepared and even though I came out on the other side loving thru-hiking, many in my shoes wouldn’t so I can’t recommend it.
Despite it being a somewhat traumatic experience with a very steep learning curve, somehow I still fell in love with thru-hiking. I think it was the challenge that kept me coming back. The more you’re out there, you realize there’s so much you don’t know. I found myself asking, “What’s next?” The more deeply imbued you become with the spirit of the outdoors, the more you realize you belong here, and it’s very humbling.
So other than being on the opposite coast, something else that has certainly changed since Lyla and I chatted during her AT hike is that now you’re hiking with a pup in tow! What would you say is the best part about having the furry friend along, and what is an additional challenge that comes with hiking with a pup?
Lyla: The best part is having the happy dog spirit along for the ride. Getting to snuggle with him during breaks and especially at the end of the day in the tent is really sweet. Making sure we pay attention to his needs and modify our hiking style is really important to stay on top of: he’d probably just keep going forever if we asked him to and he can’t tell us when he’s tired so we really have to make an effort to take care of what he needs.
Cal: We’ve certainly met some skeptics on trail that are worried about Truman’s welfare, but we always reassure them that we know what we’re doing and this one has done the Continental Divide Trail. As much as I am an advocate of hiking with dogs, there is a reason that there aren’t many out there thru-hiking. There’s a lot of added complications and extra considerations that you have to be prepared for.
The most important thing to accept is that if you take a dog on the trail, your hike is no longer your own and you have to follow through with satisfying their needs at every turn; if their hike needs to end, yours does too and that’s something every dog owner on trail needs to be prepared for.
If anyone has specific questions about having a furry friend along for the ride, feel free to DM me, @cal_hikes!
Lyla I think one of the first articles I read by you was “7 Ways to Be Trans Competent on Trail.” Can you walk me through some of your main points in that article and easy ways hikers on trail could incorporate some of your ideas? In what ways have you continued the conversation around making the outdoors a more comfortable space for everyone?
Lyla: The etiquette and expectations on trail aren’t too different from daily life. For trans people going out on trail, it’s not like every conversation is dominated by sharing pronouns. I’ll share my trail name and pronouns with people who I plan on spending a reasonable amount of time with. If you’re a cis person or an ally, sharing your own pronouns with someone is a good way to show you’re a friendly and safe person to be around. Those little gestures like sharing pronouns can make the biggest difference – if I walk into a trail town and see a rainbow flag I’m going to feel more comfortable and safe passing through.
Cal: I’d like to share a great interaction we had on trail! We were staying with a trail angel and hadn’t mentioned pronouns yet when he ended up stopping the conversation and said nervously, “I’m sorry I just have to ask, what are your pronouns? I really don’t want to get it wrong.”
I think he thought he was being disrespectful, but it was such a gift to give us an opportunity to express ourselves. It made us feel safe, and showed us that he cared and respected us.
That’s not at all an offensive question because you can’t tell what anyone’s pronouns are from the outside, so he was intentionally avoiding making assumptions. So, though it’s not necessary to always discuss pronouns, it was really nice that he gave us the opportunity to share our identities with him.
Can you tell me a little about the Birthday Fundraiser you’re doing for the Venture Out Project?
Lyla: Yes! The Venture Out Project is based in Mass, my home state, and is a nonprofit that encourages transgender and LGBTQ youth to enjoy the outdoors and build skills and community in outdoor spaces. We have a growing community of queer hikers and the Venture Out Project’s goal is to take people that may not feel comfortable or safe in the outdoors and give them support, access, and staffing that is trans-competent and LGBTQ-competent to help them experience the outdoors in a way that feels safe and attainable. Their reach is spreading quickly across the country, I encourage anyone tuning in to check them out and see how you can get involved, they’re certainly worth your donation.
Okay, I’ve been waiting very very patiently to ask this question because I’m so wildly excited about the answer. What’s next for you two?
Cal: This is the last leg of my Triple Crown and I’ll be the first transgender person to achieve that goal. I decided pretty early on in my CDT thru-hike that I would give the 6,800-mile Great Western Loop a shot, so once I reach Canada I’ll turn right and start on the Pacific Northwest Trail. As soon as I learned about this route, I knew it was the challenge for me. I think I’ll either be the 4th or 5th to complete it, but there’s no database so we may have to start one ourselves!
Lyla: After the PCT, I’ll be cutting over and hitting the CDT SOBO hopefully beginning in late July. That will make me the second trans triple-crowner, and I hope there’s more every year after this! If you’re in the transgender/queer community, reach out!
When I started thru-hiking, I really couldn’t find much content from transgender hikers, which is why I started blogging for The Trek in the first place. Once I started writing, I went from feeling very alone to incredibly connected to hikers all over the country that identify with what I have to say.
I really look forward to continuing to build that, so reach out to me and Cal!
A huge thank you to Lyla and Cal for checking in on their day off among all the town chores, and a HUGE happy birthday to you, Lyla! Follow Lyla’s adventures as she finishes the PCT @seltzerskelter and follow Cal as they tackle the Great Western Loop @cal_hikes.
I’m Oats, signing off until next time – Happy hiking!
Are you a fan of this series? Who do you want to see as a guest on IG Live next? Subscribe to keep up with all the amazing tales from the trail this year, and leave your thoughts in the comments below!
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