Walking Distance #15 | Vloggers ft. Sophia Garber “Wheelz” and Cory McDonald “Second Chance Hiker”

In this episode of Walking Distance presented by The Trek and hosted by Blissful Hiker (Alison Young), we are joined by Sophia Garber, a 24-year-old Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and vlogger, and Second Chance Hiker, aka Cory. Every morning Sophia writes “be the sunshine” with sharpie on her arm, a phrase that comes from her friend Cristal; she met Cristal working at the Ulman House, a nonprofit for young adults with cancer. Her mantra reminds her to find meaning and joy in things that can be dark; Sophia has dedicated her hike to Cristal’s memory. 

Cory, Second Chance Hiker, started hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to lose weight after being inspired by Jessica Mills, better known as Dixie on Youtube. Originally, Cory didn’t want to share his story until he lost weight, but his vlogs became very successful. Since his PCT hike, Cory has hiked the Velebit Mountain Range in Croatia as well as the most difficult portion of Florida Trail through the swamps.

Blissful Hiker covers the logistics of vlogging while hiking, how the internet influences the hiking experience, both positively and negatively, and being vulnerable online.


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Walking Distance is sponsored by John Reamer and Associates. Go to www.johnreamer.com to learn more.

Interview with Sophia Garber

1:00 – Introduction to Sophia

2:25 – Where did “be the sunshine” come from, and who is Cristal?

3:30 – Why did you decide to be a vlogger?

5:50 – How has social media and YouTube impacted your hike?

7:02 – You’re putting yourself out there and you’re completely public on YouTube. Do you ever have second thoughts about putting your experience into the public forum?

8:30 – How do you balance being in the moment during your hike and bringing people along for the ride?

9:37 – What’s your editing process? You do take your time and add music, what’s that like?

10:28 – You had to stop vlogging for a few days because you got injured and it was raining, and you said you were sad. How do you approach sharing your feelings on the vlog?

13:20 – It seems that you don’t want to vlog just to show the trail, but you want to show what’s beyond the trail. What do you want viewers to get out of the vlog?

Interview with Second Chance Hiker/Cory

15:42 – What’s it like to be a public figure on the trail?

17:30 – Introduction to Second Chance Hiker

19:05 – Who do you envision talking to while you’re vlogging?

19:45 – It seems like a large jump, coming from being isolated with few friends to having so many followers on social media. How did you cope with that change?

20:45 – It’s amazing that you have a good support system with your ex-wife and your family. I imagine she also emotionally supported you through your PCT hike.

21:36 – You mentioned Dixie, who is Homemade Wanderlust on Youtube. You started watching her videos before you started hiking; what’s your relationship to her? 

22:40 – Did you see yourself becoming a vlogger like Dixie, or did that happen more organically?

23:20 – From your very first vlog episode, you made yourself as vulnerable as you can be online. All of us have something about ourselves that we don’t like; I think you give people permission to be vulnerable. What made you willing to open yourself to the world not only about hiking but your weight loss journey?

25:20 – You said “yes” to something enormous; why did you choose the PCT?

26:15 – What did you do to prepare? Was the PCT your first backpacking experience?

27:10 – You had a pretty serious accident on Devil’s Peak. What was going through your head?

28:04 – Doing Youtube, you open yourself up to positive experiences but also nasty comments. How did you manage?

30:42 – When you edit a story together on Youtube, you get lots of nice comments from people and it can be inspiring to see what people react to.

31:20 – You have an infectious giggle and smile, which is wonderful to see. Have you always been someone who laughs through hard times?

Mentioned in this episode:

Sophia Garber’s 2021 AT Vlogs

Sophia Garber on Instagram

Second Chance Hiker’s Youtube Channel

Second Chance Hiker on Instagram

Outside Online: Fame, Romance, and a Second Chance on the PCT 

Get all of the Walking Distance Podcast episodes.

About Alison Young

Alison Young, aka Blissful Hiker, is a former host and producer at American Public Media and professional flutist. She’s thru-hiked New Zealand’s Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as long trails in South America, South Africa, Europe, Pakistan and all over the US. In her podcast Blissful Hiker, she shares personal essays from the trail along with collected sound. Her goal in life is to hike until she drops.

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