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Victoria Benson’s Independent Challenge – 1,200 Mile Thru Hike From GNP to ONP

Victoria Benson set out recently to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail: a 1,200-mile journey from Glacier National Park, MT to Olympic National Park, WA. She decided to make her trip an Independent Challenge with us after bumping into a long time Climate Rider on the train ride to Glacier! We got that chance to chat with her before she headed out. Climate Ride (CR): What inspired you to take on this hike? Victoria Benson (VB): I was hooked on thru-hiking within the first 200 miles of my first thru-hike – the Arizona Trail. It combined all the things that I love: physical challenges, endurance, exploring the earth’s nooks and crannies and a community full of wonderful people! I learned a lot on the trail, such as, how to let go of things you can’t control. Nature is not conquerable. You have to let go of any control in order to be out experiencing what nature has to offer. This season, I wanted to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) because I went to college in near Seattle. Those four years sandwiched between the Olympics and the cascades made me fall in love with the PNW. Which made me want to hike the PNT! CR: What a great idea. And we couldn’t agree more – time on the trail shows you there’s only so much you can control. For example, we’re seeing the weather extremes of climate change here in Montana this year take the form of an unprecedented increase in rains, moisture, and flooding. Lots of people had to cancel their trips to Yellowstone. Have you run into climate impacts where you live or out on hikes? VB: I am fortunate to have lived in many places including western Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts, Arizona, Wyoming, and my home state, Minnesota. I have seen a lot of climatic impacts in such areas. For example, Arizona has been in drought for 20+ years, draining large reservoirs like Lake Powell. The small snowpacks and lack of monsoon rains are contributing factors to the wildfires all over the west. Minnesota has been experiencing extreme polar vortexes of (-40 degrees) in the past ten years. I definitely expect to run into some of these impacts on the trail. Whether that is fire closures, extreme storms, or sweltering heat while I am on trail. I hope it does not force me to get off trail but, unfortunately, it is a realistic possibility for thru-hikers. CR: So, why did you select Intersectional Environmentalist and the Glacier National Park Conservancy to fundraise for? VB: I wanted to support these two nonprofits because they represent two things I deeply care about: BIPOC and natural resources. I chose Intersectional Environmentalist because I am a woman of color that enjoys the outdoors. While my experiences in outdoor spaces are not unique, I know that the barrier for POC to get exposure to the outdoors is very high. I want to support a foundation that fights for BIPOC and LGTBQ communities and amplifies voices that are traditionally silenced. On the flip side, I studied glacial geoscience as an undergraduate. I am intrigued by glaciers and their impact on the climate and ecosystems. Glacier National Park is a crucial glacial environment and should be monitored for change. The Glacial National Park Conservancy does great work by supporting projects within the park aiding natural resource studies and education for the public!   CR: What field do you work in? VB: I have spent the past few years working for the National Park Service and US Forest Service doing interpretation and natural resource work. I love this work because I get to be outside and expose others to the beauty of the natural world. This fall I am attending the University of Oregon for my masters in Earth Sciences with a focus on glacial research. I hope to use this to conduct glacial research upon graduation to work with the NPS or USFS again. CR: What sort of challenges have you faced putting this hike together? VB: Logistics and funding are the two most challenging aspects of putting together a thru-hike. It is hard to know exactly what you will need because every hike is different. I have spent the last 5 months saving money and planning my hike in order to give up control once my feet hit the trail. CR: That’s a big commitment, not to mention the time you’ll spend out hiking! Your aim for this hike is to raise funds for a cause that is important: bringing BIPOC voices to the forefront of environmental topics and supporting environmental research through the National Parks. How’d you become passionate about and decide to take action for these causes? VB: I believe the outdoors is important for everyone – no matter what that means to you! Many cultures prioritize a relationship with nature and I think that is lost in some places. Those perspectives should be heard while environmental research furthers our understanding of large processes that can help us preserve that important natural world. I believe these two efforts are intertwined and dependent on each other. I hope that this fundraiser can help even a small amount in the efforts they are trying to achieve. CR: We’re so excited to get to support and follow along with you on this epic trek. Thank you, Victoria, for putting in work for the environment while participating in what you are passionate about! If you would like to support Victoria in reaching her Independent Challenge goal of $2,400, please follow the link below!