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Hiking With Passion, Hiking With H.E.A.T.

By Kristin Braswell

Apr 20, 2021

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A group of 30-plus people come from all over California to join a H.E.A.T. hike in Joshua Tree.

Photo by Stan Miles

A group of 30-plus people come from all over California to join a H.E.A.T. hike in Joshua Tree.

How one writer discovered a love of the outdoors and a community of like-minded newcomers to hiking who looked just like her.

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My on-again, off-again relationship with nature has always consisted primarily of ocean and sand under a Caribbean sun, with a side of rum punch. But like many confined to their homes last year, it didn’t take long to yearn to be outdoors, doing something—anything—safely. From my home base in California, I eased in slowly, sans motivational pep talk, with a scenic, easy ramble through the Douglas Family Preserve (donated by actor Michael Douglas’s family) in Santa Barbara. As I crossed blufftops overlooking Arroyo Burro Beach, gusts of crisp air and ocean salt awakened me from pandemic fatigue—I wanted more.


Up the coast in Sonoma’s 4,000-acre Sugarloaf State Park, I hiked to a Sonoma Creek waterfall and rewarded myself with panoramic views of Napa and Sonoma Counties, followed by a tasting of pinot noirs paired with chef Aaron LeRoi’s jerk chicken at Senses Wine (which has its own otherworldly views). Farther north in Mendocino, I felt like a tiny ant as I drove through the 11-mile tunnel of redwood trees on Highway 128 en route to Brewery Gulch Inn. Here, a staff member offered a masked hiking adventure I couldn’t refuse. In a residential neighborhood, we stepped over craggy rocks above the Pacific Ocean at Caspar Headlands State Reserve, stopped to admire the sea of wild angelica plants at our feet, then swapped book recommendations for continued nature appreciation (check out The Overstory by Richard Powers). We continued on to Belinda Point, where an unassuming trail between bishop pine trees and wildflowers led to a shoreline that could give my favorite Caribbean coves some competition.  

Mendocino’s gratifying and varied nature trails became the catalyst for my newfound hiking obsession. I returned again just months later for 20 miles of trails at a Fort Bragg oasis, the Inn at Newport Ranch, and even managed to end up on an ATV, jetting past creeks and pine and cypress trees. When my incredibly knowledgeable tour guide Otis suggested we stop the ATV and hike to a shaded hillside to plant a redwood tree, I instantly wanted more moments like these—to feel a sense of connection to the earth and others when I reached the top of a peak or knelt down to grow my first tree. 

H.E.A.T. on the move through Joshua Tree


Turns out I’m not alone: Northern California–based H.E.A.T. Hikes, founded by Stan Miles and two friends in 2015, connects people to nature by “hiking every available trail” (HEAT) every weekend at various locations, primarily around California. “We wanted to bring diversity to the outdoors and give people a comfort level that’s not typically there when hiking alone,” he said. In online photos, when I saw the sea of faces that looked like my own—under redwoods, on cliffsides, and beside rivers—it felt like I was coming home to a community I never knew I needed. Miles told me that his most memorable trip was hiking at Silver Falls Trail Park in Portland with a group of about 70 (!) in 2019. “It rained more times than not, but seeing so many of us out in nature, under waterfalls, enjoying life in a place people of color definitely aren’t well represented was a beautiful thing,” he said.

Weeks later, I was up at 6:00 in the morning for a drive to Joshua Tree, where for the first time, I’d meet Stan and a 30-plus group who traveled from all around California to get active. In a four-hour span, we watched snow fall onto the Mojave yucca dotting Barker Dam Trail, felt the sun on our backs as we climbed up the massive granite formations at Skull Rock, and got lost on a few unmarked trails. The camaraderie, even in silence, even in masks, was palpable. Back at home, I immediately signed up for the next H.E.A.T. hikes at Yosemite’s Half Dome and Seattle’s Olympic National Park and Snoqualmie Falls, and I am working up the nerve to join them in October to hike Mount Kilimanjaro. And when the dinging of emails and Zoom calls begin to wear on me, I remember that soon enough, I will feel the earth underneath my feet again. 

If you go . . .

Before the road

Particularly in the age of social distancing, Drive Kyte has been my go-to car rental company for the stress-free, contactless drop-off and pickup it offers to my favorite hiking spots along the California coast.

On the road

Santa Barbara

Hike: Douglas Family Preserve

Check in: El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel or Hotel Californian 

Sonoma & Marin Counties

Hike: Sugarloaf State Park, Mount Tamalpais State Park 


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