How One Person’s Efforts to Provide Outdoor Access Impacted the Outdoor Industry
Miriam Gersdorf is a Utah-based hiker who is best known for her Instagram platform: “Explore Hike Teach.” Rock Porch caught up with her to learn a little bit about what drives her passion for the outdoors, and what kind of gear she relies on while she hikes.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. How old are you? And what is your occupation?
A: I am 47
I’m a school teacher, so we hike pretty much all summer. I’m a reading interventionist. So, I teach struggling readers. Thirty percent of the population is dyslexic to some extent. I work with small groups of children.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I actually grew up in New Jersey. And I was not outdoorsy at all.
I might’ve been hiking twice with a church group. I went out to Utah to go to school. I met my husband who was living in Maryland at the time. Then he got the job that he currently has and we totally embraced moving to Utah.
Now I live in Salt Lake City. I’ve been there since 1995. And I’ve been married almost that long. I got married in 1996. I have two adult children. One is a senior at the University of Utah and the other is going to grad school.
Q: How do you like to recreate?
A: One of my first hikes we ever went on was Mount Timpanogos.
It’s a peak that’s just under 12,000 feet. It’s about a 14-mile hike, and it climbs something like 5,500 feet. It’s one of the taller peaks in the area. I show up at the trailhead in my keds and with a water bottle. It was the fourth of july. We go up this mountain and start hitting snow. I’m sitting here sliding around like a crazy person. We’re passing by people with crampons and ice picks.
I felt super unprepared. And we finally get up to this lake called Emerald Lake and it’s completely covered in snow on the fourth of July. So, I put my foot down and we went down. By the time I got down, I was like: “I can do that better.” That’s one of the things that fueled my desire to hike a lot.
Q: When were you first introduced to the outdoors? And did you love the outdoors right away?
A: Mount Timpanogos was my first big hike.
And I really haven’t stopped hiking since. And, yeah, I loved the outdoors at that point…I feel more fulfilled and happier when I can be outside.
Q: From your profile, it looks like you love the desert. Where do you like to hike and backpack?
A: Obviously [the desert is ] so unique and beautiful.
We spend a ton of time in the desert. We spend the weekends in the south. The inversion in the winter gets really bad. So, every weekend we escape to the desert. But this summer I’ve spent a lot of time hiking the Uinta mountains.
Q: What are some of your favorite places to explore?
A: Capitol Reef for sure.
I love Capitol Reef. I love the San Rafael Swell as well. It’s more quiet and undiscovered. A lot of people think of Utah as being overrun. I literally told people, “if you’re hiking and not finding solitude, you’re doing it wrong.” There are still places that are quiet and beautiful to see. I guess that’s some of the drive behind my account. I wanted to inspire people and get them excited about checking out these places that are so different.
Q: Have you ever thru-hiked? Or do you have any interest in doing so?
A: You know, we’ve done backpacking. But I’ve never really thought about doing a thru hike.
My husband has wanted to get into the lightweight gear. But his job often stops us from going. It kind of gets in the way. Obviously thru hikers put everything in their lives on hold, which I understand. But day hiking is more accessible to everyone.
Q: How do you feel about geo-tagging outdoor adventures? Why do you or do you not care for it?
A: That’s something I care about.
It’s actually been a struggle for me because my account really took off last summer. Last summer I was under 10,000 followers. So, when you share places and have a smaller account it’s not that big of a deal. I mean it is, but you’re not having millions of people on your account. So, adapting has been a struggle for me. I feel that the outdoors are for everyone. And I don’t think anyone is arguing about that as long as people are practicing Leave No Trace principles. And every post that I make includes information about Leave No Trace principles.
It’s a struggle. I used to share a lot of locations that were under the radar. They didn’t have a lot of bathrooms and facilities. And I’ve stopped sharing those places as much because of how many people it’s reaching.
I guess that goes back to my original theme of: “there are so many more places than Zion,” and “There are so many more places than Bryce”. Just yesterday I posted – if you like the Zion Narrows, try this hike. Trying to … It’s funny because you can’t win. I get people that criticize me for sharing new places. And then I get people on the opposite spectrum, and I try to temperate it. Basically, the messaging is: “hopefully this inspires you to get out and try other places.”
Q: Do you guide hikes commercially?
A: I don’t guide hikes professionally.
I get asked all the time. And I get asked to run group hikes. And I decided against it because putting a large number of people on the trail at the same time would create Leave No Trace issues.
Q: Can you highlight some of your favorite gear choices?
A: Okay, there are the obvious ten essentials.
I always have my hiking poles with me. I feel like they’re a great tool to have for multiple reasons even if you don’t like hiking with poles. It’s good to have them if you roll an ankle. I have a Garmin InReach that I hike with all the time. I love my Osprey Skarab Bag. It’s large enough that it holds everything I need but it’s not so big that I feel like I’m hiking with a backpacking backpack. I always carry a bivy and my first aid kit. And I prefer hiking shoes over boots.
Miriam’s Rock Porch Gear List:
Miriam’s full gear list can be found here.
Q: Your Instagram name is Explore Hike Teach. What types of things do you like to teach?
A: So, I am a teacher at heart.
We’ve touched on it a little bit but every single post has some sort of Leave No Trace message or a general blanket message. [I talk] about having a plan, and about trail registries and permits; even though we hate them, we need to talk about why we should love them too.
Q: Are you a seasonal hiker or do you try to get out year round?
A: I hike year round, for sure.
I hike probably about 900 miles a year. I used to keep track. I don’t anymore. There’s a “run the year” app that I was using to track my hiking miles. In the summer I probably hike 5 days a week when I’m out of school. And then I usually hike 2-3 times a week or more when I’m working.