How a Casual Hike With Friends Turned Into Hike It Baby – A Global Movement

Shanti Hodge followed her passion to get outdoors after she had her baby and hike and connect with other moms.  Now she’s the founder of Hike It Baby, a global movement.   

Today more than 70,000 families are hiking in 183 cities in eight countries.  Listen or read below to Shanti’s story of founding an “accidental” business.

Listen to the audio of the interview below.

Hike-It-BabyInterview Transcript 

Hike It Baby got it’s start the day Shanti Hodges asked new mom’s to meet her for a hike.  

Today Hike It Baby is a global movement.

Sherold: Today, I’m bringing you another interview in my series of interviews called Women Entrepreneurs on the Rise, where we share the backstory of what goes on in real businesses and talk about the challenges and the successes of how these women have stayed in business and are moving forward and thriving in their business.

Shanti Hodges is a friend of mine and  the founder of Hike it Baby. It’s an organization that she started two years ago to help families connect across North America on trails.

It all started with six moms on a casual hike, and now it’s grown into a movement with 70,000 families hiking in 183 cities in 8 countries.

Shanti says it’s an accidental company that she started with an idea without thinking that it would take off. She’s been blown away by the response and the rapid growth, and it’s exceeded her wildest expectations for getting families together.

To date, she’s had the opportunity to hike with a handful of branches around the country and hopes to eventually do a tour to meet many more.

So, welcome, Shanti. I’m so excited to have you give us more of your story and how this started. It’s just an amazing movement, and I know that it’s growing rapidly as we speak.

Shanti:  Well, Sherold, it’s been a crazy ride because it started with just me, having a child at 41 years old, and realizing I was going to lose my friends instantly.

You know, most of my friends either didn’t have kids or had grown kids already, and suddenly, I found myself pregnant with this decision to have a child at 41. And I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

After I had Mason, right away, I found that people came for the first two weeks and then I was alone.

I went to a new mama group to try and meet some people, and that was fun, but we were sitting inside and I just kept thinking it would be way more fun to be walking with everyone outside.

I invited some people to walk with me the next week. Five women actually showed up and I was shocked.

The following week, I just said, hey, will everyone meet me next week too, and the following week, fifteen women showed up.

That’s when I realized just within a few weeks that everybody was feeling how I was feeling, which is that we wanted to get outside and be together.

The mama groups are great and they’re awesome for learning how to nurse and just be around other people, but if you want to just be outside and moving, you know, without working out there isn’t anything.

So, I started realizing right away that other women felt the way I felt, and they wanted to get outside with other people.

I also realized that it probably wasn’t just women as well because with a lot of the new mama groups, men aren’t invited. Fathers aren’t invited, and there are more and more stay at home dads.

I just wanted to get out with people. I just wanted people that liked to get outside and hike with me.

So really, in a few weeks, I started posting a couple hikes a day and I would put them into different Facebook groups and I would announce them in my mama groups. People just started calling me and texting me and asking me when my next hike was, and it just grew organically.

Because I had skills in building websites, I decided to put up a website so they could find the hikes and they don’t have to call me or text me or wait for my e-mail to go out every week.

Within a few weeks, I had a few hundred people, and then it was growing and growing, and it just happened like that.

Within one year, about 1,000 people were hiking with us, and people started writing me from around the country, seeing our pictures on Facebook. I realized then that we could build out a program and grow it from there. So, it just blossomed.

In one year, we went from a couple of cities hiking to hiking in 120 cities. Now a year and a half later, we’re in 183 cities in 8 countries.

And what’s really neat about it is in the middle of all this, I actually thought I was going to go right back to work. I just found it was so hard to go back to building websites and working with small businesses and being a freelancer when I had a child.

Also, my husband works in Alaska part-time, so he was gone a lot. So, I was really struggling with all of that and I thought, you know, I’m just going to have fun with this. I need to take a year off anyway. It’s just not happening with work.

At the same time, I did take Marie Forleo’s B School, based on your advice.  I wanted to figure out where I was going to go with my business after I was ready to get back at it. I found the only project I wanted to work on was not my former work life, but building out Hike it Baby.

So, I used that course to help me build out Hike it Baby, which was awesome, because it really helped me find my true calling and I could feel it. I could just feel it happening. Everything just fell together very easily.

Hike It Baby

Sherold:  Can you share a little bit more about why you wanted to be active when you had Mason?

Shanti:  I just actually wrote an article about this a few weeks ago.

I knew you years ago when I was struggling with starting up this business of building websites and working as a marketing person for small businesses, and I went through a really tough time.

I lost my house, I lost most of my business clients from a former business, and everything was just folding together at once. That was one of the first times I ever really experienced depression. The joke with my friends was always, like, oh, you’re depressed day is like my good day.

I was always a very upbeat, everything is going to be okay, person.  I definitely hit a depression wall at about 38.

It’s interesting. I think people maybe hit depression earlier in their life maybe because they have a baby and they have post-partum depression or they lose a job or just have some bad luck that can lead to depression.

But, I really hit a wall, and you even suggested, like, you might want to go get some help with this. And I did and I came out of that, but it was a couple years of really battling with it.

So, when I had Mason, I was actually in a really good place and really happy, but I was really scared because every article read in the Huffington Post said that you’re going to be so depressed after you have a happy.

It was like, I’m convinced. I’m a perfect post-partum depression person. It’s going to be me. My friends are going to be gone. I’m going to be old. I’m going to be like, oh my God, I’m 41 years old and I have a baby. Ah!

Really, there was a bit of, what I like to say, hiking it away.

I just thought I need to be active. I need to be outside.

I need to find things to do. I need to stay busy. I need to keep my mind working. I don’t want to just be sitting here on the couch.

I gained a lot of weight. I was over 200 pounds and I’m 5’5, so that was like, oh my God. I was just convinced I was going to be fat and depressed.

As a woman and being in my 40s, I started hiking not for exercise to lose weight, but to keep movement going, to keep busy with Mason, to keep my mind working, to be around other people.

And all of those things really did help, and as I saw it helping me, I would tell my story to other women and they would just be blown away, and they would start hiking more and more and more.

I quietly committed to hiking 52 times during the whole year.  

I decided I was going to hike one time a week, at least, for a year, and see how it changed me. And it did. And when I got to that final day, that final month, a year later, I was like, wow, I really did it. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. 

I had hiked for a year with Mason and I felt great and I felt happy.

A little bit after that too, I was losing weight. After about a year, I dropped a lot of weight and I actually have gotten down to a smaller size than I’ve ever been in my life and feel healthier and stronger and happier than I’ve ever been. So, I really attribute that to the effects of getting out into nature and being on trails.

So, it’s for Mason, but it’s also for me.

Sherold:  We live in this tech world where everybody is plugged in. What benefits do you see from getting the kids and parents outside?  We live here in Portland, Oregon for people who don’t know, and it rains a lot.

Shanti:  It’s raining, but we keep hiking. Most of us carry umbrellas. We’re just use to it. 

Shanti: I think what the problem is right now is that our society says, oh, you have a baby, so go sit in a coffee shop or in a library together. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, and your kids can run around and play.

That’s all super awesome, but at the same time, it really isn’t stimulating. You’re not moving your body and being on uneven ground and battling weather — snow, rain and sun.

There is something to be said about how you can really shift your energy and your community by getting more out into nature.

From what I’ve seen, I get letters daily…many, many, many, from women saying you’ve changed my family’s life, you’ve changed my life.

I’m like, it’s not me. It’s you. You did it. And that’s what I think is really important.

It’s not me changing how you think or what you do, it’s you making that action and you doing that action.

We’re totally volunteer-led, which is a tricky thing because at this point, we’re not a non-profit, but we’re actually moving towards that. It’s just really complicated when you get so big, so fast.

So, what’s important, though, is that each community is led by someone that has that vision like I did. And it’s their own vision of, oh, I’d love to get my community out, hiking and being together outside. Then, they go through our little training and they start their branch and it gets going.

They’re part of a bigger vision and that’s what’s really cool about it too is that my vision for this is that it’s not about me. It’s about us.

We’re a collective, and we’re all doing this together and it’s you and the person in New York New Jersey, or South Africa.

I mean, it’s everyone doing these things together, doing the same act of just getting out and hiking and sharing their pictures and sharing their stories and sharing their community with other people that is making us stronger and happier and healthier.

Sherold:  Can you share one of the stories? I’ve heard a few, but what is one story that is just so heart-warming about a family or a child…something that Hike it Baby has helped.

Shanti: Oh my God, they’re everyday – real tear-jerkers. We’ve had moms write us and tell us that their children—one woman said her child has cerebral palsy. They said she wouldn’t really ever be able to walk, and they started walking with a group.

She carried the child, but also, just setting the child down on uneven ground and around other children crawling and walking and stuff. She’s now close to 3 and she’s walking, and really able to cover some distance. So, there are those kinds of stories that come in and they’re incredible.

Just today, I had a military mom write me and she’s been very active. She said that she was never one to be part of the mommy groups and she wasn’t into that scene.

Hike it Baby has become a very critical part of her life for finding community, finding friends, finding her strength, and getting healthy again. 

She said that as a military person, you’re moved from community to community and to find a new community, even within the military community, can be really awkward sometimes.

So, Hike it Baby is very natural because we go out and we meet each other on hikes and walks, and if you’re not jiving with someone, you just move on to the next person.

There’s not that pressure to sit there and have this coffee shop date with someone that you may not really jive with. It’s all very casual and there’s no RSVP. It’s just like, hey, show up. If you make it, great. If you don’t, we’ll be there tomorrow.

So, her story was great to hear that and how it really impacted her because I’ve met her personally. She lives up in Alaska in Anchorage. She just embraced the group and has really helped it grow out there, so I know the impact she’s had on the military community by bringing Hike it Baby into that very closed community.

So, it’s really exciting to see that we’re touching all kinds of things. We have Spanish hikes going on in different communities now. We have a lot of gay families involved with us. Awesome. We have a bunch of gay branch leads. Love it.

What I like is that we are a no-judgement group. We have these guidelines of leave no family behind. That’s one of our number one mottos.

We have a lead and a caboose on every hike to make sure everything is really safe and moves slow. If you have a blow out or—people come and they’re really embarrassed when their baby starts screaming and is not happy in the carrier, needs a diaper change or is hungry or is wet or cold. People get so, oh, I’m so sorry, and we’re like, hey, hey, no worries. Hey everyone, we’re just going to hold up for a little bit. Let’s just hang out and address this situation and shift it.

So, it’s really cool when you have a collective of people. We’ve literally been on trail and had people—like, a woman once slipped and fell and sprained her ankle. She’s like, no, no, no, everyone go on without me. It’s like, no, we’ll take your baby. We’re going to carry you out.

Sometimes, I do feel like we’re on the front lines and we’re carrying each other out of the forest.

Sometimes, they’re hikes and they’re small, and sometimes they’re parades. Our biggest was 140 people.

Sherold:  Like you said—it’s catching on like wildfire. Do you know what it sounds like? It sounds like anyone can come and their identity, it doesn’t matter who you are in your social circles or your work because all of that sounds like it falls away outside and you’re in this group of families of women and men with babies, and that’s the common bond. 

We say mom, dad, nanny, granny, auntie, uncle, doggy, whoever you want to bring along with you, no problem.

We’re a no-judgement group. We leave politics at home. We leave vaccination discussions at home. We leave car seat discussions at home. We leave feeding at home. We’re a space to get out on trail and be together and enjoy.

If there are Debbie Downers on a hike, we’ll say, hey, you know, it sounds like you’re having a really rough time right now. This is a great space for you to just enjoy the hike and let that go. And we really encourage people to let go of their negativity and their downer energy in that moment and be in the moment.

Sherold: That’s so fabulous. You’re a natural connector. This is playing to your strengths. This is exactly where you play in what you do the best, so the fact that this was an accidental business, it came out of a need you had to get out and connect and now, it’s just mushroomed into this huge movement.

I know you’re trying to get sponsors right now, and you’ve gotten some sponsors. Can you talk about any of that?

Shanti:  Initially, every business person I talked to said charge a membership. We’re different than groups that I love, like Stroller Strides or Baby Boot Camp or different organizations.

We’re not about a membership or about charging for going out to do something free that everyone is volunteering to lead. That would be a little cheeky. I recognize that.

We do need to fund all of this. We’ve had a lot of people question, well, what do you need to fund?

The website is actually complicated. We have over 100,000 people on it a month, so there’s been months where we’ve crashed it and that can cost up to $3,000 to fix it.

We’ve decided that companies are the way to go for sponsorships. We have been going from company to company and just being like, here’s our program. If you want to get involved, you can market to the group and it’s a group of people that really appreciate your product.

So, we’re very specific about who we pick because we don’t want to just be down on a formula company.  Formula tends to be frowned upon within our group. If a formula company came to us, it would have to be a really specific campaign with a really clear understanding of why we’re presenting that.

We really care about what products we’re putting inside of our children.

It’s a really tough dance because we want to support getting families out and we want to have sponsors give us money to make it happen, but we also want to be sensitive to the community and what the community’s beliefs are.

We care about, first and foremost, our health and a healthy lifestyle.

Dueter is a partner of ours now. They make frame carriers for kids and backpacks and all kinds of cool stuff. Keen has been amazing. They’re in Portland and I’m so happy to be partnered with a company here in Portland, and they’re great. They’re getting all of our branch leads shoes. It’s awesome.

We’re really excited that these partners are just coming out. It’s getting easier and easier to say, hey, we just need a little bit of money because we view it as if we get a tiny bit from many, many, many companies—sure, it’s having to throw advertising stuff at people, but we have a controlled way that we do that, so it’s not like being bombarded all the time.

If a lot of companies chip in, we can collectively make this incredible hiking organization that can continue for many generations because I don’t want it to just start up and die, and that’s what people will tell you.

Sherold:  Is there anything you would say to a woman out there about holding onto the dream that she might have and to not give up?

Shanti: I’ve wanted to give up many times, but I just realized—you know, my husband has had a hard time understanding, like, what is this? You’re spending all this time doing this. You could just be with us and go hiking. Why do you need all this around you to go hiking?

I say that I have this vision.  I’m making it happen and I can’t walk away from it.

I mean, there’s been many days, but what I always say, you know, at the end of the day, if this is what you’re supposed to be doing, the doors just keep opening.

Look for those doors opening. That’s what I do when I’m having those moments of just feeling like, why am I doing this?

I’m like, okay, stop, look around. Oh, hey, look at that. That’s where I’m supposed to be going next.

Aim for that success so that you’re not just going from failure to failure in terms of knocking on doors and everyone saying, no, no, no.

I had a bit of that in the beginning. I think now we have hit critical mass, so literally, for me to call up a company and talk to them now or to call up a partner like American Hiking Society or different organizations we want to partner with, they’ve heard about us. So, that’s really exciting to me now.

I just called an accounting firm the other day and was looking for their services and they’re like, yes, you’re Hike it Baby. Yes, we know about you guys. I’m like, oh my God, this random accounting firm in Portland. That’s huge. They have all these clients and they knew us.

It’s really wild to be at this level now where the momentum is happening.

You’ll feel that shift. You feel that tipping point. You’ve just got to hang on until you get there and just keep looking forward, looking forward, and if that’s not working, don’t just keep going that direction. Be open to possibilities.

With this, there were many people around me that I had to trust and when I would say no to their idea, I  learned in the last 6-8 months that every time I said no to stop and go, wait, I know I just said no to you, but let me just think about it.

I’d stop and think about it, even if it took a day or two or three, and every single time, I went back to that person and almost always, their idea was great.

So, I’m learning that it’s not that my ideas are bad, but my ideas aren’t the only ideas that are going to make this successful.

Sherold:  Yes, that makes sense. And you’ve got your core competencies and skills and enthusiasm for building community, and that’s really what has grown this.

Shanti:  Oh, one last thing.  Opt outside…#optoutside. There’s a movement going on right now. For us, opt outside is every day.

Sherold: I love that.

Shanti:  With Hike it Baby, on Black Friday, we already have hikes planned. We did them last year and had tons of people out, hiking, so we encourage people to do it every day. Try and remember that you don’t need to make it a special day to go hiking. You can do it any time, and a hike doesn’t have to mean going and hiking a mountain. It can literally mean going and taking a hike around your neighborhood.

Just look for those outside experiences everywhere. We have a calendar that is accessible every day, and we have hikes every day.

Sherold:  So, how do they find you?

Shanti: and you go find your city. In our calendar, you can type in your city name and it will get hikes up to 60 miles around you.

Sherold:  If people haven’t really been hikers, but they want to start, is it open for everybody?

Shanti: Yes, and there’s stuff every day. That’s the beautiful part about it. There are tons of hikes for new people and what’s been really interesting is watching people who are very experienced hikers come on with very new people and how they help each other.

A very experienced person can have a whole new experience on a trail when they’re with a person that’s never hiked before, and being able to teach them and share their experience with them.

I want to encourage people to really think about hiking as a more causal activity and not try and plan hiking a giant mountain or feeling like you have to do an epic thing to make an incredible hiking experience.

Sherold: I love that. That’s perfect. Well, thank you so much, Shanti. I look forward to hearing more about it as you grow.

Shanti:   Thank you.

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