Heather Diaz is a Hive Athlete who found the ultimate challenge in “slowing down.” She took her years of competitive distance running experience and applied them to a whole new endeavor—long distance thru hiking. There are so many ways to interact with the world around us and to push ourselves in new ways. Heather’s story leaves you wanting to find a whole new world in the peace and solitude of nature.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? And how did you get from there to where you are today?
I am a former long-distance runner and first-generation hiker from the suburbs of Houston, Texas. I moved around Texas for my bachelor’s and graduate degrees. Life took me to San Francisco in 2012 to chase my career, and I met my partner along the way. He asked me to go on a hike for our first date, which led to the Pacific Crest Trail two years later. The rest is history. After our thru-hike, we realized we prefer to live near the ocean and mountains, the best of both worlds, and it is why we moved to Santa Cruz.
You thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017. What inspired this trek?
I had planned to travel abroad for a few months in 2017, and my partner had planned to thru-hike the PCT. We decided to hike together versus separating for 5-6 months. As an experienced long-distance runner, thru-hiking seemed like the ultimate challenge. I’ve run for 15+ years and 100+ races in my lifetime. Hiking felt like something new, dazzling, and unique. Since I grew up in a concrete jungle that revolves around team sports like basketball, volleyball, or running, I thought thru-hiking would be a great way to get out of my comfort zone while reconnecting with Mother Nature. It’s something I saw in a magazine or movie and never occurred that could be me.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned while on the trail?
1. Do your research. It helps sets you up for success.
Despite my lack of experience, I devoted hours to learning about gear. I listened to a thru-hiking podcast, read several article reviews, and viewed several YouTube gear review videos. I decided to focus on ultralight gear that is good quality and reasonably priced. Additionally, I prioritized having the perfect sleeping system since a good night’s rest is everything to me. I also determined if my pack is light, it’s easier to hike long distances. It worked like a charm.
2. Hiking as a couple is fun and empowering.
Some people think such an endeavor can make or break the relationship. The biggest takeaway is to remember you two are a team, and you must stick together no matter what!
3. Toxic Gear Culture doesn’t exist with thru-hiking (except for clothing).
Most of the gear you think you need, you don’t need. After hiking three days, I shipped 9 pounds of gear back home. The experienced thru-hikers use small brands that specialize in ultralight backpacking gear. People wear trail shoes instead of boots since they are lighter, and it requires more energy to carry extra weight on your feet. There’s a saying on the trail, “one pound off your feet is like 5 pounds off your pack.” It’s not a fact, but it is what people feel. Lastly, it’s common to use a Smart Water Bottle for your trek, and mine lasted 2000+ miles, and it weighs significantly less.
What inspires you to continue hiking and exploring today?
After reconnecting with nature and the outdoors, I realized it is my therapy. It’s an escape from the digital world, noise, and my job. Now nature feels like home, as if I always belonged out here. It’s a beautiful and empowering feeling that I can’t describe, and I want everyone to feel it.
Hispanic representation in the outdoor industry seems to be growing. What was it like for you before this shift?
You didn’t see yourself in the trail, publications, or pictures online. I had felt out of place, and it made it challenging to pinpoint the emotions because I had no one to talk to about this topic. Thankfully, I did my best to push the negative mindset to the side to recognize nature is for everyone, and I don’t need acknowledgment from people. I had always belonged, even when I didn’t see the signs.
What advice do you have for other Hispanics that are interested in getting into camping, hiking, or thru-hiking?
Please do it! Don’t overthink or overcomplicate. Think of it as any life skill, and it will require practice to get better. Usually, the first attempt will not be perfect, and you will make mistakes. It’s ok!
Car Camping is easy because your car carries the weight for you. When we didn’t have all the equipment, we brought stuff from our apartment, such as kitchen pots, pans, tools, utensils, pillow, blankets, inflatable mattress, etc. After every camping trip, we buy one new thing not to bombard ourselves purchasing tons of things.
With hiking, stay local, and keep it simple. Keep the distance short, and recognize this is an attempt to discovering hiking and your pace.
With thru-hiking, do tons of research, and plan your hike a year in advance. Think of prepping as setting yourself up for success. For section hikes, allow six to nine months of prepping. Do ask previous thru-hikers questions and especially those who hiked that specific trail. Feel free to contact me, and I’d love to answer any questions.
What are some of your go-to products for camping, hiking, and backpacking?
Honey Stinger, backpack with a water reservoir, trekking poles, cell phone, caffeine, satellite 2-way communicator.
What other advice do you have for those interested in getting into hiking and thru hiking?
Practice Leave No Trace, and leave it better than you found it.
Every single person has a responsibility to pack out what they bring in. The great outdoors, open spaces, and parks are not an amusement park. There are no trash bins outside; there is no designated person to pick up trash for the parks, nor should you expect someone to pick up after yourself. We should help protect and preserve the environment (that includes animals). If you believe it is beautiful outside, help us preserve it for others and the future to enjoy it.
Lastly, fire safety is a part of conservation—that encompasses cooking on a stove, lighting a campfire, and smoking cigarettes. Please think twice before handling anything with fire or sparks, and approach it with caution. Please don’t smoke cigarettes in nature; it can start a fire, it happened recently nearby, and cigarette butts are plastic.
After these fire outbreaks and extreme weather (heatwaves + snow), we all need to take a step back and recognize what we can do to help protect and preserve the environment. We can all do better, including me, and one forward step is making it apart of the conversation.