BACKPACKER and Merrell teamed up with eight artists to inspire others by sharing what the trail means to them, through their own unique vision and design. “Meet the Artist” shares the stories of each finalist and how art is an integral part of how they experience the outdoors. To see the gallery and vote for your favorite design, click here. In addition to receiving a cash prize, the winning artist’s design will be printed on a t-shirt benefitting the conservation alliance and Merrell will donate to an outdoor non-profit of the winner’s choice.
Here is Nika Meyers’s story as told to Kassondra Cloos.
I grew up in rural Vermont, playing outside with my siblings at every opportunity. We dug in the dirt of our garden in the summer and cross-country skied in the winter. The outdoors have always been a huge part of my life.
My relationship to the outdoors changed after I started working for the Green Mountain Club after college. They manage the Long Trail—the length of Vermont—and a section of the Appalachian Trail. I had never been part of a trail community before. It shocked me that I'd had no idea that this amazing public resource even existed. After a year, I asked my boss if I could take some time off to hike a bit of the trail to better understand it. I started hiking in late October and thought I'd take a few days. But I ended up hiking the whole Long Trail, all 273 miles of it. I learned so much about the state I grew up in. Vermont is so much more rugged and wild than I’d ever known.
I started to realize I knew so little about the rest of the United States, too. I had no idea there were other trails like this out there. Over the past five years, I’ve thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the AT, and the Arizona Trail. I’ve hiked over 9,000 miles through communities and landscapes I’d otherwise never know about.
I like setting myself up for challenges, and when I start a trail it’s impossible to visualize 2,000 miles. It’s very humbling, because at the beginning of every trail, I sort of have to relearn everything. Sure, I’ve hiked before, and I’ve researched and planned. But I haven’t hiked in this environment before. I’ve never hiked this type of terrain.
Thru-hiking is part of who I am now. I can’t imagine not spending so much of my time with everything I need on my back, living a very simple existence. I’ve been lucky enough to meet people of all ages, from 90-year-olds to tiny children. I love meeting people who do incredible things with their lives, like the guy I met on the Continental Divide Trail who started hiking 30 days after turning 70. I become the best version of myself when I’m hiking.
I’m from a very creative family and have always been a visual learner. I was homeschooled and we used art a lot as an educational tool. I drew and illustrated to help me better understand and articulate concepts. I also made art because I loved it. I loved getting messy. I was an art major in college and focused a lot on the process—it wasn’t about the final product, for me. It was about being intentional about the materials I was using and how I was trying to convey my messages. When I started spending more time outdoors after college, my art came with me. I did more watercolor paintings and block prints, where I’d carve designs out on the trail to make prints later on.
Now, I focus on creating pieces that share everything I love. I want to show the moments where I’ve been mentally or physically challenged or when I’ve had an incredible conversation.
The piece I created for this contest is a combination of moments—the mountain in the background is Mt. Jefferson, from the PCT, layered with the New Mexican desert of the CDT, with a view of the Green Mountains from the AT. The two lines that sandwich the drawing represent the PCT and CDT running from Mexico to Canada. The elevation profile in the background is my favorite section of the Long Trail. And the triangles fracturing represent the treads of my hiking shoes. I love how you can track your friends hiking ahead of you by examining the footprints in the dirt. When you’re thru-hiking, you get familiar with the prints of different shoe brands. You can figure out that someone’s an hour ahead of you. They are patterns that stick in my head from my walks.
If I win this contest, I would love to donate to the Green Mountain Club. It’s spurred not only my love for trails but for how we make them.
I haven’t invented anything new by thru-hiking. There are an incredible amount of other people who have hiked these trails before me. I want to help take care of them so future generations get a chance to experience, too. Trail organizations, especially now, lack funding for so many reasons. They’re amazing public resources and I’d love to be able to support the one that helped me find my passion.
Nika Meyers Art
To vote for her design, check out the gallery. Voting closes August 30th and you can vote every 24 hours.
Check out more of her work: http://www.nikameyers.com/