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Lo Phong La Kiatoukaysy’s love for the outdoors started with his parents. Born to Hmong refugees in Thailand, Kiatoukaysy—one of Outside’s 2021 Outsiders of the Year—grew up in Kansas, taking summer vacations to Colorado. To his family, he says, the Rocky Mountains felt like home. At 19, he thru-hiked his first long trail, hitchhiking his way to Yosemite and tackling the John Muir Trail with a small pack, a tarp, and his childhood sleeping bag. However, it wasn’t until after 9/11—which he witnessed up close while working a marketing job in Manhattan—that he decided to dedicate himself completely to the trail.
Today, Kiatoukaysy—trail name “Lil’ Buddha”—is a double Triple Crowner, with more than 45,000 miles under his belt. In the next few years, he hopes to finish his third Triple Crown. He finds a kind of peace on the trail and in the connections he makes on it, he says.
“I’ve always kind of explained my place in the world as a floater,” Lil’ Buddha explains in a profile from Outside TV. “When you are a refugee, or when you are essentially a community who is transient, you are kind of like a rootless tree.”
Not content to just make miles, Kiatoukaysy has turned his attention to making a difference. On his latest hike of the Continental Divide Trail, he worked to raise money for the Shared Liberation Network, a group of more than 40 nonprofits that works to fight racism. Learn more about Lil’ Buddha in his own words on Outside TV, or watch the trailer above.