Abstract Hikes on 5,000 Miles of Backpacking, Diversifying Her Art, and Overprotective Moms
Hello everyone! I’m Oats, the Social Media Lead at The Trek, and today I’m having on a guest that has been using her art and talent working with several mediums to showcase what she calls “the trailverse”, Alina AKA “Abstract” of Abstract Hikes. In own words, her mission is to, “Help people reconnect with their journeys in wilderness through art, commemorate life on trail and the culture of long distance backpacking, and promote diversity in the outdoors while expanding current narratives of what and who is "outdoorsy".
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full recorded interview can be found here @thetrek.co on Instagram. All photos courtesy of Alina Drufovka.
I’d love to start off with a soft ball of sorts, but one that I never want to miss asking with an IG Live guest. What first got you into hiking, and then appealed to you about the idea of a thru-hike?
Growing up, I was a girly girl from the city and wasn’t into the outdoors at all. When I was thirteen, I went to this summer camp in NJ with an optional 2 week trip: one week backpacking on the AT and a week canoeing down the Delaware River. There, it just clicked and I fell in love with backpacking.
I met some thru-hikers right away, some women filtering water in NJ and they just seemed so cool and so dirty; then they told me they had hiked there from Georgia and were heading to Maine.
My family is very overprotective so as a woman I didn’t think I could travel or hike alone, so when I met these women I realized “yep, that’s what I want to do, too.” I read every book about the AT and even tried to graduate high school early to make time before college. Ended up falling through, so I took a semester off college to thru-hike… and ended up getting injured. Finally in 2017 I was able to complete the trail. I’ve done 1,800 miles of the PCT - it was a tough snow year and our shoelaces were frozen every morning when I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore.
When I was on the AT, I met some hikers who gave me a business card for a couple who owned a hostel in Israel, and myself and my partner are half Jewish so that really interested me. I hadn’t been to Israel since my birthright trip and I wanted to go back and see it on my own terms, so I hiked the desert section of the Israel National Trail. It was very different from trails in the US. My dad is from Colombia and my mom is Jewish so spending time in both Israel and Colombia was a part of finding myself in adulthood.
So, you talked about what empowered you as a solo female thru-hiker: how did that fit in to the dynamic of coming from an overprotective family?
It was an uphill battle. When I initially brought it up in high school, my mom was not on board. Before social media there was White Blazes, a community chat forum about the AT, and I found some random person from FL that wanted to hike the trail too just to prove to my mom that I wouldn’t be alone out there. After a few years I ended up becoming a wilderness guide and had all the skills under my belt, but she continued to resist until I just did it anyway.
The joke was that I carried 3 phones on the AT because my mom wanted me to have every service provider.
It’s easier for her now that I have a partner that I can do these things with, she worries less.
This resonates with me, my mom called the rangers on me in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
One time on a trip with friends in PA my mom called the ATC Headquarters super concerned and the woman there sassed her, “The only thing your daughter has to worry about is you!”
Our moms should totally get coffee.
Clearly, your art makes an impact on people’s lives and makes them feel empowered. You don’t have to snoop around very long on your social media page to find that out. My question is, was this always the intention with your work? To find a way to empower people? Or was it more internalized than that, to try and express yourself and your own experiences?
This was never the plan. I very much internalized the starving artist trope for a number of years. It was during the pandemic that I started making trail inspired designs and getting positive feedback. In the beginning, it was really just to capture the niche cultural aspects of thru-hiking, the terminology and feel, because I didn’t really see anything out there like it.
Terms like “banana-blazing” and “zero days”, meant something to me and I decided to create during a very lonely and intense time in the world.
The trail community has really been my main community in life.
I noticed you were selected as a recipient of REI’s Founded Outdoors: Embark Program, “a virtual, 3-month program designed to fuel new and aspiring entrepreneurs with a focus on entrepreneurs from underrepresented and historically marginalized communities”. I’d love to hear a little about your experience and know what you think the most valuable thing you got out of the program was.
As soon as I saw the program listed I knew it was a perfect fit for my needs because I was scaling my business and looking into becoming a wholesale distributor. I still had a lot to learn and to be connected with other entrepreneurs in the industry would be priceless. The experience was pretty intensive; I had to scale back a lot of my commissions so I could focus on the program, but that was alright because they gave me $10k to help me put my business on pause. It’s very difficult as a small business owner, so meeting other founders and hearing their stories let me realize no one’s got it figured out. So, the experience with all these inspiring people has been really meaningful and helpful. It was cool to see how the industry is going to change and how REI is choosing to invest in that change.
I’ve got a quote I pulled from your website that I’d like to read in its entirety because I believe it’s so well said. “One of the most beautiful parts of creation is that an Artist has the freedom to not just recreate the world as we know it, but to craft a portal to a new world. Perhaps a better and more equitable one. And that is exactly my intention." So, my question for you is, what is something that may make thru-hiking a better and more equitable space for recreating?
First, just getting people out there is important. I used to be on the board of Unfiltered Outdoors and we did a big micro-grant initiative to empower people with money so they could use their time to go do their thing. Money and time are products of privilege, and not everyone has that opportunity, so we have to provide them.
In terms of how the art fits in, when I began my trail designs I was trying to encapsulate life on trail and thru-hiking culture and kept painting white dudes with beards!
It was a familiar demographic to me after being on trail myself and when I was thinking about my business, I had to think of who my audience was. Obviously as a business owner you want to be able to sell your art, but I decided I needed to paint what I wanted to see, not just what I saw most already. Hopefully that inspires more people to feel like they belong in that world, too.
I don’t think I met another solo female thru-hiker under the age of 40 on my AT thru-hike until just before the halfway point. But I love that point - intentionally diversifying the feed is better for everyone.
So, with 5,000 miles of thru-hikes under your belt, it really seems like you’ve been bit by the bug. Do you have any hikes planned for the future or anything from your bucket list that keeps nudging you every season?
That’s a good question. Sometimes when I see thru-hikers on social media that are always tackling that next trail, I wonder if they’re doing it because they love the journey, because it’s good content, or if they really know for themselves? Once you’re so deep in this matrix it’s hard to tease out the nuances. My partner calls me out on my bullsh*t if he sees me getting a bit too preoccupied with my content when we’re out on adventures. I knew after the PCT and the INT I started getting those existential crises because I wanted to create, it’s the core of what I do, but couldn’t while living on trail. I’m at a different place in life than when I did my AT thru-hike, I have a dog now and I’m thinking about having kids soon so that’s not really where my head space is anymore. I’m pretty unapologetic about it. Being in nature is important to me and thru-hiking will always be the foundation of what inspired my art, but I don’t see another long distance trail in my future right now.
I’m glad to hear you’re unapologetic, you have to do what makes you happy. Before we officially wrap up, Abstract, are there any shoutouts you’d like to give or anything you’d like to touch on?
I’m going to be launching NFT’s through Outside’s Outerverse in the fall, so stay tuned for that cool project in the coming months!
Well Abstract thank you so much for coming on with me, I’ve been following you since I started long-distance hiking, so this was truly an honor. Go follow Abstract @abstract.hikes on Instagram and check out her website at www.abstracthikes.com. Have a wonderful week, and thanks everyone for tuning it!