Searching for a place outdoors to connect with her baby, Hike it Baby founder Shanti Hodges stumbled upon a new business venture. In a city known for its outdoor activities, and one of the largest urban forests in the country, Portland was the perfect place for Hike it Baby to be born. From one fateful day in 2013 to now, Hike it Baby has spread to more than a dozen cities in eight states, offering parents a way to connect with other parents and bring baby outdoors. Here is our interview with founder Shanti Hodges, mother of a 13-month-old son.
What was the inspiration in starting Hike it Baby?
Last summer when Mason was born it was late June. My hubby and I were used to adventuring around a lot in the summers so we were super scared that having a baby meant our wings would be clipped. We were committed to this not happening so on day 9 after Mason was born we went to Oswald State Park at the Oregon coast and did the little paved trail to the beach. I was exhausted from that 1/4 mile walk and my husband just couldn’t understand why. That’s when I knew I had go a lot slower and work my way back to getting out there in a very gentle fashion.
A week later when Mason was two weeks old I went to a new mama group which was lovely, but it was in a windowless room in the end of July. The women were all great and so I asked if anyone wanted to go walking with me the next week in Forest Park. There is a great urban trail about 7 blocks from my house. Five women met me that next week. And the following week 11 women showed up and then 15 and then I had a weekly newsletter going out to about 45 women and then 145 and it just kept growing.
I was really nervous about getting post-partum depression (50% of all mamas suffer from a mild version of this which is called baby blues) and even though I have awesome friends, a lot of them were single and so I knew that once I had a baby, I would be a bit friendless. Hiking with strangers became a great way to make new friends. Also I could invite my single friends along on hikes or anyone else like my hubby or my parents. With every hike and the fast growth I saw that this could actually be a business. I am still trying to figure out exactly how it’s going to make money, but that was not the point of this in the first place so I am just doing what I love and letting the business fall into place.
As Hike it Baby has grown what has been amazing is that so many Moms thank me regularly and tell me this group has saved their sanity and has been such an important part of their recovery post baby. Also for some moms with colicky babies this is super crucial to being able to stay sane because hiking is often the only way to calm an upset baby. For many moms who used to spend hours walking alone, once they find us this becomes their lifeline and their way to cope with the exhaustion and overwhelming feelings that come from taking care of another person. It’s so awesome to hear that and helps me charge on when I have those days that I wonder how I am going to pay for all of this.
What did it take to get the company off the ground?
Well it’s still taking a lot. Currently I am about $15,000 in but really it just took a lot of people leading hikes, a website, some business cards and me being really diligent about handing out cards to every woman I saw with a baby in her arms all over town. I like to call myself a mama stalker. So currently we can launch a branch for free. It just entails the mama contacting me and then we put the pieces together and help her get women going in her town. So please send mamas our way!
What do Hike it Baby events consist of?
We lead hikes all over! It starts with someone posting a hike on our form, then people show up. We do a welcome circle where we introduce ourselves, our babies and tell everyone their age and what part of town we are from. This is important because it allows women to connect who may not realize they are neighbors. Our hikes are all rated like ski runs (green, blue, black) and we say whether they are stroller or carrier hikes and if they are toddler friendly or new mama.
Your site says “..new mama (and daddy) group…” Why is it important for you to include dads in the experience?
Because Dads totally suffer from Postpartum and sometimes even worse than moms. My hubby was a good example. The first week after Mason was born he was so freaked out and exhausted. I think it didn’t really dawn on him what it meant to create another human and be responsible for that little person until Mason was in his arms. And then I remember him napping like 3-4 times a day for hours. One day he stayed in bed all day. Once we started hiking with families, I think he realized everything was going to be ok and he wasn’t going to totally lose his adventurous self now that we had a baby. I was a huge fan from the first few days of Mason’s life of just sending Mark off with Mason and the stroller for hours. It was awesome for me and I am surprised Mark did it but he did. I think for Mark those get aways on to Leif Erickson trail (which is a sort of dirt road in Forest Park) were really awesome and helped him bond with Mason. The hikes were great because men often don’t connect with other men through babies, so this was unique. All of these men get to proudly show off their babies to this group who all are like….ohhhh ahhhhh. What a great awesome baby you have and you are such a cool dad for being out here. I think women often get all of the kudos for the first few months of a babies life because they are so attached to the baby….but it’s nice when men can have that experience and wear the baby and get out there with their little one.
What’s the reaction from parents after going on their first hike with their child?
They are so stoked. I can’t tell you how many moms have thanked me and how many people see us on the trail and say “I wish I had this when I had a baby.”
Why is hiking, in your opinion, a good activity for children?
A recent study done at Stanford found that we are 60% more creative if we go for a one hour walk and the effects last when you go back to your desk. Other studies have found that in babies, their synapses grow faster, stronger and better if they are exposed to nature regularly. So little facts like this that we all know…are just part of the reason. But also anyone who ever had a baby knows that you walk outside with a crying baby and they quiet down. We are facing a major nature deficit disorder in this country due to people being afraid of children getting hurt in empty lots and playing in the forest. It’s sad. I remember how freely I could run in the forest as a kid and I want that for my son so I am starting the habit now. I hope that as he grows up he would rather go camping for a week in Alaska than to Disneyland.
Is there a proper way to carry baby on an extended hike? Tips for parents?
Yes yes yes! Get a good carrier. Don’t cut corners. Ergo Sport, Onya Baby, Boba, there are all kinds of carriers for infants. And as they get older it’s important to get carriers that support and protect your body. We have the Osprey Pocco, the Ergo Sport and the Onya Baby. It depends what kind of hike we are on. All I can say is don’t buy a cheap carrier. This is your back and body that you are sacrificing if you do. Also, get poles!!!! Hiking poles are critical. We have a deal with Cascade Poles which makes the lightest poles out there and they are half the price of other brands. You can get them at Costco or on their website. I am not a rep for them….they are just phenomenal and a great deal. Poles are a must have!!!!
Another thing that has been super awesome about this group is we teach women how to nurse while hiking. This is such an awesome skill to have because it keeps the baby really calm on long hikes and also really offers women a lot of freedom to move about more in their life once they get comfortable nursing and moving. I had a woman tell me after we taught her on trail she started doing it in grocery stores and in her life. She said before hiking with us she was pretty shy and couldn’t imagine nursing in public. Our group is super supportive and offers women the opportunity in a safe environment to push her boundaries of comfort in many ways physically, that translates to mentally….
What cities are Hike it Baby hikes currently taking place?
Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Pendleton, Eugene (Oregon)
Salt Lake City (Utah)
Racine and Pewaukee (Wisconsin)
Venice, Santa Clarita, Santa Cruz (California)
Asheville (North Carolina)
Roanoke (Virgina) - Just starting
We are doing a Kickstarter in three weeks to raise money to build a more robust website that will create an awesome databank of hikes for parents to find all across the country. We also want to expand to every major city in America and help people get branches going everywhere. Our goal is to be as common as Girl Scouts for families with new babies. This is like the first step in getting children in touch with nature.
This interview is part of our ongoing series with leaders from companies involved in parenting products or issues. It has been edited for length. No goods or services were exchanged. Who would you like to hear from? Leave a suggestion in the comments below.
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