Born and raised in Texas, Julie Hotz moved to Los Angeles after college to pursue her career as a photographer, videographer and writer. Growing up with Little House on the Prairie, she began to romanticize a hard life of adventure at an early age.
I knew if I wanted to have crazy stories I needed to go out and live some really crazy stories.
Despite having no hiking or backpacking experience whatsoever, something about the Pacific Crest Trail seemed to answer this call. When some friends invited her to thru-hike with them, she took the leap. Though not successful on her first attempt, it wasn’t the scenery or the completion that kept her coming back. “I have learned that I love seeing what is around the corner, if I just push myself and learn to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
Recently, Julie completed a solo bikepacking journey from Los Angeles to Glacier National Park, followed by a thru-hike across the Continental Divide into Canada. In October, she joined us on a Shoestring Adventure in Havasupai as a Triptographer.
Julie is a wonderful friend, teacher and inspiration, and we’re honored to share her stories and words with you here! Learn more in our interview below, including advice for Shoestring Warriors considering a thru-hike or long distance challenge!
Shoestring Warrior: Julie Hotz
Los Angeles, CA
What are your passions outside of work?
Cooking, all things outdoors, reading, listening to podcasts, travel.
How would you describe your level of camping experience?
Advanced, I go every chance I get!
Shoestring Adventures Trip Completed:
Tell us about yourself!
I was born in Texas, in college I studied photography and then film, after school I was introduced to the mountains via the Pacific Crest Trail, and then I moved out west, to Los Angeles (partially because of the mountains, and partially for work). I’m one part artist, one part adventurer and one part daydreamer. Between work and the typical parts of life, I dabble in long distance hiking, and other endurance sports, I never planned on getting hooked, but the long term meditation and simplicity keeps calling me back. Favorite things: dark chocolate, kombucha, backrubs, a good night’s sleep.
You have inspired many of us with your solo long-distance adventures on foot and on wheels. Can you tell us a little about these adventures and what motivated you to pursue them?
As a little girl I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. I read the books, watched the TV, and I wore “prairie” dresses to my friends’ houses, so that we could play dress up and pretend we were living in a bygone era on the frontier. On top of that I had a fascination with the Oregon Trail, made possible by archaic video game software, and I couldn’t help but think of my very own great grandmother who had come to Texas in a covered wagon from Illinois.
These seemingly innocent things were grooming me and romanticizing the hard life of adventure, so that when the time came, it would only seem right and make sense to have the adventure of a lifetime.
I also happen to be a terrible liar and exaggerator, so I can’t just make up “fish stories.” I knew if I wanted to have crazy stories I needed to go out and live some really crazy stories.
Even though I’d never really hiked and had never been backpacking before (or even played sports for that matter), when I heard about the Pacific Crest Trail, it sounded like an adventure and I knew I wanted to do it. It wasn’t until I was invited by some friends who decided to hike the PCT themselves that I decided “now or never” and took the leap.
When I began the PCT, it was absolutely, positively miserable. My body ached so badly, my feet began to blister, it was hot in the day, and cold and windy at night, but it was beautiful and an adventure. Along the way I hit rock bottom and in a sense “failed.” I wasn’t able to do the whole trail in a season, but I decided to do as much as I could, and that’s when everything became so much more than an adventure. It opened my world, my heart, and my mind to so many experiences, and then it made me grow up in ways I couldn’t have imagined before the hike… And yes the landscapes were amazing, certainly a bonus, but what has kept me coming back for more is the continual refining and trial by fire.
I have learned that I love seeing what is around the corner, if I just push myself and learn to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, whether it be on a bicycle, in the water, on other long distance trails, or even at home, in everyday life and work.
As a photographer and videographer, what motivates you to document your experience in nature?
I believe it is a hybrid of three things. 1) It brings me great joy to do one of the things I love in the outdoors. 2) I’m a terrible journaler, but in the most basic sense I can use photographs (even if it’s just a quick one to document a detail or a trail register) as a journal, a memory trigger. 3) Sharing…being able to go on these journeys and have these experiences in nature is a gift, I have to share such a gift!
Do you have any advice for Shoestring Warriors considering a thru-hike or long-distance challenge?
Make it happen as soon as possible.
What you gain from a long distance hike is priceless, and wouldn’t you want to carry those life changing moments with you for as much of your life as possible?
Start making plans now even if current life events aren’t allowing you to hike immediately, and don’t say, “I’m going to hike that trail one day.” Say “I’m hiking the trail in 20xx (or use some other very tangible marker).” Most likely, no matter when you go, you’ll have to make some big sacrifices to start (moving, quitting a job, etc.). Be wise, but don’t let that scare you away.
What is your favorite piece of gear to bring on the trail?
After an extended amount of time on the trail, what luxury do you miss the most?
I usually fantasize about my bed while I’m on the trail…well, at least the memory foam topper on my bed. But the truth is, when I get back to civilization, I really don’t care. The thing I get most excited about when I get home is not having to filter my water, I can just turn my sink on… magic!
Now that you have been on a Shoestring Adventure as our official triptographer, can you tell us your favorite memory?
The sense of camaraderie and community was wonderful. I’m a quiet person and a bit of a loner at times, but this trip had such a great group of people, I felt like I was with old friends. Though the sights were really beautiful, I truly enjoyed sitting around the crowded picnic bench at night.
Where to next?
Kyrgyzstan has been on the brain lately. I’m hoping to make it there by the end of the summer, but if that doesn’t happen, I might like to do the Wind River High Route in Wyoming. There are a lot of possibilities and variables on the horizon!
The perfect s’more (or other campfire dessert)?
One heavily toasted (but not charred) marshmallow, some 85% dark chocolate, and gluten-free graham crackers (or gingerbread cookies).
Photos © 2017 Julie Hotz