Perhaps you’ve heard of Trailhead Direct, King County Metro’s shuttle service from central locations in Seattle to the Issaquah Alps, a popular hiking area on the east side of Lake Washington. Perhaps you’ve even used it to take a day hike. But there are a lot more ways to get to the wilderness via transit, it turns out.
“The Transit Trekker Manual,” a forthcoming guidebook from Kimberly Huntress Inskeep, is, as the name suggests, a comprehensive manual on using transit to access a variety of state and national parks, hiking trails, campsites, cabins and other outdoor amenities in Washington state. While the book includes chapters advocating for rural transit and treading lightly, the bulk of it is treks — so many treks — covering the “Salish Sea Region; The Larger Islands; Skagit & Whatcom Counties; South Sound and the Hood Canal; The Olympic Pensinsula; Columbia River Gorge; Central Washington; Eastern Washington and [the] Southwest.”
While it would be cool if you could get to all of those areas via transit from Seattle, the book is not aimed exclusively at residents of the state’s largest city. Instead, it aims to help people across Washington get outside in a way that’s affordable, sustainable and incredibly rewarding.
We caught up with Huntress Inskeep to find out when the book is coming out, what we can expect from it and which treks she favors as she was — very appropriately — strolling down the beach at Fort Worden Historical State Park.
Real Change: What is a transit trek? Does a day trip to, say, Port Townsend count, or is it only outdoors activities?
Kimberly Huntress Inskeep: A transit trek is just any trip that you take for outdoor recreation that’s car free and uses transit as part of your journey, as a central part of your journey. I would include leisure travel in there, although the primary purpose of the manual is to help people get to outdoor recreation destinations, which do tend to be a little more challenging.
I remember reading your blog post about the Dosewallips [State Park] trek where you’re tromping in the snow with a full cargo cart and I was like, “Wow, that’s dedication.” So if you’re taking a cute day trip to a small town, that’s kind of a pseudo-transit trek?
Well, I think it’s funny. My initial intention was outdoor recreation, but then as I talked to people — oh, look, there’s a little seal out there. I love being on the beach, because you can see little water friends pop their heads up. Sorry.
Amazing. No, that’s great.
Hi, little seal. Also, I saw a juvenile bald eagle that’s probably still sitting in the tree on the beach that I was at a few minutes ago.
What was I going to say about the leisure travel thing? Oh, yeah. I am focusing on outdoor recreation, but … I think it would be pretty obvious to anybody, once they have their hands on a copy, that it’s also going to be useful if you do want to spend a day in Port Townsend or if you do want to spend a weekend in Port Angeles or any of these other sort of, like, recreational hubs. Absolutely, that can be incorporated into it.
Was transit trekking already an activity that was well known, or was it something you kind of came up with?
Well, I kind of came up with it. I don’t know if you’re aware that there’s this Meetup group called Seattle Transit Hikers.
I’ve never heard of it.
Yeah, it’s a Meetup group, and they mostly do stuff close to town. They really, really are like urban hiking, right? They’ll go to the Issaquah Alps and stuff like that, but it’s mostly Magnolia Park and stairway walks and things like that. So, there is this term “transit hiking” out there, but I didn’t want to use that because I did want something unique. And so, I hit on “Transit Trekker.” So in that sense, I did coin the term. I did find out, in my web search to see if other folks were using it, that there’s a couple — this young couple was doing some world travel stuff, and they had a blog. It’s been inactive for several years now. And then there was a Miami transit agency that was using the #TransitTrek hashtag for a very short period of time. I think it was for a promotion or [something]. Long story short, I basically came up with it.
So, the draft table of contents … it’s big; it’s a lot of places. Have you or are you planning to visit all the places? Do you get some crowdsourced research?
That is a draft table of contents … What I’m trying to do is a couple of things. One is that I am trying to make sure that there’s a little bit of content for each part of the state so that somebody who’s living in the Tri-Cities area, for example, knows that there are a few pretty easy places that you can get to in that area via transit to do some hiking or biking. I think camping, too, but I actually need to dig into that a little bit more. I do want to highlight that whatever part of the state you live in, chances are you’re going to have access to at least some local opportunities, and I want to make sure that people are aware of those if they live in those farther flung towns.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are definitely some trips for folks who are based in Western Washington and the Seattle area where I have been able to scout those trips personally at least once, if not multiple times, and I can say, “Hey, here are the best days to go; here’s the best schedule for you.”
Is part of the need for the book that you can’t just Google Maps a lot of these trips?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but even if you have Google Maps or whatever app, you’re going to have to go through and poke it 100,000 times before you can figure out if it works with your schedule. Right?
Yeah, I don’t feel like Google Maps is up-to-date with rural transit.
Right. It’s not. So I’m really hoping to provide some detail for what I’m thinking of as feature trips, where I can provide that level of guidance that I just described, but also describe things like at Dosewallips, where it’s like, “Oh, there’s this goat trail and you can walk from town to the state park and you can hike Mount Walker.” And here’s the schedule, like, “If you use Dosewallips as a base for exploring the Hood Canal, you can take the bus to Hoodsport and rent a kayak and paddle around for a while and then go back to Dosewallips or wherever your base is.” [The featured trips are designed] to give people more content. Like, is it kid friendly? Can you bring your bike and is there anything to do on your bike? There’ll be like a smaller number of those featured trips.
Can you talk a bit about the importance of rural public transit? Obviously this book wouldn’t be possible without it, but it goes beyond that, right?
Increasingly, people are being pushed out of Western Washington and they’re living other places, and they still should have access to recreation and transit. I’ll say it was really important to me to build into the book some advocacy prompts for readers to say, “Here are some things that you can do.” And to have the ask be really supporting the expansion in particular of rural transit in these communities and not as a “Trailhead Direct first” thing, but as a “serve communities first” [thing]. Because if you serve communities first, you will serve everyone else by default.
Speaking of equity and affordability, what’s the cost like for some of these treks?
I’m pretty budget-conscious in general, I would say, but I also ... don’t go to sporting events and I don’t go to concerts. If I’m going to spend money on recreation, this is what I’m spending it on. Maybe I would have to — yeah, that’s a hard question. And also, I’ve never had a driver’s license, because I’ve never been able to afford a car, so to me it’s always going to be cheaper. Right?
Your book dovetails a lot with disability rights stuff, and it seems like the trip reports I’ve read that you’ve written contain information about how you would do this if you were rolling or if you were disabled. What motivated you to do that?
I mean, partly because Anna [Zivarts, director of Disability Rights Washington’s Disability Mobility Initiative Program] is the person who suggested that I write the book. Among our friend group, I am the person that will be like, “Oh, yeah, you can get there by doing X, Y and Z.” And I’ll give them, like I’ll send them the [info], like, “Take this bus and not that bus and transfer here because then you can go get coffee at this cool place.” So she’s like, “You should just write a book. You’re doing this all the time. Just write a book.” And then I was working with her for the Story Map, which preceded the #WeekWithoutDriving, and was helping her interview all these people from all over the state and hearing their stories about their mobility challenges living in rural places.
I was just hearing again and again while learning from people about their challenges [that] people living in rural areas in particular have basically subsistence levels of service of transit. In the process of conceiving the book and what it was going to look like, I knew I wanted to incorporate some kind of advocacy component into it … And this goes back to why I’m trying to incorporate promoting expansion of rural transit into the manual. Once you learn about people’s challenges, you can’t really unlearn it.
I want to make sure that I’m at least providing some, hopefully, higher level of accessibility information than you might find in a typical guidebook, even though I’m far from an expert and I don’t want to present myself as that. But I do think it’s important to provide that information, and I also think that, for readers who don’t live with disabilities, it’s also important just for them to see that, so that they think about it. I think it’s a small but important way to just make sure that it’s in people’s consciousness.
Yeah, it definitely made me realize that if you have vision or mobility issues you probably are having a really hard time accessing outdoor recreation opportunities. And it’s a similar equity issue to how fewer racial minorities get to enjoy the outdoors.
We know people who are low income, people of color, people with disabilities tend to generally be more dependent on transit services. And so if you are increasing transit services, you’re probably going to be increasing [their] access to the outdoors at the same time. So to me, it does seem like there’s a strategic opportunity there to kind of fix those outdoors equity issues that people talk about.
If you could wave a magic wand and improve one thing about public transit in Washington, what would it be?
Because labor is infrastructure, I would actually reallocate all the money that we have allocated in this state to highway expansion, and I would reallocate that to making sure that we can recruit [transit] drivers to solve the driver shortage. Make sure that they’re getting paid in line with people who have commercial driver’s licenses, who work in freight and trucking, because that’s impacting service a lot. That would help address the immediate service problems that are happening all over the state, and then it would also create, hopefully, a pipeline for the future to make sure that we have safe, well-trained, well-compensated people driving transit and that transit operation is an attractive job.
And that people are getting compensated for the social value that they provide, right? Because mobility really, like, gets people to doctor’s appointments. It gets people to their friends and family and communities. It gets people to necessities. It gets people to their errands and just helps them live their life. And it’s also safer and it’s better for the environment. And so again, just looking at it strategically, there’s a lot of value that those drivers provide that goes unrecognized right now.
Like getting you out to the beach! On that note, do you have any favorite transit treks?
Oh my gosh, it’s so many because every time I go to a new place, I’m like, “Oh my God; this is great; it’s wonderful.” If I had to pick — that is an impossible choice. But I will say that I’m so grateful that you can actually get to the Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast on transit, which is what I did during the heat dome of June 2021. I knew that Third Beach would be crowded, so I actually went to Rialto during the week. It was luckily during the week, so it was a little bit less crowded and the heat had started to wane. But I just hiked like five miles along the side of the road to get to the trailhead at Rialto. It was totally worth it. Saw a bunch of eagle stuff that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d been in a car with a friend, hitching a ride. And I just love that you can do that trip. Takes a little bit of logistics, but it’s totally worth it.
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Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Apr. 19-25, 2023 issue.