If you find yourself in a trailhead parking lot, somewhere in the northern tips of Washington, in the wee hours of the night, there’s a good chance you might spot Rachel Zupke camping on top of her car.
It’s one of her preferred ways to hike. A 34-year-old mom of three, camping late and rising early lets her hit the trail and get back in time for plenty of mid-day family fun. Plus, it means she gets the trail mostly to herself — a major boon in the hiking world.
Rachel and I met in high school, back when we both played basketball and knew little to nothing about hiking boots. We were on the same traveling team for just one summer. But that was enough for me to realize how truly unique and special this kind, beautiful, and passionate woman was and still is.
While we’ve both changed and grown, Rachel’s maintained the same spark for life and compassion for others that drew me to her in my younger years. Over the years we’ve kept in contact sporadically, but really re-connected in the last year over a shared love of hiking and the outdoors.
Living in Everett, Rachel’s gotten to know the trails in northern Washington exceptionally well. And, she’s more than happy to answer questions from a relative novice. Plus, as I’m expecting my own child, I find the way she’s raised her kids to be interested and excited about hiking a major source of inspiration.
Q&A with Rachel Zupke
Mikaela: When did you start hiking?
Rachel: I started hiking in college. My roommate took me on a one-night backpacking trip and I was hooked. I did some other day hikes and started accumulating my own stash of gear. When my husband and I got married, we did a lot of backpacking during our summers, as we were both teachers and had the opportunity in-between weeks of continuing education and working on our master’s degrees. We even backpacked to celebrate each of our first five anniversaries. The fifth one we did was with a nearly one-year-old on my back and my husband carrying the Winnebago of packs (aka our joke for a pack that is waaaaay too full ha ha).
Mikaela: What’s the best hike you’ve done?
Rachel: My all-time favorite place to hike is in Central Washington. The Enchantments really are as incredible as everyone says they are! I’ve gotten to see them in three different kinds of weather or seasons and with three different groups of people that have served to make it a truly special place in my heart.
The hard thing about asking me about my favorite hike is that sometimes a hike is awesome because of the place and other times it’s awesome because of the people. I got to backpack the northeast corner of Glacier National Park. The weather sucked, but I was with great people, so it was worth every minute.
Sometimes it’s the place too. I went to Sahale Arm in the North Cascades on my first solo hike last fall. It was a crisp October morning, the scenery was breathtaking, and the solitude was something I needed after a difficult month. The rejuvenation I felt after being made to feel so small next to these gigantically beautiful peaks was awe-inspiring. I see and feel God‘s grandeur, power, and love when I am in the mountains.
Mikaela: I know your kids are really into hiking. How did you encourage that?
Rachel: Getting our kids out hiking has been all about our attitude on the trail. We started with each of them in a pack, and actually sooner, with each of them in a wrap on my front. Each of my kids has been out hiking with me since they were six weeks old. Ha!
But seriously, we just make it fun and take it slow. Hiking with kids is difficult when you push them too hard or parents (ahem, me) aren’t willing to adjust their expectations during a hike. If I plan ahead and choose a trail and destination appropriate to my kiddos skill level and interest, make sure there is a fun treat on the way home, and lower my expectations for what is accomplished on the hike — like maybe we won’t make it to the top in a given time and that’s ok — then we all have a lot more fun!
Some fun things that we do are looking for different colors in nature and once they find one, we move onto another color. We also talk about what we will see at the top or end and they look through the woods to try and find it. (I’ve often scouted the trail first.)
It’s also fun for kids to have gear that looks like Mom and Dad’s. We’ve lucked upon hand-me-downs and thrift store finds of good boots and backpacks. But honestly, outdoor gear is the one thing I will spend money on since we live frugally in other areas and really value our time outdoors as a family. We go on rainy hikes often in the shoulder seasons and winter because we can — the saying is true: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing (or something like that haha).
We also share real trail snacks, “like mommy has when she goes on her long hikes.” My kids think electrolyte gummy chews are better than fruit snacks!
And, I also always have the 10 essentials on hand in case we do get in a rough spot. Knowing we’re prepared for emergencies helps lower my stress level.
Our favorite family hike right now is Heybrook Ridge and we call the mountains you see at the end of it the Peekaboo Mountains. As we’re hiking through the woods, the kids are constantly looking through the trees to see if they can see those Peekaboos yet.
We also really like Squires Lake, Bridal Veil Falls, Fragrance Lake, Wenatchee Ridge Overlook, and, when our 4.5-year-old is up to the challenge (our almost 7-year-old is totally game), Oyster Dome (followed by ice cream at Snowgoose Produce of course!).
Mikaela: You’re connected with something called Rescue Freedom. Can you tell me a little about that and the upcoming hike you’ll be doing?
Rachel: Rescue Freedom is a local organization that raises funds for global partners to deliver women and children out of human trafficking situations. I am connected to them through a grassroots group called Freedom Hikers. We do long distance endurance hikes and recruit people to donate — a la a hikeathon.
This is our third summer — my first year to be involved – and we are almost at the $200,000 mark for our three years. All of that money goes to Rescue Freedom and because Rescue Freedom recruits donors to cover their administrative cost, every penny donated for our hikes goes directly to delivering women and children from sex trafficking.
On one of our monthly conference calls, the founder of Rescue Freedom came on and we got to hear straight from him, as well as ask him questions. They are currently averaging 12 rescues a week around the world!!!
My role with freedom hikers is to be a Trail Lead. I get to lead seven other people on a day hike through the Enchantments, once in August and once in September. Rescue Freedom has a tagline that says, “do what you love to fight what you hate.”
Not only do I get to revisit my favorite place to hike, I also get to help others do something difficult and partner with them as modern-day abolitionists. I guess you could say I’m an adventure philanthropist!
Mikaela: If someone wanted to show their support, how could they?
Rachel: Well, donations are always appreciated. But they could also get involved by using what they love to fight what they hate. It doesn’t just have to be hiking. You might consider hosting a dinner party or a flower-arrangement seminar. It can really be anything.
Mikaela: You have a pretty unique obsession with coffee. Can you tell me a little about what coffee means to you and how you prepare it on the trail?
Rachel: I started drinking coffee two years ago this October. (Yes, I know when my coffee-versary is.) At the time, I had recently taken on a second head-coaching job and my third kiddo had not slept for pretty much his entire first year. I decided I needed a self-care thing that was just mine.
My husband and I joke that we have two masters degrees and three children between us, yet neither of us are grownups because we don’t drink coffee. Well, that has most definitely changed. I love a good coffee now.
I don’t need it for the caffeine. It’s more the ritual of it and it’s something I don’t have to share with anyone else, which is a luxury when you are a stay at home mom with three small kids. I definitely started with the best and went straight to a coffee shop in my town — Narrative.
They make the most delicious pour overs, pulls the best shots, sources amazing coffee / local milk / etc. But, most of all, this amazing shop cultivates an atmosphere of welcoming community. I consider it my second living room.
Coffee for me has never been about the caffeine. It’s always been about who I can share it with (sometimes just alone as self-care!) and especially about slowing down long enough to enjoy it.