Wild Keeper Spotlight: Stefanie Wich-Herrlein

Wild Keeper Spotlight: Stefanie Wich-Herrlein

Meet 3rd term Wild Keeper: Stefanie! Stefanie is based in Portland, Oregon but grew up in a small village in Germany, surrounded by nature. She said she "didn’t need fancy playgrounds, all I needed was already in my backyard: forests, rivers, hills and trails. Nonetheless, I always wanted to discover more, explore the world, and live in a big city – so that’s what I did: I left my little village to study, moved to Frankfurt/Main and started traveling the world from there."

Stefanie reflected that for 2 years she lived in Shanghai, China. "With around
25 million people it is definitely one of the biggest cities in the world. As much as I enjoyed this time, I really started to appreciate the outdoors after moving to
Portland, OR – the city I have called my new home for almost 3 years now. I’ve climbed mountains like Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) & Fuji (Japan) before, I have gone backpacking, learned to scuba dive and enjoyed exploring the outdoors during my travels. But especially during the pandemic it became obvious how important nature and the outdoors are for me and my wellbeing."

Stefanie loves hiking and camping a lot sharing that, "the Pacific Northwest gives me the opportunity to explore mountains, forests, waterfalls, the Pacific Coast and even deserts and that mix is what I love most! Another passion of mine is scuba diving. Discovering the underwater world while becoming weightless and one with the ocean is a truly special feeling I really enjoy."

When we asked Stefanie if she has ever faced challenges or hardship in regards to the outdoor industry she said, "Personally, I haven’t - but I know that I’m probably pretty privileged. It makes me sad that this isn’t the case for everyone. Because I absolutely believe the outdoors belong to all of us equally and nobody should be excluded."

Learn more about Stefanie and her thoughts about Wild Keeping below! 

Keep Nature Wild: 
If you had to choose between mountains, forests or desert, which would you choose?
Stefanie: That’s a very hard decision, especially as I literally have the choice between all of these options, living in the PNW. But if I had to decide, I’d go for mountains. I just love getting rewarded with spectacular views from a mountain summit after a strenuous climb.
KNW: What is your favorite adventure snack?
S: I think I’m pretty boring here: Apples and cereal bars is all I need. For longer hikes I often bring power bars. And I love to have some hot coffee with me to enjoy on a mountain top.
KNW: What is an experience that has shaped your relationship with nature/ the outdoors?
S: One of my most memorable experiences in the outdoors for sure was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak (elevation: 5,895 m/ 19.341 ft) together with my husband a couple of years ago. It takes 5 day-trek to reach the summit and 1.5 days to descend.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the greatest weather conditions (lots of rain, wind and consequently snow during summit-night) and hiked through 5 different climate zones. The risk of altitude sickness was always present. We really didn’t know whether we were going to make it, until we finally stood next to the summit sign, just before sunrise. It was an indescribable feeling to stand on the Top of Africa. This multi-day hike made me realize once again how small each of us is, how massive and unpredictable the outdoors can be and how important it is to protect our nature.
KNW: What is one thing you would love to bring awareness to in the outdoor space?
S: After having joined several group clean-up events and started picking up trash when hiking on my own, I get proof every single time that each of us can make a difference. I’d like more people to realize this fact and shift their minds toward making an impact themselves. I believe that being seen by others picking up trash already makes an impact. People start thinking why someone would walk around the woods and pick up what others have left behind. (At least that’s my hope)

Often, I can ‘feel’ the looks, sometimes I even get asked what I’m doing or what’s in my bag. People sometimes react really surprised when I say “all the trash, I just collected”. My hope is that people start thinking twice the next time they are about to leave trash on their campsite, a trail or on the street. And maybe even start picking up what they find.

KNW: What is your favorite thing about being a Wild Keeper? 
S: My favorite part about being a Wild Keeper is getting connected to other like-minded people and making new friends along the journey. I love the fact that each of us is trying to make an impact individually and collectively. Plus, monthly impact days and clean-up events bring us together as a community even if we might live far apart.

KNW: What has picking up trash from outdoor spaces done for you? 
S: Picking up trash has helped me to get outside more often which makes a huge impact on my creativity. As a freelance marketing specialist and content creator, I am dependent on being creative all the time. Being ‘out-and-about’ always shifts my mind, no matter how bad or unproductive my day/week has been. So, every time I feel uninspired, I know I just have to get out and my imagination starts flowing again.

KNW: Roughly how many pounds of litter do you think you've picked up since you became a Wild Keeper? 
S: Probably around 50, which doesn’t sound much. Often, it’s micro-trash that I find and make an effort picking up as I know it’s as important as big and heavy trash.

KNW: What goals do you have for this year (or beyond)? 
S: Yes, thanks for asking! I’m doing the '52 Hikes Challenge’ this year and try to pick up trash on every single trail I go.
Stefanie is a photographer, storyteller & travel addict from Germany, who lives in Portland, OR and blogs about responsible travel, the great outdoors and life in the US on her bilingual blog https://smile4travel.de/en. On her Instagram you can follow along her travels and outdoor adventures through the PNW and beyond: https://www.instagram.com/smile4travel

Reading next

5 Steps To Contribute to the Keep Nature Wild Mission
Wild Keeper Spotlight: Pinky Guerrero

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