A Grounds-keeper Story

While hiking the Appalachian Trail back in 2015, I met a few guys on a mission to leave the trail better than they found it. They looked like normal thru-hikers: short shorts, dirty hair, beards; but they were carrying much more than backpacks. In each of their hands were trash bags full of garbage removed from the trail and surrounding campsites. Thru-hikers are notorious for counting pounds and minimizing weight; when hiking 2200 miles, the lighter the backpack, the better. I was, of course, curious about what these guys were up to. As it turns out, the three of them were the Packing It Out team, and their goal was to collect over 1,000 pounds of trash from the Appalachian Trail. They were wildly successful on the AT, then on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, then on a 5,000+ mile bike ride across the country in 2017. I don’t know their exact totals, but my guess is that they’ve removed over 3,000 pounds of trash from America’s trails, parks, and public lands.

The Packing It Out crew caught the attention of Granite Gear, a Minnesota-based company known for their high-quality lightweight backpacking and canoe-trekking gear, at Appalachian Trail Days in 2015. Granite Gear loved what the team was doing and decided to create an even bigger team of hikers committed to cleaning up public lands called The Groundskeepers. The 2017 team of 17 hikers packed out over 1,100 pounds of trash from long distance trails (including the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail). The inaugural Groundskeepers crew was made up of only thru-hikers, but in 2018 Granite Gear opened the application to section and day hikers as well. This is where we come in.

Knowing that we’d be hiking, biking, and running hundreds of miles of trails across the United States in 2018, we applied to be Groundskeepers. We were thrilled to be chosen, and after seven months of “groundskeeping” I can honestly say that being part of this team is one of the highlights of our journey. Granite Gear hooked us up with our choice of backpack (we both chose the Virga 26, which we love), stuff sacks, and trash collecting gear (gloves, bags, scales), and Altra sent us each a couple pairs of trail running shoes. Of course it’s awesome to receive free gear, but being Groundskeepers has given our adventure a bigger purpose. We are, and have always been, passionate about taking care of the trails we play on, and being part of the Groundskeepers team gives us a broader platform to share that passion. We’ve had countless conversations with strangers on trails about what we’re doing, and we are hopeful that we’ve inspired at least a few others to pick up trash while they’re hiking. To date, we’ve removed over 200 pounds of trash from trails and campsites across the west, and we’re excited to keep cleaning up public lands as we go.

Being Groundskeepers has also given us the opportunity to get to know the folks who run Granite Gear, as well as several other members of the Groundskeeper team. I am not exaggerating when I say these people are amazing human beings who care deeply about others, the environment, and making exceptional products. We are truly honored to be associated with such an outstanding company.

In May, we traveled to Grand Teton National Park to meet Granite Gear’s filmmaker/videographer, Judson. In true Granite Gear fashion, Judson is also an amazing person that we really enjoyed getting to know. Over a weekend, he came along as we rode bikes, hiked, and hung out at our campsite, and he made a short film about our journey as van dwellers and Groundskeepers. The film was recently released, and we’re excited to share it with you.

For more information about the organizations and companies I mentioned in this post, check out their websites:

Packing It Out

Granite Gear

The Groundskeepers





13 Comments Add yours

  1. Heidi Huddleston says:

    Really enjoyed this video

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lizsny says:

      Thank you! It was fun to be part of and a great reason to hang out in the beautiful Tetons.


  2. Lee Huddleston says:

    Lizsny and Rachel,

    I am bursting with pride for you. This is such a fabulous thing to do. Makes me want to go out and help you, unfortunately I cannot walk more than a hundred feet. Granite Gear could not have picked better representatives. Go, ladies, go! Love you.

    Uncle Lee

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lizsny says:

      Thanks Uncle Lee! We’re so happy to be Groundskeepers.


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