Written by Megan Johnson

Meet Lyla Harrod!!

Trail name:  Sugar

Hails from:  Eastern Massachusetts

Miles hiked since 2021:   10,000+

What she does with all that time:  “I do a lot of audiobooks when I’m hiking by myself, I’ll listen to a couple hours a day.”

Book rec:  Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain - “I crushed it last year on the CDT.”

Newest sport:  Indoor rock climbing

Most recent hiking accomplishment:  Single-season NH 48 4,000’, Winter ‘23 - ‘24

Personality quirk:  Sometimes single-minded (How else do you hike 10,000+ miles in three years?)

Favorite trail:  The Hayduke Trail in southern Utah and northern Arizona

Go-to trail food:  Flavor Blasted Goldfish

Won’t hike without:  Her custom Sugar Highlander Hoodie! (Find the classic here.)

Lyla rolled into Burgeon with her resume and a friendly smile early last fall, and what a happy day it was for us. In short order she became a keeper of the Lincoln store, a champion of Burgeon’s ideals and apparel, both a mood-lightener and a grounded listener, a friend, and an inspiring Burgeon Athlete. Lyla heads off on her next adventure soon, but we’re excited to introduce her as an indispensable member of our staff for the past seven months, and as an accomplished athlete whom we’re excited to support and partner with.

In 2021, Lyla decided to cash in her chips in the regular 9 to 5 to take on the Appalachian Trail, her first long-distance hike. About six weeks in she had figured out her systems, settled into some routines, shed unneeded gear and weight from her pack, and realized, “Damn. This is for me.” Since finishing the AT, Lyla has completed two more 2,000+ mile thru-hikes, three 700 - 800 mile thru-hikes, and three 230+ mile thru-hikes. She’s the first known trans woman to complete the triple crown (the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail). She also holds the overall self-supported fastest known time (FKT) for the Bay Circuit Trail, as well as the women’s unsupported FKT for the White Mountains Direttissima, a 230 mile point-to-point route that traverses all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers.

Obviously we have a lot to learn from this chick. Let’s get to it!!

So Lyla, you’re all-in with this hiking life. What got you started down this path?

“I was never really much of a hiker until my early 20’s. I moved out to Seattle for a couple years and had a friend who taught me about hiking and backpacking, and I loved it and became kind of a weekend warrior for a number of years. I struggled with substance use and addiction for a long time and I always really wanted to do bigger things and invest more in my outdoor life, but I didn’t really have the resources or capacity for that when I was in active addiction. I got sober when I was 30, and that all sort of changed for me. I had more time and energy, and initially getting outside more helped me fill hours and move through the challenging initial months of sobriety. But I ended up finding so much more long-term value in what I was doing. Moving my body and connecting with nature felt even better in sobriety than it ever had before! 

“Around this time I was also coming to terms with the fact that I’m trans and that I was going to transition. In the early days of that process, it was useful from a gender presentation standpoint to be able to go outside on untraveled trails and wear whatever I wanted; it was a way to feel comfortable in my own skin and not worry about feeling judged by other people. A couple years into all of this I was feeling stable and like I was thriving for the first time, and I was at a point where I could take a step back, take a deep breath, and look at who I was now, this sober, truer version of myself, as Lyla. I wanted to celebrate that! Hiking the AT felt like the way I wanted to experience life at that point, so in ‘21 I sold all my stuff and made some huge changes and did it. My transition and getting sober prepared me for something so significant and unconventional because they’re also ways of bucking the status quo in a big way.”

And that wasn’t the end of it...

“I loved thru-hiking the AT, I still love thru-hiking because of the freedom that it affords me and the community it gives me! Being on trail makes me feel connected to every different environment I’m in, to the people around me, and to myself, in a way nothing else does. I pretty quickly decided I want this to be my life, I want to build my life around this connection I have with the outdoors and this community. Doing that has really helped me strip everything down to the essentials. I’ve been able to think about what I really need in life in terms of stuff in general, gear on the trail, and relationships and connections. It’s really helped me identify and prioritize what matters to me. 

“And yeah, I’m still at it. At this point, a few years after the AT, I’ve settled into a bit of a routine where I spend part of the year in the White Mountains, and take other parts of the year to work on some big hiking projects.”

I think more than one reader will relate when I say I’m a little jealous of this freedom you’ve found. Are there any downsides?

“The challenge is being away from the connections that I’m leaving, leaving people and places that feel like home. Hiking is this one thing that has brought me so many opportunities and experiences; it’s given me a love for the White Mountains, for the Bay Circuit Trail, for the desert, a love for place-based communities full of people who are family to me, and a love for this mobile community of people who share an ethos of hiking with me... I’ve arranged my life in a way where I get to move between people and places I love, which is incredible. It’s a choice, a happy choice, to be able to nurture roots and connections in different places at different times of the year, but it’s hard to leave them behind to go visit another place I call home, even if it’s temporary.”

What’s this Bay Circuit Trail you speak of?

“The BCT is a little-known 230 mile trail around the outside of the Boston Metro Area that just holds such a special place in my heart. There are some really beautiful and historic spots along it, like Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, the Old North Bridge in Concord, which is where ‘the shot heard ‘round the world’ was fired, and Hockomock Swamp in Bridgewater, which is significant to King Philip's War. I hiked on the BCT day after day early in my transition, and I came back to it to attempt an FKT in 2021. The trail makes me feel connected to the woods I grew up in, and it meant a lot to me to be able to hike there again from a new place in my life. I got the overall self-supported FKT for the BCT that year, which feels like my way of sharing the trail because of what it means to me and what it’s done for me.”

What can you tell us about Trail QTS?

“Trail QTS is a free mentoring program for first-time queer and trans thru-hikers. The program grew from the idea that, ‘If you can see it, you can be it,’ (Billie Jean King). When I started thru-hiking, I couldn’t find any resources for queer or trans thru-hikers online. I wanted to learn about the experiences of other trans hikers on the trail so I could get a sense of what to expect and learn about things I could do to keep myself safe and have a good time. 

“And there was nothing online! It was very alienating, it made me wonder, have queer and trans people done this, am I welcome here, am I supposed to be here? I know now that there are tons of queer and trans hikers out there, and I set up Trail QTS so that I could be a resource to queer and trans people who want to get into hiking. We have three mentors and fifteen mentees this year, from LA to Germany and everything in between, and we’re expanding into a lot more than traditional thru-hikes by mentoring some folks who are looking to start with overnights. I’m really proud that we have people from all over, and I think there’s a lot of growth potential there.”

Lyla, we’re so happy to call you one of our own, and thanks for sharing!!

Lyla is always excited to connect with queer and trans hikers and share her experiences @seltzerskelter, and stay tuned for applications for the next Trail QTS cohort in November/December 2024. Also stay tuned here for more on Lyla’s next adventure, which you can support by following her on Instagram, or by treating her to anything other than Flavor Blasted Goldfish on her next town day (@Lyla-H).

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