Take A Hike with Nicole Snell

Nicole Snell wears many hats: a CEO, an international speaker, a self-defense coach. However, what connects all of these different identities is Nicole’s passion for adventuring and the outdoors. We asked Nicole to tell us why she prefers to hike solo, where she finds the motivation to go after her audacious goals, who she hopes to inspire, and so much more.

PC: Erik Umphrey
PC: Erik Umphrey

Greetings HOKA community! Adventuring, hiking and exploring are integral parts of my life and I wouldn’t trade my experiences, failures or successes for anything in the world. Let me tell you how I got started.

I grew up in 29 Palms, a small desert military town just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, where my father was a retired Marine. Our town had 1 high school, no movie theater (but one awesome drive in) and the nearest mall or big retail store was 30mins to an hour away. There weren’t a lot of recreational activities for kids and teens but that didn’t bother me much because I could find plenty to do in the desert. I remember exploring the fields around my house, searching for lizards in the front yard, or being absolutely enamored that I found a grasshopper and remembered to hold it like my older brother taught me to. I would explore the washes for hours at a time and sit quietly in the open desert, feeling like the last human on earth, and listen to the sounds of life all around me. A lizard scurrying across the sand. A family of quail chirping and hooting as they led their covey from bush to bush. Ground squirrels poking their heads out of their dens to keep a watchful eye. Whenever I found a new plant, animal or insect my excitement would swell and I couldn’t wait to share the discovery.

Despite living so close to JTNP, my family wasn’t outdoorsy, so I didn’t visit the park as often as you’d think or I would have liked in my youth. The few memories I do have are of me scrambling along the rocks and the feeling of accomplishment when I got to the top of a particularly difficult formation. Standing there and surveying the landscape like I had just climbed Mt. Everest brought me such peace because being outside and connecting with the natural world and challenging myself to climb higher was an escape for me from everything else that was going on in my young life.

The desert wasn’t the only environment I explored as a kid. My aunt lived in the mountains above Fresno and during our occasional family visits, I would explore the wooded areas around her house which really brought out the adventurer in me. She had 2 dogs and a cat who would follow my sister and I on our trek through the brush and scrub oaks. With our trusty walking sticks we would spend hours outside enjoying the fresh air, taking turns on the tree swing and looking for interesting sights along the way. I was a sucker for collecting rocks (still am!) and anything shiny, different or neat looking was immediately gathered for further inspection back at the house. The neighbors had 2 donkeys and each night I would walk down the hill to the barbed wire fence and call out their names hoping they’d hear me across the field and come to the fence so I could feed them bits of fruit and veggies and give their long ears a scratch.

The desire for adventure has always lived within me and pictures of far off destinations that I saw in magazines or the places I saw on TV sparked my curiosity. I knew there was more to the world than what was in front of me. Even though I didn’t have anyone to look up to as an adventure role model, I didn’t need one in order to forge my own path because I’ve been stubborn from the get-go. I remember looking through a book in my 1st grade class that showed deep blue water, colorful fish and plants that looked like they were from another planet. The caption read the ‘Great Barrier Reef’ and I said to my teacher, “I’m going here one day”. I knew nothing about scuba diving, or that the Great Barrier Reef was on another continent. I only knew that this was something I wanted to do so I was going to make it happen. Throughout my life, others have tried to place limits on me or tell me what I should or shouldn’t want to do either because of my gender or my race, and I refused to listen. I will not ever let someone tell me I can’t do something, go somewhere or have an experience that I want. My life is mine to live and if that meant going against the norm, so be it. In 2016 I realized my childhood dream and dived the Great Barrier Reef…braving my overwhelming sea sickness to stay on a live aboard for 24hrs in order to do it. I was not about to let anything stop me!

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I got into solo adventuring mainly because there were a lot of activities that interested me-especially extreme sports- and I didn’t have friends who wanted to join me. I wasn’t going to let the schedules of others limit what I decided to do or keep me from trying something new, so I went by myself. The first big solo activity I did just out of college was snowboarding. I had always wanted to try it, so I booked a lesson, borrowed gear that didn’t fit, and drove up to the mountains where I rented a board and had the most amazing. One of my first and longest solo trips was my week in St. Maarten where I zip lined, rode horses across the beach (a bucket list item!) and swam out a half mile into the ocean to snorkel at a protected reef where watercraft of any kind was prohibited and you could only legally access it by swimming there!

My passion for hiking kicked into overdrive after completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on my solo trip to New Zealand. This 12mile “Great Walk” is a World Heritage site that passes between two active volcanoes, Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings). It passes through alpine climates and takes between 6-9 hours to complete. That was the longest and most technical hike I had completed at that time and I was excited for the challenge.

Hands down, it was one of the most magnificent solo hikes of my life. Walking through the geothermically active terrain where the steam billows up from the ground was a once in a lifetime experience. Moving across volcanic craters and old lava flows was breathtaking. My favorite part was when I was descending from Red Crater and my eyes met the Emerald Lakes for the first time. The blue, green and teal of the waters due to the volcanic minerals of the soil contrasted with the light tan sand making them stand out like jewels. I stopped at this point for a good 45mins to enjoy the view. Six and a half hours after starting, I reached the Ketetahi Car Park, which marked the end of the hike. Other hikers clapped as I came across the ‘finish line’ triumphantly! I took a seat on a bench to relish my success, eat a snack and wait for the shuttle to return me to the hostel.

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After completing the Tongariro I knew I was capable of doing longer and more difficult hikes so when I got home, I started the Six Pack of Peaks challenge here in SoCal and began planning my trip to Peru to do the 4-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. For me a hike isn’t just about the summit or the final destination, it’s about enjoying the fresh air, the scenery, discovering something new, connecting with nature and reminding myself what my body can do. Nature doesn’t care what color your skin is, how much you weigh, what clothes you wear, your gender identity, your sexual orientation or your past experience. Nature takes you as you are in the moment and I find peace in that truth.

Over the years my bucket list has filled up with both activities I’ve completed, and ones still left to try. I’m always adding new things and I hope I never get to the end of the list because I always want to have something to look forward to. I believe that experiences and memories are the most valuable items I can collect. Whether it’s trying a new hobby, like the fact that I went mountain biking for the first time this past October or planning to tackle a major challenge like climbing Whitney in 2021, I love the excitement of learning something new and figuring out how I’m going to accomplish it. It’s never too late and you’re never too old to try something new or different.

I believe that we should each feel free to pursue the activities we want and not feel pressured to do (or not do) something just because others are doing it. You get to define what an adventure means to you. Whatever brings you joy, and happiness is what you should be empowered to pursue. Some things I’ve tried once and will never do again…like parasailing because I almost died! Others I’ve tried and they turned into a new hobby, like when I took the motorcycle safety course simply to know how to ride and I ended up buying a bike. We can do and be whatever we want!

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When I’m not out galavanting around the world in search of unique experiences, I run my own company, Girls Fight Back. Now, if you want to talk about a challenge, try purchasing a company during a pandemic when your entire business model of live events has to be immediately shifted to an unfamiliar online format because the whole world is shut down and quarantined. If you had told me 5 years ago that I was a going to be a business owner I would never have believed you. However, taking over Girls Fight Back was my calling and the best decision I could have made. I am incredibly passionate about teaching violence prevention, personal safety and self-defense to women and people of all genders worldwide. I get to speak internationally to groups of all sizes and demographics and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I believe that when we are empowered to live our lives freely and confidently, there is no limit to what we can do.

I hope that my experiences and stories will inspire others to go after what they want and to not let someone else’s fears, stereotypes, judgements or opinions stop them from doing the things they love and enjoy. I want to be a role model for girls and young women so they can see that you don’t have to limit yourself to what other people want or expect you to be. Sometimes I’m the only Black woman out on the trails, on the dive boat, on the waves, in the arena, on the slopes or walking through a new city in another country. I’ve gotten the looks from people wondering if I’m lost or considering if I belong there. I belong wherever I want to be, and I hold my head up high as I launch into the things I’m passionate about without looking back. The world is full of so much to see and experience and I want take part in as much as I can. It’s my Time To Fly.

PC: Erik Umphrey
PC: Erik Umphrey

Nicole is seen here wearing the new TenNine Hike GTX. Connect with Nicole on Instagram (@adventuresofnik, @girlsfightback, @studentsfightback), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and find more about Outdoor Defense on YouTube and IGTV.

Time to Keep Moving Forward with Magda Boulet

Magda Boulet, wears many hats throughout her day. She’s VP of Innovation at GU Energy labs, a professional Ultra Runner for HOKA ONE ONE, Coach in her running community, and most importantly, she’s a mom of a teenager.

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Tell us about yourself, Magda.

I grew up in Poland and immigrated to the US when I was 18, and somehow landed in the most beautiful state in the United States, sunny California. I was sworn in as a US Citizen on September 11, 2001. I discovered running as a high schooler and went on to compete as a track athlete in college at UC Berkeley. Many years later I qualified for the US Olympic team in the Marathon in 2008, and also competed in the World Cross Country championships twice. I started my Ultra career in 2013 and have been running on the trails ever since. I call Oakland, CA my home now.

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How did you get into running?

Growing up I was a swimmer, but when I came to the US one of my friends in high school encouraged me to join the track team. I needed something to do once the swimming season ended so I didn’t hesitate to try something new. I was immediately hooked. I loved not only the freedom to be able to run wherever and whenever I wanted, but also loved to socialize and make new friends. Running is a sport that tends to reward the hardest working among us. One must develop aerobic capacity slowly over time. There are no shortcuts and perseverance is essential to success. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world to race. I’ve ran everything from a road mile to hundred-mile races in the Sahara Desert, and just about every other type of race in between. I’ve represented my country, the United State of America in the World XC championships, and in the Olympics, but most importantly, I’ve made lifelong friends every step of the way.

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Why is moving everyday important to you?

Movement means so much to me. Of course, I love to run and train for big races, but more importantly I know the importance of a daily walk, especially in nature. I know it improves my mood, reduces my stress level and helps me sleep better. Getting some good blood flow to the brain helps me think better and stay on task when I have a long day at work. I just feel good when I’m able to move and there is something in me that just compels me to move all the time. I love discovering my mental and physical limits and breaking down my own barriers.

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How does moving help you in your many roles? (parenting, partnerships, career, etc.)

Movement clears my head and sets the tone for my entire day. At work, I have a standing desk, and anytime I have a meeting with someone, I try to do walking meetings outside instead of sitting in an office. I find that it helps us think and communicate on a much higher level when we’re moving and fosters a new level of creativity. I never regret a walking meeting. At home, I become a better human to be around when I make time to run, especially early in the morning. I find that I have more patience for my family, I lead with kindness and find myself more empathetic. I look for any opportunities to walk, hike, or run with my family. It really gives us a chance to connect with nature and with each other in a way that you just can’t while sitting on the couch.

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How do you encourage others to keep moving?

I am not only the instigator a lot of times, I’m the one who says yes to almost anything that involves movement. I like to create challenges at work or carve out a specific time each week for a physical activity. I encourage my coworkers to walk with me all the time if they want to talk to me. But I also have a lot of ambitious friends who like to set up challenges for us all over the world, from 200 mile relays in the desert, to running all the way around Lake Tahoe without stopping, to climbing the highest volcano in the world, I say yes to way more things than I probably should.

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What is Running for a Better Oakland?

Running for a Better Oakland (RBO) is a local organization that encourages Oakland students to develop healthy lifestyles through running. There are so many great things about this program, from the health benefits of just getting kids into physical activity to giving kids structure and confidence building that can improve other parts of their lives. I’ve had the pleasure of coming out to run with the kids on some of their training runs and I am just so inspired by the strong and supportive community they’ve established. I love this program.

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Anything else you’d like to share? 

What running has taught me: Running has taught me to be brave and break down my own barriers. Running has taught me to persevere. But what does Perseverance Mean? To me it’s not just effort. It’s not just trying your best. It’s refusing to give up, even when there are obstacles in your way. It’s staying focused on your goals and driving toward them when things don’t go as well as planned. To persevere is to continue working when the goal is a very long way in the future. Most goals that are worth chasing after taking many months or many years to achieve. And remember, it has been said that “a river cuts through rock not because of its power, but because of its perseverance.”

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Magada is featured wearing the Bondi 7.

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Ekiden 101 with Reitaku University’s Ryo Miyata

While the words Hakone Ekiden may not mean much to the average American (even to the devout runner), it’s tantamount to the Superbowl in Japan. An ekiden (駅伝) is a long-distance running multistage relay race popular in Japan that garners nationwide viewership in the millions. What is it about the ekiden that inspires a nation to run long distances? We sat down with Ryo Miyata, an ekiden runner from Reitaku University, to explain just what makes this event so captivating, the importance of the sash, and what he’s learned along the way.

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HOKA: First of all, what is an ekiden? What kind of competition is it?  Compared to other forms of road running, what’s different about an ekiden?

Ryo: In an ekiden, a runner relays their team’s sash to the next runner, forming a chain for the run. In other races (like a marathon), the runner likely runs for their own interests alone. In an ekiden, the runner can’t afford to do this, because you can’t help but be aware that you are running the race for others. Members who didn’t make the team, or for the next runner, and so forth.  I think that’s the biggest appeal of this race called ekiden: the competition calls for that kind of mental preparation.

HOKA: For the overseas audience, ekiden in Japan appears to be an inspiring competition. What is it about the ekiden that brings such inspiration to the audience, compared to other competitions?

Ryo: I think it comes down to that moment of passing the sash to the next runner.  It’s the real appeal of the competition: just look at the faces [of the runners]. The runner comes and passes the sash to the next runner, and at that point, he might give a good pat [of encouragement] on his back or [the next runner] might say a word of appreciation [back]. The audience notices such interactions, making that moment obviously a touching a scene, which I’d say is the biggest appeal.

HOKA: Tell us about your teammates.   

Ryo: Well, we spend time together while we practice, obviously, and we focus seriously during practice.  Other than that, we do spend the whole day – meals, baths, and so on – pretty much together. We know one another very well, and even when we are not practicing, we hang out with our teammates, too.  So through this dorm life, you do get to have relationships that are much deeper than those with other friends, I think.

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HOKA: Compared to a half marathon, is there anything different in the ekiden in terms of what goes through the runners’ minds while running?

Ryo: So, that’s again what I mentioned earlier about ekiden.  With an esteemed competition such as a half marathon, I feel there is not much of this mentality to “run for others,” but in contrast, an ekiden is truly a team sport. It is a sport in which the performance [of the team] depends upon how each runner has managed to bring out his best. There is of course that aspect of running for my own interest too, but there is also this wish to run in a way that is worthy of my team, my teammates, and various other people who have supported me all this time.

HOKA: How do you continue when it becomes painful?  

Ryo: So that’s when this sash that I am wearing [plays a role.]  You reach and grab it, and you remember: This sash reminds you of where it has been.  It is the same sash that has been passed on from all the previous runners. It is soaked in the sweat of your teammates: a testament to the efforts that they have already put in. A sash carries our wishes.  I am wearing it now, and since I am the one carrying this sash here, I am now the one responsible to run for the team. And that is how we encourage ourselves when things get painful.  Think of the other teammates. Remind yourself of them, through this sash. That is how I try to deal with rough situations.

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HOKA: In a deeper sense, what is the sash? 

Ryo: For me, a sash represents a commitment.  Something that you wear and that which gives a determination toward how I must run even a second faster for my teammates. What do you call it? — something that activates a switch of sorts.  It’s become something that flips that switch inside of me.

HOKA: Have you always wanted to become an ekiden runner? 

Ryo: I was in the first grade when I started running track and field, and it was then that I watched the Hakone Ekiden on TV and saw this serious expression on one runner as he was handing off the sash.  I realized he really was thinking about the team rather than himself and running earnestly with them in mind.  I began to think it was cool, and that is how I started to see the Hakone Ekiden as a goal for myself.

HOKA: How did you feel when you participated in the race? 

Ryo: I was nervous, of course, but it was also the moment that my dream since middle school had come true, and I was so happy about that.  When things got tough, I really felt it, and thought that I was running the ekiden of my dreams.  I felt I was in a dream.

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HOKA: Do you have a mantra, or something that you repeat to yourself when you’re in pain?   

Ryo: There’s a phrase that my high school coach told me: “return the favors through your run.” I so wanted to run the kind of race which would stir inspirations and encouragement for people who had supported me and cheered for me.  I had that strong longing, so I repeated that phrase over and over in my head even when the situation got rough. In the largest ekiden, the cheers that you get from the audience is extraordinary, beyond what you get from other marathons and races.  You are constantly showered with cheers from the roadside audience right from the beginning, calling out the name of the school or even your name.

HOKA: What have you learned competing in ekidens at Reitaku University?

Ryo: What I learned the most here is how to think and act on my own. What I mean is…when you get into a depressed state when, say, you’ve sustained some injury and are unable to run for a long time, it becomes necessary to think and act on your own. What can I do in this situation? What kind of practice I can still do now in order to get back to the race in the future? That, I think, is the kind of skill that would be called for even after you graduate, as you become a part of the workforce outside the world of track and field.  I think that skill, learned about thinking and doing things independently, will prove useful in my life going forward.

Click HERE to learn more about the Clifton Edge.

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TIME TO CREATE COMMUNITY WITH JP ALIPIO

Meet JP Alipio. One of the founders of the Cordillera Conservation Trust a Mountain Conservation organization based in the Philippines that works with communities through outdoor and adventure activities for the conservation of the wild spaces. The Cordillera Mountain Ultra (CMU), a 50km trail race that goes around some of the most beautiful mountain ridges, forests, and remote villages in the northern mountain range of the Philippine Island of Luzon, is organized by the Cordillera Conservation Trust. It is said to be one of the most beautiful trail races in Asia and it certainly is the most competitive in the Philippines with runners like Harry Jones competing over the years. A trail runner himself, JP has been running for 20 years now since college.

JP Alipio (@jpalipio)
JP Alipio (@jpalipio)

How did you get into running?

I got into running to keep fit for mountain climbing activities when I was in college. I wanted to go further into the mountains and explore more of the wild spaces of my home in the Cordilleras. Running on the trails around my home, roads and paths in the community was a great way to get more fit to be able to carry a big pack in the mountains over weeks. This evolved into mountain and ultra-running and for me this opened a whole new world of adventure. Being able to explore the wild spaces unencumbered by big packs and equipment it really is the closest to nature you can get. You can be running in the mountains with just the sole of your shoes separating you from the ground and your body moving through the landscape like the wild animals that roam through with the barest of essentials, drinking from the streams, and just freeing your soul to be a part of nature again.

Some of my biggest achievements over the last few years of running has been completing the Transvulcania on the La Palma Island of Spain in 2018. Also, finishing the 2019 Dragon’s Back Race in Wales. This race is said to be the most difficult mountain race in the world traversing over 315kms and 15000m of elevation gain over 5 days across the spine of Wales.

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Tell us about Illi

Illi is a term we use here in the Cordillera mountains for our homes. It refers not simply to a physical place but also the people, culture and environment in which we live in. It is a place of our ancestors and the generations that will follow us. For many indigenous groups, not just ours, land is life but to expound on that it really is land, community, culture, environment and generations before and after us that defines life. During the Cordillera Mountain Ultra we welcome over 30 nations into our Illi and when you run through the landscape, sleep in our homes, and share our food you become part of our story, part of our Illi and part of the community we call home.

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How has growing up in a village influenced your relationship with running?

I grew up in a small town in the mountains that has now grown into a small city. When I was younger, we used to spend our days playing in the neighboring farms, catching tadpoles from the canals, or going down to the river behind our house to play. As the years went by the farms turned into buildings, and the river was no longer fit to play in. Seeing these changes happen firsthand really reinforced for me the need to protect the wild spaces. Not simply the ones that are in national parks but the wild spaces close to home and close to our communities.

Running was a way that allowed me to go outdoors into nature and explore all these areas. First the areas around my neighborhood and next to the more remote regions of the mountains. This background also allowed me to appreciate the role that communities play in conservation. You can’t just fence out people from wild spaces but each person that values the outdoors, values the wild places, adds to the inherent value of nature and nature needs a constituency. The more people that go outdoors, whether it is running or even just walking starts to build that constituency for the wild.

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What does community mean to you?

Community is something for me that is constantly evolving from the family unit I grew up with to the greater running community that I am now a part of. The Cordillera Mountain Ultra is a unique race in that we encourage the building of bonds and relationships between the runners from all over the Philippines and all over the world with the members of the community where we hold the race in. They stay in homestays in the little village and while accommodations are pretty basic, time and again it is the warmth and welcoming of the community of all the runners that has truly made a difference here. Many of the runners have a special relationship now with the homes they stay in for the duration of the race and for many in the community meeting runners who have traveled so far to visit their beautiful home offers a fresh perspective on the value of their backyards as well as providing stories from all over the world to people who may not have the opportunity to explore beyond their own borders. In this way during the CMU we create a global community in the little village that carries over way past the date of the race.

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How has your community motivated you?

The community has always motivated me to create better lives for everyone. Myself, my family, my community and the greater wild space that we all live in.

I have been privileged to be part of a global community of like-minded individuals, runners, explorers, bikers, people who love the outdoors and this community has been integral to my growth as a person. Having peers who share the same passions is important but also to be able to admire the talent and be mentored by your own peers is something quite important to me.

Why is it important to share your community with the world?

What we do is to create value for the wild spaces. We create a constituency around the mountains which we live in. By sharing these mountains with the world, we add value to these areas simply by knowing that they exist and each footstep and each experience that goes through these beautiful areas makes them much more valuable and multiplies their value and constituency tenfold.

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Anything else you’d like to share?

The isolation of this global pandemic makes it difficult for us all to feel like we are part of a greater community. But every day I look up at the sky and realize that we all, no matter where we are on earth are part of a global community, whether you’re at home by yourself or with your loved ones, anywhere on the globe we are all under the same sky, one community of human kind and every sunset means that there will be a sunrise tomorrow to look forward to, together.

Follow JP’s journey on Spotify and on Twitter.

About the Cordillera Conservation Trust
The Cordillera Conservation Trust is a local Environmental Organization myself and a few other friends set up in 2006 as a response to a need we saw for a local conservation organization that focused work on the wild spaces and the communities that lived within these beautiful areas. We have gone through a few iterations of the organization from doing reforestation, building forest nurseries, media, and now creating adventure economies that create conservation outcomes in the wild spaces we work in. We started the CMU (Cordillera Mountain Ultra) in 2015 in Mt. Pulag as part of this adventure economy development program. Part of putting together the race we trained the local community in homestays, cooking, accounting, hospitality, etc… so that they would be able to access the adventure economy and move them away from less sustainable forms of livelihood like large scale commercial agriculture which is the leading cause of deforestation in the Cordillera mountain region. So far, this program has become quite successful wherever we do it. We are now in the third village for the CMU which is in Tinongdan in Itogon and the first two villages have become leaders in the homestay industry in the entire region because of our work and of course the many runners of the CMU who come from over 30 countries these days. In the villages we’ve seen an increase of up to 1000% in incomes during the CMU race weekend and there are now permanent homestays that cater to guests the whole year-round moving people away from less sustainable economies. This way they make an income from keeping the mountains wild, pristine, and beautiful rather than seeing it simply as a resource to take from.