Michelle Kloosterman (@whaletrailspct) will be traveling solely on foot from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. She’s attaching a cause greater than herself to her pilgrimage through the Pacific Crest Trail. 🐋 That’s how “Join the Migration” was born, a campaign dedicated to whale protection along the Pacific Coast and spreading awareness of the increasing endangerment of these important beings.
This interview delves into Michelle’s thoughts on her mission to help Innoceana save whales entangled in fishing nets in Costa Rica.
- What inspired you to do PCT and were you an avid hiker before?
About two years ago I first learned about the PCT through a youtuber called Elina Osborne. She documented her PCT hike in a series of videos and I was captivated from the first moment. A journey on such a grand scale left me terrified on the one hand, but obsessed on the other and it ignited a spark in me for wanting to embark on such an amazing adventure. I have always been very connected to nature and I have had a taste for traveling and adventure since I was a kid, and this trail fits these criteria perfectly. I have been very active my whole life, doing a lot of sports such as (kite) surfing, skiing, snowboarding, race cycling, rowing and calisthenics. However, I have never taken on such a thing before, walking five to six months on end is a whole different ball game.
- How do you plan to prepare for it and do you have a strategy going into it?
When I decided I would dive into this adventure, the first thing I did was months and months of research to explore all the obstacles I would have to tackle. I started training many months in advance with the help of a friend who is a personal trainer. I have the luck of living in the mountains here in Costa Rica so my training grounds are situated next to my door! I walk up the mountain with my backpack fully loaded, as often as I can, which can be pretty rough with the high humidity, the steepness and the gravel road. Additionally I train my core, legs and stability and practice yoga a couple of times a week. Obviously the trail is physically demanding, but the mental hardship is often overlooked. On the trail you will encounter hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain and ever changing weather and terrain. You are under the influence of the elements around you which you have no control over. The only control you have is your own perception and your own response to the external events that happen. I practice this mindfulness in my daily life, trying to accept everything as is and knowing everything happens for a reason. I feel this will really help me in tough situations that I will encounter during the trail. Having said all this, my most important strategy for embarking on this journey will be to remember I am here to have fun and to have the adventure of a lifetime! Taking things as they come and not letting situations weigh me down too much but trying to keep it light. Otherwise everything would become so serious it would turn into a lot of suffering and that is not what I am there for!
- What’s the timeline and direction of this hike?
For those of you who don’t know, the Pacific Crest Trail is a long distance hike from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada, 4265 km in length. It takes you through the sweltering desert, the snow capped sierras and endless pine forests and rivers. Most of the trail is mountainous terrain so you get a little taste of everything which makes this trail so interesting. The kick-off for me will be April 3rd 2022 and it takes most people between four to six months, so my aim is to finish it within this timeframe.
4. What do you hope to accomplish through your experience on the Pacific Crest Trail?
On a personal note, I want to experience the expansion of my own physical and mental boundaries and to immerse myself in nature. Waking up and going to bed every day in wild nature with the only thing separating you from the outside, a thin sheet of tent fabric, does something to a person. I want to experience having a simple life and stripping away any unnecessary distractions: only having to think about eating, sleeping and walking. Additionally to my personal growth, I wanted to attach something to this journey, a cause greater than myself. That is why I started the “Join the Migration” movement. Through this movement, I want to accomplish a ripple effect that will start before the trail and will continue to spread as I progress in my journey across the United States.
- Have you ever done anything like this before?
In short, no. I have never taken on a journey like this and for sure never on such a grand scale. But there has to be a first time for anything right?
- What does your family think about your hike?
About 99% of the responses I received by friends and family and anyone I told I would be doing this were: “So awesome, I have a lot of admiration for you for doing this, but you are absolutely nuts.” However, many people want to follow my journey online which is amazing! The support I receive from everyone feels very strengthening so I am very grateful about that.
- What are you most excited about?
That is a tough one, too many exciting things! I am looking forward to waking up with the sunrise and the sounds of birds. I am looking forward to all the amazing scenery I will encounter. I am looking forward to having nothing to think about but eating, sleeping and walking. But most of all I am looking forward to all the amazing people I will meet, I will be able to share my experiences with.
- Why did you choose Innoceana as the charity and their campaign “Entangled in Costa Rica” to support through your journey on the PCT?
I have been connected to the ocean my entire life since my parents are avid sailors and surfers. Because of that, I have spent most of my childhood on the water thus marine life is very dear to my heart. I heard about Innoceana’s initiatives regarding whale protection, marine conservation and coral restoration and felt resonance with their organization immediately. Their heroic rescue of the entangled family of whales in fishing nets is so inspiring and touching especially. It shows the direct result of commercial fishing and how this endangers these magnificent animals. I feel a fire for spreading awareness amongst people what impact the intensification of the fishing industry has on marine life and how we can all contribute to protecting this.
- What does the hashtag and slogan for this movement “Join the Migration” mean?
“Join the Migration” refers directly to the actual migration of the humpback whales along the Pacific Coast and indirectly to the start of a social movement to be more aware of the endangerment of these beings and ultimately to protect them ferociously. Coincidentally enough, the humpback whales will start migrating from Costa Rica to Alaska the exact same time I will start walking the PCT, along the same coast. I will metaphorically and literally be walking along with the whales, how cool is that!
- How do you plan to document this experience?
I am taking my little Dji gimbal camera as my companion on which I will capture everything. The content meant for the “Join The Migration” campaign will be on my Instagram (@whaletrailspct) and Innoceana’s instagram (@innoceana). People who want to follow my journey will be updated regularly through social media on the status of the fundraising, how my journey is going and the “Entangled” campaign. So be sure to join me!
- What do you expect to be the main challenges of this upcoming hike?
Additionally to the most obvious challenges that come with physical hardship, I expect a challenge to be boredom. When I first read about this in the book “Pacific Crest Trials” which addresses the mental challenges of the trial, my first thought was: “How in the world can you be bored when you have such amazing scenery?!” However when you come to think of it, our minds like to be entertained. In our modern life, our minds rarely get a moment of stillness. I noticed this change already when I moved from the Netherlands to the jungle of Costa Rica. I am sure this change will be even more profound when I will be walking in the wilderness in the United States, with nothing else but the scenery around me to distract my mind. It is a welcome change however since I think it will provide me with a lot more calmness when I am able to surrender to it.
- Is there anything you are nervous about (like running into bears)?
I think my family is more nervous about me running into bears than I am. The only thing I am nervous about is getting an injury and being forced to quit, but I have confidence in my body that it is strong enough.
- Do you believe your collaboration with Innoceana and everyone that will support this cause can facilitate lasting positive change after the trail is said and done?
Yes definitely. Some of us might often think our individual impact is too small in such a large world to make truly a lasting change, but this is only a limiting thought of the mind. Our connectedness to other people can cause a ripple effect which can spread far beyond our own networks. I believe in the power of this connectedness and the power of our willingness to change once a spark is ignited in us. We can make conscious choices every day that have a positive impact on the planet and the people around us. However small or large these daily choices might be, they all contribute to making this world a little better (this may sound very cliché, but it is so true!).
- What’s next for you after PCT?
For the first time in my life I do not know for sure what will happen after this period. Life is unpredictable and I have given up trying to control how life will turn out. However, my aim is to return to Costa Rica to live and work in this beautiful country.