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Adventure / August 20, 2017

These comics get the hiking life

Written by: Brenna Stevens

It is, of course, not fair to say that every stratum of our society is represented in the newspaper comics section. But there do seem to be cartoons for a pretty wide variety of lifestyles—military folks have Beetle Bailey, office drones have Dilbert, right-wing fanatics have The Family Circus… the list goes on and on.

Geolyn Carvin’s “Boots McFarland” looks to do the same thing for long-distance hikers. The webcomic hasn’t yet joined ranks of the syndicated legends listed above, but it does have a large and loyal online following.

If you’ve spent any time on the trail, it won’t be hard for you to see why. Carvin’s comics capture elements of the outdoor life that every hiker has experienced, but very few have even talked about. Like the weird tendency of fellow hikers to appear out of nowhere the moment you drop trou:

The comic was inspired by Carvin’s time on the Pacific Crest Trail, which she completed in sections over 13 years (Boots McFarland was her “trail name” on the PCT). She started drawing the comic in 2003, and now produces one each week for her almost 10,000 Facebook fans.

“I’d say 90% of the ideas are from personal experiences or friends experiences,” Carvin told Shoulders of Giants. “There’s very little fiction. I’m sure that’s why most everyone can relate, because these are real situations and observations.”

That makes sense. The adventures of “Boots” involve everything from the outrageous to the ordinary (or at least what passes for “ordinary” among backpackers). Almost every panel will feel familiar to anyone who’s spent serious time on the trail.

For now, Carvin says, the comic is a labor of love. She makes draws the comics in her spare time, when she isn’t backpacking or working at TarpTent: a California company that manufactures ultralight shelters.

Carvin spends about 25 nights a year sleeping out of doors, and she says these trips give her all the inspiration she needs for her comics. Like most backpackers (and skiers, and climbers, and triathletes, etc.), she relishes the soggy, dirty discomfort that steers most “normal” folks away from the backcountry.

“I think it’s almost a primal sort of joy when you’re out there in the real world experiencing life on so many levels,” says Carvin. “And then there is the gift of contrast. When you’re truly hungry, food is amazing. The bed at home is never so comfortable… the couch is brilliant!”

That contrast is evident in Boots’ adventures, but so is the beauty of the trail’s quiet moments.

Carvin is in the process of shopping a Boots McFarland book, but hasn’t chosen a publisher. She hopes to put something out by next year. In the meantime, her comics are published regularly on the Boots McFarland Cartoon Facebook page.

Do you have questions or comments about this feature? Email them to us at [email protected]. 

about the author

Brenna Stevens

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Brenna has spent more of her life outdoors than in. An avid camper, backpacker, and wine drinker, she writes primarily about outdoor culture for Shoulders of Giants.

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