I Love to Walk
One foot in front of the other, Kirsten Rechnitz crossed the Mexican state of Chiapas and into Yucatán, climbing up pyramids, temples and ruins and meeting people from the ancient cultures that built them. Home to the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque, Yaxchilán, Bonampak, and Chinkultic, Chiapas presented a wealth of anthropological topics for her academic research—but it was the walking, of all things, that led to a life-changing discovery for Kirsten.
“I found out that I really love to walk,” she recalls, after finding in Mexico that she had a knack for traveling long distances on foot. When she completed her research—funded by a grant from her alma mater, Vanderbilt University— Kirsten turned away from the promising academic path ahead of her and instead set out to spend as much time in nature, and on foot, as possible.
This passion for a more simple approach took her from a stint as a climbing and rappelling guide in Costa Rica to enrolling in an outdoor survival school in Boulder, Utah, where she has been an instructor since 2009. Kirsten has traveled to over 30 countries in the northern hemisphere, spent a month practicing primitive living skills alone in the Escalante Canyons of Utah, and showcased her survival savvy on the reality TV show Capture.
As she pursues a lifestyle on foot and in the wild, cleansing her life of non-essentials became a top priority for Kirsten, both practically and philosophically. “After having traveled so much and seen how so many people around the world live, I wanted to see, if I got rid of everything, if I simplified, what was it, just for me personally, that I wanted to reintroduce into my life that’s modern,” she explains.
And simplify she did. Kirsten now only holds onto what fits in her truck, a sort of “mobile storage device” that allows her to travel to foreign countries or be out on her homeland in Utah for prolonged periods of time without worrying about her things. And that’s to say nothing of a mortgage—for many years, Kirsten has lived in a wigwam, tent, or makeshift shelter out under the stars, free to come and go as she pleases.
For Kirsten, the most important modern technologies that she uses when she’s not in the wilderness are the ones that keep her connected with loved ones. Being able to call friends or mom and dad, or have Skype dates with nieces and nephews are things she won’t be giving up anytime soon.
“I feel like my experience over the last decade has shown me that I kind of have a foot in both worlds… There are certain things I have to bring in in order to keep the connections that I want.”
A completely different path from the academic one she was on before, Kirsten’s outdoor lifestyle provoked questions from friends and family, but she insisted that it fulfilled her on many levels: intellectually, physically, creatively, and spiritually.
Kirsten is constantly engaged in learning about different climates, local geology, and resources in whatever location she visits, a quest aided by her academic background in anthropology and research.
Physically, she continues to nurture her passion for walking and enjoys the challenge of traveling long distances and planning nutrition around her pursuits. A self-proclaimed “sunshine eater,” she highlights her heightened awareness of nutrition as a key takeaway from living on the land.
“I’m literally eating the freshest things possible and, in gathering them, increasing my health because I’m walking to go find them. I feel strong that way and healthy that way, and I think it’s a really beautiful activity that I’d love for more people to be a part of, because you can do it in the city too.”
The act of walking serves as a rich creative catalyst for Kirsten. Using nature as her muse, she frequently documents her walkabouts through drawing, painting, photography, and writing and is currently writing a book on foraging in the mountain states.
Spiritually, walking is her religion. “I think that in western culture, we’ve sought a lot of different historical and cultural advice on forms of meditation and relaxation, and for me not a lot of that fit,” she explains. “But the concepts behind it, and I think what the results are, I have found by simply walking in nature.”
She has observed, both through her own experience and those of her students, how simplification breeds gratitude. In nature, finding things to build a shelter or food to cook, things that bring comfort amidst the elements become precious, and people tend to return to modern life with a greater sense of appreciation for it all after living so simply in the wild.
Stepping forward into the next stage of her life, Kirsten plans to extend her career into opportunities around the world that may provide greater financial upsides. She points to her experiences as a survival instructor in Utah as critical preparation.
“I needed all that experience and that knowledge, so that I could broaden my options for how to get my other foot back in the world of modernity and money. You don’t make much money as an outdoor survival guide, so it’s not a completely sustainable profession… The last few years, I’ve been seeking jobs that now take me out of just my expertise in high desert and low mountain range survival and push me into [other climates] so that I can expand myself professionally and pick up jobs and work at other times of the year.”
Recently, Kirsten’s skills she acquired as a guide have propelled her into survival consulting for Hollywood productions, including a trip to the Peruvian Amazon, where she managed the excursion logistics and safety of the crew for a TV show set in the jungle.
Kirsten’s involvement in television—both as a competitor on the reality show Capture and as a consultant for other programs—may seem contradictory to her otherwise low-tech lifestyle. But it actually illustrates her belief that there’s more than one way to meaningfully integrate nature into one’s life.
“The message to me is simply ‘get outdoors more,’” she says. “I don’t care whether or not you’re living as a hunter-gatherer or, you know, directly out on the earth, or camping, or just taking a walk to the grocery store. The message of reminding people to walk and get fresh air in their lungs and be outside is huge… If that message gets out there, then I’m happy, and it’s fun, and enjoyable, and healthful to be outside.”
Are You Simple?
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