Originally from Queens, New York, Ralph started hiking in Los Angeles at the age of 26 and never stopped. In 2014 he created TRLBLZRS, an LA-based hiking group aimed at getting people from all walks of life outdoors and connecting them to nature.
Why is getting outside important?
The most important thing to me is how it improves my mental health. Since day one, I’ve used time outside to take care of all the stress I’ve amassed during the week. I like to meditate while walking and also to connect with people.
I think spending time outside is highly important for city dwellers. We are surrounded by way more distractions in our metropolises. Being outdoors is more important than ever as we get more inundated with media, news and adult responsibilities. I’m not saying people should spend every waking moment in the outdoors—but take some time to build it into your life on a regular basis. The mental health benefits are astounding.
Why did you start TRLBLZRS in 2014? What has it grown into today?
I started hiking with a group of friends and we all happened to be black men. We got together every weekend in 2012 to catch up and destress. We all fell in love with it.
After a couple of years of hiking together, we all noticed there was a bit of a void in the outdoors space—there weren’t many black people. We wanted to help connect other people to the outdoors, those who didn’t have exposure.
I felt like something needed to happen, so I started emailed invites to join me on my favorite hikes on a monthly basis. I started gathering friends and coworkers on this email list. The first hike I got 14 people out. We had a good time.
Now, we have people from all walks of life. It’s grown from my friends and colleagues to six degrees of separation. We split off into small groups to mingle and network. It’s a great way to build connections.
Who inspires you to get outside?
My son is about to turn 2—he inspires me to get out. He has a lot of energy, first and foremost. We can make do in parks and the indoors, but he needs space. I’ve taken him outside since he was 3 months old. He’s loved it. His eyes are focused on the trees and sky.
I also have a toy poodle that is 8 years old. I got him in New York. When he came to LA and he could hike up a mountain for 14 miles roundtrip and 3,000 feet of elevation without stopping, it made me fall in love with him in a different way. I love taking him outside and seeing him do his thing. He’s running circles around the group of TRLBLAZERS. He likes to check on every person and then run back up to the front.
God inspires me too. Every time I see running water and the foliage and the wildflowers blooming in spring, I’m feeling a spiritual presence.
In whom are you fostering a love for the outdoors?
The first thing my family and friends who come into town ask is, “Can we go on a hike?” I post on social media for my family on the East Coast because, like me growing up, a lot of them haven’t been exposed to the outdoors. They can see what’s going on and the different things I’m able to do.
What is your favorite piece of gear and what’s the story behind it?
My favorite piece of gear is my water filter. I have a Katadyn and an MSR. I like them because water is essential—you need to stay hydrated. A filter also gives folks a sense of freedom and liberty. With this tool and my water bottle or bladder, I can go anywhere, be that much lighter and explore that much more.
What does being an REI Co-op member mean to you?
Being an REI Co-op member means that I’m covered. I don’t need to go anywhere else. If I go to any other store, it’s because I want to see how it compares to REI. And I’ve got Expert Advice. I’m not, by any means, an expert and I get everything I need from REI. I’ve never had an issue. Customer satisfaction has been 110 percent. It’s very dangerous.
What other adventures are on your bucket list?
I’m going to do Mount Whitney. I’m putting that out there. It was supposed to happen last year!
Do you have any last thoughts?
Share your love for nature with those that need it most—whether they’re strangers or family members with a phobia of bears. Share it with them and open their eyes so they can have the opportunity to fall in love like you did. And share it with the kids, bro, share it with the kids.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.