We sat down with outdoor enthusiast and KÜHL lover Greg Sakowicz to talk about his journey from zero to more than 175 conquered trails in two years. Courageous, funny, and boldly sincere, the founder of “Fat Man Little Trail” shares his adventures on his blog, podcast, and social media. Read on and find out why you wouldn’t want to meet a giant mountain goat alone in the wilderness.
1. Greg, give us a little background information on who you are and why you started your journey with hiking?
My name is Greg and I am a fat man… Well, I guess I am THE fat man. I started the website and blog Fatmanlittletrail.com. I have lived in Colorado for the last 9 years but spent the first 7 of them working all the time and rarely leaving the city. I was always career-focused, and then I got injured at work which eventually led to me losing my career and job of 15 years. I was out of work, needing another surgery and then the pandemic hit. I was lost. Nobody was hiring, everything was closed. The only thing that was open were the trails.
I had always struggled with my weight as an adult, and I was always embarrassed to hike in Colorado because everyone here is in pretty amazing shape. But I decided to give it a shot. I was terrible when I started. I would try to hike on these small trails around my home and be struggling… like the Grim Reaper as a hiking partner struggling. I remember one time I was on this small incline, maybe a 6% grade, I was off to the side thinking that each breath I took was going to be my last. Then these two kids, maybe 7 and 9, ran past me like they didn’t notice the incline. They were wearing Crocs and drinking Capri Suns. I thought to myself, “well I’m just a fat man on this little trail”. That’s how my website was born.
I decided to embrace what once embarrassed me, and I didn’t want to miss out on the amazing world that was all around me. So over the course of the next year and a half, I hiked more than 175 trails. I have logged more than 1,000 miles and around 200,000 feet of elevation gain. I took what was so foreign to me and so far out of my comfort zone and turned it into a passion.
2. How did the process go from a focus on health to a lifestyle passion?
I don’t really remember the moment exactly for me, but I think it’s when I started lingering at the final destination of the hike. Let’s say the hike is going to finish at a lake. Those who are there for the workout come to the lake, take a couple of pictures and then turn around and head back down the trail towards the car. The ones who do it as a lifestyle get to the lake and stop. They might stay there for an hour or so and just enjoy the moment.
I do think that as my health improved I was able to enjoy hiking more, and it turned more into a lifestyle. When I started, I would have to take lots of breaks, and because I was embarrassed I was so out of shape I would hide it by taking pictures. I don’t need quite as many breaks anymore, but I still stop to take pictures. What I learned in those early days was that there is beauty throughout the trail and not just at the finish. I think so many people try to finish as fast as they can and miss out on all of the amazing stuff in between. For instance, trail runners make great time but miss so much. I think the passion for me is by trying to take it all in and not focus on my time or just the end of a hike.
Also, and this will sound like I am trying to gain points on this interview, but I think the first time I purchased a pair of KÜHL pants I knew this was a lifestyle. It is one thing to hike a couple of hills and empty out the work backpack to fill with Cliff bars or wear a pair of sweatpants from the back of the closet. When you start investing in clothing and equipment to make you enjoy your time even more, that’s when you know that you are hooked!
3. What keeps you motivated and getting after it every single weekend?
I don’t really need much motivation to get out as much as I do anymore. At the start I did. When I started it was like pulling teeth to get packed up and head to a hike. But every mile that I walked and every rock I stepped over slowly changed my outlook. Now it is harder for me to not go out than to go.
The days when the weather is terrible and I know it won’t be safe out there are the worst! When you can change your mindset and something that was a chore is now a reward that is when you know you truly love it. I think that if you struggle to want to do a hobby it might not be the hobby for you and there is no shame in that. If you have tried something a few times and you still don’t like doing it then try something else. You might love fishing or bike riding instead of hiking but you can’t force it if you don’t like it after a few tries.
4. What is the biggest lesson you have learned about yourself on this journey?
I knew that the more I hiked the better physical shape I would get in. I knew that the better physical shape I got in the easier it would get and the easier climbing the mountains would be. I’m still kind of waiting for it to get easier to climb the inclines though! What I didn’t realize is how much hiking would benefit my mental health as well. It was one of those changes that I didn’t even really notice but when I would talk to my friends they could see the changes more than I could.
I am more confident now and much more calm. While many people saw their stress levels rise or found themselves more anxious during the last year, my stress and anxieties have gone down. One of the blogs I wrote was called, Hiking alone not Lonely Hiking.
It’s funny, when I first started I would have an inner dialogue and try to answer all of the questions of the world on those 8-hour hikes. And now that I have had time to answer all of those questions I feel like I know myself well enough to hike in silence and just enjoy the moment. I feel like nobody is ever alone anymore. When they have a free minute, they are scrolling through social media and subconsciously comparing themselves to others. In the middle of the woods with no cell service and just thoughts, you begin comparing yourself to yourself and realize that is the only comparison that matters.
5. What is the craziest encounter you’ve had on a trail?
The craziest encounter I had was pretty tame by some standards, but I was hiking up a pretty steep cliff and when I got to the top, not six feet away from me, was this mountain goat decked out in full winter coat. This thing was as tall as I was, not saying much as I’m only 5’6, and staring right at me. And I was teetering on the edge of this ledge.
We made eye contact for what felt like a minute, and then she started walking towards me. Now I know she probably just wanted a snack from my bag, but in my mind I of course thought that she wanted to buck me over the edge. That was a touch nerve racking. I retreated down the ledge, and she went off in the other direction.
I have also seen some moose. Moose are animals that are absolutely stunning and to see one in nature is pretty special… but they are so big and always in a bad mood. I would not mind not seeing a moose again!
6. What was your biggest challenge on a hike? When you really felt like “I can’t do this” and overcame it?
My answer to this question might actually surprise you. I am a firm believer that there are times when “I can’t do this” is absolutely the right answer. I wrote a blog a while ago called, I Tried and I Lost and That’s OK. I think that when people try to start a hiking program or try to spend more time in nature they try to bite off a little more than they can chew at times. I have quit on more than one hike but I know that the mountain or the trail isn’t going anywhere and I can always try it again another time. I don’t want to be the person who gets into a position that I can’t get out of.
That being said, I have hiked over 1,000 miles and almost 200,000 feet of elevation gain in the last year and a half. For me, my entire journey has been me feeling like “I can’t do this” and overcoming it. I am over 40, I am overweight and out of shape. But I have been to a lot of places that people younger and fitter than me have not. My philosophy and one of my first blogs was called, Screw It, I’m Trying. I take that approach to my hiking now. A lot of the hikes I do I know will be a struggle, and I know I will have to put forth a ton of effort. But I just keep going and I try my hardest to finish. If I get in a position where I just don’t feel safe I will stop and try again another time.
There is a mountain out here called Mt. Sniktau. It is challenging but not the hardest thing technically. It is just really steep, and it was going to be my first 13er or 13,000-foot peak. That thing took me 3 or 4 tries before I finally finished, but I did. The first runs I didn’t feel safe or comfortable, but when I got in better shape and the weather was better, I did it. It felt amazing to finish that mountain. Sniktau was the source of the “I tried and I lost” blog but I followed up with, Take that Mountain!. I have finished all the mountains I have had to quit, except two, and they are on my list to finish soon.
7. What is your favorite aspect of hiking?
I think hiking is something different to everyone. For me, I love the fact that I am spending a few hours with no cell signal! It is a time when I can become connected to nature and everything slows down. I live in downtown Denver and the city has this energy that is unmatched. Everything moves so fast. So I love the ability to contrast that with nature and how slow everything moves. But I have found that even the slow methodical nature of nature has an amazing energy.
I remember one day I was sitting on the side of a creek in fall. The creek looked like it was barely moving, and then a leaf fell from an aspen tree and hit the water and took off like a speed boat down that creek. The energy of nature is always there but it is masked in the grandeur of your surroundings. If you look at a field with trees at the end it almost looks like a painting, a moment frozen in time. Everything is calm from that viewpoint. But if you look at a single leaf on one of those trees at the end of the field you will see it blowing in the wind and struggling to hang on to the branch.
8. What inspired you to start your blog and YouTube channel?
I really started the blog as a way to learn more skills. I worked in media for 20 years and the landscape is shifting so rapidly, I figured I needed these new skills. I didn’t think I would get anyone outside of my family to read it, and then I started to get a lot of people reading it! I have had readers from 72 different countries in the last year and that is really cool.
What really got me to put a lot of time and effort into the blog, YouTube Channel, Podcast and social channels is that I started getting notes from random people who told me that I had helped motivate them to start their own journeys either to fitness or the outdoors. Basically, I had been able to help someone work towards a better life than they had. That is such an amazing feeling.
To think that my words have had an impact on someone enough that they were inspired to be more active or to see a different part of the world, I can’t even describe what that feeling meant to me. Now I know that everytime I write something or do another hike I might be able to help someone else, and it feels amazing.
9. What is the one KÜHL product you never leave home without when hitting the trails?
This is a tricky one because I pretty much exclusively hike in KÜHL gear. I always hike in KÜHL pants. I have 5 pairs, and I just love the way they fit and how flexible and durable they are on the trail. I remember one time I was hiking at Arches on the Primitive trail, and there are a couple places that require some butt slides. I was hiking next to a guy, and we both did the slide. I was in KÜHL Renegades and he was in another brand. His pants split down the middle on his backside and mine were good to go!
But for me, there are a couple items I always have in my pack. The weather in Colorado where I do most of my hiking can change quickly and extremely, so I always like to be prepared. I always have my KÜHL neck gaiter, KÜHL Engineered™ Hoody, and either my KÜHL Jetstream™ (Summer and early Fall) or KÜHL The One™ Shell (Winter and late Fall) in my pack with me. The neck gaiter and Hoody are great lightweight pieces that provide warmth and protect from the elements. The Jetstream™ and The One™ Shell are waterproof rain jackets for those pop up storms.
Recently I got a The One Hoody which is a lightweight windbreaker with a liner that is super warm. I wore it and a T-shirt on a 38-degree hike and it was warm. So, that might be my new go-to layer for the late fall and winter hikes.
10. What advice would you give people inspired but hesitant to start getting more into hiking?
First off, they should read my blog! I even have a getting started guide for them. In all honesty, the problem I had getting started was that I was worried I was going to embarrass myself. I started really slow on small trails, and I did embarrass myself. Then I looked around and realized that other people were breathing just as hard on the trail as I was. I shifted the important part for me. I wasn’t as focused on climbing the tallest mountains or doing the hardest hikes. I became focused on enjoying myself while I was out there.
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