Pattie Gonia, the self-described "backpacking queen," is quite possibly the greatest addition to Instagram in 2018.
Her account, @pattiegonia, named as a pun on the outdoor retailer Patagonia, is helmed by Wyn Wiley, a 26-year-old Nebraska-based photographer who created it in early October. In the short time since, Pattie has amassed nearly 80,000 followers. According to the bio, she's “a proud LGBTQ advocate" who's here to bring "inclusivity, positivity, and heels into the outdoors." (When creating videos, photos, and captions for Pattie, Wiley, who uses he/him/his pronouns when talking about himself, uses she/they for Pattie.) How, exactly, does she do that?
Through videos like the one below, set to the tune of Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” in which Pattie bids adieu to environmental threats while dancing next to a cliff in Yosemite with hiking poles and 6-inch heels:
There’s also this "Crazy in Love"–themed post in which Pattie, in full nature-inspired drag, does her best Beyoncé impression:
Oh, and this seriously impressive yoga-on-a-rock sequence that Pattie somehow completed in—you guessed it—6-inch heels:
Pattie Gonia was born earlier this year when Wiley was just having coffee with friends.
“We were thinking up new ridiculous funny drag queen names, and someone threw out Pattie Gonia,” Wiley tells SELF. "I was like: 'Um, yep!'" So on an upcoming backpacking trip to the Continental Divide, Wiley squeezed his drag boots into his backpack (“they’re the least space-convenient thing on planet Earth”) and created the debut video, set to the tune of Fergie’s “London Bridge,” in which Pattie writhes atop a rock, twirls hiking poles, eats Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and struts across a trail-turned-runway in her signature heels. “It was a little video to say: Live your life unapologetically—have fun,” says Wiley, who shared it on his personal-slash-professional Instagram account, @wynwileyphoto, with the intention of it being a one-time thing.
Yet the footage quickly garnered hundreds of views and positive comments—like, “I’m obsessed with her already,” “This is exactly what I needed tonight,” and, “Best thing I’ve seen in forever”—which inspired Wiley to build a separate account. Pattie’s persona and message morphed from there.
“I came at it from a very comedic angle at first, but what I’m realizing is that it’s really important to a lot of people, and the outdoors are really important to a lot of people,” says Wiley, an Eagle Scout, avid skier, frequent backpacker, and aspiring trail runner, of the evolution of the account. “For queer people, the narrative sadly often is to be pushed into really urban spaces to [find] acceptance.”
A little more than two months after her genesis, the goal with Pattie, he says, is to rewrite that narrative. “I want queer people and anyone on the spectrum stepping into the outdoors to feel like that space is theirs to find out a little more about who they are and enjoy their lives,” he says. He aims to spread this message by blending fun, inspiration, and education in his posts.
“We all just want to be entertained when we open our phones and go to Instagram, but if we can be entertained and get a little dose of Oh, that challenges my thinking a little bit, or That’s a little bit inspiring, that’s beautiful,” he says.
Wiley says the Instagram community that follows Pattie has widened his own perspective on what defines inclusivity in the outdoors.
Wiley says he tries to be “so completely thoughtful about the content and messages that Pattie pushes out and stands for.” Even so, he admits that through the account, he’s learned much about inclusivity in the outdoors himself, like when he posted a video of Pattie dancing to the song “Colors of the Wind” from the Disney movie Pocahontas.
“I had a lot of people in my inbox saying, Just so you know, that was a song written by a white person about [Native American] tribes put together by a giant corporation that’s basically just trying to sell another movie. Yes, they did try to do the research, but the story is told in a completely unrepresented way, and maybe just think about that,” he says. “That was a beautiful learning moment for me,” and inspired a follow-up post on Thanksgiving in which Pattie discusses the importance of understanding the history of indigenous people and lands in the U.S.
“Pattie has been a journey for me to learn way more about the outdoors world,” says Wiley.
Mixing traditional standards of femininity and masculinity is a signature and important part of Pattie’s persona.
Scroll through Pattie’s account and you’ll rarely see her in head-to-toe drag. Instead, she often mixes stereotypical feminine and masculine attire—a heeled boot here, a backwards baseball cap there—and Wiley believes this amalgamation is a key part of her intrigue and popularity.
“If I showed up in full drag when I made that first video, I don’t think it would have reached the same audience as it really did,” says Wiley. He also sees this feminine-meets-masculine combination as an important reflection of the human experience.
“We all have more 'feminine' or more 'masculine' aspects to who we are, and I think when we realize that all of those parts make us human, that’s really beautiful,” says Wiley. “Of course Pattie is really exaggerated on one end, but I feel like the more I’ve really been able to bounce between all different sides of me, the more whole I’ve felt as a human.”
He sees nature as a judgement-free zone in which we can unleash these nuanced components of our personalities. “Nature does not care who we are at all,” says Wiley. “Nature just is and it’s so beautiful, and we are so beautiful as we are. Why can’t we just dance and celebrate that?”
The behind-the-scenes production for Pattie is as glorious (and as painful) as you might imagine.
Creating videos for Pattie Gonia, which Wiley does with the help of friends, requires multiple takes and significant time in heels. “What it looks like behind the scenes is me falling on my f***ing ass,” he says. “It is a hot mess express.”
As for the heels themselves, “they’re tall as f***, and it’s about as tall as I could ever go,” says Wyn, who is 6-foot-3 barefoot. All that trekking, dancing, and prancing does a number on the footwear (and probably his feet, to be honest), which is why he rotates between three black pairs and is currently stocking his inventory with more.
Though Wiley is the first to admit that hiking in such tall shoes is “not smart,” he says that Pattie takes precautions to protect both herself and the trails she walks—er, struts—on. “She is not ruining the ground under her and it might look like she is on the edge of a cliff, but there is definitely an overhang below,” says Wiley. “It’s plenty safe.” (But of course, you shouldn't ever hike in footwear that's not appropriate for the terrain to avoid injuring yourself.)
Beyond sharing humorous and informative content, Wiley hopes to use Pattie as a platform to partner with outdoor brands and further promote inclusivity in the outdoors.
Multiple brands have already reached out to Pattie with potential sponsorship deals, says Wiley, and he’s weighing them carefully. He’s not interested in obtaining free swag—he’s looking for partners that will help him expand Pattie Gonia’s mission through do-go work. In the coming year, Wiley hopes to raise $ 100,000 for LGBTQ nonprofits, donate outdoor gear to those who can’t afford it, attempt a 10- to 20-mile fundraising hike (all in heels, of course), and lead groups of first-time hikers as Pattie Gonia. “My dream would be for all shapes and sizes, all colors, all levels of experience to just get out and be in community with each other,” he says.
If Wiley has a message for anyone who follows Pattie, however they identify and whether they're an avid outdoors-person or a never-before-hiker, it’s this:
“Take a chance and practice self love—it will be worth it," he says. Also: “As cliché as it sounds, live unapologetically. You have nothing to prove and everything to give.”