Boots McFarland: How the Quirky Hiking Comic Found its Feet  

Startup StoriesAmy Hatch

 Boots McFarland Geolyn Carvin Thru-Hiking Backpacking Outdoor Comic

In 2001, Geolyn Carvin was hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains when she stumbled on a sign with the distance to Mexico … and Canada. That moment along the Pacific Crest Trail ignited her imagination. “Don’t you just want to go?” her friend asked her.  

Geolyn soon found herself section-hiking the PCT, an endeavor she chipped away at for 13 years, until completing the full length of the trail in 2014. 

While on trail, Geolyn kept a journal. After trips, she’d bring her writings to work for others to read. “This is comedy,” one of her co-workers told her. As someone who’s always been an artist — “doodling, painting, stuff like that” — Geolyn began taking her journal jokes and turning them into single-panel ideas. 

She named the character featured throughout her cartoons Boots McFarland. In the panels, Boots revels in the inevitable challenges nature throws her way. She also meets Big Foot and encounters aliens.  

Boots McFarland Geolyn Carvin Thru-Hiking Backpacking Outdoor Comic

But more than anything, it’s the way Geolyn — through Boots — keys in on hiking culture that makes the cartoons stand out. From admiring tourists’ sparkling white shoes to hearing nothing but the word ‘pie,’ the series is an exploration of the unique way long-distance hikers and mountain athletes view the world. 

Boots McFarland Geolyn Carvin Thru-Hiking Backpacking Outdoor Comic

Geolyn’s favorite part of Boots McFarland is how people relate to the humor. “These circumstances are things every hiker has to deal with, so it’s kind of universal,” she said. 

Geolyn now releases a new cartoon most Mondays on Instagram and Facebook. Her work is also now published in Tahoe Weekly. But initially, it all began with weekly emails sent out to friends. 

Continually coming up with new ideas can be challenging. To spur Geolyn’s creativity, she often opens up her journal and sticks her finger down on any random page. “Where’s the humor there?” she asks herself. “And it’s always there. Even when it’s not a funny situation, when you look at it later, there’s always some humor.” 

Boots McFarland Geolyn Carvin Thru-Hiking Backpacking Outdoor Comic Geolyn Carvin

Some Boots McFarland panels come right away for Geolyn, while other ideas take months to distill the humor. And, then, even after she’s penned an idea, she’s not always sure how it will land. 

“It’s kind of interesting,” Goelyn said. “When I post I never know how relatable something will be. I assume, ‘oh everyone’s experienced that,’ and I’ll be completely wrong, and vice versa. That surprises me.”

Geolyn’s favorite cartoons aren’t necessarily the most popular. As a self-described ‘goofy person’ she loves the weird, quirky comics — “the fantasy meeting Big Foot on the trail kind of thing.”  

Boots McFarland Geolyn Carvin Thru-Hiking Backpacking Outdoor Comic

“By the way,” she added, “I’ve never actually worn boots, always running shoes, which makes it kind of funny too.” It was her roommate at the time who came up with the last name ‘McFarland,’ which immediately resonated with Geolyn because “it sounds big and like you’re going to far away places,” she said. 

Recently, Geolyn published a book featuring a compilation of her Boots McFarland comic strips. “A book is a lot of work, I will tell you that,” she said. “But everyone loves it. They want to see more. The main complaint I get is that it’s too short, which is an awesome compliment, of course” 

Boots McFarland Geolyn Carvin Thru-Hiking Backpacking Outdoor Comic book

Taking a cue from her fans, Geolyn is now neck deep in a second, follow-up book. She also spends her time working for Tarptent — which has meant a lot of seam sealing at her home in Northern California during the pandemic — and getting outdoors as much as possible. In addition to backpacking, she’s become an avid bikepacker. 

Boots McFarland Geolyn Carvin Thru-Hiking Backpacking Outdoor Comic

Photo by Erica Dombro

“I’m still very connected to being in that space where life is simple and the only things that matter are staying dry and warm and eating when you’re hungry,” she said. 

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