Tommy Corey is a 33-year-old self-taught photographer based out of Bend, Oregon. On trail, you may know him as Twerk. Twerk attempted the PCT in 2017 and thru-hiked it in 2018.
Twerk first picked up a camera at the age of twelve after being inspired by a friend’s older brother. For the brother’s senior portfolio presentation, he chose portrait photography and focused on fellow classmates.
One girl featured in his project was a little shy, but when she first saw the photos of herself, she cried and thanked him for making her feel so beautiful. Seeing her cry on his shoulder was the moment Twerk knew that’s what he wanted to do.
“I want to show people how I see them and make them feel beautiful,” he says.
Twenty years later, recounting this experience to me, the power of this moment can still be felt in his voice and seen in his eyes as he fights back tears. This is still the story that inspires his work today.
Twerk wasn’t a stranger to the idea of thru-hiking when his roommate in 2017 proposed he join him on his hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Twerk’s oldest brother had actually hiked the same trail six years earlier after a breakup, but at the time their whole family thought he was having a mental breakdown. Twerk had even told himself that he would never do something like that.
Yet, after his roommate, a former AT thru-hiker, broke up with his long-term girlfriend to hit the trail, Twerk began to think there must be something special about thru-hiking. “For a guy to break up with someone he loves for the PCT, that’s crazy.”
After several glasses of wine to ease his roommate’s aching heart, Tommy made the decision to embark on a trip that would change the path of his life.
Eight months before embarking on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada, Twerk went backpacking for his first and only time: a 50 mile trip on the Sisters Loop.
Reason for quitting in 2017?
When Twerk started the PCT he told himself: “I’ll do 500 miles and see if I like it.”
After 900 miles he realized he “wasn’t feeling it.”
He skipped the Sierras due to snow and then found himself surrounded by different people, as a side effect of jumping around the trail, and it “didn’t feel the same.”
He got off trail and returned to an old job in Portland. “Oh, oh, this is boring. I don’t want to be doing this, I want to go do that”
Reason for retrying in 2018?
“I missed the people and the culture. Missed not caring about what I look like and how I had to present myself to people. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could just be me. Because you can’t really hide it out there. Something I haven’t really experienced much.”
“Coming from a small town and being gay and moving to big cities like Portland — yeah I felt like I could be myself in big liberal cities — but then doing the PCT I was like oh, I’ve never experienced actually genuinely getting to just be myself and having people accept me for whatever kind of day I am having and vise versa. And that’s what I really really missed.”
“Coming back home I realized some of these people kinda suck. And your trail friends, people you’ve only known for 3 years from the trail are better friends than people I have known for 20 years. Or you come home and realize that some of these friends are really really good friends. You just have this new definition of friendship after the trail.”
What was different in 2018?
“I knew I wanted to be there. It only took 3 weeks back home to realize I wished I was back out there — and started saving to get back out there.”
“The first day back out on trail, it’s nothing that pretty, but I was so fuckin’ happy. I was like, it’s so beautiful, I missed it. And every day I was so happy to be there. And even on those hard days I would check myself and say, well where do you want to be right now? And the answer was always right here. I don’t want to be at Canada yet. I want to be right here.”
“I am happy I quit the first time because I don’t think I would’ve had that same love for it if I had done the whole thing in 2017. Going back and knowing I want to soak up every fucking moment and every single mile was so beneficial.”
Trail name backstory - During his 2017 thru-hike, Twerk led nightly yoga sessions and was seen twerking upside down on a tree at sunset in a beautiful boulder field.
Go-to town food - Broccoli or anything green and fresh.
Luxury item - Blow-up bluetooth speaker for night hiking and yoga twerk sessions.
Advice to a new thru-hiker - “Yeah, you can research all you want, but go out with an open mind because it’s probably not what you think… it’s going to be better!”
First night out of town food - Mountain House and then Twerk reuses the bag to rehydrate and cook meals for the rest of the week, so his pot doesn't get dirty.
“Best one though was this one time our trail family of 5 packed out charcuterie and wine out of Tuolumne Meadows and found this big log and we have all of these pictures where we made it like a charcuterie board and put little pine needles and made it all cool. That was a really fun night.”
Hardest day on trail - Stung by 4 wasps, one on the face. Twerk was so frustrated he threw his trekking poles against a tree. This was in Washington and his ankles were already like, “idk if we are going to hold up. We are getting tired. I was having a hard time but still wanted to be there. Didn’t want it to end but I knew it’s probably got to end soon.”
Hiker Trash Vogue
Following his childhood dreams of working for Vogue one day and being like Annie Leibovitz, Tommy spent a stint in college for photography and fashion. But after being in school surrounded by the fashion kids, he realized fashion wasn’t his thing.
This didn’t extinguish his love of portrait photography though, so in 2018 during his redemption hike, Twerk brought along a camera. (He tried to tell me it was a luxury item, but after you see his work, I think you will agree it is a necessity in his pack.)
The first of the Hiker Trash Vogue photos were taken in Wrightwood, mile 369 on the PCT. It was done with humor when Twerk thought it would be fun for his 8 bunkmates to all grab a piece of gear and do a model photoshoot.
Thinking it was really funny he posted the photos to Instagram, tagging the brands featured in the photos. People loved it! So then he kept taking these types of photos and sharing them. The photos were so well-received, he made The Hiker Trash Vogue Book and was contacted by several companies seeking ways to work with him.
Twerk’s Visual Podcast
“I wanted to be Oprah as a kid. I love Oprah. And I think that that love of her life translated a lot into my work in the sense that I just love knowing things about people — not secrets or things like that — but I like knowing people's stories. I like knowing why people are the way they are; why and how they function in the world; why they interact with people the way they do.”
Twerk’s most recent endeavor is what he is calling a visual podcast: telling people’s stories with a highly immersive visual experience that makes the viewer feel the emotions being conveyed by the speaker.
Beautiful enough to be watched muted or listened to with the screen off, when both come together it creates an experience that will have you walking away feeling moved.
Twerk isn’t focused on those with the most influence on social media or those that have accomplished monumental goals, but on real people and the real intimate stories they have to share.
“I want to make a beautiful film and I want people to see it and feel connected to it and get a little glimpse of who they (interviewees) are. But what's really important to me is that the person I'm interviewing feels the same way that that girl felt seeing those photos, she got taken over.”
“I want them to feel like, Oh my God, thank you. Like you made me feel beautiful and you represented me in a really beautiful way. That's really important to me.”
Three out of three times, when Twerk has shown interviewees their finished episode, they have cried.