To kick off 2021, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kara Richardson Whitely, a plus-size adventurer and author of the book and soon-to-be a major motion picture, “Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds.” Kara has climbed Kilimanjaro not once, but three, times! We find out why she’s so drawn to this mountain, learn more about the hardships she’s faced as a plus-size adventurer in the outdoor industry, and find out what famous star reached out to her to turn her book “Gorge” into a movie!
Since we’re based in a pretty new-agey town, we like to start off every interview with the all-important question of, what is your birth sign?
You play many roles in your day-to-day life. Can you share with us what all you’re up to these days?
Yes, I’m not only a plus-size adventurer and three-time author, but I’m also a motivational speaker who has spoken at Google, Sanofi, Columbia Sportswear, Pfizer, Dartmouth, Purdue, and CU Boulder to name a few. Additionally, I’m an influencer for L.L. Bean, wife to my wonderful husband Chris, mom to 3 kids under 12, and a new St. Bernard puppy named Penny, oh, and the executive movie director for my movie, Gorge.
We’re so impressed by your three trips to Kilimanjaro. Can you share with us why you chose this particular mountain and why you returned to it three times?
Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain that you can hike to the top of. Meaning it isn’t a technical climb. Of course, at 19,343 feet the air is thin (half as much oxygen as at sea level) so every step takes everything you’ve got.
It seems like the outdoor industry is finally starting to realize that not all outdoor enthusiasts are built the same and that there are many plus-size adventurers out there who they’ve been ignoring. Could you share with us some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome in this industry to do the things you like to do and what you are doing to help others break through the barriers and go after what they love to do?
When I started hiking—realizing that I had been telling myself that “I’ll take on that adventure when I lose weight” for too long—there just wasn’t the gear to get out there and take on the trails that I really wanted to do. Even the socks were too tight at outdoors stores. I think being out there and showing the world that people in all sorts of body shapes and sizes love the outdoors, shows brands that we should also fit into their gear. I’m an advocate and consultant helping brands (across all industries) reach the 67 percent of women size 12 and above. I also am a speaker helping people love where they are and go from there… using my story to help others overcome all sorts of obstacles in their lives.
You recently got some really exciting news that “This is Us” actress, Chrissy Metz, wants to produce an adaptation of your book, “Gorge,” about your journey up Kilimanjaro at 300 pounds. What does it feel like to know you will be watching your story being portrayed on screen and someone will be playing you? Has it been confirmed if Chrissy will be playing you or someone else? When is production expected to start?
It is such an honor to be working with Chrissy—because I so admire her work on “This Is Us.” Watching her in the role of Kate truly mirrored my complicated relationship with food and body, so I knew she could bring truth to my story on screen. And yes, it will be here—Covid sure is complicating things but fingers crossed that it will be this year.
You live in one of our favorite places in the US, Vermont! Two members of our staff went to the University of Vermont in Burlington. Tell us what your perfect outdoor day looks like there and where we’d find you playing outdoors?
I am so heartbroken not to be up in Vermont right now for the holidays. But if it was a nice summer day, you’d probably find me cranking out a few more miles on the Long Trail (the 273-mile path between the Massachusetts and Canadian border). I did 100 miles of it last summer. I’m not sure if I’ll complete it because I’d love to move on to other adventures next summer (if international travel is back on the map, the Tour De Mont Blanc is next on my list), but I don’t feel like my work is done on the Long Trail yet.
We saw that you did a bit of the Long Trail in VT this summer. How different was it to take on something like this during the pandemic and how did you ensure the safety of yourself and others around you? What was the highlight of the trip and the low?
I was able to do about 100 miles of it with mostly day hikes, which was one of the recommendations as I was planning the trip. We were very careful to follow COVID guidelines and rented an Airbnb in West Dover as our base so my husband and I could take turns on the trail and our kids could have amazing summer adventures there. It truly was one of our best summers yet.
The high was Bromley. There are actually few views along the trail and this was such a pleasant hike with a big view payoff. It was also kind of cool hanging out on a summer day and eating lunch on the ski lifts.
The low was heat stroke and having to bail one day. It was such an important lesson in listening to my body. So even though it was a low, I have no regrets.
What song/artist is on replay for you right now?
My favorite band is Toad the Wet Sprocket. Lead singer Glen Phillips has been doing a few live streams a week, all raising money for great causes. Made me appreciate him as a person as much as I do as a singer.
If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic and we were coming to visit you, what restaurant would you take us to in your hometown to have a real taste of Vermont?
Oh my goodness… so many of my favorite Burlington restaurants have closed (Carbur’s, the Sirloin Sirloon) but so many new ones are open. The last time I was in Shelburne, I loved Rustic Roots and when we were in southern Vermont, we discovered The Foundry, which was amazing.
But on our way there we ALWAYS stop at the Log Jam in Glens Falls.
Are you into podcasts? If so, what podcast should we check out that you’ve been into recently? If not podcasts, what book are you reading right now?
I love The Daily by the New York Times. It has helped me truly feel and experience all that is going on in the world.
Let’s pretend you could have an all-expenses paid trip to anywhere. Where would you go?
BALI! New Zealand! Australia! We were planning on going there before the pandemic took over. In fact, our whole family had passports renewed and photos were taken in January. Womp. Womp.
Tell us about an upcoming project or adventure you’re excited about?
“Gorge,” the movie, of course!
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m terrified of going down escalators. I’ll take an elevator any time that’s an option.
Anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t ask today?
You had amazing questions! Thank you!
Find Kara at: