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Trail Stoke: Wild For Wildwood

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Kylie Antolini says she fell in love with the Wildwood Trail within the first month of moving to Portland, Oregon.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit Portland and run there or are lucky enough to live nearby, you can understand the sentiment. But the cool thing is that Antolini loves it so much, she’s found a crafty way to give back and help preserve it by making candles. More on that in a moment.

Wildwood Trail is the main arterial trail through Forest Park, a lush, 5,200-acre playground situated in the hills above the Portland on the west side of the Willamette River. In total, it stretches about 30 miles and there are dozens off offshoots that offer different access points and the opportunity to make flowy looped runs and some gruelingly hard cached runs.

Antolini moved to the area from Santa Cruz, California, in 2012 and was stunned at the number of trails and quasi-wild land in of Forest Park. 

 

“At first, I would write down directions on my arm so I wouldn’t get lost,” says Antolini, 32, who works full-time as a dental hygienist. “I told myself that, eventually, I am going to know the whole park within a couple of years. I wanted to know all of the trails and how they connected to really take advantage of it.”

I wanted to know all of the trails and how they connected to really take advantage of it.

In total, there are about 70 miles of rolling trails in the park, most of which are classic Oregon singletrack and double-wide routes shaded by tall pine and deciduous trees. And, OK, let’s be honest: Forest Park gets about 40 inches of rain every year, so it’s also quite often classically muddy. But that doesn’t inhibit the joy and fun of running, but it does make it a vast, leafy garden of natural goodness.

 

Forest Park consists primarily of three types of trees — Douglas fir, western hemlock and western red cedar — but there are also some grand fir, maple, western yew, madrone and black cottonwood trees interspersed amid the hilly terrain, too. There are dozens of other grass and shrub species, including bracken ferns, a variety of thistles and flowering fireweed.

 

As you might imagine, all of that lush vegetation and moisture creates quite an aromatic experience on a trail run of any length. Depending on the quality of your sniffer and the time of the year, every run through the park can be a rich, olfactive experience. And that’s one of the things that struck Antolini the most.

 

A couple of years ago, she took a basic candle-making class and, then it dawned on her: Why not to try to replicate those wonderful scents in candles? After a year of dabbling with different waxes, fragrances, essential oils and eco-friendly wooden wicks, Wildwood Candle Company was born. Antolini created a diamond-shape label as a nod to the blue diamond trail markers every quarter mile along Wildwood Trail.

 

“The idea just popped into my head,” she says. “I love combining scents and mixing things together that are unique. I love natural scents, I love the outdoors and I love making things that I think people will like.”

 

Antolini continued trail running in the park and took some of her samples to compare to what she encountered on Wildwood Trail. She continued to learn the chemistry of formulations, and, as her trail running mileage increased, so, too, did her mastery of the local scents. 

It was a really awesome relationship — going out there to do work on this project, but also being out there and really enjoying running.

“I would get a lot of my inspiration when I was out there, making notes in my phone about scent combinations,” she says. “It was a really awesome relationship — going out there to do work on this project, but also being out there and really enjoying running.”

Now, a few years later, she sells 10 scented candles that she believes are authentic to the sensory experience of running through the park. 

 

But the best part of her business is that she’s able to give back to her favorite trail system. From the time Antolini started, she wanted to be able to donate a percentage of her proceeds to the Forest Park Conservancy. In three years, she’s donated about $3,000 and hopes to increase that amount as the company continues to grow. 

 

“Kylie is amazing. I have one of her candles on my desk right now,” says Kady Davis, Director of Communications and Corporate Partnerships for the Forest Park Conservancy. “FPC is fortunate to have some amazing members of the business community who support our work.” 

 

Other companies related to trail running that contribute to the FPC include REI, Keen, Hoka, GoBeyond Racing, Columbia Sportswear and Territory Run, which makes a Wildwood T-shirt specifically to raise money for the cause.

 

The best way for a trail runner to support the FPC is to become an individual member, like Antolini, which helps the organization maintain the trails, restore the habitat and inspire stewardship. Or you can join frequent trail work volunteer efforts

 

Antolini admits she doesn’t get out to do trail work as much as she would like but says she is motivated to make and sell more candles knowing that she’s helping the park and her favorite trails and able to share it with other trail runners and hikers. 

 

As for her candles, she’s most proud of the Wildwood edition, which she describes as a combination of fir needles, cedar and soil. 

 

“That one actually took me the longest,” she says. “But when I went back out to the trail, I would smell the candle and smell the air and would think, ‘Wow, I really nailed that one.’ It really does smell like what you’d smell on the Wildwood Trail.”

 

The Forest Park scent has uplifting and soothing notes of fresh mint leaves, oakmoss, grapefruit, musk and amber. Firelane 1 features the warming hints of smoked wood, balsam, cedar, pine, and red berries while the Leif Erikson captures “a masculine intrigue of its namesake explorer” with a balance of zesty citrus, tobacco, bay leaf, cedarwood and oakmoss. 

“It’s such a unique resource and we’re lucky to have it,” she says. “I want it to stay around and help it thrive for years to come.”

All of the candles are handmade by Antolini in her basement using only ethically, U.S.-sourced vegan materials, including 100 percent natural soy wax. And by handmade, she means she hand-pours, hand-wicks, hand-packs, hand-labels and hand-ships every single candle. It’s a labor of love, but it’s built around her passion for trail running on the Wildwood Trail. 

 

“It’s such a unique resource and we’re lucky to have it,” she says. “I want it to stay around and help it thrive for years to come.”

 

Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner and now serves as a contributing editor.