On a hot sunny day in July, I took my sister into the woods to hike for her birthday. I understood that she probably wouldn’t care for it, but everything was closed due to a global pandemic. I knew she loved seeing beautiful waterfalls and what she referred to as a “crick,” or what the rest of the world called a stream or river. I had chosen a trail well known to have flowing water year-round, and so we packed our hiking bags, grabbed extra water, and headed out in our ball caps and sunglasses. However, the well-intentioned birthday trek went a little different than expected.
About three meters into the hike, we found ourselves surrounded by vibrant poison oak. The leaves from the unwanted sticky oil-covered brush had left us ducking and scooting through the forest like two overzealous participants in a cheap laser maze. Still, we pressed on with our goal set on the beautiful stream–I mean crick that we were promised. I looked back to check on the birthday girl whose expression was contorted into a gnarly game of face Twister. It was then that I knew I was the worst gift giver.
How Briefly Getting Lost In The Wilderness Made Me Realize We Should Be More Like Ron Weasley
I heard rustling from the freely growing shrubbery that lined the dirt trail, and then I saw it crash from seemingly nowhere about 20 feet ahead of my trekking poles. The crash sounded like the moment a riding horse shifts from a trot to a full gallop. I could hear the sheer power of the hooves and the weight of the large animal as it slammed onto the narrow ledge of the rock face several thousand feet above the last human I saw. The doe quickly rolled from where it landed on its side and shot up before staring in my direction. I froze. The deer froze, and we made eye contact for what seemed like a full 20 seconds.
“Wait, you have anxiety?” One of the hikers from the group that I was socially distancing with turned to look at me.
“Yeah,” I said, readjusting the supplies in my bag to adjust for the camel pack’s shift in weight. “I actually have terrible anxiety.”
It was true, and if I weren’t so insanely stubborn, my anxiety would be debilitating. I suffered from constant panic attacks that hit full swing at the height of California’s stay at home order. I had been getting by with hiking and camping and doing all sorts of very random things (like that one time I tried Capoeira) for so long that I hadn’t dealt with my anxiety. That was until COVID-19.
The pandemic shook things up and made me face myself. There was literally nowhere else to go but inward to take up a journey of reflection. Stripped of everything else, I got to see who I truly was as a person. My personality isn’t 80 percent anxiety and 20 percent the outdoors. I never realized how much more than that I was.
I was alone for the first time in the woods. I went onto the trail without a sign from anyone around, but on the way back, I saw a pile of fresh bear scat in the middle of the trail. I first heard noises behind the trees off to the distance and then saw the bushes move. “Of course I would get mauled by a bear the very first time I decided to hike by myself,” or so I thought, and so I picked up my hiking pace three-fold and made it out of the heavily-bear-populated mountains with a story. That was a little over a year ago.
I didn’t realize how social I really was until the order was passed down by California’s state Governor to stay home. Stay home? I didn’t remember two consecutive days in my entire life, except for the times I was really sick when I stayed inside of a building. I was always outside, either running, driving, or hiking. When I got bored, I went outdoors until the day that I couldn’t.
Before you place yourself into a particular box and select a descriptive word or an identifying trait, there is a group that everyone falls under—we all, for the most part, live on planet earth. Even the astronauts floating around happily above our colorful and protective sky have to come back down to the third rock from this solar system’s sun eventually.
I spent the latter part of 2019, and some portions of 2020 before I may or may not have inconveniently passed away from a bad case of the flu, interviewing people who wore their passion for mother nature proudly. I tried to get in contact with individuals who used their voices to help and defend the only habitable planet that we can reach within our lifetime. However, I also heard from other advocates about how certain issues are more important than others.
If you asked me a year ago if I would be the ambassador for the Los Angeles chapter of the international hiking group, Hiker Babes, whose mission is to unite women who share a passion for the outdoors into a community, I would have laughed. It’s not as though I haven’t led such as groups of writers, students, coworkers, and such before. However, I always left trail scouting and leading hikes up to the other hiking groups that I am also a member — especially the group, Black Girls Trekkin.’
It was with the group Black Girls Trekkin that I first attempted to do the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Before I was hiking with a team of badass women who climb mountains, I never would have thought that I would have been able to hike as long and as far as we have on some of these hikes. I think the two biggest lessons I learned was that, one: AllTrails is a tool to use, and two: with the help and advice of my wonderful and very supportive friends at Black Girls Trekkin’ I can totally lead a group of women out into nature safely.
It was also all my other outdoorsy friends that have motivated to do incredibly creative and intricate things such as a podcast. It was by first getting back into running outdoors and ultimately just returning to nature in college and hiking with other nature-loving people that have led me into this life of a wild mountain woman.
So, when people ask me how, or why, did you become the leader of L.A. Chapter Hiker Babes, I try to give a short answer. I usually just say I did it because I love hiking and I was offered the role, but what I really want to tell them is how I started running so I could drink more at bars and eat street burritos, and it lead me to be in a national online campaign for an amazing shoe company and a hiking leader for an international community. I know better that it would take too long, though.
The journey to the summit of Cucamonga Peak began at 5:30 AM. The group, Black Girls Trekkin’ met up in another parking lot before sunrise so that we could carpool to the trailhead. We knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of parking, but we did end up finding a place on the side of the road a little further away from the parking lot at the trailhead. It was dark, I was cold, and I was sort of hesitant even to hike that day, but I also didn’t want to miss any more chances to summit another peak in the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Although I was tired and wasn’t feeling all that great, I laced up my hiking boots, grabbed my gear, and decided to climb a mountain.
We ended up taking the Ice House trail to the 8,859-foot summit and hiked nearly 12 miles there and back. It was a heavily trafficked trail that actually connected a few other trails to the surrounding peaks. I kept my light jacket on the majority of the day since the temperatures only climbed to a high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t completely drenched in sweat by the time I left the base of the mountain.
The trail’s scenery eluded to the approaching new season that was, at the time, only days away. Brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows were mixed in with the fading green leaves in the tall trees. A crunchy blanket of colorful autumn leave covered the forest floor, and the cool rushing stream alongside the trail drowned out the majority of the forest’s surrounding sounds. Everything except for the flying insects that kept buzzing past my eyes and ears the last two or three miles of the hike was absolutely beautiful. There were gorgeous views of the desert, the adjacent city, and the surrounding wilderness, and I enjoyed watching the world from above the tall buildings below.
I wouldn’t mind hiking that trail again to Cucamonga Peak when I’m feeling a little closer to 100 percent. There is so much more to see and explore, and I wouldn’t mind witnessing, even more, fall color as the season progresses. I suppose I will see part of this trail again soon when I revisit the area to summit Ontario Peak.
Alcohol, phallic imagery, strippers, and cheap dollar-store tiaras and sashes; the infamous bachelorette party was upon me as I accepted the role of maid of honor for the second time at the second wedding that I would attend within this last year. Luckily, both brides opted out of a drunken weekend in Vegas and chose to move the festivities outdoors and into nature. Continue reading “Why Every Bachelorette Party Should Be Moved To The Woods”→
I went to work on Tuesday after Labor Day and engaged in the usual banter with my coworkers. We spoke about our weekends, what we did, and about how much we all wanted to be comfortably back in our beds at home. I talked about how I went to the beach before I went on the second hike that I lead as a co-ambassador of Hiker Babes LA Chapter. However, when we circled back onto the subject of water, a coworker made a comment that was a little out of touch.
“YOU—go into the water?” He said to me after looking at dark-skinned appearance all over again. It was as if for the first time he had ever considered that black people went in the water.
“Yes, I go in the water,” I replied. “I love the ocean, swimming in pools, learning how to surf, paddleboarding, kayaking, and sipping beer sometimes on boats wading out in the middle of lakes.”
“Oh, I didn’t think you did.” A bit of confusion washed over his face.
He had rarely seen black people out in the water, but that wasn’t because they weren’t there. It was because those images of black people, both professional aquatic athletes and everyday lovers of H2O were rarely shared in larger marketing campaigns, revealed in popular media, or even reported on in the news. The lack of imagery reinforced the negative stereotype that black people can’t swim, don’t swim, or hate water. When in reality, the truth can only be told by revisiting history.
Although the stereotype can be traced back to the years during the Transatlantic slave trade when black bodies were dumped over the rails of ships as they were dragged from their homes in Africa and brought to the already inhabited lands of the Americas, it is most notably recorded during the Jim Crow Era that followed. Black and white people were segregated, but when it came to the communal public pools, black people were banned, bleached, barred and harassed out of the pool. If black people wanted to learn how to swim in their city’s public pool, they would be risking their safety or even their lives in order to do so. More black people never learned how to swim because they weren’t allowed to do so.
Although it has affected the rate at which black people learned how to swim, it never stopped them. Many fought back and taught themselves in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Other found less violent pools, and what we see now Simone Manuel, Cullen Jones, Nick Gabaldon, Montgomery Kaluhiokalani, Mary Mills, Andrea Kabwasa, Rick Blocker, Michael February, Ashleigh Johnson, and a host of other black aquatic athletes. This wasn’t easy, but as we see more black faces gracing the covers of magazines in these roles formally unseen by the general public, we inspire more black people to enter a world where they were initially barred from completely.
Organizations such as The Black Surfers Collective and Black Girls Surf aim to change that. The group, Black Girls Trekkin, that I went kayaking and to the beach with also try to change the minds of people stuck on stereotypes. I commend artists and influencers such as @wildginaa who go out of their way to make sure black and brown faces are also seen out in spaces in nature. We’re clearly out there. The mountains are also a melting pot of a variety of different people hiking native lands, and yet we are only now barely seeing these faces in popular media. So, yes, black people all over the world swim. It’s just that many people have been led to believe that we don’t.