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.Continue reading “How To Be Alone On Top Of A Mountain”
Why understanding a group before joining is so important
Not everyone who joins a specific group falls under the descriptive category. In fact, I occasionally invite non-people of color to Black Girl Trekkin hikes. Some tag along excitedly, while others may shy away from the invitation. I love including people in spaces, but I make sure that the people I invite on hikes are respectful and take the time to learn about the group and the people who are in it.
I try to check my new messages and requests across all the social media accounts that I regularly manage for the groups and organizations I lead at least once a day. I watch as reaction emoji’s trickle in like the babbling brooks I love to post on my own Instagram stories. The majority of the time the messages are very positive. I’ll usually see polite questions about upcoming outdoor events and comments on how beautiful the images that I have shared from the hiking community. However, sometimes, I’ll get questions about whether people who identify as men can join the hikes that I lead for the Los Angeles chapter of the women’s group, Hiker Babes and I have to pause for a moment.Continue reading “The Importance of Communication In Different Spaces”
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.
I decided to sit down and chat with the founders of Black Girls Trekkin about diversity in outdoor communities and how they started their group.
You can turn the Closed Captioning on the YouTube video of the podcast below.
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.
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.
I ventured out on to the actual LA River this past weekend with the group, Black Girls Trekkin, and had fun kayaking and meeting our tour guide and four-time Naked and Afraid contestant from LA River Expeditions, Gary Golding. He took his time instructing everyone on how to navigate our watercraft and he really made the outing fun. However, my favorite part of the entire kayaking trip was the time he took to speak about the river’s history and how it wasn’t even considered a river at first.
I had briefly heard about the documentary that he mentioned before, Rock the Boat, where local satirical writer, George Wolfe, boated down the fenced-in waterway, hoping to have the EPA declare the river navigable. Wolfe was hoping that it could gain protection under the Clean Water Act if he took the time to film himself kayaking down the river. He was, obviously, successful and I also enjoyed floating down the river as a result of his environmentalism, but I also couldn’t help but notice that there was still trash in the river.
I wrote a poem with the LA River in mind, but I also drew parallels between the river and the highways that weave in and around Los Angeles. This week alone, I witnessed three people on three separate highways throw trash out onto the road. Cups, a whole take away bag from In-n-Out, and— cigarettes. I’ve witnessed so many cigarettes thrown out of the window that I no longer find it surprising why California has so many brush fires along the side of the roads. I thought about how hard people, including me, work to clean hiking trails and the LA River, but it pains me to see people throwing their trash out on the road.
Yes, the river still needs a little more cleaning, but I also know that we can aid in the cleanup by first reducing the amount of trash that ends up outside in the first place. It’s not one person’s job or responsibility to do this, but as a group of mindful people, if we all at least make sure we throw away our own trash in designated trash receptacles, then we can make Los Angeles and California a better place.
The LA River
I was floating down the LA River
in a boat that weighed a ton
and I couldn’t help but notice
all the trash that lined the wet highway.
Rusted shopping carts
and plastic bags
clogged the pathways
and rising smog
sat between me
and the LA skyline.
There were people causing traffic
and accidents along the way,
and traveling several feet ahead
took what seemed like a lifetime.
We traveled with the current
and didn’t move very far
and I swear that 20 miles
shouldn’t seem that long.
Tent cities lined the river
and clothes hung off of bushes.
A man smoking a cigarette
nodded in my direction as I drifted by
and I couldn’t help but notice
the trash near his living space
while I floated down the LA River
in a boat that weighed a ton.
The sounds of metal and plastic clanked together as the group of slightly nervous hikers gathered around the small wooden picnic table. I made sure that laces on my new hiking shoes were tied and fiddled some more with my new hiking poles. I had never used the tool before and felt a little awkward testing them out on the short grass covered in the early morning dew. I double checked my bag by readjusting the straps and buckling the clasp that ran around my body in between my hips and my waist.
The light from the sun was barely creeping up from behind our personal white whale. The group gathered around the table all knew that the journey to the top of Mount Wilson in Southern California would be a long and strenuous hike. We had prepared, but we begrudgingly anticipated the lingering feeling of sore muscles days after leaving the face of the mountain. The peak we climbed that day would be the first of six that we would traverse as part of the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge. Continue reading “My Experience Hiking the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge: Mount Wilson”
As I looked down at the new shoes on my feet, I let my mind wander to think of the past ten years out on the trails. The old pair of shoes that I had stuffed into the trunk of a car had carried me through the cool woods of the northern forests of California, had allowed me to cross the sweltering hot deserts in the south, moved me up the jagged rocks that adorned the face of mountains in the east, and near the beautiful blue ocean on that splashed up against the sand on the west coast. For the past ten years, I met new friends, saw jaw-dropping sights, and transformed my life from a nervous small-town teen to a young adult moving forward and growing more confident as the future progressed further. Continue reading “The Ten-Year Trek”
“Oh, YOU like hiking and camping? I didn’t think that you would be into that?”
The comment came from a friend after hearing about one of my latest camping trips. It was around the time that I had joined a club for adventure seekers in college. There were no other black people in the group, and there were fewer women in the club than there were men. The club was a reflection of what I commonly saw when I laced up my boots and went hiking. Unless I was in the mountains of the diverse multi-cultural melting pot that was Los Angeles, California, I was almost always the only black female hiking in a sea of paler faces out in the woods. Continue reading “Promoting Equality In Green Spaces”