a brief commentary on diversity & inclusion in the outdoors

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One of the best trips of my life — my first summit in the Alps climbing with only women — awesome, amazing women, all three of us from different countries, who grew up speaking different languages, with totally different cultural backgrounds, and somehow here we are. 

Posting the below bit of commentary on my blog has me feeling sort of nervous. I desperately want to find a voice that says things that matter, but I have always been exceptionally afraid of conflict, ruffling feathers, being judged. So I tend to hide. I kick myself for not speaking up when I see something that bothers me. I doubt myself when there is something like this on my mind, and I worry that I’m going to say the wrong thing and offend someone unintentionally. I think this is an important step for me in opening myself up to feedback from voices outside of my inner circle. I trust my closest friends and their judgement, but I know there are other voices in this world, and many of them have great value.

I started writing this several times. I deleted quite a bit, but I left in my false starts. Please don’t judge me too harshly; I hope for kindness in all directions.

I’ve been thinking a bit about myself lately, and how I fit into the world, as a whole. I’m going to France again this summer, and I feel like my French is getting worse every time I go to this French-speaking country. To be honest, it terrifies me to be that outsider — the one who doesn’t understand what’s going on around me; the one who looks like a deer in headlights when asked a question. Is this what I worry about?

No.

Start over.

I’ve been thinking a bit about myself lately, and what the reality of my worldview is. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been seeing reality for what it is. I was browsing Instagram earlier and …

Again.

You might look at me, my social media posts, my photographs, my writing here, and think that I’m your stereotypical white woman, reminiscent of traditional outdoor industry advertisements, completely oblivious to the issues of diversity and inclusion in the world around me.

And for a long time, that was true.

Seeing websites like Melanin Base Camp, and social media accounts like @mynameisbam have guided me through an entire spectrum of emotions. I’ve felt frustration, sadness, defensiveness, insult, hope, empathy, sympathy, ignorance, self-doubt, guilt and more. I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to understand my white cisgender privilege and how it shapes the world around me, how it affects people I know (and people I don’t know), and how I sometimes hide from its unintended consequences. I never understood it before — I didn’t even know I needed to try. But I do. It’s really important.

People are speaking out. People who feel marginalized, less-than, offended, ridiculed, attacked, and so on. At the most basic level, simply the fact that people need to speak out, should be alarming, regardless of the words they use. But pay attention, those words are important.

Does it matter if I completely understand what they say? Yes, I think at least a little bit. Do I? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Do I think their voices are important? Absolutely. Sometimes I won’t understand, because I will never have the same experience. But this does not reduce the importance of what they are saying. It doesn’t change the fact that there are people who need to speak up and speak out. It pains me to think that in my ignorance, I’ve contributed to someone’s hurt, someone’s struggle, or someone’s fear. I don’t want to be the stereotype, and I don’t want to sit by idly and say not my problem. We share this world — we share this problem.

Here are some tips on working on this problem: https://www.guidetoallyship.com/

I recognize that I am so fortunate to have people in my life that I can ask questions of — people of different ethnicities, from different countries, and different colors; people who are queer, and have different gender identities. It’s something that I’m so grateful for, and yet, I have a long way to go in being a strong ally to them. Sometimes it isn’t hard to stand next to someone and be their ally, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.

It’s important work and I want to try harder. How can we do better? How can I do better?

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I believe in you.

Suicide is in the news again.

Every time it becomes a public discussion I am both reminded of my pain, and relieved of my pain. In 2013 I lost my father to suicide. I feel that it will always weigh heavily on me, though I’ve spent a lot of time sorting through it.

Hearing the words commit suicide is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I’ve heard of a movement to remove the word commit when referring to the act of suicide. Commit. As if it were a crime, the actor chastised and scorned, when in fact they were loved, ill and in pain. The intention of suicide is not a crime against others as much as it is an affront on a sickness that won’t let go. My father didn’t die by suicide to offend you and he didn’t intend to hurt me. I know his suffering — sometimes it is almost too hard to hold on. I am his daughter, and we are alike.

When suicide comes up in the public domain, I am both pleased and devastated. It pains me to hear the statistics: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US; On average, there are 123 suicides per day; In 2015, 505,507 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm. It will never stop breaking my heart.

I am pleased, however, that we are talking about it. We spend so much time focused on our physical health, but we still stigmatize any discussion of mental health. Times are changing, people are talking — I hope we are making progress.

Today I listened to the On Being podcast episode from 12/9/15 with Jennifer Michael Hecht, Suicide, and Hope for Our Future Selves. At about minute 20, Jennifer explains,

…we have different moods that profoundly change our outlook, and it’s not right to let your worst one murder all the others.

And I found great truth in this. My strongest coping mechanism when I find myself in a depressed state is to remind myself that it will get better, and I know this because it always has. Sometimes when I don’t care if it’s going to get better, when I’m tired of the repeated roller coaster of emotions, the struggle is more difficult — I remind myself how it felt when my dad took his life, and that I have already determined that I wouldn’t cause another to feel this same pain and confusion.

And I keep at it. I keep repeating it to myself. I continue to train myself to say these things, to get out of the moment I’m stuck in and to see beyond it. When I can, I live my life in a way that brings me so much joy that I always have something to look forward to and to know that I am loved, and to do my best to love everyone I meet.

If you are reading this, and you know the struggle, know that we are connected by this very human condition. Know that you have the power to create your own best life, and that you are an amazing, wonderful human being just by existing. The rest is up to you — and I believe in you.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Statistics:
https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-8255
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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A Sign of Things to Come

Today I broke my plastic camp spoon that I’ve had for a decade. I ate my lunch with it at work for years. I carried it around in my purse to avoid using single-use utensils. I felt very personally connected to this small, grey, plastic item that cost me roughly one dollar, plus tax. I stirred coffee, ate soup, shoveled rice, scooped almond butter. This morning it was almond butter — a new-to-me, no-stir, crunchy version in a glass jar, spread thickly on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel. I was attempting side two of my bagel.

*SNAP*

The handle remained in my hand, but the head of the spoon was planted firmly within the jar. This is only breakfast … today is going to be a bad day, I thought. It’s an omen. I should skip my long run — I’ll probably get hurt. It’s a sign.

*pause*

Maybe it is a sign. A sign of change to come. A sign of a needed shift in my reality. A representation of “out with the old, in with the new.” Today I’ll turn a corner, welcoming a new thought, a new space, a new place, a new perspective, a new feeling, a new life.

A new beginning.

Perhaps today, if I pay attention, the world will be new.

I will take what is old, take what has served me (well or unwell), open my mind, break the old habits in half, and take one step forward. Today is a new day.

And maybe, also, I will be more careful when scooping the almond butter.

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My Public Commitment to DO THINGS

To say I have been down in the dumps lately would be an understatement.

I had grand intentions for my week off, but I knew if I wasn’t careful, I was going to overwhelm myself. In turn, I set loose expectations, and told myself I would keep my spirits high, go with the flow, enjoy my time off without stress.

But how could I not know that things don’t always work out as expected? The holiday began fine, and slowly deteriorated. I met friends for drinks and dinner, I accomplished a major chore, and my partner and I got an ambitious start on our current van project.

However, before I knew it I was spiraling downhill: my leg started hurting on Saturday night, and on Sunday evening I had a long, painful spasm in my vastus medialus (quad muscle on the inside of the leg). The muscle was so knotted and tight afterwards that I could barely bend my knee or put any weight on it. I spent three more miserable days, short-tempered and drinking heavily, heating and massaging the muscle through tears, trying to make some headway on my projects, until I was able to get in to see my doctor — a miracle worker who somehow manages to take pain from the body and squeeze it out of one’s face in the form of tears and screams. When the knot finally released, my body was somewhere between cursing, crying, attempting to ball up in the fetal position, and throwing an uncontrollably clenched fist (which thankfully did not actually occur).

That said, my leg was now on the upswing, and I was feeling like a real human again, but my mind was still stuck somewhere in a deep, dark crevasse. This is when I found the journal of Kenneth Payton’s Solo tour of the US Southwest. At 82 years of age, Ken rode his bike from California to Florida, blogging about it on the way. I was hooked, fascinated, inspired. I want to be like that when I’m 82 (Ken passed in 2014 at 87 years). I knew I needed to get out; I knew I needed to start actually believing in myself — believing that I could do things I wanted to do, and knowing that I didn’t have to be the ABSOLUTE BEST and AN UNDENIABLE EXPERT at something just to make it a part of my life. I don’t know about you, but I’ve let myself stop things before I even start just because someone else is already doing it (Why even bother? There’s already someone doing it better … ).

I learned recently that I am not the only one who falls for this trap. Kathlyn Hart talks about this on episode 029 of the Big Leap Show before she introduces Emilie Aries from Bossed Up and the podcast, Stuff Mom Never Told You.

I have a lot of worries — and they are all over the place — but in 2018 I’m committing to ignoring those unreasonable fears, being true to myself and doing what brings me joy.

Do the things.

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The Time I Attempted to Learn Trad Climbing on Sandstone

In theory, hiking to the Lost and Found Crag was easy enough: a short 15 minutes composed of a brief walk and a minor scramble up the walkoff of the N’Plus Ultra crag. We could see it from the parking lot. This short and obvious trek was marked with no more than what felt like a thousand cairns, some as tall as three feet, rocks the size of the roast I wish I brought for lunch instead of a tuna sandwich made with the strangest dill flavored mayonnaise I could find. After 25 minutes, I began to wonder when the last person up there had been. There was no shortage of cairns, yet there was also no shortage of overgrown foliage ripe with thorns, threatening to eat my favorite shirt and catching on everything I left hanging from the outer straps of my overstuffed backpack. It didn’t take long for me to build an immense level of confidence that we’d be the only climbers at this crag today. Immediately upon this realization, I turned my attitude around and found great joy in being able to pee anywhere I pleased without worrying about who would be offended by my bare ass.

The base of the crag itself was an awe-inspiring alien landscape: rocks with swirls of purple, rings of minerals like someone left a beer can sitting for too long, white sandstone with perfectly formed knobby protrusions, soft moss like a welcome mat. The crack before us was an 80’ line called Lost and Found, the crag’s namesake. It’s 5.5 rating and “well-protected” description lead me to believe it would be a perfect opportunity for me to practice placing gear, building confidence in my ability while walking up a route I could crush in my sleep. The crack was obvious and featured, about 3” at the widest point, with large huecos dotting the vertical surface on each side before veering off to a moderate slabby section and ending atop an enormous ledge. The plan was to spend the day here, practicing what little used trad climbing skills I possessed. Continue reading

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A Joshua Tree Adventure

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Picture me, walking along the trail with a bounce in my step, a smile on my face. I’m wearing a brimmed hat and sunglasses, my favorite t-shirt, carrying a small backpack with water, a first aid kit and extra layers from the chilly desert morning. The sun is warming the air; it’s probably around 9:00 am and I’ve been on the trail since about 6:30, just after sunrise. I’ve reached the final flat portion of the Lost Horse Mine Loop in Joshua Tree National Park and I’m getting hungry. My watch tells me I’m about a mile from the parking lot, but I’m reluctant to hurry.

I am enjoying my surroundings, especially the pleathora of plant life, insects and birds on this lovely Sunday morning. I stop to admire a bush filled with buzzing bees, polinating busily. I move on, scaring a rabbit, spying a hawk, bending over to watch a large black beetle. I am happily meandering along … when a bee starts buzzing in my ear. I rarely fear bees; they rarely seem to have a conflict with me. I shake my head.

She is still buzzing in my ear. Continue reading

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Your Body is Your Vehicle (take it on an epic adventure)

I am interrupting the previously scheduled European vacation programming to have a brief discussion about an essay I read today.

This essay made me so angry, and so happy at the same time.

Angry because of this:

I did some quick Googling on the topic, and there are a handful of “will cycling make my legs bigger?” articles out there. I even found a video titled “How to ride your bicycle without bulking up your quads, thighs, & legs.”

And exceptionally happy because of this:

I want a body that takes me places. I want to see things. I want thighs that help me to pedal hard up a hill. I want to feel things. I want a heart that’s happy and healthy, physically and emotionally.

I want to feel alive.

Most importantly, I know that I want a lifestyle that’s more full of “fuck yeahs” than feeling bad about what I should or shouldn’t look like.

I surprised myself by becoming completely enraged that there exist women who desire to ride a bike, but are stopped by fear of gaining muscle. I want to weep for everyone who let society squash their dreams, ideas and even their most seemingly insignificant desires. I want to punch every person who ever propagated the idea that a human body should appear a certain way.

I am also thinking about the three weeks I just spent exploring mountains, hiking, climbing, running and walking every possible inch of the Alps that I could get my hands and feet on. I didn’t think about my body as an object that was right or wrong. I didn’t think about what body parts I liked or disliked or wanted to change or what I feared to be judged. I thought only about where it could take me, how strong I could make it; I thought about what amazing shape I’d be in and how good it would feel if I spent the rest of my life trekking around Alpine towns, eating bread and butter, drinking wine and espresso and huffing and puffing on mountain ridges above the clouds; running, climbing, smiling.

I want to spend the rest of my days wearing clothes that are comfortable when I’m sweating, and cozy when I’m relaxing. I want to forever not care about what my body looks like, and start admiring it for what it can do and where it can take me. I want everyone around me, everyone reading this and everyone in existence to start to see their bodies as amazing vehicles for amazing, epic adventures.

Thank you Anna Brones for writing this essay. You are my hero today.

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