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?

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

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

The Grand Chamonix Vacation — chapitre un

Chamonix, day 2. As is common with my vacations, rain began on day one of our trip, letting up slightly before continuing on to day two. With snow and high winds devouring the Alps hidden in the clouds above, our fruitless wishing and waiting did not re-open the lift to Pointe Helbronner, and subsequently to our anticipated climb on the Petit Flambeau (or anywhere else). We took the lift up to Midi in the early afternoon, with hopes of a semblance of a view and to familiarize ourselves with the surround, only to be greeted by white out conditions. A glimpse of the Arete des Cosmiques. A closed restaurant. A quick trip back down the lift. Wine. Crepes. Shops. Fin.

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Into the great white sky. Looking up the cables from the mid point.

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Warm inside. Ice outside.

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Back in Cham, watching the weather.

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du cafe!

A Poem For My Readers

As I wander in and out of the blog-o-sphere
I often wonder … does anyone know I’m here?
My posts are sparse, though my ideas are many
Drafts are long stuck in writing purgatory

Countless hours spent thinking through each idea
Less hours even drafting on computer media
My notebook is full, my scribbles are many
But my curser blinks endless on pages empty

In my head I’m a writer! with content a-plenty
I have readers and fans, surely more than twenty
I work hours and hours to perfect my craft
Honing my skills, working hard on each draft

But reality is, I work all day at a desk
I work for “the man” — it can be quite a test
I dream of outdoors, adventures galore
And writing about them all day and more

Have faith in me, readers — I’ll one day live my dream
Exploring the world, as I travel, plot and scheme
With my pack on my back, van keys in my hand
I’ll venture on to mountains, rivers and sand

I’ll be lost among the trees, deep in a canyon
Dips in alpine lakes — always, always planning
Petroglyphs, ancient ruins and history
Nature, fresh air, tomorrow a mystery

Find me back here one day, filling in the blanks
For the future opportunity, I’ll give thanks
I’ll pay it forward, I’ll spread all the love
From a snowy mountain, way high above

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Shorts, Mountains and Goals

I’ve been binge listening to the She Explores podcast and you should, too. I surprisingly discovered it recently through the Luna Grey Fiber Arts Instagram account. Episode one hit me like a ton of bricks. I completely related. If something scares you, you should probably do it.

I kept listening and more and more I found myself moving from intimidation to understanding to connection. I continue to find myself comparing my life to the lives of others, always placing myself at a deficit: not good enough, not skilled enough, not experienced enough, not brave enough. But that’s not reality. What is real is that I am adventuring in my own way, in my own time, and my life is not comparable to others, just as others’ are not comparable to mine, or to each other. We are all individuals, mapping our own journeys through life, discovering our inner-most selves and figuring out what makes us tick. I find that I oft surround myself with people who I think push harder than I do — but I realized that maybe I am pushing just as hard. They motivate me to keep going, to make it to the next level. They have more experience and more fitness than I do right now, but that doesn’t make my effort worth less.

Two weekends ago I attempted a climb that I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but I had a distance goal and an emotional goal. Five of us set out to climb the Mt. Whitney Mountaineers Route as part of our training for a trip to the French Alps this summer. I was out of my element and I was nervous; the others had their own goals, which I found more admirable than my own (and part of my goal was to be emotionally comfortable with this variance). To my surprise however, we met someone else with an entirely different goal; someone who upended my entire emotional outlook for this trip.

We met Harrison only meters from Iceberg Lake. He rounded the bend in shorts and tennis shoes with microspikes. We were head-to-toe windproof, waterproof and insulated; just a handful of gear junkies obsessed with every winter gear sale on the internet. Harrison bought his REI shorts second-hand. How was he not cold?

I looked at my friends and said, “he’s going to Canada.”

And Harrison was indeed going to Canada. By foot. In shorts.

We camped together next to the frozen, snow covered lake and I learned a little about Alaskan salmon fishing, and a lot about myself. I don’t know if I’d call the snow hike to Iceberg Lake the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done — maybe yes, maybe no, and maybe it is all relative — but it was hard emotionally and mentally. Very hard. My knee is healing and I’m stronger than I have been in a very long time, but training in the gym or in the comfort of familiar places did not prepare me for the alpine environment. Breathing at 12,000 ft, with no appetite, everything tasting like cardboard, forcing myself to eat and drink and take deep breathes; fighting anxiety, a bout of depression and claustrophobia … it was the same roller coaster I went through on Baldy two weeks ago, minus the extra knee pain and multiplied by a hundred.

I didn’t summit on Sunday morning. I didn’t even make the attempt. My goal was to make it camp, to get comfortable with the environment, and to be comfortable on my own. I almost didn’t make it that far. After our first big ascent on Saturday, I collapsed in the snow next to Lower Boy Scout Lake and lost it. I cried tears of delusion, crashing hard from a lack of calories, gasping to breathe after overexerting myself in the thin air, blubbering on about my wonderful, awful life until the energy chews that were force fed to me took effect. What a nightmare. Now I know what this is all about.

Later that day, as the group was setting up camp, building a snow wall, flattening ground and racing the sun, I sat exhausted, trying to muster up what energy I could to pitch in. It felt like forever before I could move my body, doing my meager share of the work. I managed some duties, warming up as I moved around, very slowly eating dinner, then laying in the tent, chatting, trying to relax. I managed a full twelve hours in the tent without a claustrophobia induced panic attack.

But I was okay. I didn’t summit, and I was okay. Half of our group came back from the notch around noon, the other half returned from the summit about an hour later.

And Harrison. He had attempted the traverse over the ridge and returned late in the morning, shut down by weather and making a smart choice to descend for a reassessment of gear. In our time lounging at camp, while the others made their summit bids, Harrison made a comment to me about reevaluating life … the choices we make; what we do and how and when. I could tell he was less than happy with himself for turning back, but no one can judge him for that choice. We know the right choices for ourselves, and only we can honestly evaluate our goals, and our perceptions of our goals are our own, for us to determine how they fit best into our lives.

I later heard in an episode of She Explores: The only thing that can ruin a hike is your attitude. I needed to reevaluate my own life, my own goals; my attitude. I came home happy with myself for pushing for my own goals. Our goals are our own, independent of others and we are each mapping our own journeys.

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Updates: Vanlife and Injury

I don’t seem to have a lot of words to put down right now, but I keep wanting to write as to not let things get too far away from me. I promised updates on the van and I shall deliver!

Saturday night: We are at a random campground we found driving to Lake Hemet late in the afternoon. No plan — just to get away for a while. The van door is open, we can hear a nearby creek. There are few people around, mostly in RVs dispersed over the surrounding 129 other campsites. This is our second weekend away since we installed the fan in the boat and it seemed to be working well, but has somehow developed a nasty click and a squeak. Mr. will be doing some research once home. Although, it’s been raining in torrents on and off since we installed it and no leaks.

Mr. installed another LED strip and we have additional lighting with a rudimentary swich. He’s planned out a scematic for some small can lights and a dimmer switch for the LED strips; we’ll also have dedicated USB charging ports. Eventually we’ll be adding some cabinetry, finishing closing up the walls and then I’ll hang some pretty curtains!

Back to this weekend. We had thought we’d make a better plan to get away for the holiday weekend, but the storm dubbed “Lucifer” drove us to cozy up on the couch Friday night instead of booking it up the highway. Four episodes of The Wire and as least as many cocktails drove us to sleep in and breakfast on the couch, listening to the rain, watching climbing videos and contemplating unplaned adventures.

As we are wont to do, we left the house without a clear destination, discussing options as we approached interchanges, finally settling on an area we haven’t spent much time in. We mapped to Idyllwild and seached for campgrounds that didn’t look like RV parking lots. We wound up a mountain road, the sun setting behind dramatic clouds and spooky fog, pulling up to Hurkey Creek Park. Welcome to campsite 67. Rainy, adventure bliss. The morning was misting and damp, spots of sun eventually fighting through the cloud cover, steam rising from the grass between forest groves. Surreal. 

Last weekend: We made it down the 91 freeway all the way to Corona before we even determined a direction of travel. Would we head north toward Bishop, or South toward Joshua Tree. We found ourselves in Joshua Tree at Indian Cove at about 10:30 pm on a Friday night during high climbing season. The Boat was running on fumes and we missed the last gas station. It was find a way to camp here, or back track to the nearest gas station before trekking out to BLM land. This is where we met Flo. She was one of the few still outside of her tent, there was a large parking area outside of her camp, and after tossing the responsibilty around, Mr. won the priviledge of asking if we could share. Problem solved. Flo turned out to be super cool and we are both stoked to have one more climber to call a friend.

Tonight: Home. Resting. I have read many pages about the Civil War and George Armstrong Custer, I have knit many rows of my current project, and read not nearly enough chapters for my online class. I have watched almost an entire season of Black Mirror in the last week, and am almost caught up on season 2 of the Wire. I’m tired of being on the injured list. I see the doctor tomorrow and I’m antsy beyond belief to get the green light to start getting strong again. My legs and hips ache from limited movement, and my mood is in desperate need of a bike ride. I’ve been trying to hangboard so I don’t loose my calluses and grip strength, but it’s really hard being at the gym and not being able to put on a climbing shoe. I feel weak and unstable, but I feel like I’m mending and for that, I’m excited and grateful.