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

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.

The Grand Chamonix Vacation — chapitre deux

Chamonix, Day … I have no idea what day we’re on. It’s Tuesday. I know this only because we are keeping track of when we need to check out of the apartment and catch a train to Zermatt. And because we are counting how many good climbing days we have left in the French Alps. I expect that I personally will get in one more day of alpine climbing, one possible day of multi-pitch rock and one trail run. The weather has been less than ideal, but I am happy with everything I’ve done and seen in the time we’ve been abroad. Three weeks is a long time to be away from home when you are not accustomed to it, but I’ve impressed myself — this atmosphere has been easy, my anxiety has been dulled, my stress limited; my knee is feeling quite good, my sinus turmoil seems to have righted itself, and though I’m beginning to feel a bit tired and in need of some additional rest, I’m actually feeling quite well, physically and emotionally.

I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, to push myself to do something new, and I have been successful.

Here are a few quick photos! More to follow.

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.

The Great Winter Vancation: Part 3

We are home! A day or two early — not as if we were planning, though. In retrospect, two weeks is a long time away from home and we may have worn ourselves out a bit over-touristing the first week. We saw so much. It was super awesome, but I think we needed a few days of vacation from our vancation.

Also, the weather. The cold can be a bit overwhelming after so many days. On the morning after night nine, we woke up to ice on the insides of the van — on every exposed metal and glass surface. We had an early night, alone at Joe Skeen Campground, in the El Malpais National Conservation Area (see also: El Malpais National Monument).

It was an amazingly beautiful night; cold, but calm and very quiet. The stars absolutely killed it. We had just driven from our Christmas weekend rental house in Tesuque Village through Albuquerque, where we spent a couple of hours in old town, visited with an old friend and made some final touristy purchases (ie: southwest patterned socks, locally roasted coffee and chocolate doused in chili powder). We finally ate tacos and replaced our beloved bluetooth speaker that took a nose dive.

Back to Joe Skeen Campground. The morning was clear and beautiful, however, we knew that by Thursday night another storm would be rolling in. We left for El Morro National Monument with the plan to decide our direction of travel after our visit.

[Side note: El Morro National Monument is very cool. The staff at the center were awesome, and the monument itself was beautiful and the trails well maintained and cared for. This monument is also totally free. If you are ever in this area, please check it out! And offer support via donation if you can.]

After an amazing hike and a weather analysis, we determined that we’d miss out on local climbing, hit Petrified Forest National Park for sunset, and then power through to the Arizona/California border that night. We picked up burritos and coffee to go in Flagstaff, turned up the tunes and sped off into the cold, foggy night to our final roadside camp just east of the Mojave National Preserve. A short morning drive and we arrived at Sawtooth Canyon Campground for two days of climbing at one of our favorite crags, and one final night of vanlife in our favorite campsite.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The rock was cool, the sun was warm and the wind almost non-existent. Our skin was soft and lacking callus, as we’d been shut out from climbing for over a week, and had barely touched rock for the whole month prior to our trip. We climbed until our fingers couldn’t take it anymore, made one last meal in the Creaky Sausage Boat, and then headed for home, beating the rain by only a couple of hours.

This, was a great way to end the road trip portion of the Great Winter Vancation.

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Shenanigans

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My “deck” shoes

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Final post-climb meal in the CSB

More to follow!!!

The Great Winter Vancation: The Pre-Trip

This is me. And that sleeping beauty behind me is Mr. Ridiculous. And we would like to formally introduce to you THE CREAKY SAUSAGE BOAT.

The what?!?! Better not to ask too many questions.

The Creaky Sausage Boat is going to carry us through many, many adventures to come. As individuals, we both held on to dreams of hobo life; of being able to finally publicly acknowledge our inner dirt-bag in spite of our obligatory clean-cut-office-grind appearance. In an attempt to pack as many climbing trips into our lives as possible, our habit of ultra-light backpacking slowly morphed into minimalist car camping, finally culminating in an aggressive annoyance toward finding campsites and setting up tents in the dark. We want to just drive up and go to sleep. Neither of our cars have room for both us, our stuff, and the crash pad that we use mostly as a couch. The solution? Buy the biggest damn van possible.

And thus, the CSB was born.

Over the previous three weeks, we have built out what might be the most amateur cargo-van conversion I’ve ever seen. As people who generally sit at desks for most of the week, it’s been a bit of a learn-as-you-go process. But I think it’s coming along quite nicely.

That said, we gave ourselves the most unreasonable deadline of December 17th to ready ourselves for a two week adventure through Arizona and New Mexico, which we have lovingly dubbed, the GREAT WINTER VANCATION. This last weekend was our preview trip — a trip in which we (actually just me) bit our nails in anticipation and sheer anxiety. Destination: Red Rock Canyon.

This weekend was full of awesomeness … from the plethora of vans trending in the campground, the super cool couple and adorable dog that we shared a campsite with, Jeff and Mindy from the PNW that we met at the warm up boulders, the super strong local girls on the potato chip rock who were nothing but encouraging, to the adventurous Floridians that needed a ride into town, and the inspiring Diana, who served us at the Mexican joint on our way home; Naps on the side of road, wine under a super bright moon, finishing up the third pitch of Big Bad Wolf by headlamp and then laughing at ourselves as we navigated the walk-off after dark; A side trip to the strip for drinks and dinner with friends, a lesson on navigating large vehicles in places designed for compact cars, and realizing you have the biggest vehicle, yet can carry the fewest people (legally, anyhow).

It was a strong pre-trip and we learned that we really need more insulation, more storage and a counter top. We also learned that the van bed is amazingly comfortable and we are going to have the best time ever.