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?

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

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.

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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The Cost of Mt. Baldy

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This week has been an emotional one. I’ve started this blog post three times now, and the words never seem to quite make sense. I wanted to write about my experience stomping up to the summit of Mt. Baldy this weekend, the grand cycle of emotions I went through to get there, and the tears that nearly froze to my face in the frigid mountain wind. I wanted to write about the pain and injury and healing and recovery I’ve been going through. Or maybe how wiped out my obsessive goal setting has made me; and my constant creation of checklists and to-do notes. These things become words and the words don’t mesh well and I can’t even stand to read my own writing, an act that has become oddly comforting, reminding me that I can take the thoughts from my busy mind and release them, freeing them from cycling over and over in my mind, giving my attention permission to let them go.

This weekend was big. I have recognized the profound effects of supporting friendships on motivation and self-esteem; on belief in myself and the inspiration of confidence. I have recognized the profound effects of the relationship with self on the healing of the body; taking time to care for oneself, prioritizing physical and emotional needs before wants.

And I have recognized the profound effects of my relationship with nature, how it toys with my mind, taunting me deeper, and cycling my emotions. My relationship with the mountains is complicated. They call me, yet I fear them. The lure me in, then abuse me. They occupy my mind, though I oft try to set them aside. I excitedly set out to climb them, yet question my every step, only realizing the mistake was not a mistake when I finally reach a goal I never knew I had.

Mountains and I, we have a strange relationship — particularly Mt. Baldy. I hobbled onto the summit this weekend, holding back tears. Reaching the top, I could not contain myself. I sobbed. I sat and I cried tears of pent-up frustration, of joy, of relief, of disbelief. Six months ago, if you asked me if I’d ever climb up Mt. Baldy with an axe and crampons, I’d have laughed. Not only was that god-awful hill a near impossibility with the condition of my right knee, but in the snow? Six months ago a doctor told me this type of hiking was no longer an option for me. Less than three months ago another doctor told me I’d finally be able to heal again and get strong. Last Monday that doctor told me I was ready to start pushing harder. I pushed hard. Maybe too hard. Every step down to the car was excruciating. Every step down that mountain was a price paid to sit on top of it. To sit on the summit of that hill was costly. And yet I continue to pay, again and again. I’ll get stronger. I’ll keep pushing. It will get easier. But there will always be bigger mountains to climb. And there will always be a price. And I will always be willing to pay.