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