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?

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/

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.

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.

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.

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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Aging is Awesome.

I love getting old.

Well, “old” is subjective.

But I don’t feel like a kid anymore, and I’m certainly not a young adult. In fact, most of my hair is white. Even though I keep it died black, the roots are getting brighter and brighter. After I die it, I have a subtle brown streak — which is actually a spot of very white hair underneath it all. My mother had something very similar. It was her skunk stripe, and it was next to impossible to permanently color it. We also both went grey very early on.

I appreciate every moment when I realize how naive I was when I was young, and a revel in the moments when I recognize that I am gaining the wisdom that only comes with age and life experience. I am finally able to calmly absorb criticism and get excited to learn something new. I only wish I had more time to do and learn more things. I no longer feel like there is so much life ahead of me — instead I feel as if I’m in the thick of it, and the time to really live is not only right now, but every day, always. I say yes more often. I face my fears more frequently.

I move slower, but I’m more honest with myself. I’m finally able to embarrass young people by mocking them. I wear “old lady” shoes because they are comfortable, rather than because they are fashionable. I don’t mind being silly or ridiculous in public, and laughing is more important that looking good.

That said, I find myself pulled in many directions as I fight to fit in all the things I want to do every day. Some things are obligatory responsibilities, others are an investment in my health, and the rest ignite an amazing passion within me … or maybe just because they are more fun that the alternatives. That leaves me taking breaks from blogging, even though I have always loved to write.

However ….

I have started filling my notebook with ideas again. I have been taking notes, starting drafts, talking about ideas and directions and I’ve very excited. This summer I want to talk about adventures, what I’ve been learning, how to be inspired, and how to stay safe. I will also have about a million photos and adventures to share from the French Alps in a few weeks!

More and more I have been learning and growing from the outdoor community around me, and I am increasingly and continually in awe, oozing with appreciation, and building my motivation. There is so much wonderful out there. I aim to experience as much of it as possible. Stay tuned.

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.