How I Fell In Love With Hiking and Camping
It’s hard to believe that over 8 years ago, I watched buffalo graze in Yellowstone, got lost in the Grand Canyon, hiked to the top of Angels Landing and drove past wild horses in Montana. My experience partaking in these activities greatly influenced my love for adventure today.
Unfortunately, it is not accessible for most people to just pack up and experience such an opulent adventure. So you may ask how was I able to do this? And am I still an avid nature adventurer today?
Right before the spring semester of my junior year of college, I felt inclined to figure out what I would do for my senior project. Internships were scarce and I was not specifically drawn to any specialized long-term project. Luckily I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree in environmental science, so I had a variety of unique opportunities that some of my peers in other fields did not.
One of my options consisted of a summer environmental educational trip throughout north and southwest America. The trip would consist of hiking and camping through various landforms, writing reports and completing written assignments.
Before the trip, we were expected to complete a class during the spring semester. Originally, one of my friends was interested in participating, but after the info session, she decided to hold off. At that point, I decided I would still pursue this project.
What really caught my attention was the planned visit to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, which had been dream destinations of mine for years.
As our class progressed closer to our travel date, we were required to complete several hiking trips. One of the most memorable trips included a day’s long hike through the Catskills Mountains in New York. It was a very strenuous hike, but the serene surroundings and the lush fauna left me with a feeling of euphoria. I remember watching the view of the mountains from different elevations and I knew that this hiking experience was something that I wanted to keep doing.
In a nutshell, the main class trip focused on traveling to nine states including Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington.
Some of my classmates chose to travel with the teacher in a large van from New Jersey to Utah. A few other students and I decided to travel via airplane. I did, however, miss my flight and I instead had to travel to Portland, Oregon. From Oregon, we used the van to travel to each destination.
Some of our experiences included low-key activities such as visiting a geothermal power plant in Utah, visiting the Hoover Dam and visiting a wildlife refuge in Nevada.
I was not particularly friends with anyone in the group. While my instructor was a black man from Zimbabwe, I was the only black female student. This was a hard experience to take in during the three weeks of my camping and hiking journey through different states that were so foreign to me.
We did form small camping groups where we shared and built our tents and decided which foods to collect at the Walmarts we stopped at. But, I still felt rather alienated with or without a small group. I greatly enjoyed my experience as a whole, but I did wish I was not the only woman of color in my class.
I also had a hard time taking care of my hair during our trip. We rarely had access to bathhouses, so when we did, I had to make sure I diligently took care of my hair, since I was wearing a weave at the time. Going through this form of social isolation was probably the biggest downside of my experience on this trip. But, that did not take away from how much value I gained by being a part of this course.
Looking back on this time period, I learned a lot and experienced a lot.
I was in very good shape and I was able to stay at the head of the pack through most of our hikes. However, my hiking skills did not gain me popularity. I remembered feeling so accomplished hiking through Mount Rainier, but as we observed some of the most beautiful sceneries,[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#066db3″ class=”” size=””] I felt a sense of loneliness and anxiety due to the fact that I was not with my friends or people who appreciated my presence.[/perfectpullquote]
I would have much rather shared these experiences surrounded by love and appreciation, even if I experienced these moments alone.
Angels Landing is an accomplishment that I will never forget. It took approximately four hours to hike up a trail that reached 1,500 feet in elevation, and at a certain point of the trail, there were hand chains made to provide balance. I did manage to hike with a few other classmates who were very helpful along the way. When we reached the top, we took pictures and ate a few snacks but not everyone was able to complete the trail. When we hiked back down to ground level, we met up with the students who did not finish the hike.
One of them seemed really disappointed due to the fact that he did not complete the hike. I tried to comfort him with words of encouragement, but instead, I received a loud and unexpected “Shut up!” from him. I was taken back by what had just happened to me. I was completely hurt by his response, but at that point on I was not going to let any of these people steal my shine.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#066db3″ class=”” size=””]Aventuring into the Grand Canyon changed my life.[/perfectpullquote]
While there, we spent several hours hiking to the bottom of the canyon, and that was a task in itself. Our plan was to set up camp and hike back up the day after next. We had broken up into camping groups where I was in a group with my professor.
During the second day in the canyon, our group went for a day hike. Things seemed fine at first, until we ended up lost. Our packed water got very warm and as we kept hiking our surroundings started to look the same. One of our group members did not respond well to the heat, so I tried to stay with her and gave her some of my water. At a certain point, I was not sure we would make it out of the canyon alive. But I remained calm, and I knew I had to push through the entire time, no matter how weak I was starting to feel.
The hike out of the canyon was also a very memorable experience and as one may assume, hiking upward was much more challenging than hiking downward. We started early morning and worked as a team to reach the top. We would be sure to stick together and pace ourselves when we needed a break. When we reached the top, we received a unexpected round of applause from a crowd of bystanders watching as hikers reached the top. This was one of our last hikes, and I knew at that point I completed the hike, it was worth the? applause. ME, existing in these spaces, deserved an applause!
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#066db3″ class=”” size=””]I was brave and strong and I know I will be so. No matter who is there to root for me, or not. I learned I didn’t need anyone’s approval to prove my strength.[/perfectpullquote]
Frankly, I miss hiking and camping. For years I tried to relive some of the experiences from my trip, however, throughout the years, I was not able to find people who wanted to attain the same goals as I did. Most of my friends cringed at the idea of going into the woods and setting up a tent. Many were also turned off by hiking. I’d try to go on some hiking trails alone, but sometimesI was worried about my safety.
More recently, I looked up hiking and camping groups on Meetup.com and one of my biggest concerns came to light. The groups that were available were basically all white.
As I stated previously, I do feel that my environmental course experience would have been better for me socially if I was not the only Black girl. The only Meetup group that I resonated with the most through my search was a Black female hiking group in Colorado. Unfortunately, I live all the way in New Jersey.
Today I am a week and a month away from 30. If I did not take that course during my junior year of college I would not have become the risk-taking travelista that I am today! This trip shaped me for the better, and realizing how strong and brave I was is a gift in itself.
As far as rekindling my relationship with hiking and camping, today I realize that the only way to live out my dream is to create a space of my own. In the spring of 2019, I plan on creating a black woman’s hiking/camping Meetup group. I hope to grow and learn from a group of individuals from different walks of life.
I figure it is worth a shot.
Edward RuffinDecember 28, 2018 9:25 pm
Really nice…. definitely gives a sense of accomplishment.