There are so many ways to enjoy time outside. This is one of many unique stories we’re sharing as part of our effort to highlight the Limitless Sides to Outside.
My partner and I returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2009 and quickly realized that “appreciation of the outdoors” was a core value. As a Black woman, I did not see folks that looked like me in the outdoors. My colleagues would often talk about the latest hike or trek they did over the weekend, and I thought, “Hey, we should be in this space.” Camping seemed accessible and a chance to unplug from daily life and explore the Northwest. We went intending to get our friends out of their comfort zone and to show up in the space as people of diverse races and ethnicities.
Eleven years later, we are still going strong. Our group is nearing 20 people. The annual camping trip started with friends and co-workers, who we now call our Seattle family. We wanted to encourage people of color to explore the outdoors and bring folks together from different cultures and perspectives. To be outside and continue strong habits about respecting nature and our impact. To be present with one another, solidify relationships, have extended conversations and invest in each other. We wanted to be in a place that was comfortable, to be our authentic selves in the safest space: nature
Each year we add someone new who is skeptical that we are sleeping outside by choice. We tell them to come, just as they are, with a sleeping bag and a tent. ‘We’ll take care of your food. We’ll do all the cooking.” We hope they see how accessible camping can be and say, “Oh, I can do that, it’s not overwhelming.” The next time, they can plan a meal, explore making their favorite cultural dish adapted for a campfire, such as carne asada tacos, shrimp and grits or jambalaya. Slowly they will build up their collection of what they need.
Who have you added to your annual trip? Who are you bringing along in your space? Have you considered bringing someone who is different than you and who has never explored the outdoors? Try it and you will see how much better your adventure will be.
We like to say that our trips are like the United Nations of camping. There are a lot of different, diverse views. It’s been primarily people of color and people with various stories–of being an immigrant, a parent, a cancer survivor or a friend. We debate, we learn, we hike, and we have fun. I’ll never forget one conversation with our friend Simon, who escaped from Eritrea’s war-torn country and walked for several days with only the clothes on his back. We had forgotten a sleeping pad on a trip, and I said, “I need that sleeping pad.” Simon responded, “Let me tell you about the war and not having anything. You don’t need your sleeping pad.” It was a reality check. Those are the stories that I want my kids to hear and think about: What do you need to survive?
In the last decade, I’ve learned to view the outdoors as a place of wonderment and interest. Talking about war’s realities does not always show up in your daily life when you’re having dinner, commuting or working on a project. Being curious about each person’s story and allowing the space to share their story is the beauty that we can bring into the outdoor space.