Los Angeles writer, creator, & self-proclaimed outdoor junkie Brandy Brooks shares her first experience in the backcountry, with commentary on the lack of diversity in the outdoors.
This post was first published on her personal blog, babblingbrooks.me
Lakes Trail, Sequoia National Park (Beginning of Trip)
LET’S TAKE IT BACK TO THE BEGINNING
I had spent a lifetime avoiding the outdoors. My mother would occasionally drag me on her excursions during my youth but she knew the price she'd pay if she pushed the limit— an eye-roll from a teen is like a thousand knives for a mother. Trust me, I know that now.
My first backpacking trip was supposed to be a camping trip but plans changed at the very last minute. It was the most challenging thing my body had ever experienced. Mentally, I needed it.
MY JOURNEY TO HEATHER LAKE, SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
What was supposed to be a front-country camping trip turned into an 8-mile backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park. I had camped one other time. I was ten years old, and I hated it — the end. I had about 40 pounds on my back, give or take, and I wasn't particularly in the best shape. In fact, I had been high on prescription meds equivalent to five red bulls or one hit of meth for the last few years. To this day, I still maintain I was only able to climb 3000 ft in elevation for 5 hours because of my sheer will and the continuous high I had the first day of the trip. I honestly have no idea how my heart didn't give out, but it didn't — so moving on. The most significant gift the outdoors has given me is the gift of sobriety. A year later, what I remember most is the terrible thumping sound of my heartbeat. My fear of seeing a bear created this constant need to vocalize my extreme anxiety In the matter. I never did see a bear on that trip or any trip I've had since then.
Once we got to Heather lake, I felt like I had conquered something I hadn't in all my life. It was me against the world. LITERALLY. Sequoia National Park holds some of the most phenomenal geological structures made by mother nature. The park sits at the most southern tip of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The sun cascading on granite peaks is a picture worth more than a thousand words. Heather Lake is still one of the most serene places I've ever been.
I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew my life was about to change: I was sitting on a boulder, looking out onto Heather Lake the next morning. The water was so still and reflective of the mountain peak before me and the white clouds in the sky. The silence at 9,500 ft. above sea level is silence you've never heard before. After that trip, my perspective on how I wanted to spend my time changed. I became more aware of how I related to my everyday environment too.
Heather Lake, Sequoia National Park
THE LACK OF DIVERSITY OUTDOORS
The reality of the outdoors is white people dominate it. There are many factors. Each needs to be handled with respect and time to explain the nuances and facts; for that reason, I will not just rattle off a list of reasons but vocalize an issue that needs to be addressed and swiftly.
What I will do is leave you with the 2017 American Camper Report presented by Coleman Company and The Outdoor Foundation. Statistics show that 78% of campers were white, 10% were Hispanic, 6% of America's campers were Asian, and only a mere 5% were Black. WHAT. THE. [HECK].? Okay, wait, hold up; I just pulled a new report from KOA. Low and behold, our dear COVID has helped our numbers. You can review the report here.
Over the last year, we've seen a massive surge in Black outdoor women and men shine, and for the first time, people are watching. The mission, by and large, is to help people Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities make the connection that the outdoors is GOOD for them and that they should partake in the joy. Many fail to realize that when you create a relationship with the outdoors, what you are really doing is creating a relationship with yourself.
Nature consistently gives back in ways that will surprise you. Nature is always there, waiting for you with open arms. It stays forever sturdy when you need her and is easy as the wind in times of need. It's unforgiving at times when you must learn hard lessons your soul desires.
2017 American Camper Report
Sequoia Forest, Sequoia National Park
A SIDE NOTE ON FACING YOUR FEARS IN THE OUTDOORS
Okay, so back to bears. I understand that eventually, I will come face-to-face with the great beast. Trust me, I'm not letting my fear of bears stop me from going out into the wild, but I'm still scared shitless. Albeit, I've become less fearful as I've gained more confidence in the outdoors. I honestly think watching Revenant [messed] me up in a real way. Don't watch the Leo Dicaprio Vs. Bear movie, people. No good can come from it.
The truth is, seeing a bear could be a total disaster. What would be worse than seeing a bear? Seeing a bear cub because chances are a very protective mother is right behind. My therapist calls this catastrophic thinking— thinking the absolute worst when the worst hasn't happened yet. Maybe that's why so many of us have an irrational fear of exploring the outdoors. Perhaps we should start surrendering to the unknown and say "yes" to any outdoor trips that our friends and family invite us on. Because I will tell you this, every backpacking or camping trip I've experienced has been nothing but stellar experiences with teachable moments.There's a great quote that I recently started to live by from physicist and chemist Marie Curie:
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie
WHAT THE OUTDOORS CAN PROVIDE YOU
Being in the outdoors without access to modern-day conveniences allows you to live more simplistically. Living our lives in a capitalistic society means a few things. First, it means that we are kept on the wheel to spend, spend, spend. It also means that we're contributing to harming ecosystems because of our system. But when you're outdoors, a beaver gives zero [cares] about your designer sunglasses, so why do you?
Likewise, the outdoors forces you to get into your animalistic brain. Things become quiet. Your vision gets sharper— your innate need to survive kicks in. You become an animal along with the others. Simply put, being outdoors makes you feel the way you should all the time: fucking free.
Sequoia National Park (End of Trip)
Brandy Brooks is a Los Angeles creator & writer focused on inspiring others through her ‘self-inflicted tragedies,’ potifications over what it means to be biracial in the US, being an outdoor junkie, and journey in motherhood.
You can follow along on Instagram @brandybrookswrites and catch her latest insights on her blog babblingbrooks.me