The conversation around people of color in the outdoors has rightfully gained a ton of momentum in recent years. However, with all of this great momentum, being In the midst of many conversations, gatherings, outings, and the like, I started to become exhausted. This topic has been something that has been at the forefront of my work for quite some time now and it has not been and still isn’t an easy issue to address. The very existence of our human race and of our planet is at stake; this isn't the time to be tired. However, like any big expedition, I must pace myself, I must practice self care, and take the time to listen to mind, body and soul.
I needed this break. I needed time away from the conversation. A conversation that I’ve been having since I was 18 and inadvertently before that through casual encounters with white counterparts on my regular hike through the mountains. Explaining who I was and why I was out on the trial instead of some place else. Over the past year, I've grown more and more tired with discussions and explanations. I needed to remember why this very conversation mattered so much to me.
Back in June 2015 I traveled to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro immediately after I graduated college. This was a really exciting time in my life - done with college, no more worries, I was headed home to the “motherland”. I had heard so many incredible stories of the mountain and always knew that I wanted to make it over to Tanzania. However, never in a million years did I know what climbing on a mountain like that would have done to me. The actual climb itself felt pretty standard: early mornings, slow pace, long hikes - but what made this climb more significant than most was the feeling of being the majority. To be on a mountain, in a wild space and not feel like my existence needed to be explained. It was unusual to not question my moment in space, not having to wonder if someone was staring at me unknowingly from behind; odd to no longer be one the few folks who went into their tent at night a shade of purple because our sunscreen wasn't the most absorbent.
My time on Kilimanjaro was special because during that climb my focus was solely on that experience itself. Instead of being distracted with the usual pressures that come with being a person of color in the outdoors I had the opportunity to breath. I was able to be fully immersed in every step I took on my hike up and pay attention to every breathe that left my body. For the first time, I didn’t have to carry any additional "weight" up a mountain.
I wanted that experience again. I remember how it felt to see so many people of color who were experts in the outdoors - people who lived, slept and worked in the mountains. For them, the outdoors was all they knew - it was not a question whether they belonged there or not. I was inspired.
And so, last month I set out to find myself once again. This time, my journey led me to the Rwenzori Mountain Range, which lies on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It consist of six massifs that all sit roughly at 16,000ft of elevation. Mt. Stanley, the highest peak, stands at 16,762 ft. As a collective they make up Africa’s highest mountain range. These mountains hold some of the continents last existing glaciers.
I hadn’t heard much about the Rwenzori’s before I began planning to head there a few month’s before this trip. It was put on my radar from a friend and since then, I couldn’t get these mountain off of my mind. I instantly thought about Kilimanjaro and what that experience was like for me and I began to yearn for that feeling once again. I needed to recreate that space but this time I wanted to be intentional and share this journey with everyone here in the U.S. who aren't taking their occasional self care break, yet who are still having these difficult conversations, who are dedicating their lives to the work of bridging the adventure gap.
Unfortunately I don’t always have the luxury of being objective about my expeditions in the mountains. In most cases, these trips are just as much of an adventure culturally, socially and emotionally as they are physically. Ironically, I traveled 7,000 miles to another country on another continent and not once did I hear the question: “What brought you here” - a question that black folks get over and over again in the U.S, our country, our home. While in Uganda I learned the answer to this question without even being asked. I was born to love the earth just as my ancestors.
There is magic that lives within the Rwenzori’s. Those mountaineers, those porters, those villagers have helped solidify my being. Throughout my time in the Rwenzori, while in Uganda, I experienced what it felt like to truly live off of the earth. To drink from its flowing rivers and to feast from its lush green forest. Everyone in those mountains seemed so connected with nature, through diet, labor, transportation, through all of their everyday function. It confirmed my personal existence in the outdoors. I belonged here, I belonged outside.
I thank every single person I crossed paths with who made my experience so special. People who have studied nature in universities, who have mountaineered for decades, people who have fetched water in these mountains since they learned to walk. This was special. You made me feel at home. You have shown me that the “adventure gap” in the U.S. is man made and if my country created this issue, we damn sure can fix it.
All in love,