Community, Intersectionality and Every Feeling I’ve Ever Felt.

When a person has a lot of social privilege, they don’t have to search very hard for where they belong. There’s an innate understanding they’ll fit in most places. The image of the outdoor adventurer is white, thin, fit and straight-looking. Looking moneyed is an added bonus. Whether they ask for it or not, whether they reject it or not, they get unquestioning access and privilege. This isn’t a poke at anyone who fits that, just a reality that often leaves the rest of us feeling unwelcome, invisible and wondering where we belong. Community. Hiking community. What does that even mean when you don’t fit in?

The more I use the phrase Unlikely Hiker* the more it rings true. It encompasses anyone who doesn’t fit the idea of what an outdoor adventurer is. Fat, scrawny, people of color, queer, gender nonconforming, etc. The people you don’t see in the ads or gym commercials. Actually, I do think you can be a white, thin, etc. person and be an unlikely hiker. Some of us are just born weird and never know where we belong and we sort of collect other weirdos along the way to make community with. If you see yourself as an unlikely hiker, then you are. Welcome.

I used to think outdoor adventuring was for other people based on what I saw around me in the media and in my beautiful outdoorsy city of Portland, Oregon. I felt this so strongly I developed an aversion to it and exercise in general. Exercising in public is such a vulnerable thing. When I actually started getting out, my fears were often confirmed. I am ignored in gear shops more often than I am helped without having to ask and I can’t say how often I’ve been asked if it’s my first time on a certain trail, as if it’s baby’s big day. Yeah, I’m not on Dog Mountain because I decided today would be a good day to give hiking a shot. It really is enough to make a person not want to fuck with it at all. People of color are especially underrepresented when it comes to outdoor recreation and environmentalism owing to the commodification of natural areas (and, oh, just about everything else). Fun fact I intend to expand upon after I’ve learned more: There’s a long history of Black, Latino and Native American people serving in the National Parks system. In the west, Buffalo Soldiers, as they were called by local tribes who saw a resemblance between themselves, were among the trail builders, patrollers and the first park rangers at Sequoia National Park.

I created this blog five months ago. I’d been hiking for about three years and I had all of this writing and pictures and ideas and I knew I had to do something with it all. I knew I wanted to find my community even if I didn’t exactly know what that meant just yet. As I started to try to make connections with other hiking blogs and hiking Instagram accounts, I found myself feeling even more unseen. Most nature blogs seem to keep it light, polite, apolitical, family friendly. There’s nothing wrong with that, generally, but there’s so much of it and so little else. Why this stifling sense of propriety? Why is everyone quoting Gandhi and doing yoga poses on rocks? Why all the microbrews and Patagonia clothing? I know I’m being shady and I one-hundred-percent want everyone to do what feels good to them and seriously, Fuck My Opinion, but where is the goddamn dirt of life? Why are so few cussing and talking about sex or about how they hike to keep from going crazy or using drugs? Life is not a fucking L.L. Bean catalogue.

Twice now, I’ve gotten hateful, sexist comments from people when I’ve said something in nature looks like a vagina. First, why is a vagina offensive? Second, are y’all even paying attention out there? Because sex is everywhere. Nature is a language. By all means, get what you need from it, but let me get mine, too. You find your god in it, I’ll find mine. I have friends, all women, who have gained followings as thru-hikers, artists, writers, etc. The hateful trolling I find in the comments of their social media accounts is cuckoo. Streams of “I hate that you cuss and talk about sex, so I’m going to call you a bitch and a slut and totally negate anything I am actually saying but you still get the idea that I hate you and want you to disappear.” It calls into question the climate of our culture in regards to the unlikely hiker and, hell, women in general. How dare we have the gall to put ourselves out there and be whole human beings and not follow these fake-ass codes of conduct? Pro tip: You can have your codes and I can have mine and we can awesomely not impose them on each other. It is totally doable!

L – R: Redwood vagina, penis and balls root at Eagle Creek, back of Monkey Face looking like a big old dick at Smith Rock, tree vagina at Salmon River, the forever gushing Wahclella Falls. I should really just create a whole gallery of this.

Why the sense of ownership? Why the superiority? Is it the elusiveness of the outdoors, the fact that it cannot be owned or tamed that makes people want to so much? Plant your flag in your own backyard, man. We deal with that shit every day in every other damn place. It’s called Capitalism and it’s killing us. In nature, I’m trying to get away from all that noise.

When I started getting out, I knew there was no going back. I was hooked. I’d found something that made me feel alive, happy, healthy in ways that weren’t based on tamping pain down like I would with alcohol, drugs, food, popularity/excessive validation, etc. I’ve been scouring the internet looking for unlikely hikers and I’ve found a few here and there and I know there are so many more. We cannot wait to be accepted by others. We have to make our own way. We have to carve out our own place and be convicted and do right by ourselves and trust there are more of us out there. We also have to hold each other up. Our community is what we make it. How do we want it to be?

As an othered person my whole life on account of being queer and fat, I’ve always had to find my own space and create my own when I couldn’t find it. I am so grateful for the connections I’ve made since starting this blog, truly with everyone who’s shown interest, but especially with the unlikely hikers. We are the littlest bunch, but there are more of us than we can imagine. Every time I find another one, I have such a Eureka! moment. We’re here! We’re really here! Nothing exists alone. My blog and what I do basically exist in outer space without the company of my fellow unlikely hikers. However, there’s this heartbreaking thing that happens in little communities of people who have to work harder to get what they want and need. Recently, a peer of mine in this corner who I hold in high regard pulled some left field female/feminine** competition on me. It wasn’t just the loss of a comrade that hurt my heart so bad, it was that “outside” shit punctured my special little world. I only give half-a-fuck if some sexist hater doesn’t like what I’m about, but one of my own? Of course, I see a thousand flaws in that. Female and feminine competition is a cannibal and it eats its young. So is scarcity and maybe I’m projecting, though I don’t think so, the fear of not being special. The Universe mercifully wagged a finger in my face and said, Girl, figuring out why someone doesn’t like you is not your work. It’s like some stupid boy snapped my bra and I’m shrieking, “I’m thirty-four, why is this even fucking happening?! I already did my time here!” Here being the world of trying to make people, especially other women, like and accept me. Here being the times I’ve done the opposite of that and started wildfires of competition. I’m done with that. I don’t live there anymore and when I get weird prickling feelings about that shit, I ask myself what it is I’m really afraid of and it is never actually another person’s power, but the fear that I lack my own. Community not competition. Hallelujah.

I believe in the abundance of non-material things. I believe that few ideas are truly original. I believe that most of us are looking for the same things in nature, even if we call them by different names. I believe the thing that really draws all of us to it is the vastness of it, the abundance, the fact we can’t own it. It can’t be lorded over us or taken from us. The mystery and magic, it hooks us, and none of us are entitled to more or less than our share. You can get out and stand in the golden light of it as often as you wish.

*I invite anyone who feels like an unlikely hiker to use this phrase and hashtag. I want to know you’re out there! #unlikelyhiker

**I differentiate because I believe in the expansiveness of gender and that sexism is about more than being a woman or being female, but about a fear of femininity.

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37 thoughts on “Community, Intersectionality and Every Feeling I’ve Ever Felt.

  1. It’s true that you are a national treasure!! And I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been gawked at, yelled at, and condescended to for exercising in public and/or hiking. I let my fear of those experiences build up (which of course only gave my fear more power), and I closed down that part of my heart for awhile. And then I started running, which made me feel like I could do far more with my body than the world told me, which led to solo hiking adventures – which happen to be some of the best times of my life. It’s such an incredible realization as I age that I have the power to define my own experiences; I have the power to let that fear move through me until it becomes energy and confidence and love. I can forge my own path! And I so love seeing how you are forging yours. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Erin, you hit the nail on the head big time with this: “And then I started running, which made me feel like I could do far more with my body than the world told me…” Some of us are not told what we are capable of and worse, told what we aren’t capable of. It never occurred to me that I could do these things either! I love your story, I love you path and I like that it crosses mine from time to time. Thank you for reading, friend.

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  2. Holy shit, Jenny. You got me all welled up. This is the best thing you have written on this blog. I too and am unlikely hiker and find it odd that people are so shocked I love the outdoors so much. “You just don’t seem like the type” is something I have heard far too often. Why though? I just don’t get it. And guess who those comments usually come from? MEN. Yep. I love the way you handled that piece of shit troll, Carrot ginger or whatever the fuck his name was. You handled it with class and grace and meanwhile I wanted to lose my shit on him. I refrained because I didn’t want to step on your toes, but people like that and their shitty attitudes need to check themselves, doing some seriously introspection as to why they are entitled to nature and we are not. That their definition of nature is right and ours is wrong. Nature is everyone’s to enjoy and what it means to each individual is not up for debate, motherfuckers. I love you and think you’re killing it at life. I’m so proud that you stand your ground and live your life on your terms. You’re a true inspiration.

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    1. Nateesh! That is such a real thing, regardless of body type, like if you look at all “eccentric” people think you couldn’t possibly be, oh, I don’t know, GROUNDED? Or just that they’d even know what you would or would not be into or capable of! I barf on all of this. I really like this part of what you said, “Nature is everyone’s to enjoy and what it means to each individual is not up for debate, motherfuckers.” We really just do not have to have the same experience! It is so ok. This could be said for so many things.

      Like I said on Insta, Carrot is my friend! I tagged her because we’ve shared some lolz on the topic.

      Thank you for your constant kindness. I feel really upheld by you, Nateesh. I believe in what you do, too.

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  3. 1. THANK YOU FOR THE HASHTAG! I want to be able to find these people too.

    2. Yes please, galleries of nature that looks like genitalia. Also more cussing and talk about how we hike to keep from being crazy, or how sometimes we are still crazy anyway but we hike anyway too.

    3. Thank you for writing this. Especially this part: “If you see yourself as an unlikely hiker, then you are. Welcome.” 🙂

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    1. DeAnna ❤

      1. You are so welcome! I really don't even want it to be some promo-y thing for me, I really really really just wanna know where the weirdos are at.

      2. I have more pictures! Thanks for the encouragement. I mean, birth, life, death, the earth, the universe, connection, and duh, SEX! It's swirling around us all of the time whether we wanna tune in or not. And hell, I think just at least being able to laugh at some of these pictures is the least I can ask for. And yes to being crazy and doing things that make our lives less hard. Nature is a healer, but I know I'm still fighting out a lot of my shit when I'm out there and some of it I probably will forever.

      3. And you are so, indeed, welcome.

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  4. Dick face monkey rock!!

    Love you, jenny, and your brilliant words. Thanks for encouraging me to be an unlikely hiker and I truly treasure the times we have had together on the trail. Can’t wait to catch that golden light again soon. 💖💖💖

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    1. I will never forget rounding that bend on that awful/awesome Misery Ridge Trail with you and just thinking, damn, that looks like a big old dick! WOW! I can’t believe the internet isn’t flooded with images like this, but maybe I’m just that much of a freak.

      That was such a great trip! I can’t wait to hike with you this Saturday. Fingers crossed the rain won’t be a total shithead. I love you, too, Erin. Thank you so much for reading and for your constant encouragement. That is everything.

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  5. I don’t understand hashtags and instathings, but I am walking beside you on some of these miles Sis! I hope it is okay that I call that, as I live in the Aloha Spirit, the breath of life that connects us, and as I read your words I felt like a sister in this unlikely hiking family. I find vagina trees too, all of the time! And nature makes so many hearts I have had to set myself a limit per hour to stopping to photograph them all! (Although one female hiking bud of mine informs me that these are actually labia tree if it is only the outside, not the tunnel. 😉 ) I am poor and queer, though most folks just think that means I am gay. Really I am a poor rich nature lovin’ lover of all! I am rich in love, and some folks are so damn poor all they have is their money. I came to hiking after I was homeless for many years, during which time I was assaulted, kidnapped, and raped for two weeks. I hike to heal myself, doctors recommended. It is working! Lots of folks don’t like the way I hike either, but I have learned that I did not leave the chains of “society” to let “hiker society” tell me how to walk. I am proud of you for being you and walking yourself home to yourself!

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  6. Well fuck me! I’m new to backpacking, straight, and as mainstream as one can get. Fuck, I look like I just hiked out of that catalog, cottage industry site. I was hoping to leave the societal chains behind, but not just those chains, the self imposed ones too. I totally get your struggle to find your people but will you exclude me because I don’t look like you? I hope not, because we’re on the same trail in our hearts and mind.

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    1. Hey, I appreciate your comment. I think it takes all kinds, my friend. I really mean that. And the point of this entry isn’t the inclusion of people who Fit the Bill, it’s about those who don’t. It sounds like you already know you fit in. I thank you for reading and keep on doing what you do out there!

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  7. I am about 20 years older than you. I remember not feeling like I fit in or measured up. I hope as you mature you realize YOU ARE YOU. No matter what anyone says, does, looks like, dresses like, it doesn’t make a difference because they are them and YOU ARE STILL YOU!! No matter the role you find yourself in–partner, mother, sister, employee, boss–YOU ARE STILL YOU!! You will never find self actualization as long as you compare yourself to others and look for your self worth and identity in others.

    As far as what a “likely” hiker is, I’ve read hundreds of journals, blogs and books (including Carrot’s) and follow several hiking FB groups and I couldn’t begin to tell you. I see men,women, gay, straight, children, teens, young adults, mid life, 80 year olds, working, retired, students, grandparents, rich, poor, healthy, with medical conditions and/or handicaps, thin, overweight, fit, not so fit and on and on. Some of the happiest I see are older women who are overweight but don’t give a damn. They are just glad to be out there. People in catalogs have never represented any group. They aren’t the definition of anything.

    It took me a little while to get to this mindset but wow is it freeing!!!

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    1. Connie, this is great! I guess I didn’t make it clear enough, but I really like who I am and I’m not actually trying to fit in or compare myself to others. I just want to find the other weirdos. I’m going to do me forever. I hope I keep finding the blogs, books and journals you’ve found. Thank you so much for reading. I value your perspective.

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  8. Jenny, this is a really great blog post. I have to acknowledge that a big part of the reason I (am able to) get out is my privilege, what you talk about in the top of the post: I’m white, I’m thin, I’m (more or less) fit, I grew up upper-middle-class and my family went on outdoorsy vacations a couple times every year so I’ve been exposed to the outdoors as a source of fun/recreation since I was a baby. (& though I’m queer all my long hikes have been with a boyfriend so that hasn’t ever actually affected me w/in the hiking community) In general I look like I fit the bill. I’ve gotten kind of a lot of incredulity from people (mostly men) on the trail, especially if I’m by myself– people questioning my skills and my ability, etc. but I’m pretty sure that’s a more or less universal experience among women. but I have to say I feel like an “unlikely hiker,” at least when it comes to the long-distance hiking community. I was always an ~indoor kid~ (the family camping vacations were an absolute nightmare for me tbh) and never an athlete and last year on the trail I struggled so much to live up to this expectation of what a thru-hiker should be able to do. I can’t hike 30 miles in a day, 3 miles per hour, whatever. I just can’t. My body hurts too much all the time to be able to do that stuff. I spent far too much time in emotional turmoil thinking “I’m not good enough, I don’t fit in.” yet somehow despite that I still managed to thrive on the trail. (plus, I’ve always been a weirdo in general… so there’s that too! haha.) ANYWAY sorry for the word vomit, just wanted to communicate how greatly I loved this post/your writing in general!!

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    1. Rachel, I really appreciate you reading and then telling me all of the stuff it brought up for you. I think you seem like a total badass! I hope that you are able to look at yourself after that long hike let go of the idea of what a thru-hiker should be. Because you are one!

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  9. took me a few days to get to this, but it’s everything i hoped and more. jenny, i’m so glad the universe brought us into each other’s lives at this particular time. thank you for writing this and for doing all that you do. your words are so spot on, and your endless generosity and compassion are things i want to learn more about — truly, the way you value every single person is inspiring. i feel very seen when i read your writing or when we converse or even just when you like one of my instagram photos, and i think that is a special talent — making others feel seen and validated in their own existence. i feel grateful to be in your circle. i feel humbled by the way you invite every willing being into your circle. it’s magic. thanks for leading the way on this conversation, for all of us unlikely hikers. ❤

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    1. Ahhhhh, Vanessa. I don’t even know what to say. I want to gently negate so much of it, like, yes, I am so fucking crazy compassionate, but I am not a total sweetheart 😉 I do try to make people feel seen and welcome, probably because I want that, too, but I don’t want that from everyone, you know? Thank you so more for letting me know I make you feel upheld. I’m so happy to know you and get to know you more and more.

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  10. I love your writing Jenny. I too identify as an unlikely hiker- I actually started hiking because I felt like I didn’t fit in… But I’ve found that, out there, it doesn’t matter who I am or how I fit into society; nothing matters except putting one foot in front of the other and taking in the beauty of each destination. That’s the power of nature, for me, and that is why I hike- it literally does keep me from going crazy, clearing my head of all of those comparisons, inadequacies, and fears. Great Insights. 🙂

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    1. Rachel, you are so right. It doesn’t matter! There is enough for all of us and we all find what we need, whatever it is, and don’t have to hold other people to what we need or want. I so appreciate what you are doing with your blog and I thank you for reading mine. I also like that you live close enough for me to potentially find out about new trails to visit. Keep being a bad ass, Rachel!

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  11. Wow. This hit me hard in the way that I was feeling all of these things but didn’t know it or didn’t know how to articulate it. Nothing else to add other than solidarity snaps and the excitement of being able to use a new hashtag.

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  12. Wow. This hit me hard in the way that I was feeling all of these things but didn’t know it or didn’t know how to articulate it. Nothing else to add other than solidarity snaps and the excitement of being able to use a new hashtag.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love this Jenny! it almost made me cry. So many of us all got total weird unlikely stuff, even if we don’t look like it. I admire your vulnerability, honesty, bravery and spirit. Please write more stuff like this. And do your best to cleanse yourself psychically of hatred on the daily! ❤

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  14. Thanks for this post! Although I do not know you, I feel understood and not alone.
    Keep it up and stay positive ❤

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