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.