The pouring rain hadn’t let up for even a moment from the time we all woke up, to meeting up at Travis’s, to pulling up to the Kurt’s Connection trailhead on Mt. Hood. We were doing this despite the rain’s protests. There was only the faintest vibe of, hey, maybe we should try this again another day? but the trail was only three miles long and no one wanted to be that person. I was vaguely comforted by the fact there was one other person there who hadn’t snowshoed before, but I knew I’d be the slowest person on account of generally being slower and I was also recovering from tearing a meniscus in my left knee two-and-a-half months prior.
It technically wasn’t my first time. My girlfriend, Brie, and I did it once for our second anniversary. We rented snowshoes and had no clue what we were doing, but the day would end with whiskey and a hot tub in a fancy cabin, so who cared? We accidentally picked a “difficult” trail and it was awful. We fell over and over and it was hilarious until it wasn’t anymore. We were beat up by the end, but we actually completed the trail. It didn’t ruin snowshoeing for me, but it took me another three years to give it this second shot. I thought it could only be a breeze after that first experience.
My friend, Travis, of The Venture Out Project, organized the trip. The Venture Out Project is an organization that provides safer space for queer, trans and LGBTQ+ people to experience the outdoors. Travis and I were just getting to know each other and this was the second time I’d stepped out of my loner comfort zone and done something in a group setting with him.
I don’t usually hike with other people. Sometimes, I do with Brie, or my best friends, Erin and Rae. We know how to support each other, we know how to communicate about tough parts of a trail that may not be tough for an antelope person. We have no problem taking as much time as we please. Sure, we love moving our bodies, but we are more invested in the journey than crushing miles and bagging peaks. Most days, I hike alone. At first, I hiked alone to figure out this whole hiking and being active-for-fun thing as an indoor kid who accidentally stumbled into it. Literally stumbled, hangover and clumsy disposition. Exercise had never been something I enjoyed doing and later in my teens when I learned about fat acceptance and body-positivity, I decided I was done with it. Exercise isn’t presented to us as something good for our very general physical health, let alone being at all beneficial for our mental health. It’s presented to us as this thing that will “fix” what’s “wrong” with our bodies. We aren’t told it just feels good. It makes our bodies work better, our minds clearer, our sleep better. Hiking became my meditation, my spiritual practice, and I had so much to work out in my head and in my life. I was learning about my body and what it could do. Being alone was also a safeguard from the weird, internalized garbage that happens in my head when I’m The Slow One or sweating and breathing “too hard.” It’s easier to just process all of this alone. Mostly, I just like being alone, but as I better own my place in this weird lifestyle, I’ve started feeling the need to have real outdoor community.
After Travis explained to us how to put our shoes on and went around adjusting the bands and buckles on all of us, we hit the trail and immediately I was worried. My snowshoe-clad feet were sinking deeply. Every step was like having huge resistance weights on my ankles. Everyone was saying the snow pack wasn’t ideal, but it was only my second time out, how could I know? They all looked to be lightly traipsing across the top of the snow and, okay, I know that isn’t exactly what was happening, but that’s how it appeared in comparison to the light agony I was going through. Was it my weight? I really had no idea and, of course, I was the only fat person there, a fact I was keenly aware of. We were less than twenty minutes into the trail when we rounded a funny bend where the trail sort of tilted and the worst thing I could think of happening happened.
I was going down. Falling. I was falling and then it turned out that falling wasn’t actually the worst thing that could happen. It was not being able to get back up. I tried using my left arm for leverage in place of my left leg, as I’ve had to since my accident, but my arm just kept sinking right through the snow. I tried to calm down and visualize using my left trekking pole to pull myself up with, but that too was sinking into the many feet of snow and I’ve lost so much strength there was no way I’d be able to pull myself up anyway. After a few minutes of this, embarrassment began to heat my face, tears were stinging my eyes. I said, “I am starting to have a little meltdown.” I turned my face, closed my eyes and breathed. I. Could. Not. Get. Up.
Sidenote: if you are reading this and weigh over 200 pounds and have snowshoed a bit, can you tell me if this is a thing? Thanks in advance.
I was on the ground breathing and trying not to cry and also trying to seem like I wasn’t actually having a meltdown. Travis and his partner, Jesse, were very gently offering suggestions for what I should do and they were probably right, but I was so in my feelings about what was happening I could hardly register what they were saying. I finally sort of rolled myself over, clothes now soaking, and said a little prayer to the Universe that my group snowshoeing journey wasn’t ending already.
Sidenote: if someone is trying to help you, let them.
Despite all I just said, I have always been a graceful faller when hiking. Really! I’m clumsy and in my head so much and I just fall sometimes. As I’m going down, I generally think, “well, you’re going down… let it happen…” because the more I tense up, the worse the fall is, but I’m generally alone or with my close ones who I feel safe with. It’s usually funny! Falling is no big deal!
Most of the time.
Falling and being clumsy are different when you’re fat. Fat people’s bodies are so often portrayed as, not just in the way, but as graceless and destructive. Knocking shit over, breaking things. In movies, fat people fall and the earth shakes a little. Other people get hurt, etc. It’s as if fat people take up all of the space in the room, not just with our bodies but with our very being. In fact, within moments of me writing these words, I saw an article on Huffpost about plus-size model Tess Holliday calling out the driving service, Uber, over an experience with a driver asking her personal questions about her body based on its size. Most of the comments on the article weren’t about how awful it was that this stranger was asking her such things, but about her body itself, reinforcing that she deserved this treatment because she has the wrong body. To add even more insult to injury in the context of me writing about this, someone posted a GIF of Tess falling down and needing the help of a handful of people to get her back up.
Yeah, this is a thing. Also, thanks, Universe, for proving my point at a moment where I was wringing my hands over whether or not this all just sounded like a bunch of insecure drivel and internalized fatphobia.
I admit, a teeny tiny bit of it is, but it’s more than that. It’s an issue of safety. I became that clumsy fat person around a bunch of thinner, more athletic people and I felt so fucking vulnerable. Was I safe with these people who I hardly know? Do they know anything about being fat-positive allies? Was my very being reinforcing stereotypes of fat people? Would this be the last time I try something like this? I want to be that overly confident bad ass who’s never embarrassed or cries when she’s hurt or does something stupid. Being a fat outdoorsperson putting myself out there, really out there, for the purpose of disrupting the common narrative, I often get caught up in feeling like I have to be an example. As if I’m supposed to portray myself as a superhero one-hundred percent of the time to prove to my team that if I can do it, they can, too. I admit this is total lizard brain thinking rooted in Show No Weakness brand sexism.
Do you know how hard it is to love and respect yourself when you receive messages daily, sometimes overtly hateful, sometimes so subtle you doubt your own perception, that you are not worthy of love and respect the way that you are? Hating fat people is completely accepted in our culture. The second a person is told they can’t say hateful things about fat people, they change their tune to being concerned about health. This is gaslighting and y’all can fuck right off with it. To love and respect yourself when people shamelessly tell you you aren’t worthy, is no less than a revolutionary act. It’s an act that takes up so much of my energy, I often feel like I don’t have any left. I spend my days experiencing these aggressions toward me and using superhero powers to brush that dirt off my shoulders, but after many days of it, I break.
Or, fall, as the case may be.
I am shamelessly digressing. Let’s jog it back to the snowshoeing.
I was on the ground, sort of on my belly, and trying to find the clarity to figure out what to do next. Using all fours, a sight I don’t even want to entertain imagining at this point, I push myself up using the up-tilted part of the trail for leverage and quickly grab onto my poles that are standing up in the snow. I’m wobbling like a drunk toddler, but I’m up. Travis then gets down and starts adjusting the straps on my snowshoes and I feel so embarrassed, like, “leave me alone, dad!” but I’m also touched by it. I realize I feel cared for in the exact way that I need and a rush of comfort flows through me. We start walking again and my snowshoes feel noticeably better and more secure, but it’s still rough-going. Within a few hundred yards, I fall again and as I’m going down there is a flash of hopelessness, but fortunately, I’m quickly back up this time. Travis suggests we trade snowshoes and I want to refuse, but by now I know my instincts are not exactly on my side and accepting help is better. Jesse offers me physical support while I wiggle into the new shoes and Travis adjusts everything on me again and I get angsty and uncomfortable, but only for a second. We’re off again and I’m moving better and it’s still really tough and yeah, I fall one more time, but I get right back up and soon we’re miraculously back to the trailhead.
I want to talk so much more about safety and vulnerability and insecurity and how to power through so we don’t miss out on the things we desire and the possibilities that may come from doing those things. Not wanting to do something out of insecurity is understandable when it’s based on real things that have happened. We deserve a lot more compassion toward ourselves and others. Usually, I feel very secure in my abilities to do the physical things I want to do, but I’ve also experienced real harm from strangers for simply having the nerve to be me while exercising in public. Harmful words, nonconsensual photos taken. Years ago, I was in a fat-positive radical cheerleading troupe called F.A.T.A.S.S.. I don’t even remember what the letters stood for (curse you PTSD brain!), but we’d cheer at political events, shows, parties, etc. At our practices, which were usually in a park, we’d get shit all of the time from strangers. People would regularly pull up in their cars to take pictures and one time this guy didn’t just pull up, but had the fratboy audacity to walk the hundred or so yards to where we were to take pictures. He definitely did not expect my fat ass to chase him all the way back to his truck where he then peeled out like a big baby.
I probably shouldn’t have told that story, I really don’t want to scare anyone into not doing the things they want to do. I’m just saying 1) assholes are out there 2) sometimes they can’t handle seeing fat people being actual people in public 3) the pain and fear that one might carry because of that is real 4) do it anyway. If you can. If you want to.
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