I have been tormenting myself over writing this trip report because of several reasons. Wondering, who is it exactly that will be interested in hearing about the impact a summer trip had on two people that they may never meet? Who cares about the things I did or the thoughts that developed during my 6 day excursion across Washington? Who am I to have developed an ego large enough to think some stranger on Tim Berners-Lee’s internet, let alone this universe, would want to know what it’s like to be a Black or brown hiker lucky enough to have won this micro-grant?
And maybe that’s just it.
Maybe no one cares, that no matter where my friend Micah and I travelled outside of major cities in Washington, I was haunted by a number. A number that at first was a joke to break the silence, which quickly metamorphosed into a weight. A sadness. An embarrassment. A number that served as a constant reminder as to why I do write about these numbers and equally important, these feelings.
This number is also why, no matter how many times I hike, it is impossible to run from the inescapable inequities of the outdoors. It’s the same number that is the reason my trip report isn’t centered around locations, sites and what-to-do’s. It’s centered around this number.
One is the number of Black men on the 11 trails, 3 beaches, 2 campsites, 13 cities, 7 waterfalls, 4 lakes and one river that my friend Micah and I explored over our 6 day hiking excursion.
One is also the number of Pasifika women in those same spaces.
And trust me we counted. Every group of people that came and went. We looked up in anticipation, we were hopeful. Cautiously optimistic that just once, we’d be lucky enough to at least see another one of “us” out there. Surely, in diverse and progressive Washington, the Mecca of all things outdoors, there’d be an influencer at the very least. The moment we were looking for, to connect with someone that looked like us, simply never came.
Even in the great wide outdoors, we were still experiencing overwhelming feelings of isolation. A sense of not belonging. People on the trails reacted to us with every range of emotion from surprised, dismayed and irritated.
This is the exact reason why I applied to the @unfiltertheoutdoors micro-grant. Because on social media we see the brands and influencers that say ‘Black/Brown Folx being Outdoors Matters’ but I rarely see them break down actual (financial, equipment, safety) barriers and PUT BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLE SAFELY OUTSIDE WITH EACH OTHER.
Heavy emphasis on the “with each other” part. We crave a collective experience. A chance to be together. First, because many of us have learned the hard way that it’s unsafe to be alone in “white spaces”. Second, because no matter how committed to anti-racism your white friends are, there are so many unsaid rules, cultural understandings, and love shared between Black and brown folks that we just can’t explain, nor do we necessarily care to.
In the community organizing that I do, and in my own small sphere of influence I have in relationship to exploring the outdoors, I have said this time and time again, Black and Brown joy must be placed at the forefront of our resistance, self-care and work. In order for any of us to carry on and fight for any sort of progress, our joy and recreation must be empowered. It’s absolutely not lost on me though, that even while recreating, a time for us to relax, has to also be a time that we are forced to reflect on and physically see the disparities we face in so many spaces including the outdoors.
While I was saddened and constantly haunted by the lack of diversity during our trip, I’m proud to have led this adventure as a trusted outdoorsman for my friend. Proud of him conquering one of Washington’s most grueling hikes and proud of us both for taking up space, showing up authentically on the trails, loud, laughing and overtly happy. We deserve to be outside and most importantly, we deserve to be happy and whole.
I can’t thank the Unfilter the Outdoors team enough for this opportunity to make my friend’s wildest dreams come true after surviving the pandemic, the loss of a few family members and just the overall weight of being a Black man in America. Micah flew back to Ohio feeling invigorated, renewed and taken care of.
The funding for this trip from Unfilter the Outdoors allowed me, an Indigenous single-mother, to be free of the financial burden of choosing between doing something like this for myself, and providing for my kids. This micro-grant was invaluable to myself and my entire family.
Jessie Ka’ahumanu Ray Coen hails from the island of Moloka’i, Hawai’i. After spending her childhood in foster care, away from her culture and people, Jessie reconnected with her ‘ohana at the end of her high school career. Invigorated by her return to the islands, she immediately began to realign herself with her Native Hawaiian roots. Immersion in Pasifika culture is a constant journey she is happy to be on. Jessie’s deep passion for volunteering, social justice and civil rights work contributed to her being honored with the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. award in Chelan County.
Jessie is committed to the advancement of all Pasifika people through policy change, education, outdoor exploration, technology and entrepreneurship. Jessie is a talented Instructional Designer for one of America’s top healthcare systems, specializing in Anesthesia and Surgical software. Along with balancing the hat of business woman and activist, she is a proud mother to her two beautiful children.
Follow Jessie on Instagram >>> @kaahumanumanu
Also, check out GGG’s June interview with Tyler ‘Prodigy’ Lau on the Unfilter the Outdoors Micro-Grants >>> https://www.garagegrowngear.com/blogs/trail-talk/unfilter-the-outdoors-announces-bipoc-hiking-microgrants
Sister, as a fellow outdoorsy and progressive BIPOC hiker/backpacker/adventurer, I honor you deeply. Thank you for this vital message of inclusion, joy, empowerment, and hope, and please trust that what you’re doing and being all matter. Let’s keep blazing trails and opening up the natural world for our communities. Some paths and trails lead to freedom, and I not only stand but hike in solidarity with you. 🙏🏽
Thank you for being out there. These lands belong to all of us, and it delights me to see BIPOC recreating in the backcountry. But as a white person, I cannot fully understand what it feels like to be The Only.
Your article has touched me. As a woman who loves to be outdoors, I take notice to those that are on the trail with me. (I know I am not of black/brown color, so I will never be able to relate on this, but I take notice to those that are on the trail with me).
I live about a little less than an hour away from Philadelphia, with many beautiful venues for being outdoors. The Appalachian Trail is a short drive for many looking to do thru-hiking or even gaze out on mountainous vistas.
Even with where I live, I rarely see black/brown people out on the trails. It breaks my heart and it breaks my heart that you and your friend (and all those of different skin colors) feel alone on the trails. With so many places to go and an extremely diverse population, those of color escaping the city to enjoy nature, is still extremely rare.
Representation on the trail is an incremental key for people to feel like they belong. Seeing someone that looks like you coming off the trail when you pull in, gives you the momentum to say, “I can do this too!” I hope that people (of all skin colors) read your article and find the strength to get out on the trail. Mother Earth is not here for the white man.
I hope that you keep in touch with Micah. He looks like he has a laugh greater than Santa Claus and more love to give than the sweetest granny. (Hope he doesn’t take offense being compared to a sweet granny). Please continue to be strong, independent, trail blazing outdoor lovers! I think more communities need the positivity and attitude that you two carry to encourage those around them, those like them, to be trail blazing outdoor lovers as well!
Thank you also for staying true to your beautiful Pasifika heritage. The world would be such a beautiful place if everyone was allowed to be who they were.
My heart is saddened when I read posts about non-white hikers/adventurers having achieved a goal that is somehow the province of “white” hikers. Color/ race/religion has nothing to do with being outdoors in nature. We are all human beings and equally share in th wonders of nature. If you disrespect our planet, you are on my list of folks that should be placed in cages until you see the error of your ways.
One of the most joyful moments on my JMT section hike was meeting a man of color on the trail (Yay… I want diversity in the wilderness and it lights up something inside me with each person of color I come across), and his gallon size bag of colorful M&Ms for trail mix. No nuts…. just the yummy stuff. Sure, there might have been a moment of surprise… but quickly followed with that was the moment of joy, and the subsequent moment of delight when his bag of “trail mix” appeared (a kindred lover of M&Ms). Several weeks later I still smile when I think of him.