Let me set the scene for you – In college, I found myself sedentary, depressed, and actually testing with an incredibly low level of vitamin D. It was a bit of a wake-up call to go outside. I was the kid that was outside in the summers from the time I woke up until the street lights came on. As I got older, I somehow lost track of that. As an adult, I find myself re-establishing my relationship with the outdoors, reimagining what adventure is, and advocating for others to do the same.
My introduction to the outdoors was quiet compared to what it looks like now. I was raised watching wildlife documentaries and being carried out of bed before sunrise to go fishing with my dad. I spent my summers riding my bike around the neighborhood. When I thought of being adventurous, I thought of activities like camping, climbing, skiing, and surfing – things I didn’t have access to – so I never considered myself adventurous but I still had a connection to the outdoors.
Growing up, I began spending more of my free time indoors. By the time I started college, I didn’t have many hobbies that took me outside. When my health was affected by this, I started hiking in some nearby state parks in central Indiana and fell in love with it. Being out in nature, exploring, brought me so much peace that I didn’t know I was missing in my life. I started to amend what my connection to the outdoors was. It started small, and I just wanted to be outside, whatever that looked like at the time. And then from there, I was able to build a better relationship with my body through my time outside and my idea of adventure. I’ve learned that I am capable of incredible things, but also I can give myself the grace to bow out if something doesn’t feel good on a given day.
I recognized that activities don’t have to be the stereotypical idea of adventurous. I’ve tried so many activities I wouldn’t have even considered before – ziplining in Idaho, whitewater rafting in Wyoming, camping in Yellowstone National Park, snowshoeing in Colorado, and running a half-marathon in Montana, just to name a few. But my adventures are also hammocking on a spring day, walking the dog on urban trails, and watching a sunrise or sunset, too. Adventure is different to everyone and your experiences don’t have to look like mine.
A lot of my adventures involve visiting the US National Parks. Going to the parks has been a great way to visit different parts of the United States that I otherwise wouldn’t see. As of February 2022, I’ve visited 32 of the current 63 major parks since 2017 with plans to visit 5 by the end of 2022. I am very intentional with my visits and learn about the history of the park, the biological diversity, and which Indigenous peoples land the park is in. Part of the adventure for me is giving context to where I am and what I’m experiencing.
Visiting these parks has given me many opportunities to try new activities and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in exploring more outdoors! The smaller National Park Service Units can be just as rewarding as the headliner parks and often are more accessible to visit without planning a major trip and getting overwhelmed by crowds.
If I could give advice to my past self and any other Black women looking to get outside, it would be to not let stereotypes define your idea of what it means to be adventurous. You don’t have to be incredibly athletic, you can take things at your own speed. You don’t have to own a bunch of expensive gear, you may need less than you think and you can often borrow or rent what you do. I’m a self-described “slow hiker” and often stop to both catch my breath and admire what’s around me. One of my favorite things about hiking is that for many trails, all you really need to get started is a pair of shoes you don’t mind getting dirty and a water bottle.
Do not get discouraged by not seeing many other Black women in the spaces you want to be. Find your community for outdoor spaces! My communities are both in-person and virtual. They give me advice, tips, and encouragement to go out and do new things. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the friends that have encouraged me and joined me on my adventures.
Don’t let fear stop you in your tracks. That could be anything from fear of something new, fear of wildlife, and even fear of people. When those fears arise, knowledge is often power. Gathering information from others that have visited where you’re headed online and from those you know in-person is immensely helpful. Thankfully, and I can only speak to my own experiences, I’ve found that the National Parks and the gateway towns just outside of them can be pretty rural but very welcoming to diverse groups of travelers. Some of my best experiences in parks have been talking with Rangers and utilizing their knowledge and recommendations on how to best spend my time in a given park. At the end of the day, you are your own best judge of safety. Follow your intuition in situations. Unfamiliar experiences can be scary but don’t let that stop you from doing something you want to do.
In lieu of New Year’s resolutions, I try to do a new activity that excites me each year. This year will be my first multi-day backpacking trip in Isle Royale National Park and snorkeling in Biscayne National Park. I’ve got some really great people in my community that are giving me exactly the encouragement I need to do these things and I’m forever grateful to have them in my life. Looking where I started to where I am now let’s me appreciate myself, my growth, and my accomplishment in these spaces.
Alaina is a hiker, runner, cyclist, and general lover of the outdoors. She is a national parks enthusiast with the goal of visiting every major US National Park and plenty of other parks along the way. Follow her adventures on instagram at @catalyst226 and @alainadreamsofparks.
You can also add her as a friend on Outdoorsy Black Women @catalyst226