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Beautiful, empowering, and exhilarating, Melanin Base Camp is a celebration of underrepresented BIPOC adventurers that will challenge you to rethink your perceptions of what an outdoorsy individual looks like and inspire you to being your own adventure.
Danielle Williams, skydiver and founder of the online community Melanin Base Camp, profiles dozens of adventurers pushing the boundaries of inclusion and equity in the outdoors. These compelling narratives include a mother whose love of hiking led her to found a nonprofit to expose BIPOC children to the wonders of the outdoors and a mountain biker who, despite at first dealing with unwelcome glances and hostility on trails, went on to become a blogger who writes about justice and diversity in natural spaces.
Also included is a guide to outdoor allyship that explores sometimes challenging topics to help all of us create a more inclusive community, whether you bike, climb, hike, or paddle. Join us as we work together to increase representation and opportunities for people of color in outdoor adventure sports.
I’M EXCITED TO SHARE THE STORIES OF TWENTY-FOUR REAL-LIFE adventurers of Color who are pursuing their passion in the outdoors and giving back to their communities. The people whose stories line these pages are diverse in many ways, but we have this in common—we are all survivors. Collectively, our ancestors survived the trauma of immigration, the trauma of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the trauma of residential schools and stolen land. By hiking, trail running, foraging, and more, we are forging new relationships with the outdoors while reconnecting with old traditions. Our cultures have always been tied to the land.
Before I go further, it’s important that we take a moment to acknowledge whose land we’re recreating on. Many of these stories take place in national and state parks across the United States. Public land is Native land. The United States is Native land. That goes beyond the 574 federally recognized tribes to encompass tribes that are fighting for recognition. It also includes Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, First Nations, and other Indigenous people whose ancestral land is split by U.S. borders.
Land acknowledgments are not enough; however, they’re a good place to start. Learn the history of the land you’re recreating on. Learn about the culture and the people whose land you’re recreating on. Support Native-led activism and remember: The outdoors is not a playground; neither is it a pristine wilderness. It is a home—and has been a home to Indigenous people for millennia. They are still here.
I hope that this inspires you to think about your own ancestors and where they came from, whether they are indigenous to the United States or not. My own ancestors were stolen from West Africa and brought to Turtle Island centuries ago, where they were enslaved for generations on Santee land in South Carolina. My own history is a personal reminder that Black and Indigenous liberation is not separate. It has always been bound together.
Regardless of how you identify, we encourage you to use the Native Land app to learn more about whose land you’re recreating on.
Guide to Outdoor Allyship: Part 1
WHAT DOES PRIVILEGE HAVE TO DO WITH THE OUTDOORS? A LOT, actually. Nature is inhabited by people who reflect the same biases you see everywhere in society. While it’s tempting to view the outdoors as a transcendent experience that will smooth over unpleasant topics like police brutality and racism, that’s more wishful thinking than reality. Forest bathing doesn’t wash away bigotry. John Muir quotes do nothing to resolve racial inequality.
Privilege is hard to see. In fact, the more you have it, the less likely you are to be aware that it exists. For example, if you are an able-bodied, gender-conforming white person, you benefit from multiple forms of discrimination—even if you don’t want to; even if your intentions are good; even if you try your best to treat others how you would like to be treated.
Privilege sounds like the insistence that you don’t see race or the belief that you can be queer without “getting all political.” It looks like the ability to compartmentalize or “shut up and climb” because certain forms of discrimination don’t affect you.
Is it possible to use your privilege for good? The short answer is yes. If you are white and queer, you can use your privilege to speak up without fear of harassment in spaces where queer People of Color are attacked or ignored for expressing the same opinion. If you are a cisgender man of Color, you absolutely have a role to play in dismantling systems that deliberately silence and disenfranchise women and femmes of Color. If you are non-disabled, you can support the leadership and activism of disabled people. If you are white and transgender, you can use your privilege to the amplify the voices of trans People of Color.
Acknowledging privilege requires us to first turn inward and recognize that even though we may face discrimination in certain areas of our life, there may be other areas where we benefit from the oppression of others—and being nice won’t fix it.
A Chosen Family of Complete Strangers
featuring Danielle Williams
I KNEW THREE THINGS GROWING UP: THAT I’D ATTEND A MILITARY academy like my father, that I’d be a lifelong runner like my mother, and that I’d accomplish whatever I set out to do in life—just like the big-haired, spandex-clad heroines leaping off the pages of the science-fiction novels that I read as a kid. They were fearless. I aspired to be also.
Life didn’t exactly work out as planned. It’s true, I watched from the bleachers as my uniform-clad siblings tossed their hats in the air on graduation day at West Point, and it’s also true that I stopped running after a long-term illness, but I haven’t stopped pursuing my dreams even as they’ve gradually changed over time.
I no longer want to conquer the world. I want to make smaller changes instead. One of those small changes has been to encourage People of Color to take up more space in the outdoors.
In 2011, I learned how to skydive. I was chasing an “alive” feeling and I found it in the exhilaration that comes from free-falling 13,000 feet and taking your life into your own hands! I took my parachute rig with me and jumped all over the United States, as well as in Thailand and the Philippines. I camped out at drop zones and slept in strangers’ cabins and pitched my tent in the woods. At age twenty-five, I did a trust fall into the skydiving community and had no regrets.
In California, I slept in a stranger’s camper along with several other skydivers. Each morning, we stumbled out into the chilly air, lured by the aroma of fried eggs, toast, and coffee percolating on the Jetboil. Jumping was secondary to sharing our life stories, which spanned several continents and languages.
In the Northeast, I rose before sunrise to plunge 10,000 ft from a hot air balloon—a tradition I would repeat several times over the same sleepy Pennsylvania countryside. I loved bracing against the cold, marveling at how quietly and quickly the balloon carried us aloft, and steeling myself for the way my heart leapt into my throat with each “dead air” drop.
In the Pacific Northwest, I did my first night jump—on accident. After a slow climb to altitude in a small aircraft while circling a brand new-to-me drop zone, I was surprised to see the beautiful sunset eclipsed by fog and darkness. “Don’t worry, there’s a blinking light on the airfield,” the instructor said right before the blinking light on the airfield blinked out. Thankfully, the other jumpers on the ground improvised, using their vehicles and headlights to guide us safely back to earth—safely but not elegantly. I ran out my landing and slid feet-first underneath the bumper of a parked Jeep, its KC lights fully ablaze, to the horror of onlookers.
In the Southeast, long, hot summer days of skydiving were followed by Low Country boils spread out on picnic tables lined with newspaper and skinny-dipping in nearby lakes. Beer bottles clinking as soon as the happy hour light came on, signaling the end of jump operations for the day.
Skydiving means a chosen family of complete strangers. It means the same language no matter where I travel in the globe and no matter what language is spoken. Our gear is the same, our preparations for each dive are the same, and we flash the same shaka signs before climbing out onto the strut and dropping into blue sky.
It’s not that bad things don’t happen; they do. There have been times when I felt unsafe as a Black woman traveling alone to drop zones in rural areas. I also found that people are quick to make assumptions about my ability, experience level, and technical knowledge, based solely on the color of my skin. When I visit new drop zones, I am routinely mistaken for a tandem customer despite the obvious signs: a gear bag and parachute on my back and my helmet in hand. It reinforces the fact that many people will never see me as a “real skydiver” because, in their minds, “Black people don’t skydive!” That’s a hard truth that bothered me less when I was a newcomer but can really get under my skin as an experienced jumper with hundreds of skydives and over a decade in the sport.
Drop zones are also places where sexist, homophobic, and racist language is often met with laughter, or averted glances from allies who are too afraid to speak up. The truth is our community shares the same “bro” culture as many other adventure sports. Despite this, I believe we have a lot of potential to be a diverse, accepting, and inclusive community.
I’ve been skydiving for over a decade, and I don’t regret the decision. I love taking the camera step on a jump so I can capture video for a newly licensed skydiver who is eager to share their world with their family and friends. It’s a way of paying it forward, because there were people who did the same for me when I was brand new. I love skydiving traditions, like beer for first-time offenses and pieing skydivers on their hundredth and thousandth jumps. I love the rush that comes from successfully completing a dive plan and the preternaturally calm organizers who help us achieve the impossible in the sky.
I also no longer get super stressed when things don’t work out as planned. Skydiving taught me that. I’ve landed at Walmart and in cow pastures, cornfields, alfalfa fields, soccer fields—you name it—if it’s a type of field, I’ve probably landed in it. Life has a way of unraveling the best-laid plans.
Since I began skydiving, I’ve started things and not finished them, like my pilot’s license after I got sick. I’ve slowed down—a lot—since becoming disabled, and that no longer makes me feel as anxious or upset. Sometimes it feels really unfair that I no longer have access to the things that gave me a sense of peace—like distance running or putting in long hours at the drop zone every weekend, but I still jump and have started hiking a lot more with my elbow crutches, when my body feels up to it. When I can’t do that, I plant my feet in the grass and slip a little Maker’s Mark into my hot tea, and that counts too.
The purpose of this book is not to convince you to hike, climb, paddle, or skydive but to show you that good things await on the other side of uncertainty and self-doubt—if this is something you’re interested in. It’s scary to try new experiences—especially when you don’t have all the details and especially if you’re the only person who looks like you. The outdoors is truly for everyone. Just remember to go at your own pace and as far as you feel comfortable going. Don’t mistake anyone else’s journey for your own.
How to Fall
featuring Dr. Favia Dubyk
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
TIGUA (TIWA), PIRO, PUEBLOS
DR. FAVIA DUBYK IS A THIRTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD PHYSICIAN, CANCER survivor, and professional rock climber. The former collegiate sprinter studied environmental science and public policy at Harvard, where she also set a school record in the women’s 100-meter race, before she learned to climb. A few years later, Favia was attending medical school in Cleveland and dating “a cute guy” when she suddenly began experiencing fatigue and difficulty breathing. After a battery of tests and the discovery of a 13-cm mass in her chest, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The diagnosis upended her life. She suffered through a major surgery and several life-threatening medical complications, including collapsed lungs and fluid around her heart before she was able to start chemotherapy. Eventually, Favia recovered, married that cute guy, and completed medical school. She also began climbing again.
Regaining her strength took time, but climbing soon became a central part of her life. “My favorite part of climbing is the sensation of having my life hanging from my fingertips,” Favia described thoughtfully. She climbs V12 boulders, mostly lowball roofs where she can fall a short distance onto her back and the crash pad below, without fear of injury. She has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and is prone to painful partial dislocations called joint subluxations.
Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that doesn’t require a harness or ropes. “With bouldering, all I need is my dog, shoes, and a crash pad,” she explained. The minimal requirements have allowed her to climb around her busy schedule as a physician. The sport requires incredible core and finger strength, and its trial-and-error process appeals to the former Division I athlete. On social media, she posts photos of her lean, muscular 5’2” frame suspended from “barely there” granite holds or hanging upside down from toe hooks.
She also loves the short bursts of movement that differentiate bouldering from other types of climbing. “I know a lot of people like to climb to gain vertical height, or to get views,” said Favia. “I climb because I like the movement.”
Year-round, she mostly climbs at night to escape the desert heat in New Mexico, where she lives with her husband, crag dog Hans, and five cats. That has become more and more important as her skill level has progressed. “At harder grades, the holds get so small that you need every advantage possible,” Favia explained. “You don’t want sweaty hands or wet rock. Even the rubber on your climbing shoes has an ideal temperature for generating the most friction.” While she prefers 30°F to 40°F, she’s been known to climb in 15°F weather with earmuffs and booties.
Her nighttime sessions boosted her mental health during her residency and fellowship as she dealt with racism, misogyny, and a toxic work environment. “During that time, I needed climbing to get through the next day,” Favia recalled. These days, she actually finds herself climbing less and incorporating more rest days.
Bouldering has also challenged her to face her fears on and off the rock. In the past few years, Favia has worked with a sports counselor to help her overcome her fear of dislocating joints and to get comfortable with riskier, more dynamic movement. Her efforts have paid off: “I never thought I’d be climbing double digits with hard moves twenty feet off the ground!” she said enthusiastically. “It’s been a long road.”
She also competed in seasons 10 and 11 of American Ninja Warrior. “I’m currently training for my first professional competition, called Tuck Fest,” said Favia. “You climb forty-five feet without a rope and then fall into the water.” She’s tackling her fear by doing as much preparation as possible, including jumping off cliffs and taking swimming lessons to increase her comfort level in the water. “I know in the moment on the wall, I’ll still be afraid,” she added. “The goal is to be confident in your skills so that when fear creeps in, it doesn’t matter.”
Running for Healing and
featuring Verna Volker
WAHPEKUTE, OČHÉTHI ŠAKÓWIŋ
WHEN VERNA VOLKER FIRST BEGAN RUNNING, SHE WAS A MOTHER OF
- On Sale
- Mar 21, 2023
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal