Outdoor Adventure and Racism

Picture a woman in her 60’s, white, pedaling her bicycle across the U.S., from the Pacific Ocean toAlison and Thor at Bryce the Atlantic Ocean. She packs all her things on her bike, with no support van. She camps along the way, but also meets lots of strangers who befriend her, assist her, invite her into their homes, and help to keep her safe. She has much fun and adventure, writes a book about it all, and proceeds to do many more cross-country bicycling trips.

Now picture a Black woman doing all that.

The thought experiment doesn’t work, does it?

It doesn’t work because of the way the Black woman would get treated. She’d be met with  fear and suspicion, maybe violence, rather than open arms. It doesn’t work because of racism.

Gloria and I are both friends with Marianne Rudd of Portland, Oregon, the white woman described above, who wrote the book, “Pedal Pushers Coast to Coast: A Cross Country Bike Tour”. (I loved reading this book last December while I was recovering from my kidney surgery.)

Right now my husband Thor and I are on a guided bicycling tour of Zion and Bryce National Parks (see photo above). It’s a wonderful tour. But everyone is white.

I learned from Jim, our guide, that in his 14 years with the company and out of many hundreds of bicycling guests, only two have been Black. “And one of them didn’t learn to ride a bike until she was an adult.” As I look around, fellow visitors to these stunningly beautiful parks are overwhelmingly white, while 13.2% of the U.S. is Black.

Emily Lighthipe, the woman who inspired me to donate a kidney via her own kidney donation, is living out one avenue of solution to our nation’s unofficial but harsh segregation of outdoor life. Emily volunteers with the Black Swimming Initiative, which works to expand a “strong sense of belonging for Black athletes of all backgrounds, abilities, and lifestyles by supporting safe and accessible water safety and swimming instruction”. I learned about that (and the need for it) solely by being in an Anti-Racism group with Emily that meets monthly. I learn of other ways to fight racism by reading the Anti-Racism Daily.

It would be easy, absolutely the default, for me to live in my bubble of white privilege. But in the same way that donating my left kidney has brought me joy, out of all proportion to the effort involved, working to be anti-racist is bringing satisfaction to my soul, even as it also brings frustration. The first journey is fueling the second journey.

What helps you to lean into anti-racism?

1 thought on “Outdoor Adventure and Racism”

  1. Hi Alison, I can’t wait to hear more about your trip! I’ve always wanted to see these two parks in particular. And I love riding my bike! TBC… I agree that there is racial (and economic) disparity when it comes to these types of upscale activities. And that there are roots in racism. I think that there are also cultural and familial roots i.e. if one didn’t grow up doing these things they may not become a passion. For instance, my family never camped when I was a child. And to this day I have no interest in doing so.. Creature comforts all the way! Because that is what is familiar and comfortable to me. I really admire that you are increasing yours any others’ awareness about how pervasive racial inequity is. We do have a ways to go, don’t we? I might add that I think it’s also important to be forgiving of ourselves for not knowing any better.

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