VENTURING OUTDOORS certainly is not a novel phenomenon for Black women and yet, I still find many women who look like me and come from similar places as me scouring YouTube channels and internet threads for a helpful outdoorsy guide. My family and I, frequent adventurers, moved from Connecticut to North Carolina in 2013. Despite having visited often, it wasn’t until relocating that I realized the state’s diverse makeup, like Blowing Rock’s beautiful mountains and Pine Knoll Shores’ sandy beaches and breathtaking sunsets. Exploring these areas helped me grow from a once-novel hiker into an experienced and passionate outdoor adventurer. Here’s how you can begin exploring the world outside.
I talked to locals about spots to explore
One of the best outdoor adventures that I’ve ever had was in Ghana — and it was because of a conversation with a Ghanaian person who knew all about the must-see mountains and waterfalls. Several Black Americans like myself were studying abroad at the University of Ghana for 4 months, which often meant more time outdoors than on-campus. Exploring a new country for the first time can not only be time-consuming but also costly. Speaking with locals is the best way to find out how to make experiences as affordable as possible. This also helps to ensure you know what you’re getting into, what to expect, and what to bring when embarking on an outdoor adventure.
For example, Adom Waterfalls, a hidden outdoor spot in Aburi, was only one hour from where my friends and I lived on-campus. Without inquiring about where to go, we likely would never have found this place and even if we had, it would have been a guessing game figuring out how to get there. Online research was iffy regarding cost, directions, and whether the area was even accessible to the public. But as we learned through word of mouth, apart from paying a guide (or local friend) to reach the waterfalls by foot, the only other expense is paying for an Uber, Bolt, or taxi ride to get there.
I learned to make the most of where I was going
Even if one cannot take international trips, that does not mean that the world cannot still be seen. A state like North Carolina is for lovers of beaches, camping, cycling, and pretty much anything that takes place in the great outdoors. A practical tip is to explore nearby places, at least at first. Learn as much as possible about the area prior to arriving, including entrance prices where necessary. This is the best way to have more fun and maximize your time and experience. Also, take a moment to identify when is the best time to visit.
For example, hiking at the stunning Crowders Mountain State Park (where there are no entry fees to enjoy the park), is best in the early morning or afternoon, in part because it’s easier to park before beginning the walk to the actual trail. Many spots can appeal to diverse interests, as well. Where permitted, Crowders Mountain also offers opportunities to boat and fish, bicycle, and camp, just to name a few activities. Such an array of options isn’t uncommon — but learn about where you are visiting to ensure that you are following all laws.
I move at my own pace — literally
It can be intimidating to go on an outdoor adventure with individuals who are frequent hikers, safari explorers, even runners. Not only are avid adventurers more likely to know what to wear, which trails to take, and what necessities to pack, they often physically move at a faster pace.
The hike to the top of Mount Agomatsa in Ghana was a three-hour journey. I noticed how much I lagged behind not only my Ghanaian peers but also those from Europe and even the United States — those who had hiked many mountains back home.
Even though I’d climbed Crowders Mountain near Charlotte just the year before, I quickly realized on this hike that each adventure presents not only its unique beauty but also a unique battle, as well. No mountain, trail, or savannah is the same. We all must pace ourselves according to our own body — and that’s alright. Before climbing a country’s tallest mountain, consider finding trails in your local area and walking briskly. Then continue to elevate, perhaps by hiking a smaller mountain in a nearby state. No one should feel ashamed or be demeaned because of the level of intensity at which they move outdoors. Regardless of pace, in the end, we all reach the same destination.
I try to be open-minded and venture with like-minded people
For new outdoor adventurers, feeling comfortable often comes down to who you’re with. The best type of people to explore the outside world with are people who are also adventurous, no matter their level of experience. I keep this mantra in mind when choosing an excursion partner: adventure with the person who’d mention the freshness in the air right after pausing for a sigh of exhaustion. Explore with somebody who’d stop by a nearby stream to admire it gushing as opposed to hopping over it in an effort to quickly reach the mountain top. See the world with the one enamored of both the going and the goal. And of course, YOU need to be that person, too.
It’s important to see the world with people whose definition of “fun” is similar to your own. If that means you like to kick up dust while walking down paths, you might want to reach out to the friend who doesn’t mind sweating and having sneaker soles colored red by the end of day one. It can be challenging to make certain mental shifts if one has grown up being told that Black women are not adventurous, do not enjoy being outside, or something to those effects; this could not be further from the truth, and the groups of outdoorsy women online who look like me are proof that we do exist boldly and happily. It all starts in the mind. And if you do not see anybody around you who holds your same sentiment, find other Black women who also enjoy being outdoors. Kena Peay is my all-time favorite “outdoor lover,” as she calls herself. Just about every day, this adventurer takes her Instagram followers to different, wondrous places like Yosemite National Park, beautiful beaches in Santa Barbara, Mount Rainier National Park, and Burney Falls by way of the app’s Story and page features so much so I often feel as though I’m also hiking or beside her watching the sun set.
Kena provides a plethora of must-see views, always encourages her followers to do what THEY physically can, and often shares outdoor travel essentials. She is a must-follow whether one is a beginner or seasoned adventurer.
A collective community that I deeply enjoy is GirlTrek. This is a health organization (the largest, in fact) for African-American women and girls in the United States, as their website says. GirlTrek sees walking as a practical start for healthy lives, families, and communities. I especially love GirlTrek because the resource embraces every type of Black woman adventurer. In this empowering organization, the one who does not like to or is unable to hike, mountain climb, or anything else for whatever reason may still find community in a group of Black women who enjoy whatever it is she is into.
Wear comfortable clothing and shoes
This may seem like a no-brainer, but some people show up to hike in slide sandals (*cough cough* I may or may not be guilty). The goal is to be comfortable but not to the point where clothing or footwear choices cause injury. In Ghana, one of the many hikes that I went on was in the Volta Region. We hiked Mount Afadjato (Ghana’s highest mountain) and Mount Agomatsa (as well as saw the Wli Waterfalls) all in one weekend. Interestingly enough, it was while going down Mount Afadjato when I twisted my foot and then had to be excused from dance class for three days.
I’ve seen avid outdoor travelers hike in sweatpants, athletic shorts, and leggings — this is not just contingent upon environment and temperature but simply one’s personal preference. Indisputable, though, is footwear: I suggest investing in trail hiking shoes, but a great alternative for non-frequent hikers is a sturdy, comfortable pair of walking shoes because a tremendous amount of moving is involved. Last but not least, wear items that you don’t mind getting dirty and/or torn, should you happen to snag your shirt on a thin branch. It happens to me quite a bit.