I really like going outside. I like moving my body. I like breathing the air (preferably salty and/or cold). I like the feeling of sun on my face, the rain pelting down on me, the chill in my coastal bones. Even just for thirty minutes or a km or two is enough of a jolt to help my mind clear up and my heart pump some blood. I’m often trying to get outside with a kid in tow. The kind of kid who would rather live in the forest than go to school, but who will resist and complain incessantly about the act of going outside. Like the get up and go isn’t there for him or something. But once we’re outside the magic happens. Hollow logs become ninja headquarters, sticks become tools and bendy, breathing ferns become instant hideouts for on-the-trail versions of hide-and-go-seek. Even racing, running up hills becomes fun for the both of us, my janky backpack–weighed down with snacks and water to share–swinging behind me as we scramble over roots or slide down well groomed trails.
A few weeks back we set out in the pouring rain, hoping for a dryer window that never actually came. Resistant kids who forgot, instantly, how much they didn’t want to be outside played their own creative version of Minecraft in their actual environment. Lighthouse Park is a sea of well worn trails kind of on the edge of town. In the summer and on the weekends it can be super busy, but on this rainy Sunday in mid-January it was quiet and chill. I think we got out for just over an hour and it was a great reminder how, in the middle of winter in this gloomy city, that the outside is literally RIGHT OUTSIDE and that getting out there may feel really difficult and hard but it’s so worth it, even for the doomy, gloomy views.
We almost cancelled this hike because of the unending rain, but we woke up to sun and blue skies in the city. Regardless we set out to the doom and gloom of the north shore mountains and climbed, slowly up Black Mountain to Cabin Lake, in a rain cloud. It was exhausting and my legs burned and about every 500m or so I, silently begged myself to turn us around. I am super grateful for the strength and encouragement of my hiking pal. It was fun to realize we’d actually be hiking in snow (!!) and that when we got to the top we would have no view except for 20 or so meters in front of us (and an intent raven bff).
It was our first time up Cypress in forever. Like, ever. It wasn’t that busy (phew) and it was a nice, chilly temperature (yay) and there were so many small plants bursting through the fresh snow to stop and take quaint pictures of.
The other morning when I opened the front door a waft of cool, crisp air rushed in. In one breath we knew that the faintest dust of snow sprinkled the tops of the north shore mountains. Immediately we began planning our first ascent to get to snow, anticipating timing an early morning trip up on the weekend we most wanted to be snuggled in bed.
Just a week ago I threw a surprisingly compliant kid in the car and we drove up the Seymour parkway to get in Dog Mountain–one of the more technical trails–before the snow hit. Dog Mountain has always been on my “easy” list: its short, its close to my house, its free access in the summer time and has an incredible view of the lower mainland. Dealing with my anxiety of being a “beginner” I read and reread trail reports, blogs and descriptions hoping to get an understanding of the kind of trail we would head out on and when and if it might be a good time to turn around.
Once we were on the trail and past the nice new gravel trail head we quickly descended into an immensely technical, rooty, rocky and muddy trail. We easily saw a couple hundred people and scrambled up sections of rocks and tree roots. This trail is so overused that wood placed in swampy sections was easily submerged by mud and muck (much to the kid’s delight). My shoe was often stuck between two roots as I stepped sideways to climb up an embankment. The kid and I both tired quickly, even as we pushed past First Lake on to the final views. We hiked for 2.5 hours and a total of 5.25KM return from the trail head to the point.
After the hike we sat out on the grassy outcrop underneath one of the chair lifts looking east up the valley with great, thunderous views of Mt. Baker. We chewed up all of the snacks we had left in the car for our return (pro-tip: leave extra water, sugary snacks and healthy snacks in the car for your return after a longer hike for the car ride home or a post-hike fuel up) and thought about our hike. After taking on trails like Quarry Rock with immense stair systems and bridges, I couldn’t help but bemoan the gutting of the Provincial Park program by the previous (neo)liberal government and the lack of infrastructure such a heavily used trail, like Dog Mountain, could benefit from. This is obviously a deep, political process with many organizations and outdoor associations at the helm. It’s also a reminder that as we use trails we need to pull out our garbage, use the assigned trails and work to maintain them as much as possible.
This hike took place on unceded, ancestral Lheidli T’enneh territories. This land (Ginter’s Meadow) is currently managed by the City of Prince George. The image of houses was taken on the unceded, ancestral territories of the Nazko FN (Hixon, BC) and is currently managed by the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George. The image of the lake was taken on the unceded, ancestral territories of the Xatśūll First Nation, a member of the Great Secwepemc Nation. I use a complicated boundary map and depending on the status of the land claim or the legal discussion at hand, the land of all these places could be shared by either FN. Check out the map here:http://www.nativemaps.org/files/images/maps/54299_boundarychaos.jpg
Back in 2015, deep into my second time living in Prince George, the proverbial King(s) of Prince George decided to harass me via the internet, putting my very public business and my fucking awesome queer relationship at risk. All of the threatening emails and direct messages, as well as the many comments on social media from the hoards of important community people who jumped on their band wagon saying I was a stupid bitch or a dumb lesbian or a terrible lady was overwhelming. The trips they made to threaten and intimidate other women who publicly stood up for me was disappointing and so fucking scary for everyone.
This kind of misogyny-filled dragging often happens to women (and non-gender binary folks, queer folks, POC folks) on the internet, at work, at home, wherever. A shallow glance at social media and you’ll see that this abusive shit happens everywhere, all the time. Being in a small, rural city (60,000ppl) meant that even though the sweetest friends and community members checked in on us (these fuckers also targeted two other amazing women who I adore and hold dear) I quickly hid myself from the public eye. I shut down my 10 year+ blog, I went black opps on my social media profiles and I kind of quit public life. Our business fucking suffered, my relationships suffered and my mental health suffered. I felt physically scared when I left my house and always anticipated one of my attackers would show up at my house and try to put me in my place. This anxiety and fear fucking crippled me and it sucked: no where was safe for me.
Before the public hazing happened I loved to go outside in Shit Town. We used our feet and pedals as daily transportation. We lived next to the river and would take in the cut banks and the big glowy yellow leaves. We’d lay next to cool, snakey streams while the kids rubbed magic mud all over their bodies, heading into the river for a dip. Or, we’d hike over the rambling hills behind the university, crawling into the pit house and admiring the pine studded ridges. Not feeling safe enough to go outside after was really, really shitty.
Just over a week ago I returned to Shit Town for 36 hours to see some friends and go to a work thing at the university. Before I left the big smoke on that small little plane, an exceptionally distracting and exhausting anxiety set in. I didn’t want to go to that place and be confronted with those bad, shitty fearful feelings. Sometimes I don’t even want to address them. These feelings aren’t the actual problem, the abusers and their capacity to continue to rule Shit Town are, and it absolutely drains me.
Even though it was the shortest visit, my BFF made sure we got in some outside time with two little dogs and my under slept, super cranky kid in tow. She hauled us up to Ginter’s Meadow (of which an adjoining trail was recently under threat of poor planning decisions by the Shit Town local government) and told us about the history of the Ginter Family (the patriarch invented the Pil’can). We climbed the old paved road up to the house’s old stone steps admiring the way the light green leaves were turning neon yellow, the babbling brook and the rolling, misty meadow below.
It was a bit cold, a bit rainy, but such a nice fall day. It was also a way to take an outside breath and to see Shit Town from a different (not improved or better) view. A reminder that going outside with those closest to me, even just for twenty or thirty minutes, is my very own kind of release. While women (and non-gender binary folks, queer folks, POC folks) the world over should not have to travel in pairs to be safe in their own communities, being outside with my BFF means we can hold a safe outdoor space for each other. At least until we crumble the patriarchy and we can all, safely, go the fuck outside.
Anytime I visit Vancouver Island I get pulled into its majestical ambience. Immediately I re-envision myself living there either deep in the Alberni Valley or along any of the long rocky beaches on the Island’s northern shores. I’ve started to see my Island trips as a way to “getting away from it all”, exercising my privilege trying to find some solace and escape this global-late-capitalist-fuck that just won’t stop. I want a quiet beach and the sunset on the horizon because I’m so tired and need some self-care.
We ended up at two Comox area beaches late on a week day a few weeks back. I expected them to be busy, but they were quiet and magical. The air was crisp, but watching the sunset hit the coast mountain was a kind of re-awakening. A reminder that this is me in the world, that this moment can be a moment to recharge and recommit myself to activism and stewardship. And that chilling out on the beach for a few hours, bathed in the salty goodness of ice cold late afternoon swims, could just be enough for a weekend.
Living on unceded, ancestral Coast Salish(Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqeum) territories means that by luck, and easily, I am knee deep in the outside. Big beautiful mountains, beaches for days, rivers/creeks, wild and urban animals…you get the picture. Living in Vancouver means that I am subjected to witnessing constant expressions of outdoor culture. For example, every time I walk home I see three ski hills on the mountains north of my house; I’ve been told stories of tinder dates on Quarry Rock; well intentioned colleagues wear hiking boots with slacks to work meetings; the car share I’m a member of has bike/ski racks by default; and my instagram feed is increasingly filling with “outdoor porn” taken from so near to here (and I just can’t stop following those dreamy adventurers).
Hot takes about the bullshit of outdoor culture abound (eg. 1, 2, 3) and I quickly get behind these writers and hikers doing the important work of holding a mirror to this world. There is so much that is hard to see-hear-smell-taste-feel in the outdoor community, and in Vancouver the perpetual colonial whiteness of much of this city’s cultural current pretty much dismiss any opportunities for self-reflection or inclusion. Being outside, moving your body and living that healthy lifestyle actually feels really awesome, but being able to participate has a high cost (financially, emotionally, intellectually, socially). With wages so low and rent so high, getting outside in Vancouver can be nearly impossible.
Until recently, I had a lot of hang ups about getting outside. Who am I kidding: I still have lots of hang ups about hitting the trail. What I mean is, I recently decided I could move through it: my hang ups wouldn’t hold me back anymore and that the external reality of me putting my hang ups out on the trail, almost on display, was something I am enthused about. I grew up outside, breathing crisp northern air, but have felt unsure and incapable in my body since early adolescence. 25 years of feeling not good enough to move my body outside or to take space on a trail is mentally and emotionally exhausting. I kind of felt that if the lore of going outside being “good for you” was real, I wanted those benefits, I wanted in.
This confidence comes with great emotional privilege (even to just roll my eyes at spritely white dudes bounding up the hundreds of stairs I am trying my hardest not to cry on). This is both a privilege I am learning to acknowledge and grow into. I have long been lured onto trails without proper info, wearing sandals while scrambling over glaciers. I’ve been taunted in boats on lakes, the violent rocking of a canoe by a not-so-safe adult causing utter despair in a rainstorm. Been given a too-small life jacket when trying to kayak for the first time, being told that losing weight would make me better at the activity I was about to embark on. Or as an adult, being scolded for having a panic attack on a ski-hill when all my previous experiences were being abandoned on the slopes by a not-so-safe adult when I was a child. Every step I take on a trail, every stroke I make in a lake, every tent I set up not only requires a kind of brazen confidence, but a willingness to remember and work through a host of traumatic memories and rebuild trust for those outside with me and in myself.
Once I began to work through all of these bullshit experiences from my past it became really clear that I had developed an intense anxiety around outside activities. My anxiety restricts my life in many ways, but the firm grip I felt anxiety had on me being outside was a welcome surprise. For me, feeling like I didn’t have the right clothes or know the right trail info or couldn’t go as fast as others on the trail manifested itself as an anxiety response. Realizing this, I began to address the anxiety as its own thing and set out to let the other stuff go.
While so much of the way people experience anxiety is situational (late capitalism, new situations, poverty, not having control, etc), anxiety is still a mental illness. It’s a biological, somatic, physiological experience. This means that sometimes trails come with panic attacks or are followed by a deep depression. Sometimes self-shaming sets in and a hiker may force themselves up a trail they’re not ready for, putting them and their mental health at greater risk. Outdoor discourses say that getting outside will make you feel better, but often the hike itself doesn’t dissipate the anxiety. Instead, strategies for managing the anxiety itself are what can actually reduce the anxiety response.
For me, giving my emotional and intellectual self a break (“it’s not me, it’s anxiety”) was a major first step. Acknowledging the past traumas that flamed my anxiety about being outside has also been important in giving myself the space to get outside. Planning ahead by reading trail reports and maps, going with friends, packing sufficient snacks and getting as much rest as possible before I set out have all been helpful, too. I’m starting small (2-3 hours) and getting excited about tackling higher gains and longer trails.
The biggest break I’ve given myself is to not get to the top. When outdoor culture seems to require vertical gain, ridges, summits and the heavily edited sunset photo from the mountain top, it’s easy to feel pressured to produce a similar experience. That way of commodifying your deep breaths, the smell of sap running off the trees you pass, the glimpse of a silent heron or the crunch of small rocks, shells and pinecones beneath your feet is not necessary to being outside or moving your body. These lands are the oldest lady we have the honour to know. All she requires is that we return to her, humbled and loyal, committed to her care and longevity. Being outside, however I get there or whenever it may be, is where the trail will hold me. In the warmest of embraces we have each other, as we are, out here.
This hike took place on a stretch of land that is the unceded, ancestral territories of the Snaw-naw-as (Nanoose FN) and Qualicum First Nation. Both community reserves are in opposite directions from this park, but they likely share territory rights to the coast line and water in and around their reserve lands. This land is currently managed as part of the Regional District of Nanaimo. Here’s their website with information about this park: http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=2581. Here’s a link someone’s blog about the park: http://vancouverislandbeyondvictoria.com/?p=2131
Great way to spend an hour poking in tide pools, looking at seals and climbing over rocks. Totally wish I brought my bathing suit for a quick dip in the bay. Not really a hike, but a steep grade up to the parking lot on the return. Has a garbage bin and an outhouse at the parking lot.