I Was Made for This Outdoor Life
Slowly, I make my way up the mountain. My trail family has already made it to the top of Spy Rock and has been waiting there for a while. They move much, much faster than me. Doubt begins to creep into my mind and I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of “I can’t do this” and “I’m not good enough.” This was an everyday thing on the trail, and has been since I broke into the outdoors.
“Was I made for this? Was I made for the outdoors?”
My mind creeps to dark thoughts.
The short answer, no. The long and correct answer, yes.
That was a few weeks ago. Now I am off the trail due to a few complications, and I’m back to white water raft guiding. Every now and then I find myself in a flood of self-doubt. This stems from a few problems in the outdoor community that should be addressed.
One is that the outdoor community is mainly male-dominated. When you are one of the only women in the shelter or on the water, you begin to become self-conscious about your abilities. There was a time when I pulled up to a shelter where my friend Knope and I were meeting. When I got there a guy had been judging what Knope had in her pack, and when I began to pull my stuff out of my pack, he judged everything I carried as well. “Why do women always carry such big packs?” he asked me in a smart tone. Ugh. This wasn’t a onetime thing, either. Come on, man. Leave me and my pack alone. I replied with, “Why do men carry such small packs?” in a smart-ass tone. You have be on your toes, smart and quick.
Two happens to be the lack of plus-size people in this community. Sometimes we do raft guide lineup and our groups of guests get to pick their guide. I am usually always picked last, or if not me, one of the other girls. On the trail, I was at a water source and a man asked me, “Why don’t you pack lighter? You’re already heavier than the average hiker.” It was so rude, but I told him that I liked what I was carrying and that it just made me more badass than him. I’ve been asked if I was lost, people asked me if I was training for the Appalachian Trail, and people assumed I was doing the trail to lose weight.
While I realize that some of these people have good intentions on suggesting lighter gear, I thought my gear was just fine and I carried it well. It is also incredibly aggravating and discouraging to count me out because of my size.
Chances are, if you see a larger-bodied person hiking or kayaking or climbing, they probably are already aware of their bodies. They don’t really need to be reminded. Let them live their lives. It took so long for me to accept my body and to accept that it can do anything I want it to do. While I didn’t finish the Appalachian Trail yet, my body managed to make it over 900 miles. I have guided on zip lines and conquered high ropes. My body is strong enough to crash the through rapids of the Chattooga River. For a month, I rowed a 2,000-pound boat on the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon… and I’m about to lead my own trip on the Colorado in December. Just like paddling through waves, or pushing through the pain of heavy miles, I moved forward after those hurtful thoughts flooded my mind.
We are not trapped in our bodies; they are our freedom.
There are so many men and women who are larger and long to be a part of this community, so don’t count them out. It’s time to make a little extra room for plus-size people out here. Because we are made for this. I was made for this. For climbing, hiking, river-running, biking, and any other outdoor activity that I feel like trying. You were made for it. So don’t stop.
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