Summer Instructor Profile: Danielle

Danielle.jpg

Name: Danielle Wolter Nolan

Where did you grow up: Evansville, IN

Where do you live now: Indianapolis, IN and wherever the wind takes me!

What is your favorite movie: E.T.

What is your favorite book: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Do you remember the first place you went hiking and how old were you: I think it was in the Smoky Mountains and the hike was Clingman’s Dome.

What is your favorite outdoor recreation activity: I love anything outdoors, backpacking, mountain biking, and anything involving the water.

What is the best trip you've ever been on: The Havasupai trail in the Grand Canyon is absolutely amazing, there are 5 waterfalls when you get to bottom of the Canyon and it is breathtaking. I am so grateful we have gotten to guide trips there 2 years in a row!

Where is your favorite place to recreate: I love The Grand Canyon and the PNW but also many places in Indiana that are close by like Hoosier National Forest, Yellowwood State Park and Brown County State Park.

What is your absolute favorite piece of outdoor gear: Probably my REI Flash Backpack because it has to carry all of the other gear that I need on my adventures!

Waterbottle or Hydration Bladders: Hydration bladders

Down or synthetics sleeping bags: Synthetic

If you were stranded on a deserted island - what three items would you want: My wife, water filter and fire starter.

A place you dream of backpacking some day: I would love to backpack Zion National Park in the states and Internationally to the Ivory Lake Hut in New Zealand.

What does it mean to you to recreate with other queer folks: I love being able to be out and open in what I feel is my natural habitat, the great outdoors. It’s great to see and get more queer people outside and try something new while meeting and learning from one another.

Posted on April 25, 2018 .

Summer Instructor Profile: Tam

Mt Flume.jpg

Name:  Tam

Where did you grow up:  Winchester, Massachusetts

Where do you live now:  Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

What is your favorite movie:  Harold and Maude


What is your favorite book:  Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn 

Do you remember the first place you went hiking and how old were you:  I spent much of my youth wandering and meandering in the Middlesex Fells although I didn't consider it hiking at the time..that came much much later.  I was 30 when I started hiking in New Hampshire.  

What is your favorite outdoor recreation activity:  Backpacking

What is the best trip you've ever been on:  Thru-Hiking the Long Trail of Vermont Southbound 2016

Where is your favorite place to recreate:  The White Mountains, New Hampshire

What is your absolute favorite piece of outdoor gear:  My alcohol stove that Travis got me for my birthday!

Waterbottle or Hydration Bladders (Camelbacks):  I've never tried a bladder but if someone gave me one I'd try it but I don't think I can drink and walk at the same time so I'd probably stick with a waterbottle

Down or synthetics sleeping bags:  Synthetic

If you were stranded on a deserted island - what three items would you want:  A bottomless bag of sweet potatoes, a mandolin, and a journal

A place you dream of backpacking some day:  Switzerland 

What does it mean to you to recreate with other queer folks:  Recreating with queer folks means I can go by whatever name, pronoun or species I feel like on a given day without explanation. 

Posted on April 16, 2018 .

Summer Instructor Profile: Lex

IMG_7977.jpg

Name: Lex Jackson

Where did you grow up: Burlington, VT

Where do you live now: Portland, ME

What is your favorite movie: The Princess Bride

What is your favorite book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Do you remember the first place you went hiking and how old were you: I grew up hiking in the Green Mountains of Vermont with my family. 

What is your favorite outdoor recreation activity: Skiing

What is the best trip you've ever been on: Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

Where is your favorite place to recreate: New Hampshire’s White Mountains!

What is your absolute favorite piece of outdoor gear: Any kind of buff

Water bottles or hydration bladders (camelbacks): Water bottles!! I can’t pace myself.

Down or synthetic sleeping bags: Down

If you were stranded on a deserted island - what three items would you want: My dog, a water filter, and the Harry Potter boxed-set.

A place you dream of backpacking some day: The John Muir Trail

What does it mean to you to recreate with other queer folks: I’ve always felt that nature makes us raw; sharing that space with other queer people lets us bring our whole selves to the table in a way that is beautiful and honest and authentic! 

 

Posted on April 9, 2018 .

Trip Report: Southern Oregon Winter Adventure Weekend by Travis

Three of us arrived in Ashland from Portland to pick up our Southern Oregon correspondent Elliot, who would be helping me lead this adventure weekend.  We squeezed him into our already “packed to the gills” sedan and jumped back on the highway headed towards Mt. Ashland.  Just a few miles north of the California border, Mt Ashland stands at 7533’ and is the tallest peak in the Siskiyou  Mountains.  The landscape is breathtaking here, and as our little car drove up the mountain, every switchback was inviting us to another inspiring view of the area.

packed car.JPG

Eventually we found our turn off the main road that lead to our cabin.  It was a snowy road that had been plowed, but I wouldn’t call it clear.  We had three miles to go along this windy, snowy road, with a huge drop on the other side; slowly moving forward, three miles takes a long time, but we got to our mountain house safely. 
               
Upon arriving at our weekend lodging, the owner/caretaker came out to greet us, showed us how to work the woodstove and where to get more wood etc.  She offered to show us around, but we graciously declined because exploring and discovering is half the fun!  Once she left, we were awe-struck at this place.  Exposed wood everywhere, an awesome kitchen, old books and cozy seating in every direction.     

wood stove.JPG

Shortly after we arrived, our last participant, who was driving from the south joined us.  Collectively we giggled with delight.  After giving our own tour of the house, we sat around the woodstove while Elliot grabbed his maps and he talked us through our options for hiking and snowshoeing for the next day. While Southern Oregon had not seen much snow this winter, it had been dumping the past two weeks and hiking without snowshoes was not an option any longer!  We came up with our plan and then gathered at the dining table for a meal of burgers/veggie burger, fries, greens and salad.

Once dinner was over, we cleared the table and played “Telestrations” (a game combining Telephone & Pictionary), laughed our heads off, and then set up a projector to watch my favorite Melissa McCarthy movie “Spy”.  After the movie, we all said goodnight and nestled in our beds.

The next morning, we had a breakfast feast of tofu scramble, eggs, waffles, morning potatoes and coffee, and then gathered our gear for our upcoming adventure.  With packed lunches and snowshoes in hand, we piled into a SUV.  Up the scary road we went again, this time all the way to Mt. Ashland’s skiing area, which had not opened for the season until very recently when all the snow hit.   The parking lot was bustling with eager skiers & snowboarders.  We parked at the further end by the trailhead, strapped our snowshoes to our packs and headed to the trail that would lead us around the backside of Mt. Ashland. 
 
In the summer, this trail is a forest road, which makes it wide and mostly flat.  It was also hardpacked after all the recent usage which means we did not need to put on our snowshoes quite yet.  Our goal was a shelter called Grouse Gap, a few miles away.  We continued down this road/trail for a while until we reached the south side of Mt. Ashland.  Here the trail split, and it was like stepping down from a solid surface into water.  We knew this was the place to strap on our snowshoes.

Malcolm.JPG

              

Snowshoes attached, we entered the deep snow.  Snowshoeing is hard work, especially when the person in front is breaking through the snow and making a packed down trail for the rest of us behind.   Almost immediately after we stepped down into the soft snow, an extremely fast change of weather came upon us and we found ourselves in a wind-whipping blizzard.  Costume changes came quickly: coats zipping up, hoods utilized, mittens and gloves back on and we moved forward - now anxious to get to the shelter.  Thankfully, the blizzard left us after 20 minutes and once gone, the views opened up again.    

shelter.JPG

We eventually made it to the shelter, which was a two-wall structure with a ceiling and a fireplace, surrounded by deep, deep snow.  We quickly unloaded the wood we had brought with us and Elliot made a fire while the rest of us devoured our lunches.  The fire was warm and exciting, but it was still cold and we collectively decided we wouldn’t linger long. 

arry.JPG

As I looked out across our view at untouched snow, in the opposite direction from which we came, I could see the road/trail where we had originally put our snowshoes on.  I saw ski tracks yonder.  Could we could bushwhack across the landscape making our journey a loop?!  If we could get there, those tracks would lead us back to the road.  We said good-bye to our fire (a few other folks showed up who were happy to take over our fire!) and shelter and headed across the open snowy landscape to the edge of the woods.   The snow was deep and powdery.  We switched backed along our way, crossing this way and that, finding our own path, and eventually met up with the ski tracks I could see from back at the shelter.  Once back to our original trail, we all agreed it was some of the best snowshoeing we had ever done. 

It took us another 30 minutes on the road/trail to get back to the car.  We loaded up and headed home.  The fire in the woodstove was started again, and the house went silent as some took naps, others read, and one even busted out a puzzle.  I looked outside at one point and saw three deer, hanging out in the backyard.  This place!   A few hours later, an incredible pasta dinner was made and we feasted reminiscing on parts of our adventurous day.

After dinner, I took out one of my favorite games “Forbidden Desert” a cooperative game in which a team works together to escape the desert on a flying machine.  We had a blast – dying over and over again until we learned the intricacies of the game.  After our epic first try (in which we died four times but kept playing), we tried again, this time determined to get our team to safety.  And we did!

We attempted to watch another movie, but almost everyone fell asleep immediately from our big day.   

The next morning, we rose and enjoyed another breakfast and decided to hang out at the house for our last few hours instead of hitting another trail.  With our belongings and cars packed, we played one final round of Forbidden Desert. 

The time had come to say goodbye.  Photos were taken.  Hugs were given.  We loaded up and jumped on the highway back to Portland. 

hugs.JPG

Oh Southern Oregon, I will be back!

Posted on March 5, 2018 .

Queer Ski Weekend - Mt. Snow Vermont

I recently went on a ski trip in with The Venture Out Project (TVOP), and it was the best weekend I’ve had in a long time. Not only did we have an incredible time on the ski slopes, but I also experienced bonding with other Trans and Queer people in a way that felt nourishing and completely necessary.

I work at an LGBTQ organization and I live in a city that is home to nearly 15,000 trans-identified folks. In other words, I’m lucky. But despite these facts, finding community as a transgender man has been challenging. Many, if not most, of my interactions with other transgender men occur in a professional or pseudo-professional context, which has impeded my ability to create deep and intimate connections with my community. Transitioning brought so much personal joy and self-actualization, but it has also meant loss of community, or at least it has changed my relationship to the communities I’ve traditionally been a part of. Being trans for me has meant negotiating my simultaneous desire to be seen for who I am as a man, while also wanting to be part of a vibrant, loving queer community.

Ski.JPG

My weekend in Vermont with TVOP may have been the first time I felt like I was able to experience both of those things at the same time. My new friends saw me for who I am – a man, a lover of the outdoors, and queer-as-heck. I cant wait to go on my next trip with these great folks. 

Posted on March 1, 2018 .

What is Reciprocity? by Tam Willey of Toadstool Walks

What is Reciprocity? 

(For original article with images, click here)

If we are part of an animate earth that is constantly inflating or deflating in response to what is being taken or given, should we consider how we engage with it?  If every splash has an infinite ripple effect, then how do we want to splash?

"Attention is the doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder, the doorway to reciprocity.” 
-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants


I met an Ash tree on my first day of Forest Therapy Guide Certification Training when we were invited to go off into the forest and converse with a tree. Given the limitations of the English language and the personal ways we connect with the land, trying to describe these experiences can be challenging and exposing.  At the same time, sharing our unique stories about what we notice and how we engage with the natural world can support and inspire others on the path towards deeper land connection (or reconnection).  This is a form of reciprocity.   

I’ll refer to this tree by the name 'Ash,' and I will use 'they,’ 'them,’ and 'their' pronouns for Ash since we don't have an animate word for "it" in the English language.  Using inclusive language helps me pay closer attention.  My path towards creating an ongoing practice of land reciprocity started in a human-centric world exploring race, class, gender, privilege, and the various -isms and phobias that perpetuate views of superiority and inferiority.  As I continue to unpack my Western conditioning as a white American of Eastern and Western European descent, I find myself peeling back the layers of human dominance.  By referring to Ash as ‘it,’ I fail to acknowledge that Ash is a living, breathing, animate being.

"To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we thus block our perceptual reciprocity with that being. By linguistically defining the surrounding world as a determinate set of objects, we cut our conscious, speaking selves off from the spontaneous life of our sensing bodies."
-David Abram, The Spell of The Sensuous


By acknowledging Ash as an animate being, I am more likely to form a relationship, opening the door for reciprocity and healing for not only humans but also for the trees, waters, and all the beings of the natural world – also known as the more-than-human world.  As a gender variant queer person, using 'they' as a singular pronoun has become fairly routine in my community. Adapting, modifying, discerning and reclaiming parts of the English language can be empowering and even fun.  If using inclusive language is a new concept for you, or if you don't understand what I'm talking about, then I invite you to learn more. Setting the intention for Inclusivity will make the difference between being able to form that relationship or not.  Inclusive Language In Four Easy Steps


Respectfully, I began to introduce myself to Ash in my own quiet way without spoken language. I acknowledged Ash's place in the forest and looked around, taking in the mushrooms and leaves and dry stream bed nearby. I reached my hand out and explored the woven textures of Ash's bark, following the pattern with my gaze up into the impossibly high canopy, ablaze in sunlight.  I then looked down and wondered how deep Ash's roots went below the surface. Were they as deep as Ash was tall?  Was Ash photosynthesizing right in front of my very eyes?  

My thought web led me back up into my thinking brain. As if waking up from a dream, I suddenly remembered where I was. A wave of insecurity washed over me and I found myself asking the question, "Am I doing this right?" I looked around and noticed my fellow Forest Therapy Guide Trainees all engaging with their trees in their own way.  I shook my head, laughing at myself and remembering that there is no exact science to how to converse with a tree.  However, there is a load of research about what happens to our brains and bodies when we spend time being open with trees.  From increased cerebral blood flow to stronger immune defenses, there is plenty of evidence demonstrating how relaxing in nature supports human health.   

I stopped critiquing my conversation with Ash and began asking for support in bringing my best self to this training by being an active participant and not hiding in the shadows of self-doubt.  I had been anxious about the training and meeting a group of strangers, an issue that only arises in the human world.  In the forest, no one questions my gender or identity and I am reminded that I am natural and connected to the earth. Part of what drew me to wanting to become a Forest Therapy Guide is to be able to hold space for others who have internalized feelings of being unnatural, separate from, or even wrong.

I stepped back from Ash looking up and down and around, wondering what I could possibly offer and if it would be good enough. I leaned in and exhaled purposefully into the weave of Ash's bark, offering a few dozen concentrated blasts of my carbon dioxide. I felt my heart rate slow and thanked Ash in my own way until the sound of a crow call told me it was time to say goodbye.

In an industrialized civilization where consuming is in and conserving is out, living in gratitude and holding ourselves accountable requires hyper-vigilance.  Reciprocity is a path towards healing and an effective coping mechanism in treating stress-related illnesses that result from living in a rapid, industrialized environment.  It can be as simple as picking up a piece of trash. It can be leaving some kind of offering of natural material from your own body or from the forest floor as a way to honor or acknowledge a tree or a place. It can be creating a small structure, like a fairy house or an altar. It can be a form of activism or a regular monetary donation. It can also be a random act that isn't explainable in words. When we practice reciprocity, we can face our human experience with fewer symptoms of stress, anxiety, boredom, self-hatred, rage, and crisis.  We are less likely to cause harm.  We are less likely to internalize feelings of inferiority, and less likely to act under the illusion of superiority.

Guiding a Forest Therapy Walk is a practice of reciprocity in and of itself.  From start to finish, there are many opportunities to listen, notice, acknowledge, ask, and give. I always ask the land for support before I guide a walk.  I might ask for qualities like self-assurance, clarity, openness and patience. I recently asked an elder Cedar of Lebanon evergreen for support in remembering all the informational details I intended to share with my walk participants. As I asked for this clarity of mind, a small sprig dropped down from high up in the canopy, bouncing off on my head and onto the ground. I picked them up and tucked the little one into the fold of my hat, offering back a personal gesture of gratitude in the form of a bow. During that walk, whenever I found myself nervous or lost, I touched my hat, feeling for the cedar sprig. Later that day, I had a strong urge to pass on this little cedar sprig to another human.  I listened to the message and gave the offering.

"A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning.  It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it.  And yet it appears.  You only role is to be open-eyed and present."
-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Tam is an ANFT Forest Therapy Guide in Practicum and began guiding walks in Fall 2017 at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, MA, where she has lived since 1998. She works locally as a self-employedHandy Person and a teacher and custodian at The Eliot School. Tam has extensive experience working with LGBTQ Youth through BAGLY and The Theater Offensive’s True Colors. She also works as the Community Liaison for The Venture Out Project with whom she has guided Forest Therapy Walks and is currently planning a Nature Connection Retreat for May 2018. Tam has firsthand experience of the healing benefits of spending time in nature and strives to make her walks inclusive and accessible.  

For more information about Tam, visit her website: ToadstoolWalks.com

Posted on January 16, 2018 .

Interview from DNK Presents

dnkpresents.com/interview-venture-project

Recently I found out about an amazing organization called The Venture Out Project. I was so inspired by what they do I asked if I could interview them to share their story with our readers here at DNK Presents and Live Adventurously. Being in the LGBTQ+ family and in the outdoor space, it has always been very important to Kate and I to provide an inclusive environment for our participants, especially when often times they are already in a vulnerable state being outdoors and trying something for the first time with people they are meeting for the first time. If you don’t feel like you can be comfortable about your sexual orientation that can make it even harder to want to try something new in the outdoors. Have you experienced this feeling in the outdoors or trying something new in another area of your life? We would love to hear YOUR story. I hope you enjoy the interview, keep on adventuring!

What is the number one way you feel The Venture Out Project (TVOP) is able to provide a safe space for the LGTBQ+ community?

Perry:  The biggest surprise to me was how many folks have come on more than one trip.  When I founded Venture Out I thought it’d be the kind of thing where people came on one trip, learned some skills and then went to backpack on their own.  But what I found was that for so many folks, Venture Out was their only trans or queer community.  In many cases our participants may have had friends online, but many had never hung out with, or even met, another trans person.  People come back for a second, third, fourth or even fifth trip because they know that’ll it’ll be an opportunity not just to be outside, but to make friends and find community.

 Travis: Safety in numbers!  Being with other queer folks not only provides the collective safety container, but also, safety in our own bodies.  I know even for me, I feel safer and seen when around other queer & trans folks. 

What has been the biggest eye opener or surprise as TVOP has grown in what it is today?

Travis: The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how many people have WANTED to learn how to backpack or break into outdoor activities, and just don’t know how to start or who to ask. And gear is often SO GENDERED.  Which is completely ridiculous.  We’ve heard so many stories at this point of our participants going to outdoor stores looking for boots or backpacks and being steered away from the “men’s section”, or the “women’s section” because of their perceived gender.  It literally makes no sense at all.

 How did you become part of the TVOP family?

Travis: I found out about TVOP in 2015 when a friend posted something about it on my Facebook wall.  Like “Hey look at what these queers in New England are doing”.  I’m originally from New England, but was/still am living in Portland, OR.  I immediately contacted Perry, the founder of TVOP, and asked I could lead a trip for him.  We agreed on a week long backpacking trip that summer on The Long Trail in Vermont.  There were three guides and two participants!  

Six months later, he hired me on as his Office Manager and now I’m the Director of Operations.  We also now fill our trips to capacity (and even have wait lists!)

What is your favorite trip to guide and why? 

Travis: After every trip I lead, I declare “that was my favorite!”.  This is such a hard question – all of them are so emotionally powerful.

But I will say…this last summer Perry and I lead an experienced backpacking trip in Oregon.  It was originally supposed to be on the Loowit Trail around Mount St. Helen’s.  Due to Oregon having such an amazing snow winter last year (yay!), it was not clear of snow in time.  Instead we spent four days backpacking in the Colombia River Gorge – which is so incredibly beautiful.  The area we were in last July, is the same area that caught fire this fall and has since burned.  I’m so grateful we got to share this special area with folks.  The gorge will regrow, probably even more beautiful, but it will be some time.   On the last day of this trip, we crossed into Washington and summited Mount St. Helen’s – which is never NOT a profound experience.  This trip was an incredible one.

This upcoming summer, Perry and I are guiding a trip for those of trans experience in Maine – my home state.  We’ll be climbing Mount Katahdin, spending a few days in Baxter State Park, and then spending a few days in a small rustic cabin on a cove on a small Maine Island.    I have a feeling this will also raise to the top of my list of “favorite trips”.

What have some of your participants gone on to do or said after a trip with TVOP?

 Travis: This is such a great question.  Several of our past participates have actually gone on to become instructors for us!  Another one of our favorite participants lives in Texas and had never played in the snow before.  His first trip with us was a week-long Queer Winter Camp in Jackson Hole, WY.  He now regularly goes on skiing trips with his brother!

Perry:  My favorite story about a what a participant did after his trip still gives me chills.  This participants came on our queer ski trip in Wyoming.  He called me up a few weeks after the trip to tell me his story.  “When I came on this trip I was only out to four people in the world as trans.  I thought it was something I needed to keep secret. I felt scared and ashamed.  But on our trip, I met so many out and happy queer and trans folks.  It was really eye opening to me.  I saw the lightness with which you all walked through the world and contrasted that to the tension I felt from carrying this secret.  So after much thought I decided I was going to have a gender reveal party for myself.  I invited a bunch of friends over for a party and about an hour into the party I told them I was trans.  They were so welcoming, supportive and happy for me.  It feels so good to be relieved of this burden.  I could not have done this without TVOP.  Thank you for showing me what could be.”

What are you most proud of as an employee?

Travis:  My proudest moments are spending time with Queer Youth.  This past summer, we put the youth fully in charge coming up with a plan to get everyone up the mountains.  Their care for each other was so pure.  To see them struggle, to see them negotiation and compromise, to encourage, and support each other.  It’s just incredible.  And then to hear them giggling at night is just the icing on the cake.  So proud to be an employee of TVOP and be able to create these experiences for queer & trans youth.

 What is next for TVOP?

Travis:  TVOP is growing!  We’re offering more trips, and as mentioned before, hiring past participants as guides.   This summer we’re offering our first “POC Centered” Classic Backpacking Trip lead with Mercy Shammah of Wild Diversity in the Pacific Northwest! We’re also expanding our ages on our Queer Youth Backpacking trips and have trips for both 12-14 and 15-19 year olds!  Another exciting new offering is a Nature Connection Retreat co-run by Tam Willey of Toadstool Walks taking place in Colombian River Gorge of Washington.

 

Posted on December 16, 2017 .

Queer Youth Backpacking Last Summer

Last summer I hopped a plane to Hartford, Connecticut from Tampa, Florida. Travis picked me up at the airport and we drove to TVOP's base, where the other teens and I piled into the queerest van on Earth.

It was beautiful with its rainbow breathing dragons, solar system, and quirky bumper stickers. It took us to some cabins where we would spend our first night filling our packs, eating s’mores, and enjoying indoor plumbing for a bit longer. The next morning we set out. Throughout the next six days, we learned why Vermont is affectionately called "Vermud" by hikers and that there are at least two different types of rain: tree piss and sky diarrhea. A few other lessons we learned were wet boots aren’t so bad compared to burnt boots, freeze dried bananas are not delicious, and hiking two miles at a steep incline is totally worth the view, and the victory candy bar.

A short summary of each day is: day 1, I tried a tofu hot dog for the first time. Day 2, I slipped on a boardwalk and landed right on my ass. We also went swimming in a foggy lake and it was awesome.  Day 3, I took a dump in the most scenic place yet and we all sat by the fire singing songs with a thru hiker. Day 4, I swam in a second beautiful lake while overhearing another backpacking group discuss hypothetical situations taking place at a Denny’s; it was one of the stranger things I’ve heard. Day 5, we were ambushed by flying squirrels (whom Perry valiantly fought off). Day 6, we set up camp beside a river and I made a giant carne. We also made pudding and I put too much peanut butter in the peanut noodles (I am so sorry). Day 7, we piled into the van and said our goodbyes back where we started, after getting some homemade donuts at a country store.

Overall, I believe we hiked about 32 miles. I will never forget last summer’s TVOP trip and I can’t wait to join them this summer. If you’ll be coming too, be ready to poop in the woods, take a dip in a lake or two, and tell stories you’ve never thought you would. See you then!

Posted on February 7, 2017 .

Surviving An Avalanche Course and Our Visit with Malcolm, the FTM Traveler

I sat on the plane, holding on the tarmac, waiting for the pilots to let us know if the weather was clear enough for us fly.  I had anxiously been awaiting my trip to Mt. Hood to take my AIARE level 1 Avalanche Certification Class.  I was eager to practice digging snow pits to understand the snowpack, using my beacon to search for skiers who'd been caught in a snow slide, and most of all, I was excited to see my co-worker and friend Travis and to ski some deep powder with him.  We don't travel in avalanche terrain on Venture Out Project trips, but still I thought this was a safety certification worth getting since backcountry skiing is one of my all time favorite activities.  I love the freedom of the mountains, the feeling of strapping climbing skins to the bottom of my skis and climbing uphill like a member of the 14th Mountain Division.  I love that in the backcountry there are no lift lines, no crowds, no groomed runs and that the only sound is the hoots of joy that come from skiers and riders who've climbed their way up, just to ride their way down.  The pilots announced that we were clear to fly and I fell asleep dreaming of the freeskiing that lay ahead.  

Travis picked me up at the airport and we made the harrowing drive over snow covered roads up to Mt. Hood.  The snow was falling at rates of at least an inch an hour and I was twitching with excitement over the prospect of skiing the next day.  

The next morning we walked into our Avvy 1 classroom and oh so quickly our dreams of feeling free and happy to play in the snow were crushed.  Immediately we were consumed by dude bro ski culture.  Our instructors unironically asked us, "What do you rip on?"  "Excuse me, what?" I asked.  He responded, "You know man, what do you rip on to get down the mountain?"  

We sat in a freezing cold classroom listening to lectures on snow rounding and faceting while watching glorious snow blanket the slopes just outside our building.  All the while we felt smaller and smaller as the bros in the room took up so much space, literally and figuratively.  They asked questions with a 2 minute preamble just so the rest of class could hear how much they already knew about avalanches.  They told tales of "epic pow days on gnarly peaks" with their bros.  It was like I was at Ridgemont High.  And to top it all off, our instructor just couldn't get Travis' pronouns right.  

We never actually got to ski during the class.  Turns out there was too much snow!  Avalanche danger went from Considerable to High which meant it was just too unsafe to travel in the backcountry.   

But wait!  it does get better!  In the midst of feeling like such outsiders in a place that both Travis and I feel so at home in (the wilderness), we had the immense pleasure of spending the weekend with our friend Malcolm, the FTM Traveler.  It was such a breath of fresh air to come home to our condo and meet up with Malcolm at the end of our long class days.  Being a group of 3 trans folks made us feel strong and good and supported.  We shared stories of outdoor adventure, of family, of love, of friendship, of leadership and of being trans.  We made each other feel safe and strong and supported.  Hanging out together fueled us and showed us first hand the power of our queer and trans community.  Being in the company of Malcolm and Travis each night helped me remember why I put up with the dudes at the Avvy class.  I do that so I can be trained and safe and take queer folks out into the woods to feel the freedom of the backcountry unencumbered by dude bros.  I do this because we deserve the woods and nature just as much as anyone.  I do this in the hopes that I can bring other trans folks out on an adventure and they can hoot with joy at the thrill of riding down a mountain; so that they can feel proud of summiting a peak.  I do this so folks can feel like their body, even just for a moment, is something to feel good about.  

 

Posted on December 22, 2016 .

Cariboose Raises $1791 for Queer Youth Backpacking

It has been one month since Cariboose (Tam) and I (Travis aka Bear Bait) finished our 272 mile trek on the Long Trail in Vermont, starting at the Canadian border and walking south to the Massachusetts State line, and into North Adams, Mass. where we celebrated our journeys end. My feet still ache every morning, but not to the degree they did while hiking 8-9 hours, days on end, over roots, and rocks, always wondering where the "footpath" was that we were promised from the map describing the The Long Trail "A Footpath in the Wilderness".  This mostly served as a funny joke that we laughed over several times.  

This trip was journey of friendship, pain, love, challenge, tears, laughter and an opportunity to not take our everyday comforts for granted.  I also had the opportunity to have Cariboose describe for me, scene by scene, script included, Rocky I-V for I've never seen any of them, and she is a devote fan. This ate up an entire day, and few weeks later, I secretly wanted her to tell it to me again. 

Tam has always loved an underdog story.  Doesn't matter what the sport is, if there is a marginalized, oppressed, or evidently weaker character that beats all odds, Tam is there in the front row.  And one could say our journey on the Long Trail was an underdog story too. 

Being in the woods we were finally both free from navigating restrooms, stares, peoples ignorance and fear.  At least for the most part.   We had a few encounters that left us reeling and saying "did that really just happen?".  While I generally don't feel safe in a public restrooms anywhere, I always feel safe with Tam.  I would not have been able to finish (or start) this trail without her.   And she was the courage behind this journey.  

While keeping a blog of her thru-hike on the Long Trail, she ran a fundraiser effort which benefited The Venture Out Project.  Tam raised a whopping $1791!  This money will go towards scholarships for our Queer Youth Backpacking trip next summer.  

Tam has been dedicated to queer youth for several years, through being an Adult Adviser for BAGLY (Boston Alliance Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Youth) and working with The Theaters Offensives' queer youth group True Colors. Because of Tam, queer youth who might not otherwise be able to attend a backpacking trip, will be able to.  Last summer, we had several queer youth utilize our scholarships to join us on our backpacking trip. Witnessing the transformation of what these youth think they can do is truly inspiring.

We want to thank Tam with our deepest gratitude for her dedication to queer youth  & backpacking and for sharing her fundraising efforts with us. Tam's fundraising page is still open if you'd like to contribute to the Queer Youth Backpacking trip: August 6-11. 2017.   And be sure to read the blog!  It was an amazing adventure, and Tam captured it so eloquently. 

THANK YOU CARIBOOSE!

 

 On the summit of Camel's Hump (and the top of Vermont)  

On the summit of Camel's Hump (and the top of Vermont)  

 Hitching into town became a normal thing every 4 or 5 day activity. Thankfully, Vermonters are very friendly to hikers! 

Hitching into town became a normal thing every 4 or 5 day activity. Thankfully, Vermonters are very friendly to hikers! 

 And we made it to the end/beginning of the Long Trail.  (Most hikers head north, but you know, we wanted to be different) 

And we made it to the end/beginning of the Long Trail.  (Most hikers head north, but you know, we wanted to be different) 

Posted on October 7, 2016 .