Meet Ashley: QPOC artist, public health grad student and nature lover. Whether outdoors alone or with others, Ashley reminds us that self care through nature is important. Even if we don’t feel represented in outdoor media, we can find outdoor communities that are inclusive.
What were your outdoor experiences like as a kid?
As a kid, my outdoor experiences consisted mostly of playing outside in my yard and the general vicinity of my neighborhood. I grew up in Kansas City, MO and my family wasn’t what you would consider “outdoorsy”. We didn’t go camping or hiking or exploring. Crime wasn’t unusual in the city and my family was pretty protective of us kids. Instead, they got me involved in things that would give me experiences they didn’t have. I was in the Girl Scouts for a short time and was able to go camping, zip lining, repelling, and did other outdoor activities. I loved it and took a natural liking to being outside.
Meanwhile, in the city, my grandparents were avid gardeners and I remember spending a lot of time picking and smelling all my grandma’s flowers and digging around in the garden with my PaPa, eating sweet onions straight from the soil and him showing me how to pick the harvest. He even helped me collect earth worms and bugs for my collection. My family thought I was a weirdo, but I loved getting dirty outside and exploring all its living things. I still have this sentiment as an adult, when I’m outside surrounded by the trees and fresh air and natural beauty, I feel completely grounded and would rather just stay there.
What motivates you to get outdoors now?
What often motivates me to get outdoors is the need for self-care and grounding. It literally lightens my load. When you’re surrounded by giant trees, epic views, mountains and water it puts your thoughts in a healthier perspective. It’s a form of meditation. Your brain feels clearer from the fresh air, the water refreshes you and wakes you up like electricity, its quiet and you have time to focus on your thoughts and your life. All that green is calming and it puts you in a place of appreciation and gratitude. I try to do something physical in nature a few days each week, whether its riding my bike on a nature trail, trail running or just having coffee by the river. It’s really a perfect way to start your day off in a positive light.
Through hiking, I gain clarity in my purpose and motivations in life and the need to recharge. It’s also a great workout and I love challenging myself to more difficult hikes in which you must work towards an epic view point or reward at the end. It makes me feel accomplished and I like feeling my body grow stronger the more I hike and trail run.
Who do you like to hike with?
I often hike alone but I also love building community and bonding with other people who love hiking. I especially like taking my friends on hikes that don’t usually do things outdoors. It’s funny to me to see how perplexed they are by nature and sometimes they are nervous beforehand or don’t know to expect, and by the end they are super proud of themselves and want to do it again sometime. I love seeing that excitement and clarity in folks.
Do you feel represented in outdoor media?
I don’t feel represented in outdoor media. This doesn’t phase me much though because I strive to not let myself be affected by the media. Although most of the outdoor people you see are white and super fit, as a black woman it doesn’t alter my intentions for getting outside. I am also involved in outdoor communities inclusive to people of color, which is comforting to see. I can understand how it would be empowering for those who have not had outdoor experiences to see people in the media who look like them. Hopefully we can break these stereotypes of brown people being intimidated by nature and tap into the healing and growth that nature provides.
What challenges/fears have you faced on the trail? How do you overcome those challenges/fears?
I have faced challenges on trail that involve getting lost, not having enough water or being hesitant in my capabilities to find my way to the destination and back by myself. I overcome these challenges by researching a hike before I do it so I have a better idea of what to expect. I try to focus on what all my surroundings look like while on trail so I know exactly how to get back. It also doesn’t hurt to let someone know where you are, and always bring water!
Is there a dream destination where you want to go & explore outdoors?
I don’t have a dream destination of a place I’d like to explore. I am open to exploring anywhere that has a beautiful view! Arid landscapes consisting of desert, canyons and rock formations, wet landscapes with waterfalls and moss lined trees, snow capped mountains, rivers coniferous and deciduous trees. I can appreciate all these things all over the world.