How diverse stories inspire more people to take risks outdoors

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It’s late 2016 and I’m crying alone while reading the section of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild where she talks about having to put her mother’s horse down. I cried again near the ending when Cheryl finally makes it to the Bridge of the Gods, the end of her epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Once the tears dried up, laptop on lap, I started planning my next adventure. Like it has been for many women, Wild was my inspiration and permission to get out there more, to take risks and do it alone.

Wild is about a white American woman with a college education, which I identify with. It’s a great story. Now, we need more great stories by women, but also by non-binary folks and people of colour. Since I read this book, I’ve been hunting for more adventure travel and outdoor sport memoirs written by women (here’s a good list) and diverse authors. These stories expand our perspectives and give us hope. And we want something beyond the love story, beyond the flowery landscape descriptions. When I search for books, I Iook for real stories about sweaty climbs, travel preparation, overcoming fear, and unlikely situations experienced on the trail. And please, more HUMOUR.

My hunt extended to social media, where I found Jenny Bruso, founder of Unlikely Hikers, Karla Amador, founder of the 52 Hike Challenge, Lindsey Richter of Ladies AllRide, and a Facebook group of bikepackers and bike tourers, in which there are many female members from all over the world. The recently released Sisu Magazine, by the founder of Coalition Snow, has been another great resource for learning about women-owned outdoors businesses.

We all need role models

Role models are important. When all you see are middle-aged dudes clad in neon spandex cycling around your city on expensive carbon road machines, it’s hard to imagine where you fit in. Back in my ski bum days, I experienced far fewer women charging glades and playing in deep pow than I did men (almost all of my riding buddies were guys, and guys you know I LOVE YOU, but it’s nice to high-five a female). I remember watching one of my female friends compete in a terrain park competition and thinking, yeah I could do that and that being the first time I felt it was possible (I have still to try a rainbow rail, but it’s on my bucket list).

I’m a college-educated, white Canadian woman and you might be tired of reading more articles like this from people like me. If I look hard enough, I can find elite athletes, adventurers, lauded authors, and outdoor entrepreneurs that look like me. I can’t imagine how frustrating or disheartening it must be for women of colour or non-binary folks seeking role models in the outdoors. They’re not featured in catalogues or ads or on pro teams (here’s the Burton pro team as an example and I know they’re trying to change). They’re not bike mechanics at the local shop (until last year, I had NEVER met a lady bike mechanic). The outdoors industry needs to do a better job representing and inspiring diversity.

It’s exciting to see organizations like Mountain Equipment Co-op and Camber Outdoors take the lead. And for big industry events like Outdoor Retailer to make diversity a priority. It’s phenomenal that women will finally earn the same prize money as men in surf competitions and that Matchstick Productions’ film “All In” has a predominantly female cast (all of whom are white). Things are happening but not very fast. Mountain biking—one of my favourite sports—is severely lacking women and people of colour in advertising and media (just look at the videos on BikeMag.com), yet when I go to my local park the trails are full of women riders.

Having role models and seeing yourself represented is important. If I hadn’t read Wild, I may never have started solo camping and doing multi-day bike tours. Without role models, I may have thought that terrain parks at ski resorts were just for dudes or that I shouldn’t keep going to bike maintenance classes. Of course I knew I could do these things, but I wasn’t excited about being the lone wolf, the “tomboy” (please don’t ever call your little girl this), or “one of the guys” (or this). I didn’t want to be special or super cool or brave—I just wanted to do cool shit because it looked like fun.

So, if you’re a woman-owned/woman-run outdoor business looking for a copywriter who really cares about forwarding the diversity agenda, here I am. Let’s tell real stories together.