Who Said Black Women Don’t Camp or Hike?

Who said Black Women don’t go camping? Or hiking? By themselves? In a tent? In Northern Ontario or the Rockies? Okay this sounds like a bad Criminal Minds episode, but it’s not. Last year I did just that. I needed to take an unexpected sabbatical from blackprint and my 9-5 to deal with multiple losses and essentially my mental health. I travelled alone to Northern Ontario for some deep, long ugly crying, soul searching, talking to the trees, speaking to the spirits of my loved ones, and pitching up a tent and hiking mountains. It was my first solo trip, and it was extremely healing. It was also the first time I seeked out therapy that actually stuck, and was helpful, but this is NOT that story. That story is in another video on YouTube. This wonderful read is all about my last two days of my trip, when EVERYTHING went wrong!! 

Camping by myself was terrifying, it was a week of sleeping in a tent with my knife, my car keys, and my phone under my pillow! I wasn’t exactly ready to fight bears, or defend myself from them. At all the campsites I stayed at, everyone seemed to have a trailer as opposed to a tent. Did I miss the memo? Was I the only person transported back to the early 90’s when tents were a thing you used while camping? It was truly a sesame street “one of these things doesn't belong” moments.  A Black Woman all alone in a tent, on the ground vs regular campers and their families in their $70K camping trailers with internet, heat, and lights, not flash lights. I don’t think this was happening in the 90’s. 

After days of hiking and pitching a tent, my itinerary had me renting an AirBNB in a shared house with multiple tenants, before my grand 22 KM hike. My unit was fully functional and contained all my necessities, so there was no need to share any facilities. It was a perfect break from the hard, cold ground. I’d managed to cross Eagle Canyon, CANADA'S LONGEST foot suspension bridge, which extends 600 feet across the canyon and hangs at a height of 152 feet above the canyon floor. Surprisingly it was not scary in the slightest, and being in the middle of the bridge was LIBERATING! 

The view was breath-taking, and at that proud moment, I felt I could do absolutely anything and everything. Little did I know the longest bridge was child’s play compared to the Sleeping Giant awaiting me the very next day.

The local Ojibway legend has it, the large formation of volcanic rock mesas called Sleeping Giant, or “Nanajibou,” which translates to “The Spirit of Deep Sea Water” — was turned to stone when the location of a silver mine nearby was revealed. Destination Ontario Jan 26, 2022

My hiking app estimated the hike to be 8 hours, so I figured I’d probably take about 10-12 hours. I packed my ridiculously heavy hiking bag with tons of water, some snacks, and left behind all the essentials, such as my sleeping bag, tent, and emergency blanket in my car. I had no intention of sleeping on the mountain. THAT WAS NOT ON MY ITINERARY! 

I made it 7 kms in with my soca pumping, and my legs still holding up. That was literally record breaking for me, and I wasn’t in pain but my music was looping so I wasn’t as hype everytime the next song played. Everyone on the trail was extremely nice, many rode bikes, and they all seemed to be coming back from the mountain, with very few heading in the same direction as me. Few inquired if I was heading to the top to camp at one of the various campsites. I’d respond, I plan on going up and coming back down that same day, and they seemed to chuckle and tell me good luck and I better pick up the pace because it was getting late. I met a young couple at the beginning of the hike, and on a few occasions we seemed to pass each other, I learned they kept stopping to check out the break out views and spend time by the lake. I was determined to keep moving to get to the top. I figured if I had walked this far knocking the toe of my brand name hiking boots on the thousand year old roots, and barely feeling pain in my toes,  I could easily make it off the mountain in no time. I finally arrived at an opening where there was a bike rack, and many bikes still locked up, as a group of riders seemed to be chatting and resting. They were getting ready to leave the way I just came in, and the couple I mentioned earlier had caught up to me. The three of us stood there perplexed looking at the map, thinking it doesn’t seem to be that far from the top. We were the only ones embarking on the steep incline to the top, so our journey started. 

Literally boulder after boulder, I struggled. A formation of stairs built on stones. Steep ladders that barely had room for my size nine hiking boots. I was flabbergasted!! Sweating and panting, and at some point, the woman from the couple offered to carry my hefty hiking bag. I think it easily weighed 30 lbs empty, but felt like it weighed 50lbs with the many bottles of water and gatorade I packed in the bag. I was grateful but didn’t know how she could manage as she seemed more than half my size, and she wasn’t wearing hiking boots, but shoes that resembled keds. I wondered if she thought her and her boyfriend were taking a leisurely stroll in the park. 

The guy already had a bag on his back, and I think they felt sorry for me after hearing my determined heavy breaths, gasping for dear life, but slowly continuing up the sleeping giant. I’m sure even the sleeping giant was hearing my pants in his dreams. 

Words of advice. If you’re a novice hiker, or if you’ve just got into the sport, DO NOT attempt to hike a 22 km steep-ass Mountain. It’s a MOUNTAIN. These wondrous God made formations are NOT to be played with. We all struggled for hours with passer-byers laughing at us, telling us we’d make it to the top in 2 more kilometers, or you just have 2 more kilometers to go. It was a cruel unspoken joke that they all seem to share, even though they were strangers to each other, and met us at different points on the mountain. Not sure if they thought the sound of 2 more kilometers was motivating, but I was ready to chop a few people in the throat just as they would chuckle and spit the painful timeframe. 

Every part of my body was in excruciating pain. Years of ballet, jazz, soca fetes, and hot yoga, could not prepare me for the flexibility required to climb that beast. The song lift your leg up, has no idea how hard it could be to lift and hoist, lift and hoist. Hours later as we reached multiple peaks of achievement, our excitement to get to the top dwindled, and we just wanted off the frickening thing. The squirrels seemed to find us amusing as we climbed and they made chirping sounds while they followed us. I felt like they were taunting us. “Quit, go back, it’s too late to be here. Pitch your tent, find somewhere quiet to lay your head”. 

After hours of complaining, then bitching, climbing, bitching, and complaining, we eventually made it. We saw a chicken and its baby chicks at the top. There were other people at the top but they explained they were sleeping on the top of the mountain not far by. The top was mesmerizing, and the ocean was magical. I was too tired to be excited about my achievement, and was dreading the climb back down. The couple shared my sentiments, as we quickly took pics and estimated the hours needed to descend. It drizzled on us a bit, and we were able to see points where we struggled just hours ago. 

If I’m honest with myself, I was probably the one struggling the most. The couple could have left me and would have been much further ahead if they wanted, and at times I told them to keep going without me, but their pity game was strong. So they hung out and we all chatted and bitched together. The guy complained about having a back issue, but that was before he offered to carry my now 50lb bag. I was ready to give up and pray I could sleep with no equipment on the mountain without any wildlife chomping on my voluptuous hiker frame.

On the way down, the man took my bag as my legs moved even slower. My feet hurt and I really needed to pee. Even though my squat game was on point from years of squating and peeing between two doors in the parking lot at caribana, I was too scared to let my goodness too close to the earth. The squirrels were still mocking us and throwing things at us, and I could only imagine what they would say if I hit them with that 8 hour wetness. It dawned on me, my morning pee was the last time I released, and I probably had 4 or 5 bottles of liquid while climbing. 

The sun departed unapologetically as we descended, so it was now only one Black woman, a Marine Biologist Graduate, and I think he said he worked at a car sales place or he cleaned cars and wanted to take over the business. I walked with my walking sticks like a 80 year old woman, and the girl kept saying how cool it would be to see a bear or cougar, or other crazy shit. The guy was singing weird tones to scare off any wildlife, but the squirrels kept following for a bit and eventually lost interest in us. He too joined into the warp conversation that if a bear or creature from the cat family was watching us, we wouldn’t know until it was too late. I was ready to cuss the two of them, but knew I needed to keep my cool as they carried my backpack and only they wore their head flashlights. If I had just looked in my bag, I would have seen my own head gear and camping lights, but it didn’t even cross my mind. They were seriously driving me crazy. 

It was some real shit coming out of their mouths, and I knew it was another one of those, “one of these things don’t belong”moments. Why Lord? Why did I get myself into this?? I loved the outdoors, but there’s a time for Black people to be on a fricken mountain by themselves, and this was not that time. 

After hours of dodging mice and frogs on the path to the parking lot, and the time that the girl yelled, omg a deer, and I looked back to truly see, a deer staring right at us, as he crossed the path behind us. Giving me a confused look like, “sista you know you don’t belong here at this hour of the night, right?!” Causing me to find life for a millisecond and grab the guy’s arm as I shrieked. The guy jolted back and nearly threw me down with disgust, questioning what I was doing. I apologized and innocently claimed I was frightened, but knew my humility was running short with the two of them. I eventually snapped at them asking them not to talk about animals mulling us to death as we walked in darkness. So we all took unspoken cues to sing weird noises to warn the wildlife we were in their turf, and exiting as swiftly as our swollen legs could move. 

Our gps’ started to give us hope and we eventually made it to parking lot. It took us 10 hours, of which 6 of them were grueling because my crazy ass guides were fantasizing a gruesome death in the middle of Northern Ontario dark skies. All I wanted to do was pee, shower, and sleep. I thought about using my two door Caribana car skills but decided I could hold it until I arrived at  the airbnb I booked the night before. It wasn’t going to be as spectacular as my stay the night before, but I decided not to pitch a tent the night before my 16 hour drive home. 

Shereen Simon

Check out the YouTube video that tells the story of my AirBNB not giving me the pass to get into my place after my horrendous 10 hour hike. Find out where I slept! Did I ever get to pee? Did I even get to eat after the hike? Watch now on the blackprint.com YouTube channel. 

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