Written by Heart
Growing up, I didn't grow up in an outdoorsy family. I was raised by a single mom, living in many different places, and we didn’t go hiking or camping.
When I was little, I liked playing with my best friend, Dylan, in the stones outside our houses with his toy cars and we’d make little cities. I remember we used to bike through the cemetery near his house.
I’d say my relationship with adventuring outdoors alone started in high school when I’d go for runs in Flagstaff and then Tucson, Arizona. I remember running through the sand and cactuses and it was a totally different landscape than I’d grown up in on the East Coast and I was really enamored by the desert landscape. It’s a tough, ruthless place to get outdoors with the heat, but I was present with the uniqueness of what I found outside there. That’s not to mention the southern Arizona sunsets, which are the definition of purple mountains' majesty, just epic, some of the best in the world.
I didn't hike for the first time until I was a junior in high school with my best friend, Jessie, in southwestern New Mexico. I was a cross country runner in high school so I thought, “This is great, you go outdoors and move your body, but you don’t have to run.” I loved that element of it. Since we were runners, the hiking pace seemed totally accessible to me. When we got to the top, we had trail mix and I was like, “Wow, and you get to eat snacks halfway through? I love this.”
In college, I joined the camping club. On one trip, we backpacked to Deep Creek Hot Springs, outside LA, and I was wildly unprepared. We were college students, so we arrived at night and had to hike in and I didn’t have a headlamp. I brought two bags with me - a backpack and a duffle bag, an entire pineapple but no knife, and thus had to carry it back out. We had no tent, I slept on a tarp and woke up absolutely soaked from the dew. I mean, it was horrendous and I would never do it again… but it was also amazing. I was an anxious person in college but that weekend was the most grounded I felt in my four years.
Later, I’d spend two years in the Peace Corps in Madagascar which would allow me to essentially live outside 90% of the time and be connected to nature like I never had before in my life. Living in Madagascar taught me about the planet and the people whose lives literally depend on it and are most closely related to its conditions like sustenance farmers and fishers. It was a defining moment for me in my life journey and it’s also where I had enough space and time away from (US) society and technology that I began questioning my gender and exploring my gender expression. I wore bro tanks and soccer shorts everyday, even under dresses. I tapped into my masc side that I’d never felt comfortable exploring in the US.
Photo Credit: @jakemagnus_photo
Returning to the US was life-shattering and consequently led me to a rebirth of sorts. A couple of years of healing my heart led to me getting sober, creating a new life for myself through yoga teacher training, and eventually coming out as trans (and queer for the millionth time).
My life, while not perfect, was prospering in many ways before the pandemic. When the world shut down and I was quarantining in a 384 sq foot studio apartment in DC, I realized I needed more space and specifically, more connection to nature. Thus, I moved to Asheville, NC, in 2020, to live in the mountains.
I found myself with a lot of fear, initially, about getting into nature in general, especially here in the South, as a trans person. I never know who I may encounter while out in nature.
Doing it Scared
So why do I go outside if I’m in fear? Because I have to - for my nervous system to regulate and to heal. Because it’s worth it.
Being in nature and connecting with the earth is so healing. It's like my yoga practice. It's solitary. It's a way to connect and be with myself and the universe. It's spiritual. It’s something I often do alone but I don't feel lonely. Yoga and hiking have been paths to me accepting myself and loving myself even when the world says it's not possible or I'm not allowed to.
I’ve learned I don’t do things in the absence of fear, but I do it despite the fear. It’s been a process of learning to not only love myself but to trust myself. I can go out into nature, without cell service and no one else to rely on and keep myself safe. I can take care of myself. I am capable of protecting and supporting myself. In this way it’s been a process of re-parenting myself and learning I am worthy. I am worthy of care; snacks, proper water and hydration, breaks, rest, and days off. I am worthy of nice gear and partnerships with brands. And so are others who don’t fit the stereotypical idea of what “outdoorsy” looks like.
Finding Community for a More Inclusive Outdoors
Community building with like-minded people has given me the confidence to go out into the world and be myself despite all of the anti-trans legislation and systemic oppression. I am worthy of a life worth living, a life of exploration, off the beaten path. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Nature has taught me to pave my own path, my own gender, embrace my identity, and show others who are like me that they belong outside. We are truly never alone and so many people are always rooting for us, like the folks at ENO. Thanks for making size-inclusive hammocks; I was so scared it wouldn’t hold my weight at first, but then it did!
We’re always supported by the universe, even when we feel the most alone. I’ve been humbled by the times I’ve been helped on and off the trail and I know I just have to ask for help and it’s already there. And if you’re reading this, I want to help support your time outside. As your virtual hiking buddy, below are my favorite local hikes around Asheville to help you get outside and connect with nature. See you out there.
Heart’s favorite Asheville hikes:
- Max Patch
- Rattlesnake Lodge Trail
- Craggy Gardens
- Bearwallow Mountain
- Moores Cove
- Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls Hike
- Catawba Falls
- Looking Glass Falls
- Cove Creek Springs
- Laurel River Trail in Hot Springs, NC
- Frying Pan Tower
- Devil’s Courthouse
Heart (he/him) is a queer, fat, transmasc activist, educator, and public speaker. He provides Trans 101 Trainings to the federal government, corporations, and non-profits alike. He is also a certified Yoga Instructor and provides LGBTQIA+ inclusive, trauma-informed, fat-positive yoga classes. Connect with him @transyogateacher or learn more on his website.